PMC DB1i Loudspeakers

Having listened to large electrostatic speakers for the past 20 years (Acoustat 2+2’s and now MartinLogan Summits), it was a new challenge to evaluate a pair of mini monitors; I had to recalibrate my thinking.  Unpacking the PMC DBi’s, my heart sank a bit when I saw these pint-sized speakers.  They are the smallest speakers in the PMC line and carry an MSRP of $1,995.

Somewhat atypical for an audio engineer, I use my home reference system (with MartinLogan Summits) for final mixing and mastering my recordings.  The full-range capability of the Summits really comes in handy, yet they are still enjoyable speakers to use for personal listening.  With my current list of projects out of the way, I installed these tiny speakers and prepared for some extended listening sessions, putting my biases to the side.


The DB1i’s have substantial binding posts, so the jumpers on my current speaker cable had to be spread slightly with pliers to fit properly.  Unfortunately, these larger binding posts are spaced closely together, so it took a bit of fiddling to tighten them down adequately.  I did not use the PMC Tube 104 stands, which have a height of 41 inches, but the stands I had at my disposal were barely an inch taller, so the DB1i’s stayed close to the factory-suggested height.

PMC’s well-written instruction manual got me up and running quickly, along with a bit of the company’s history and a short list of some of the albums produced with their speakers. They suggest at least 15 hours of break-in time so that the speaker surrounds can “reach their optimum compliance,” and I found this to be accurate.  During the first few days of casual listening, I experienced the stereo image getting wider and deeper as the hours piled up.

Background and construction

Before we talk about the results of listening, let’s look at the speakers themselves.  PMC is a well-established brand offering a full line of speakers for both recording-studio monitoring and audiophile listening.  Their list of users is like a who’s who of performers, professionals and studios.  Just a few examples are Stevie Wonder, Coldplay, Tony Bennett, the BBC, Sony, the NFL and EMI.

The line encompasses active and passive designs, sizes range from six-foot tall floor-standing models to smaller bookshelf models, center and surround speakers, and subwoofers.  Models generally use soft domes for high and mid frequencies and cones, pistons or “Radial™” drivers for low frequencies.  To enhance bass response, most of the full-range speakers include PMC’s ATL (Advance Transmission Line) technology.

The woofer is at one end of a “tunnel” that wraps up and down within the cabinet. It is heavily damped to absorb high and mid frequencies, while leaving the lowest bass frequencies in phase able to exit the cabinet through a large vent, acting as a second low-frequency driver.  In my early days as an audiophile, I used a pair of ESS AMT-1 monitor speakers that utilized a similar transmission-line concept.

The DB1i is no exception.  This transmission-line box has a 140 mm (5.5 inch) doped cone with a cast-magnesium chassis low-frequency driver and a 27 mm (one-inch) Sonolex™ domed fabric soft-dome tweeter and is ferro-fluid cooled.  The ATL is four sections (effective length of five feet) and exits on the upper rear of the cabinet.  Frequency response is 50Hz to 25KHz (with no + or – limits specified.)  The crossover is at 2KHz.  The speakers weigh a hair under 10 pounds each and are 11.4 inches high, 6.1 inches wide and 9.2 inches deep, plus grille.  Impedance is 8 ohms and sensitivity is 87dB, one watt at one meter.

The cabinets have four wood-veneer finishes available:  oak, walnut, black ash or cherry.  Grilles are black fabric and removable.  The speakers also offer four bolts on the back to which optional mounting brackets may be attached.

Listening results

I immersed myself in the DB1i’s for about 10 days.  They became my only source of playback and I came away highly impressed.  It was easy to forget about their diminutive size when I closed my eyes and listened.  With eyes opened, my mind kept trying to convince me that there were bigger woofers hidden somewhere in the room.

