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Positive Feedback ISSUE 48
march/april 2010



FB1i loudspeakers

as reviewed by Sasha Matson








Cary Audio CAD 805 Anniversary Edition Triode monoblock amplifiers, Cary Audio SLP98P preamplifier.

VPI Scoutmaster w/ Dynavector Karat 17D3 moving coil cartridge and a Cary Audio 308T CD Player. Victor Model V/IV internal horn one-spring victrola record player- model year 1914.

AudioQuest Mont Blanc DBS Speaker cables, AudioQuest Sky DBS interconnects, and Hudson Audio Technology power cords.

VPI HW-16.5 record cleaning machine, VPI Magic Brick, Custom equipment racks by Michael Green Audio, Monster Power Reference Center, Gingko Cloud 10 and 11 isolation platform, Stillpoint isolation cones. Cable Elevators.


Present at the Re-Creation

Being your own 'follow-up' reviewer is a tricky proposition. In 2006 I reviewed for PFO in some detail the FB1+ loudspeakers from the British manufacturer PMC (Professional Monitor Company). A few months ago I was contacted by PMC's distributors in the U.S. and asked if I would be interested in taking a look at the current updated version of that model, now designated the FB1i. (Not sure what the "i" stands for: 'intelligent' perhaps?). I was unaware that this updated FB1i model had been released a while ago, in 2008, and I had been innocently continuing to enjoy the previous version. Obsolescence is only a problem if you know about it.

What It Is Now - The Advanced Transmission Line

I refer interested readers and listeners to my earlier PFO review, particularly for what I learned then about transmission line loudspeaker designs. I will summarize, but not quote myself at length here. The dimensions and basic design approach of these two-way floor-standing loudspeakers are unaltered from PMC's original FB1 model released in 2000. The original FB1 was the first 'domestic' model from PMC, a company that previously had specialized in loudspeakers intended primarily for the 'professional' audio world. I think these two worlds have grown a lot closer in recent years, and PMC is one reason. PMC's high-end product lineup now includes five varying floor-standers, as well stand-mounted, center channel, and subwoofer models. ALL of them incorporate the transmission line design approach, as does the extensive lineup of models intended primarily for audio studio use. The FB1i is my pick for the 'sweet spot' in the PMC consumer lineup value/cost/performance-wise. PMC offers a smaller floorstander, the GB1i, and two stand monitors—the DB1i, and the TB2i, along with several larger consumer floorstanding speakers. In my view, the FB1i model is where the marvelous benefits of PMC's transmission line approach really kicks it up a notch.

Firstly, and very importantly, frequency response is specified for the FB1i's as 28Hz to 25kHz. Take note of these figures right up front. For this quality and price, for this size, with the imaging benefits of a two-way monitor, I am not familiar with other loudspeakers that achieve similar full-range frequency coverage. Sensitivity is specified as 90dB—you can use good tube amps. The one crossover element is at 2khz, and it is the 24dB octave type. The FB1i stands a little shy of 40" high, a little less than 8" wide, and a smidge less than 13" deep—plus spiked plinths. These are non-intrusive dimensions domestically speaking, very unlike the refrigerator-sized behemoths that take a fork lift to move around. They weigh slightly less than 40 pounds. The current cabinetry quality has been upgraded from previous versions. The pair I have on hand is finished in a very attractive semi-gloss dark walnut, which seems to visually disappear during evening listening sessions.

The FB1i's in my room with the original Revolver sales poster

The FB1i is a two-way design; 27mm 'Sonolex' soft fabric dome tweeter co-developed with SEAS at the top, right under it the one PMC 6and1/2" Doped paper cone woofer, then the port for the transmission line at the base of the front panel—there is no rear-port. Inputs are on the bottom rear, in pairs for bi-wiring or bi-amping. Gold-plated jumpers are provided if you don't get into that, which I don't. There are detachable foam speaker covers.

