Review: PMC TB2 Monitors
The PMC TB2 nearfield monitor speakers have been around for a number of years. They are the improved version of the TB1 and have themselves been upgraded to the TB2+, with an improved tweeter and modified crossover. There was also a TB2i hi-fi version, and an SE (Special Edition) version, but these seem to have been discontinued. M and S suffixes have been used in the TB range, with S used to indicate a studio version, characterized by a tough black paint finish, and an M suffix to signify a magnetically shielded version. Whereas there used to be a variety of finishes available, the current and only TB2 model, according to the PMC website at the time of writing (Jan, 2016), is the TB2+ with the black paint finish. It’s an out-and-out studio model but doesn’t have the S suffix. Although this review looks at the original TB2 model, I think it is fair to assume that although the later versions should sound better, they essentially come from the same stable and therefore must have similar characteristics. (It is possible to upgrade the TB2 to the TB2+ model – through an authorized dealer – but not to the TB2i.)
PMC is a highly respected speaker manufacturing company specializing in transmission line designs, where the energy from the rear of the bass/mid driver is sent down a long folded duct – the transmission line – to emerge at a vent minus its high frequency content (which has got lost on the way), and thus effectively reinforcing the bass. However, this doesn’t translate into blisteringly powerful bass energy, as the description may imply – at least not with the PMCs. Refined, detailed and balanced are the words that spring to mind.
The first thing that strikes me about the TB2s is that they are an aesthetically pleasing design, with the cabinet measuring 200x400x300mm (whd), housing a 6.5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter. The transmission line terminates at the rear, above the dual input terminals, which make bi-wiring an option. The front baffle has rounded vertical edges to help reduce edge diffraction and improve the stereo image.
In fact on hearing the TB2s the first thing that impressed me was the stereo image. Even though I was far from the ideal listening position when I pressed the play button on my CD unit, the sound stage was beckoning me in. The next thing that was immediately noticeable was the clarity of sound. I could hear details in the recording that I hadn’t heard before. Even reverb tails were revealed in magnificent detail.
I was listening to a track by the American singer Maxwell that begins without the bass. ‘How would the bass sound when it entered in the middle of the song?’ was the question foremost in my mind. When the answer came I was pleasantly surprised. The depth was certainly sufficient, and again the detail was remarkable. I used to transcribe a lot of music, which required concentrated analytical listening. Bass parts were often a problem, so I would use headphones and reduce the bass on the amplifier to help separate the individual bass notes from one another. Had I had the TB2s at the time this wouldn’t have been necessary, as they reveal the individual notes in complex bass lines with great clarity. I could now begin to understand why these speakers have gained such a high reputation.
Because they are so revealing, the TB2s will make a bad mix sound absolutely awful, and by bad mix I don’t necessarily mean a DIY mix musicians, without any real engineering skills, might make for themselves. I have at least one commercial CD by a big name artist where the snare drum completely dominates the track. Through the TB2s the mix sounds atrocious. At the other end of the spectrum, I think it’s true to say that if the mix is sounding good on the TB2s, it’s going to sound good on many other systems too.
Although there are some people who like to use monitor speakers as their hi-fi speakers, I am not one of them. Studio monitors and hi-fi speakers are designed to do two different jobs. Monitors should present the sound in unashamed detail, to help musicians and engineers create the best possible mix of the recorded sound. However, from a hi-fi perspective the sound might be described as harsh and clinical. Hi-fi speakers are designed to present the sound with a little bit of warmth, in a way that makes them more palatable to the ears. How designers go about achieving these objectives is as much an art as it is a science, but just as hi-fi speakers don’t make good monitors, so too monitors don’t make good hi-fi speakers. However, the TB2s are a little different. They offer detail and clarity without the mid frequencies sounding too bright, making them acceptable, at least to a certain extent, for hi-fi listening. But it is as monitors, which is after all what the TB2s were designed for, that they excel.
Some reviews state how these speakers really benefit from being driven by a powerful power amplifier. This may well be true, but for this review I used a £500 Denon stereo hi-fi amplifier, rated at 75 watts RMS per channel.
Although it has been some years since their release, I feel the TB2s still compare very well with more recent monitors. I am delighted with the TB2s I picked up second hand and would certainly recommend auditioning the current TB2+ model to anyone wanting to buy a quality nearfield monitor.