The first thing I noticed was that the rhythm section in any recording was just so clear and clean.  The small woofers combined with the transmission line design really made the electric bass pop, too.  The bass had a very rich quality, and in most instances, I didn’t miss the extra bottom octave or so that my Summits are capable of reproducing.  The bass drums were crisp and quick, yet all retained their characteristic sounds.  Snare drum and cymbals were extremely fast, but not harsh or edgy.

Most importantly, these speakers sound good at low levels, they really sing at mid volume, yet they can play LOUD when called upon to do so.  There was no listener fatigue when I pushed the DB1i’s to the extreme. If you are a drummer, bass player or just love the sound of a good, tight backbone in your listening and don’t have room for big speakers or a lot of cash, the DB1i’s could definitely satisfy you.

In general, I noticed that vocals were solid and centered, and the DB1i’s had a neutral character of a great studio monitor, never edgy or clinical.  The stereo image was wide and deep; I loved hearing the ambience and reverb on a wide variety of program material and often heard instruments three-to-four feet outside the speaker boundaries.  Trumpets and brass in general felt as if they were in the room with me.

All the strengths of a great monitor

One of my favorite John Mayer tracks, “Neon” from his Room for Squares album, adds guitar layers to each verse.  This effect was easily heard, with the side-panned tracks staying in place, while Mayer’s lead vocal was solidly center stage.  Again, the tiny PMC’s sounded much bigger than I expected.

Elvis Costello is always a “go to” when I want to hear how a male vocal sounds.  This was a perfect opportunity to listen to the new MoFi release of Armed Forces.  Track after track, the vocals were incredibly detailed, very focused but not edgy.  Listening to the Painted from Memory CD by Elvis and Burt Bacharach, the dryer vocal was haunting, very up front but lacking any of the harshness that I have heard on some other speakers.  The drums were recorded dry but again, they just jumped out on these little speakers.  Brass was sweet and high strings were smooth, with low strings being very revealing in tone and texture.

One of my new favorites, Jamie Cullum’s The Pursuit, has an almost endless pallet of cool sounds, including Jamie playing every part of the piano in every possible way and a slew of different spaces and ambiences.  On “We Run Things,” the loops and synth programming offered a very wide, three-dimensional image. But I did miss the low synth bass on this one.  I wouldn’t have known it, though, if I hadn’t heard it a bunch of times on the Summits.

The snapping sounds of the electronic percussion had incredible transient response that was almost startling.  Tom fills were “in your face” as I believe they were intended.  On “Not While I’m Around,” the bass drum and associated ambience were clear and tight.  I rarely missed the absent deep bass unless things went subsonic, but the quality of what was present was always top notch.

Continuing my musical journey with the DB1i’s, I spun some Alison Krauss and even revisited the Beach Boy’s classic, Pet Sounds. PMC’s emphasis on their monitors accurately reproducing vocals was always apparent; no matter what type of music I listened to, the vocals were very natural – one of my hot buttons as an engineer.

Taking the opposite ends of the musical spectrum, going all the way from Van Halen’s first album to some of my favorite classical pieces, I remained impressed with the dynamic abilities of these speakers.  Whenever I stopped listening critically, I kept forgetting just how big the soundfield was from these small speakers.

Small but powerful

After a wide range of test tracks, my conclusion is that the PMC DB1i’s are diminutive power houses that work well with any type of program material.  They are equally at home as part of a high-quality two-channel system as they are sitting on top of the monitoring console. Should you want to make these part of a compact multichannel surround system (PMC’s are very popular in the movie soundtrack studios as well), PMC also makes a horizontally oriented DB1i center channel speaker with magnetic shielding.  And of course, PMC makes a full range of subwoofers, from small to large.

If you enjoy a wide range of musical tastes, and don’t want to give up dynamic ability in a modestly priced system, the PMC DB1i is a major contender.  While this is the point in the review where the reviewer often comments on buying the speakers, I did exactly that, but for my recording studio!