The key design element, though not unique to PMC, is designer Peter Thomas's commitment to an effective execution of transmission line construction inside the speaker cabinets. Looking at them externally one would not guess anything was significantly different from the vast majority of reflex or sealed cabinet designs out there. This is not a huge electrostatic panel, or a long thin ribbon, or an electric tuba looking horn contraption. Why the transmission line approach is less common, is a question I asked in my previous review. I still don't have an exact answer—one explanation is that transmission line cabinets are fussy and time-consuming designs to get right, and to manufacture well. Physically we are talking about an acoustic tunnel starting at the rear of the driver and folded within the available interior cabinet space—the larger the cabinet the longer this transmission line can be. For the FB1i, PMC cites an "effective" acoustic length of 9.8 feet. An additional benefit of this approach is that the transmission line effectively also helps brace the cabinet internally, which is usually a separate task that has to be carried out, with varying quality results, in typical reflex designs.

FB1i cutaway showing transmission line interior

Quoting from PMC's own description of their ATL (Advanced Transmission Line) designs:

"The bass driver is placed at one end of a long tunnel (the transmission line), which is heavily damped with absorbent acoustic material. This material is specified to absorb the upper bass and higher frequencies that radiate from the rear of the bass driver. The lowest frequencies, which remain in phase, then emerge from the large vent at the end of the line, which essentially acts as a second driver. One advantage to this approach is that the air pressure loading the main driver is maintained, thus controlling the driver over a wide frequency range, which in turn significantly reduces distortion… A further advantage of the transmission line approach is a cabinet that produces a higher volume and greater bass extension than a ported or sealed design of a similar size, even if identical drivers were used."

Couldn't say it better myself, do I didn't.

The transmission line vent – bottom front

Let's Tweeter

In addition to outstanding low-end frequency extension and behavior, the reduction of distortion 'unmasks' frequencies further up the audio spectrum, improving the imaging characteristics of the tweeter. And what a difference a tweeter makes! The tweeter utilized in the current FB1i model, which PMC has trademarked 'Sonolex', is magic time. This is the most obvious step forward from the previous iteration. I don't know how those Norwegian gnomes at SEAS interface with designers like Peter Thomas of PMC, but whatever the process is, in this case the results are literally breathtaking. Don't get me wrong, the previous FB1+ model was no slouch in terms of the upper end of the music. Now, the increased quality and subtleness in terms of all those aspects that audiophiles crave up high, is palpable and invigorating.

The i-series tweeter

When I swapped the new model in, (same size, same room location, etc.), the upper-end behavior was the first thing that jumped out at me. Sound stage increased in depth and width. A holographic sense of exact placement throughout that sound stage became more pronounced, to the point of eeriness with some recordings. That illusive sense of 'air' became more pronounced. And yes, that overused word 'sweetness' is applicable as well, in a positive sense with fine recordings. If you are wary of technical ruthlessness in terms of sound, what some might associate with that 'studio monitor' heritage, you can just relax—this presentation is NOT a threadbare overly 'let's hear all the mistakes' professional attitude towards music.

I felt strongly with the previous FB1+ model that one of its many strengths was the unity it displayed overall throughout the entire frequency range. This remains a very strong aspect of the current model. To this seamlessness has now been added a sense of further extension on both ends of the audio rainbow. Not so much a case of doing everything better, but adding on to what was already being done very well indeed.

I can also vouch for the idea that the iron grip that the transmission line seems to lock into place over the drivers, in addition to reducing distortions, is contributing to fantastic dynamics—both micro and macro. Those of you who desire that Fremeresque (is that a word?) 'slam' can get it here. Agility and the ability to turn on a dime are part of these speakers DNA. Take the extreme dynamic contrasts of Tilson Thomas's Mahler recordings as one small example—if your jaw doesn't drop, I know for a fact that it's going to quiver.

