PMC DB1i Loudspeaker (TAS 198)

Equipment report
PMC DB1i Loudspeaker (TAS 198)

Professional Monitor Company or PMC is the U.K.-based loudspeaker firm that has been internationally heralded for the big active systems it designs for the pro market—systems for film- and sound-recording studios as well as broadcast and mastering facilities. Founded in 1990 by Peter Thomas of the BBC and Adrian Loader of FWO Bauch, PMC is well known for its transmission-line enclosures­—a sophisticated construction method that increases bass output and extension. Less familiar to industry watchers, however, is a full line of audiophile speakers, ranging from consumer versions of its Bryston-powered pro monitors all the way to the smallest entry in PMC’s eight model “i” Series, the DB1i featured here.

Known affectionately as the “dinky box,” at a mere 11.4" tall, dinky it is. A two-way design, the DB1i uses a doped-paper 5.5" woofer and an oversized 27mm Sonolex soft dome tweeter. The crossover point is 2kHz. Perhaps the most interesting technical aspect of the DB1i is its Advanced Transmission Line (ATL) enclosure. The design incorporates a heavily-damped tunnel labyrinth that internally links the bass driver to a rear port. And according to PMC’s literature, the damping within the serpentine route absorbs frequencies from the upper bass on up while the lowest frequencies emerge in phase from the port. Compared to the more prosaic bass-reflex enclosure, transmission lines entail a complexity and expense that usually restricts them to larger, pricier efforts.

From the moment I sat them on my Target stands (28" tall and sturdy) I realized that the “dinky box” pet name is a setup used to mislead first-time listener about what’s really in store.

For you smug big-system enthusiasts convinced that small loudspeakers are only about the “snap, crackle and pop” of the musical experience, the DB1i will make you think twice. Although it won’t be mistaken for a Wilson MAXX 3 or a Magico M5 the DB1i offers authoritative, even orchestral-style weight and balance that belie its tiny profile. Acoustic bass, heavy brass, and low-pitched wind instruments are conveyed with realistic body and energy. The DB1i images impeccably, as you would expect from any well-constructed dinky box, but unexpectedly it also scales those same images to a size beyond the norm for such a miniature transducer.

Dynamically the DB1i is the obvious beneficiary of the work PMC has done in the trenches of the pro market. Truth is, I treat small speakers with a level of deference for fear of frying them and then having to make that ignominious call to the distributor, all red-faced and apologetic. However, the real-world output and even, dare I say, slam of the DB1i made me confident from the very first thump of Stewart Copeland’s kick drum that this was a speaker I could do business with. In this respect it differs from some of the dynamically-challenged mighty-mites of the not-too-distant past. It stays composed at its limits. It does compress dynamics but oh, so smoothly and still allows low-level detail to shine through.

In the audio criteria I value most—tonality, micro-dynamics, transparency, and imaging—the DB1i is one of the more balanced small speakers I’ve heard lately. In fact, it almost reverses the stereotype of the small two-way in that it will actually let you sink into the music, comfy and relaxed, rather than make you feel like you’re in a knife fight. This is a very approachable and personable sound with a bloom and a plumminess that harken back to the traditional small British monitors of thirty years ago. While there is certainly a sufficient amount of transient information and speed on tap, with a flat-picked acoustic guitar, a zippy mandolin run, or the soulful stab of a blues harp the PMC is not hair-trigger. The DB1i presents these dynamics in a soothing rather than searing manner. In comparison to an ATC monitor like my own, its soundstage perspective is perhaps a row or two further back, providing a good sense of depth.

On a track like “You Haven’t Done Nothing” from ReVisions [Chesky], Jen Chapin’s inviting vocals are projected with air as well as articulation. And that big, honking baritone sax that accompanies her—a difficult instrument to convincingly reproduce—is weighty and full-bodied. In a similar vein, the sultry Dianne Reeves vocal (with acoustic bass) of “One For My Baby” from Good Night and Good Luck [Concord Jazz] is big-boned and playful. The speaker’s midrange, including the lower mids, is refined and substantial. And it retains the bouncy, springboard energy that makes music come alive. Ultimately the DB1i’s low-frequency limit (a steep roll-off starting at 70 cycles) shows up, as it must with a five-inch woofer; acoustic bass becomes a Jenny Craig version of itself, losing both weight and resonance. 

Tonally the DB1i isn’t pool-table flat, but PMC has in my view struck a tasteful compromise, given the reality that speakers under a foot tall simply don’t produce genuine low bass. By adding a few dBs of punch in the upper bass in roughly the 125–150Hz range this dinky box sounds more like a big leaguer than an anemic lightweight and projects a richer and more rewarding sense of music’s foundation. Less persuasive is the added spark of brilliance in the lower treble that suppresses the presence range a bit. For example, Jennifer Warnes, a voice as open and airy as any under heaven, does become a bit leaner and drier in her upper register. An even tougher test is cello—for instance, the Pieter Wispelwey performance of Kol Nidre [Channel Classics]. The instrument imparts sonic impressions on many complex levels—string/bow transients and soundboard resonances—and the PMC tamps down some of these finer dynamic gradations. While it captures much of the character of this “male”-voiced instrument, its deepest chest resonances are muted with more emphasis placed on brilliance and attack.

In general the musicality of the transmission-line design impressed me with a lower-end character that’s a far cry from the typical one-note pulse of many small two-ways. Low frequencies have a more natural and, to these ears, linear roll-off, which preserves instrumental timbre even as the output decays. The speaker doesn’t have that guillotine effect where an acoustic bass hits a lower octave and output is suddenly and completely cut off.

I’ve heard loads of small British speakers over the years, from the original Proac Tablettes and its progeny, to various Rogers and Harbeths, and right on out, but this li’l Brit is quite a sensation in my view. Incorporating a tasteful menu of large and small speaker virtues, it applies its compromises shrewdly. And just like the tiniest dogs don’t really know they’re tiny, so with PMC’s Dinky Box—a British pug ready to sink its teeth into all the big dogs of the small-speaker segment.


PMC DB1i 2-Way Monitor Loudspeaker

Type: Two-way, transmission line
Drivers: 27mm tweeter, 5.5" mid/bass
Frequency Response: 50Hz–25kHz
Sensitivity: 87dB
Impedance: 8 ohms
Dimensions: 11.4” x 6.1” x 9.2”
Weight: 9.9 Lbs
Price: $1929/pr.

17971 Sky Park Circle Drive, Suite G
Irvine, California 92614
(949) 861-3350

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