PMC Loudspeakers may not be as much steeped in history as, say Rogers or KEF, but the company has certainly made its mark in the much shorter time – 21 years – it has been in business, right down to making the BBC connection. Andy Duffield, PMC’s international sales manager, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently, gives us some insights into the company.
Could you give us a quick history of PMC and how it all started?
As you might know, PMC celebrated its 20th year in business last year. It was originally founded in UK by Peter Thomas and (the late) Adrian Loader. Twenty-five years ago, Peter was working for the BBC in its product evaluation team, which looked at all kinds of products, including speakers, for potential use. Adrian was sales director of FWO Bauch, a company that was the UK distributor for Studer and Neumann products. They were both passionate audiophiles, saw and heard many speaker designs, but never anything that excited them. So they decided to build their own speakers. It was never intended to become a business.
They looked at various speaker designs, and in the end, they came up with two technologies they liked – electrostatic and transmission line. Electrostatics had fantastic detail and resolution but had issues in power handling, so transmission line became the technology the two decided to build their design around. They went through a number of designs, and after four to five years of working evenings and weekends, they came up with a speaker they liked, the BB5. This coincided with the BBC putting out for tender, the replacement monitoring speakers for the BBC Maida Vale studio in London.
So they decided – more for fun than anything else – to put it into the studio for evaluation and never thought anything more about it. But one day, Peter got a call from the BBC’s head of purchasing, asking the both of them to meet him. At the meeting, the first thing the guy said was “Peter, if you work for the BBC, we can’t buy your speaker. But we want to. So you decide what you want to do.”
So Peter and Adrian were put on the spot but to cut a long story short, Peter left the BBC and that’s how PMC started.
What are the differences between speakers for professional and consumer use?
We don’t differentiate between the two. We believe what is ideal in a critical listening environment in the studio – allowing an engineer to hear everything in the source recording or microphone feed – transposes 100% into the home listening environment.
Initially, the products we developed for the studio were identical in every respect to the hi-fi products. The only difference was cosmetic – in the studio, they were black, but consumers wanted a wood veneer. That continued about four years ago, when we introduced a new tweeter co-engineered with Seas “i” Series of speakers. But in the last three years, with the development of the Fact and now the twenty series, we have dedicated consumer products. Although designed for the home use, they can equally well be moved to the studio and used very effectively there – there is no fundamental difference.
Active systems are not that common in consumer audio, what is PMC’s approach to it?
It is a technology primarily used in studios but we have seen a growing interest from audiophiles. We understand that part of the enjoyment of the hobby is listening to the differences in components – amplifiers turntables, cartridges etc – and that is absolutely fine. But in an active system, the crossovers, amplifiers, speakers – everything is built as a single unit and part of an overall system. It has been tested that way and sounds as it should sound. You don’t have to worry about matching amps and speakers as the manufacturer does that for you. It is not a huge number, but more people are seeking and asking what the benefits of active systems are.
Speaking about active systems, there seems to be a very close relationship with Bryston – how did it come about?
There is a perception that we are joined at the hip, but we are two totally separate and independent businesses, we are based in the UK and Bryston in Canada. When Peter and Adrian first started designing active speakers, they used a circuit using Quad technology. Shortly after PMC was founded, one of our dealers in the UK said he had found an amplifier that sounded really good with PMC speakers, and that was Bryston.
At that point in time, Bryston did not have a dealer in the UK, and Peter and Adrian called and asked to be their distributor, and from that day onwards, we have been their UK distributors. Because they thought Bryston complemented their designs, they started using Bryston amps and electronic crossovers as the starting point for PMC’s active systems. But as they were never satisfied, they “optimised” the amps by changing various components, and that is the core of our active systems.
And there is always some sharing of information and useful dialogue. We have developed a very close relationship after 18 years – for example, I believe in the Bryston SST2 amplifers, there are some optimisations that Adrian and Peter pioneered in their active systems that have been carried over into Bryston’s latest range.
With so many options in the PMC stable, won’t the customer find it difficult to find right speaker for him?
It is a very broad product range, and there are pros and cons to it. Take the iSeries, for example. There are differences in power handling, frequency response and driver complement, but tonally, they are very similar or verging on identical. It is a large and complex range from the outside, but once you start to break it down, it gives you a lot of flexibility as a buyer. It makes it easier to tailor a system to your particular room environment or budget, as well as have a lot of flexibility when it comes to wanting to mix and match components. That is why we have distributors who have a clear understanding of the range, and can help buyers navigate through the options and advise the most suitable solutions for them.
Why are there no “budget priced” speakers?
All things considered, we are still a small manufacturer. Everything is made in the UK, not offshore in the Far East – that is one of the fundamental areas where other manufacturers can reduce overheads and therefore the cost. It is cheaper to make it in China but there are many reasons why we won’t do that.
Our core design is the transmission line, and this is inherently a more expensive design to manufacture and develop, compared to sticking together six planks with a reflex port. It boils down to quality control and maintaining our own destiny.
We have the confidence in our product (the twenty series) to offer a 20-year warranty, and we believe it is right to maintain our own manufacturing process in the UK. Perhaps the technology used is not the cheapest, but we believe it has fundamental advantages in sound quality, and that is ultimately what the product we manufacture is for.
What improvements in speaker technology have been made over the past 20 years?
I’m not in a position to answer that, but what drives us – and Peter as an audiophile – is an insatiable desire to improve the musicality of the design. There are so many aspects and areas that will influence the overall performance – cabinet design and structure, the transmission line, the profile and density of the lining, component level on the crossover.
It is relatively simple for a manufacturer to develop a super-duper crossover or tweeter and put it in an existing design – but Peter has likened it to putting in a Lamborghini engine into a Mini Cooper. If we made any one of those individual changes and try to squeeze it into an existing design, would we have seen the benefit? We could shoehorn it into an existing product and fall far short of the potential of the new development.
Take, for example, the twenty series. We have made step changes forward in every aspect of the speaker, which overall adds up to a big leap forward. For us, new developments in all key areas add up to a big change, but you have to have the right platform to benefit from and demonstrate that.
Does the rise in the availability of high-resolution digital formats – even to a certain extent the resurgence of vinyl – pose any new challenges to PMC?
I believe anything that improves quality and the proximity you get to the original recording is good. If you look at PMC’s professional experience, especially in mastering facilities – for most, this is the most critical and demanding of the production process. The systems we developed for them 20 years ago, are still the benchmark by which others are judged in the industry. So by that measure, we are as well as – if not better placed – to extract the benefits of high-resolution formats.
PMC is distributed in Malaysia by AUDIO VISUAL DESIGNS SDN BHD (03-2171 2828).