The PMC DB1i speakers

MSRP:  $1,995 per pair

Acurus Returns

The Aragon and Acurus brands were originally owned by Mondial, founded by Paul Rosenberg and Anthony Federici.

Dan D’Agostino, former CEO and Chief Designer of Krell, was involved in the design of the Aragon 4004 amp.  The high performance, but more reasonably priced Acurus A250 debuted in 1993.  In 2001, Klipsch bought the brands intending to offer custom electronics to match their loudspeakers, but a few years later they shifted their strategy away from electronics, sticking with the core speaker lines and mothballing a great brand.

Ted Moore and Rick Santiago, who had been leading electronic design groups at Klipsch, left the company in late 2008 co-founding Indy Audio Labs, LLC.  They bought both brands from Klipsch and began working with a select group of talented engineers to bring the products back to market.  The goal was to keep the great sound of the originals, while updating the look and adding some innovative new features – Aragon models are forthcoming with the “value branded” Acurus amps now available, leading the way.

Built With Pride

The Acurus name stands for “Accuracy from the U.S.”, and Indy Audio Labs is proud that their products are built and assembled in the U.S. The metalwork is done here as well, with much of the chassis work done by a machine shop in Indianapolis that makes precision parts for Indy racecars. The torodial transformers and power supply capacitors are still made by some of Mondial’s original suppliers, and even the circuit board assembly and final construction are done by a local company in southern Indiana.

Overall construction is simple and elegant.  The front panel is black, brushed aluminum featuring a single round power button, with a lighted surround ring.  The rest of the casework is simple but elegant with an intriguing rear panel featuring an off white powder coated finish.  This makes it easier to see connections and labels in lower light conditions typically encountered in home theater racks and listening room AV shelving units, along with being highly durable.

The input connectors are high-conductivity, gold-plated, isolated RCA jacks, and are arranged near their corresponding output connections.  The outputs are discrete, 60-amp gold-plated binding posts with anti-touch protective clear housings.  All posts are color-coded with red and black rings for + and – speaker polarity and, each pair is spaced to accommodate dual banana jacks.  Each pair is also angled to make it easy to feed large speaker cables and relieve strain, even in a tight rack unit.

Highly Compatible

Indy Audio wanted these amps to be an ideal choice for those building a serious surround or home theater too, so all models are THX Ultra 2TM certified.  The full range is fitted with a proprietary new “Network Module” that allows the amplifiers to be Ethernet controlled.  The module features a standard Ethernet jack with a “Network Active” LED, a 3.5mm, 12-volt trigger jack along with an RS-232 port.

The A2002 is a 2-channel amp in a 3 RU enclosure and weighs 29 pounds, with 5 and 7 channel versions available in a 5 RU configuration for multichannel applications. It is biased high enough to operated in Class A at low power, shifting into Class AB at higher levels.  It produces 200 watts per channel into an 8-ohm load, with 300 watts per channel available into 4-ohm loads.

When power is connected, the ring around the power switch lights red, indicating “standby mode.”  When activated by the power switch or any of the other Network Module inputs, the surround turns blue. The faint click of the power relays is the only sound coming from the A2002; it was free of electrical or mechanical noise.  When powering my MartinLogan Summit speakers, which dip to 1 ohm at high frequencies, the heatsinks never rose above lukewarm – even during long bouts of high decibel listening.

Those intent on monitoring operating temperatures more closely can access the amplifier via the Ethernet connection on the rear panel. Typing the amplifiers IP address into your web browser reveals everything you might want to know about the A2002: temperature and protect status of each channels, mute buttons, enabling Ethernet and serial controls and an “about” section on the amplifiers other parameters.  You can even adjust the brightness of the power button!  While this functionality might seem trivial to the two-channel listener, those with large multichannel, remote applications will find this very handy.

A Change for the Better

The first few days were as much burn in time for my ears, as the amplifier.  Having lived with a vintage, Class A power MOSFET amplifier for some time, the A2002 has a different sonic signature that won me over fairly quickly.