One side-effect of this woofer control to be aware of 'break-in' time will be extensive with new units. It just takes that much more time for the drivers to loosen up, given that they aren't flapping around in the wind all the time like a couple of old douche-bags. (Yikes - there's an ad quote NOT.) I was told by my new pal Ian Verdugo, U.S. rep for PMC, that the pair of FB1i's I have now came to me with about 150 hours on them, but Ian felt they would open up more with an additional 100 hours or so. That's quite a bit of time unless you are playing them 24/7, so withhold any final judgments until they 'come around for you.'

The FB1i's bi-wireable terminals

My Own Little Measurements Sidebar

This time I am going to back my opinions up with some semi-hard science. I borrowed my pal Art Dudley's 'Real Time Spectrum Analyzer' made by a company called Audio Control. This is a nice piece of hardware that simply has a band of red lights that illuminate at various frequency points horizontally, and vertically for amplitude. I placed the microphone where my head usually is, and made a few measurements of the FB1i's in my listening room. Art tells me there is now a spectrum analyzer 'app' available for iPods—everyone can get in on this act.

1.) I played the Cardas 'Frequency Sweep' LP, which is spec'd from 30Hz to 30kHz. The little red lights followed this from bottom to top just fine- the entire sweep was displayed.

Or, to be exact, from 30Hz to 20kHz, which is as high as this box measures.

2.) The Spectrum Analyzer includes a 'pink noise' generator that you run through your gear like any other input. The readouts were a flat line from 800Hz to 5kHz with a little up and down by one notch variables from there to the available top number of 20kHz. In the mid-range I got a one notch elevation between 80Hz to 160Hz. A one notch dip at 50Hz, a one notch elevation at 31.5Hz, and flat at 25Hz which was the lowest available readout. When I say notch, I'm not quite sure of the Db scaling on this unit. However I got the visual impression very clearly that this is all very commendably even. I suspect that some, if not all, of the up or down numbers are due to the many room nodes interacting in my highly excitable second floor listening room in our wooden 1872 Victorian—the exact opposite of a 'dead' acoustical environment. In fact, when I listen I feel that I am in fact sitting in the middle of a giant Strad.

3.) Put on Little Jimmy Horner's recent "Avatar" score, which opens with some of those big low kabooms that are the pride of contemporary soundtracks. Plenty of action down at the lowest 25Hz number, and I suspect that these FB1i's may be going even lower. In other words, I think that PMC's published low-end number of 28Hz for these speakers is conservative. Portions of this score that I looked at went up as high as 10kHz, though I am sure there is more on that recording that goes higher, that I didn't sample.

Peter Thomas – PMC Owner and Chief Designer

Baker's Dozen Questions with PMC Designer Peter Thomas

I caught up with Peter Thomas on the phone from London, with a 'baker's dozen' questions for him—actually a rather chintzy baker, as there were exactly twelve. Here's an edited transcript.

Sasha Matson First of all Peter, I just want to thank you for doing good work. I've really enjoyed living with the product of that for the past several years… Maybe you've already primped for this exam, as I sent these questions on. If it's o.k. with you we'll just rip through them. Number one on my list—the 'transmission line.' When and how did you first explore this design approach?

Peter Thomas In the early 70's I bought a pair of speakers over here that used a transmission line and I really liked them. The only other speakers I liked at the time were electrostatics. I didn't realize why I liked both of them, but it was because of the low distortion bass… I ended up working at the BBC where I was doing some speaker work. There was a requirement to build a really hi-fi speaker and I thought I'd use a transmission line, as that's what I had in my home. The trouble is there was nothing really written about them. No theory. And what was written was really wrong basically. So it was like rediscovering it by doing certain measurements.

SM Right now in 2010, transmission line design is obviously not a majority viewpoint. Why do you think that is?

PT I think people are frightened of transmission lines. And I think the reason why is that if you get a transmission line wrong, boy does it sound bad—really dreadful! But that doesn't mean we should just give up on them. It's much easier with current technology. With the computer, the design of a reflex or an infinite baffle is pretty well sorted out.

