Review: High-End Hi-Fi Speakers
PMC TB2i vs B&W CM8 vs ELAC FS 247
When buying speakers sometimes it’s helpful to have an alternative perspective before making a final choice. This article is intended to be that ‘alternative perspective’, serving as a mini review and comparison between the PMC TB2i, Bowers & Wilkins CM8, and ELAC FS 247 hi-fi speakers. The comments are unashamedly subjective, which is all they can be when comparing sound quality as opposed to hard specifications. For the purpose of this article 'High-End' refers to speakers costing over £1000.
Spring 2011 found me browsing in a large downtown electrical retailer with quite a good audio department. For the first time I saw a pair of PMC TB2i speakers, speakers I was particularly curious to hear as PMC are one of the few manufacturers that use transmission line technology.
When auditioning speakers it’s best to listen to a CD you are familiar with, and ideally through the same amplifier and CD player as you have, or will have, so I returned to the store, CD in hand, and asked for a demonstration of the PMC TB2i’s.
I was immediately struck by how remarkably clear their sound was. I could hear a lot of detail, particularly in the bass. I felt the speakers didn’t flatter the sound in any way. Everything was there, presented just as it should be, in remarkable detail. But perhaps this was also the problem. PMC, which stands for ‘Professional Monitor Company’, is a company that, as its name suggests, specialize in studio monitors. It would seem that, for better or for worse, too much of their monitor technology has spilled over into their hi-fi speakers. I contacted PMC regarding the exact differences between their TB2i hi-fi speakers and TB2+ monitors, and was told that, apart from cosmetic differences, the monitor version uses a different tweeter. Much as I loved their design, and was impressed by their clarity, I simply couldn’t warm to their sound as hi-fi speakers.
My reservations with the PMC’s prompted me to ask the sales clerk to switch to the nearby, similarly priced, Bowers & Wilkins CM8’s. Immediately I felt the quality in sound had jumped a whole level. The sound from the B&W’s seemed stronger and more assertive, while still retaining detail and refinement. Having heard the B&W's it was hard to return to the PMC’s.
At this point I couldn’t resist asking the clerk to switch to the nearby ELAC FS 247’s (pictured left). On hearing these I was completely taken aback. It was as if I was totally enveloped in sound, with crystal clear highs, coming from ELAC’s ribbon tweeter technology, solid lows, from the two 150mm drivers, and everything else in between. The jump in quality this time was astonishing.
I returned to the store several times over the course of a month to listen again and again to the PMC TB2i’s and ELAC FS 247’s, to make sure my initial judgements were sound (no pun intended).
To be fair, the ELAC's retail at over £600 more than the PMC's and B&W's, but I was looking at a display pair being sold with a discount that brought their price much closer to the competition.
Table showing the UK prices of the speakers (obtained from the Internet, November 2011).
|PMC TB2i||B&W CM8||ELAC FS 247|
Make no mistake, all the speakers in this article are of an exceptional pedigree, and I would be more than happy to have any of them grace my living room. But of the three, the ELAC FS 247’s win by a considerable margin.
See the related article Choosing Hi-Fi Speakers.
(I would like to affirm to the reader that I have no connection with any of the companies mentioned in this article, and have received no payment or benefits from any source for writing this review.)