Being a recording and live sound engineer, a home stereo system always leaves me longing somewhat for the sound of live drums, often aided by a giant concert sound system.  The increased clarity and punch of the A2002 eliminated the previous upper bass muddiness I was experiencing, allowing the Summits LF trim controls to be boosted slightly.  Now the kick drums in my system had some serious kick.  Snare and toms both had more impact and definition, with cymbal crashes now lifelike and full of character that was not present – possessing more authority on initial attack and decaying much longer into total silence. Very impressive.

I also am a reverb and effects fanatic.  I like well-produced albums with believable sound spaces.  I was hearing drum sets in their respective spaces, well placed and not jumbled with effects of other instruments and vocals.  One example is the HD Tracks version of Bob James Urban Flamingo.  Tracks like “Niles Ahead” feature a simple arrangement, but incredible side stick snare and just the right room sound on the drum kit.  “Bobary Coast” adds more synth and vocals, but the drum sound is still tight and right up front.  Bass always has to compliment the drum sound, and again on “Niles Ahead”, the upright bass that sounded alright before, was now defined, crisp and downright punchy – more like a live performance.

The 96K/24 bit HD version of Spyro Gyra’s In Modern Times album offers a cornucopia of great percussion sounds.  “The River Between” has shakers, snaps, triangles, slide, whistles, little bells, ahs, and gahs.  The fantastically recorded flanged fretless bass and sax duet, nylon string acoustic, electric guitar, piano and synths were almost overwhelming by the increased stage width and depth that the A2002 brought forth.

Another go to reference is the unique sound of Michael Franks voice. “Feathers from an Angel’s Wing” from the Time Together CD opened up in a way I hadn’t heard before.  It was easy to hear fretting on the electric guitar, layers of percussion building throughout the song, a spacious synth pad, and stereo acoustic guitars that were well outside the speakers along with a haunting doubled vocal in the chorus, previously buried in the mix.

I auditioned to many other vocalists, male and female that now sounded much truer to life than before.  The tune that stunned me the most though was the new HD Tracks recording of “Where is the Love” from the Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway S/T album.  I’ve been listening to this album since my teen days on cassette in my car and on every combination of gear since then.

Value Indeed

Indy Audio Labs has indeed held up their end, when they say that Acurus is a “value” brand.  At a mere $2,499, I can’t recommend it highly enough to those with a reasonably priced system, where budget still is an object – yet great sound is a priority.  The build is solid, and an exercise in elegant simplicity.  The sound of the A2002 has really put my modest system into a whole new category, making it a lot of fun to listening to both old and new music in my collection all over again.

Additional Listening

Running the A2002 through its paces with a number of different loudspeakers after the photo session proved this amplifier unflappable.  With enough juice to comfortably drive the Magenpan 1.7s, everything else from the Harbeth Compact 7ES-3s to the B&W 802D and the new Sonus Faber Ellipsa SE was a great match.

The A2002 was equally preamplifier friendly, working equally well with all of the tube and solid-state units at my disposal.  This amplifier is incredibly neutral and dynamic, performing much better than I expected for the price asked – just as the original models did in the 80s. Both the Aragon and Acurus amplifiers were often referred to as “the working mans Krell” by enthusiasts.

This adds up to an Exceptional Value Award for 2012, and I’m looking forward to hearing the Aragon amplifiers as soon as they are available. – Jeff Dorgay

The Acurus A2002

MSRP:  $2,495

Manufacturer Info:


Analog Source             Technics SL1200/SME 309 arm and Sumiko Blackbird Cartridge

Digital Source              Benchmark DAC1 USB, with MacBook Pro

Preamplifier                Manley Jumbo Shrimp

Phonostage                  EAR 834

Speakers                      Martin-Logan Summit and PMC db1i

Cable                           Tetra, Shunyata, AudioQuest

Power                          Running Springs Haley