SM The current FB1i model… What a difference a tweeter can make. What goes on with SEAS? Is it like some Harry Potter vault where all these designers are working in secret for different clients?

PT (laughter) I love it… Well SEAS has been around since the 70's. And one of the useful things as you grow as a speaker designer is you either make dedicated drive units that you exactly specify, or you can collaborate with people who manufacture vast quantities of drive units and get them to produce a special edition which works for you. I like to cross tweeters over really low… that's a big thing for me. To develop a tweeter that would go suitably low—and I wanted to open up the dispersion that gives you that more three-dimensional feeling.

SM You will see my notes in due course, but I must say this is all getting scarily holographic… With this new tweeter, did you then also re-voice the overall?

PT It sounds funny, but we always use 'voice' to voice systems. A recording of a male voice. You get the character of the speakers across a range… I was taught when I worked for the BBC in London that you design a speaker, you give it to the guys who are going to use it, and they have it for a few months and use it, and then you get the comments back. You modify it, you measure it, and give another version. Measure, adjust, listen…Why we use speech, is that our brains have evolved over millions of years—we are very focused on communication. If something is not right with speech, you will know it. I use mono speech—I spend 90% of the time on that, then I go to stereo speech, then to music. And for matching of speakers it should sound like the width of a head—not six feet wide. You listen to some speakers and it sounds as if it's coming from some huge monster. (laughter)

SM You have many children now. Do you love them all equally?

PT We really do feel that as you go up the range with our products that you get a discernable value for the money—that the performance does improve. One of the things that worry me about our industry is that this is not always the case. Our customers are not stupid.

SM The low-end response of the FB1i, and all of your speakers, is very special. How does this behave, how did you achieve this?

P.T One of the nice things about transmission lines is that they don't roll off very steeply… It gives a nice smooth transition as it rolls away. With a 'room lift' you can get a very nice flat response in-room. The roll-off is very very gentle. You can use a two-way with a relatively small bass speaker and really get that bass extension. It's like having a sub-woofer built in.

SM Do you view the 'consumer' and the 'pro' audio worlds as inherently different, or are they getting more similar in 2010?

PT I think they are converging. Large studio use is dropping, there is more 'home studio' use—that is changing. There are different demands in the two industries—often they have quite different acoustics. For me, I'm just trying to make the most accurate speaker I can make—I don't change the speaker design to suit where it is going to be used.

SM So that older world of harsh studio monitors, that 'reveal' everything—that's not so much where it's at in your view?

PT Well, it isn't for us… There are a lot of studio monitors that are very in-your-face and distorted and loud. That is how we got into the industry, there were so many of those speakers that produced that really distorted sound. And the BBC wanted a speaker that could play at a high level that wasn't distorted. There are more (better) ones out there now than when we started twenty years ago, but there are still some pretty bad ones out there. (laughter)

SM Have you visited some of the film and mixing facilities in Los Angeles that use your gear?

PT Yes I have. The top three film scoring engineers use PMC. A lot of the composers use PMC as well—James Newton Howard and others. It's a big part of our business over there.

SM The FB1's are not one of these refrigerator behemoths that may be o.k. in the studio setting, but less so for many people where they live.

PT That's where we changed transmission lines. They used to have to be big huge cabinets to get that kind of bass, but what we've worked on, what we call 'Advanced Transmission Line,' or ATL, gets that extended response, but in a much smaller cabinet. Nobody wants a great huge cabinet in their front room, or not many people anyway.

SM On your website you list many musicians that use PMC gear. Tell us a story.

PT Probably the nicest time I had was with Stevie Wonder. He came to the U.K. for an award… and rang me up at the factory and asked for a pair of speakers. Six months later I was in Los Angeles and was invited to his studio. Stevie had just remastered all his albums on our BB5 speakers. And he was so pleased with them he said, "Pick any album.." I picked Talking Book and he played me that. And to stand there and listen to Talking Book on my speakers with Stevie Wonder standing next to me and singing along with it—unbelievable! That was pretty special.

SM And that 'BB5,' your first product, still is in production?

PT Twentieth anniversary this year.

The mighty PMC BB5's

SM To those skeptics out there, even including some experienced high end audio journalists, what can you say to clear up any lingering doubts they may have about the point of transmission line designs?

PT I think the easiest thing to say is, just listen to them. (laughter) They work. How many reflex speakers produce that kind of quality at the low end? That's the easiest answer—that low bass extension, in a real world room—you can hear it. The technical answer I suppose is two things. First of all, it's very difficult to measure a transmission line, because the vent is producing low frequencies at some distance from the bass unit; to combine those two responses—it is difficult to get a proper measurement. The second thing I'd say is that 'transmission line' is a very misleading term. A lot of people believe that a transmission line is an infinitely long tunnel that absorbs everything from behind the bass unit—which is the true technical meaning of 'transmission line', that there is no reflection, no return of the sound coming out of the back of the driver. But in the practical world it couldn't be infinitely long. So we have an open vent at the bottom, which actually allows bass reinforcement. And that's why you get a very similar impedance measurement to a reflex design. So at the very low frequency it doesn't work like the technical idea of a transmission line. But that's not to say they work like a reflex—and you can hear that, and measure it. And that's why I love them—because the bass distortion is so low you get this lovely open mid-range.

SM Right. You are not screwing everything up higher up the food chain.

PT That's it. Because that's what happens with a lot of these bass units in cabinets—the distortion ripples up into the mid-range, and masks it.

Music re-creation devices

Categorical Listening

Rather than try to listen to all aspects at once in sample recordings, I thought it might be interesting to focus on different principal categories of music reproduction that high-end audio enthusiasts care about. I have already mentioned some of these in terms of the FB1i loudspeakers in the abstract, but let us go now to some music, and the particulars.

Category 1: Lords of Bass Discipline.

Mahler – Symphony #4– Mvt. 3-Michael Tilson Thomas (San Francisco Symphony)

Keep coming back to the now-completed Tilson Thomas Mahler cycle. And why not? These recordings are amongst the very best classical releases of our time, on all levels. Focusing on the bass performance of the FB1i's, there are any number of great test moments one could pick. For example, Mvt.3, those heart-wrenching string descents into the depths that Tilson Thomas nails. Not so much a glissando, but a wonderful slow portamento that just slays me every time I've heard it. You know the part, a few minutes from the end of the movement. With these FB1i's you feel like you are coming in for a hard landing on a big jet—but a successful one! You feel that acoustic and emotional foundation reaching out to grab you—'it's o.k. you're home now'. Hair-raising.

The Grateful Dead – Fillmore West, March 1, 1969 (Grateful Dead Records HDCD)

I included this one in my previous PMC review, as it remains a reference point. In terms of the 'acid test' bass-wise, you just can't beat Phil Lesh at his peak. Lesh and his fellow Dead always paid attention to the actual quality of their live sound—they spent millions over the years on their The title of Lesh's autobiography says it all, "Searching for the Sound." When that 5-string bass of his comes thundering in with their barn-burner, "That's It for the Other One," you get a real feel for what it was like standing in front of that group at their peak. And it's a workout for any hi-fi kit. The PMC's in their previous iteration were certainly up to the task, but the current FB1i model really sets this in concrete, plus enhancing a sense of that rich smooth upper end of Phil Lesh's sound as well. Could you do more with larger models from PMC's lineup or other mega-speakers? I have no doubt, but the FB1i's give me plenty of the feel that I recall from actually hearing this stuff myself at that time in the Fillmore West. Can it really be 41 years ago?!

James Horner – Avatar (Atlantic Records)

As already noted above, this hot-off-the-shelf as of this writing CD looks like it will enter into the hi-fi test pantheon. Almost deliberately so, as the opening of Track 1 "You Don't Dream in Cryo…" is a ready-made workout for the low-end of any speaker system, assuming they have one. And as tested by myself, we are talking musical information in the 25Hz ballpark. When I first put it on I literally could not believe what I was hearing. And I've checked it a number of times since; most recently my wife was in the other room and called out "What was that?!" As for the music, you be the judge—I hear a recurring chord progression for the main theme, that sounds a whole lot like that main theme for the story about the sinking boat...

Category 2: Sorting Things Out.

Louis Armstrong – Hot Fives and Sevens – (JSP Records)

Another aspect that I see written about constantly in hi-fi articles, is the ability of gear to 'sort out' music that is complex in terms of textures and parts. I think this is an important criteria to apply, particularly in terms of the final link in the music re-creation chain, the loudspeakers. I have been on a Louis Armstrong kick lately. I own some of his early recordings on 78's, and enjoy hearing that music mightily in that format with my hand-cranked Victor Victrola Model IV, manufactured in 1917. Somehow though, I had never owned much Louis Armstrong in other formats. What an idiot I am! Reading the excellent Armstrong biography "Pops" by Terry Teachout, I realized what I've been missing all these years—the recordings made in 1928 with his Hot Five and Hot Seven groups. Looking at the web chatter, the collection to get is on an English label called JSP. These transfers are really wonderful; apparently the one to avoid is the more recent Columbia set, which is surprising as Columbia usually does a great job, as in all those Miles box sets. The PMC's were able to separate the on-fire contrapuntal action in a way that allowed me to simultaneously hear the different timbres with a 'you are in the room' feel. Teachout mentions in his book how since Armstrong was such a powerful player they would place him in the back of the studio, or literally in the doorway, in order to balance him with the rest of the group for these one-mike recordings. I could literally 'see' that happening in front of my eyes, because of what my ears were telling me. Louis lives! Beautifully re-created by the FB1i….PS. Cut to a few days later. Just got (from Amazon no less) a 'near mint' original mono Columbia pressing of Louis's great 1954 recording "Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy." All of the above applies, though even more so—"Chantez-Les Bas"—YEAH baby!

Mahler - Symphony #8- Mvt.I- Michael Tilson Thomas (San Francisco Symphony)

Everyone loves Mahler's 4th, but how many love the 8th? I knew Tilson Thomas would wait till last in the cycle to tackle this one. Every other version I have heard failed to keep this blowout from sounding like a God-awful mess. Until now. Thomas's great combination of taking his time, and then at exactly the right moment, WHAM, serves this piece well. And the ability of the PMC-FB1i's to particularize and deliver this Mahler rave—a full orchestra, huge chorus, and a bunch of soloists all yelling at the top of their lungs—is something to experience.

Category 3: The Ella Test.

Ella Fitzgerald – Twelve Nights in Hollywood – (Verve)

I own more Ella Fitzgerald than any other artist on my LP shelves. If you need a reference for vocal recordings you can't go wrong with most of the great 'Songbooks.' And as other audiophiles have noted, her small studio combo recording from the early 60's, "Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie," sets the bar VERY high indeed for both performance and sound. But there has not been the quantity of good live material from Ella as her studio dates. Until now. Norman Granz recorded her at the 'Crescendo' in Hollywood, from May 11th through May 21st., 1961, with one follow-up set from 1962. The majority of this material has sat unreleased until recently—76 tracks on this box set! Not the velvety smooth studio production sound-wise, and the PMC's are honest about that, but Ella is BURNIN! Scattin', singin' the Blues. Amazing. And the PMC's deliver her from that club in Hollywood all those years ago to us now, like a time machine.

Diana Krall – Love Scenes – ( Verve / Original Recordings Group – Vinyl)

From 1997, a while ago for Diana, backed up by just guitar and bass. Never owned this one, though I know it's been played at many a hi-fi show. This new vinyl pressing is outstanding I must say, talk about 'jet black background', this is it. Al Schmitt, Bernie Grundman, all top drawer on the tech side. Diana is not one to be shy about putting her vocals front and center and in your face. And this is never more apparent than the lascivious debauchery with which she mouths "Peel Me a Grape." Maybe we need a Parental Content Warning on this one. The PMC's delivered this in all its slobbering intimacy—hard to ignore!

Joni Mitchell – Ladies of the Canyon – (Reprise / Rhino Vinyl )

I am not the first hi-fi buff to express appreciation for the amount of nice vinyl coming our way these days. We may not be able to pass health care reform in this country, but at least you can get fantastic pressings of Joni Mitchell's great key albums. I've lived with and loved "Blue" ever since it accompanied my first 'adult' romance as a senior in Berkeley High School. We lived with that music that summer after high school. Never was quite as close to "Ladies of the Canyon," but I am sure loving listening to it RIGHT NOW as I type. And the PMC FB1i's are bringing that voice to me, right here, right now. These Rhino pressings are things of beauty. And it's great to hear Joni's bright young soprano right on the cusp, before it starts to descend on "Blue." Great strong songwriting here. Welcome to the house Joni—I love ya!

Category 4: Harmonic Convergence.

Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians – (Nonesuch)

The piece that changed music going forward. I first knew it as a vinyl ECM release in the late-70's that prominently featured all that reverb that Manfred Eicher likes to drench most of his recordings with. There are now several versions of this piece out there; the one I prefer is Steve and his crew on Nonesuch from 1997. Digital all the way no doubt, but in this case it serves the music to get right in close on all that hocketed texture and timbre, those pulsing bass clarinets; that is what the piece is about for me. And the ability of audio hardware to deliver the beauty of the harmonic series in its infinite behavior is at the core of what hi-fidelity means, in my opinion. That's why I'm a tube guy; hearing this music delivered through my Cary tube gear and out of the FB1i's is where it's at. In the opening and closing sections of Reich's work, you experience that enjoyment of harmonic behavior for its own sake clearly, definitively, and very movingly.

Matson – Range of Light, Mvt. 3. - (New Albion Records)

Yes, it's one of mine, and I've used it before as an obvious self-referential reference choice. Briefly summed up—I composed it, I conducted it at the super-fine Schnee Studio in L.A., and I was there with Bernie Grundman and my co-producer Joe Harley when it was mastered. So yes, I do have a good idea of how it's supposed to sound. And the end of this particular movement, a song-cycle for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra to texts of John Muir, is gorgeously sung by Catherine Robbin. So much so that it still gives me chills—especially hearing the end of this third movement re-created so lovingly by the FB1i's. Everything in its place.

Gravitational Pull

I stand by every comment I made in my 2006 review of the earlier FB1+ model, which I have lived with and loved for the past four years. The current FB1i is the third in this family history, but the second in my personal listening experience. Initially I was a little skeptical I must admit; the FB1+ was so good, and has brought me so much musical pleasure—would there really be any significant audible differences that I could detect? I don't circulate gear through my life just for the heck of it, in fact, I take a sort of contrarian approach—if it aint broke, why switch it? Find something you like and stick with it is my take. Musically and technically I suppose I am a monogamous fellow, after all, my wife and I have been married for twenty-nine years!

As Larry David likes to say, 'having said that'—to its previous excellence the current PMC FB1i model adds complex tactile sophistication up top via the tweeter redesign, and in turn even more heft and convincing authority and realism way down low. This speaker remains beautifully seamless throughout its range, and that's a large free-range bird indeed. I said it before and I need to say it even more emphatically now. I am not familiar with any loudspeaker currently on the market that goes this low, with this overall quality, at anywhere near this price. The FB1i is a standard setter that more people involved in high end audio should hear for themselves. PMC is a company that people I respect in the music industry know about and gravitate towards, for good reasons. Once you are in that orbit there will be no turning back. Sasha Matson

FB1i loudspeakers
Retail: $4849 per pair

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