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PMC twenty.21 Speaker Review

Standmounts don't 'do' deep bass, right?

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

28

Highly Recommended
PMC twenty.21 Speaker Review
SRP: £1,485.00

What is the PMC twenty.21?

Having spent a little time looking at the affordable end of the speaker market - we have established the gently predictable result that we can't easily find ourselves recommending much other than the crushingly competent offerings from Q Acoustics. As such, while we wait for the next selection of challengers to try and steal the laurels of the 3000 Series, there is time to look at a more rarefied price point, in this case the princely sum of £1,500.

This is an interesting price to be looking for a pair of loudspeakers. Effectively, you can choose between the flagship of a more entry level range or the smallest model from a more expensive lineup. There are pros and cons to both approaches. Do you want more drivers, bigger cabinets and the culmination of everything that a range can deliver or would you prefer to have a rather smaller amount of higher quality components? One factor that might shape your decision is that conventional wisdom dictates that smaller speakers- nearly regardless of the quality of their components- cannot hope to rival larger ones in terms of bass output. If you want scale, you'll need a bigger pair of speakers.

The speaker you see here does not set out to disprove this notion- the laws of physics are pretty solid things and the presence of (much) larger speakers in the company's line up suggests they accept this too. Nonetheless, PMC is a company with a means of at least bending those rules a little. The twenty.21 is a two-way standmount speaker but one that packs a little extra something into that compact cabinet in the form of a transmission line. Is the PMC a means to deliver a little more welly from a small speaker?

PMC twenty.21 Design

PMC twenty.21
The twenty.21 (for reasons known only to themselves and the lasting despair of sub editors, PMC doesn't capitalise the 'twenty'), is the smallest of a five model stereo lineup with matching centre and sub options. The twenty.21 and twenty.23, which is built around the same driver complement but in a floor standing cabinet, use a 5.5 inch doped paper midbass driver partnered with a 27mm tweeter that PMC adapts to their requirements. This is a far from unusual pairing for a speaker at this price point but it's what PMC does with the mid bass driver that makes the twenty.21 different to the rest of the pack.

The twenty.21, like almost all PMC speakers is built around a transmission line. This is a process that has been around for many years, but thanks to the relative complexity and cost of doing it right, it's still quite rare. A transmission line is an acoustic waveguide that is damped in such a way as to allow for the lowest frequencies to travel through it while higher ones are directly radiated via the drivers. Unlike a more conventional bass port, there is no pressure differential - air leaves the port of a transmission line at the same rate that it does the driver but thanks to the considerable length of the line, the effect on the bass response is roughly equivalent to adding a second driver to the speakers.
PMC twenty.21
This means that inside the 32 centimetre tall cabinet of the twenty.21 is a transmission line over five feet in length. This is enough to give this compact speaker a claimed frequency response of 50Hz - not seismic but enough to be meaningfully described as 'bass' and a figure that should be rationalised against PMC's pro background; meaning that they are unlikely to overstate their performance and that lower frequencies will be available with a greater degree of roll off. This is achieved with a benign impedance of 8 ohms and a sensitivity of 87dB/w which makes the twenty.21 a load that should not be too challenging to most similarly priced amps.

The clever bit of the twenty.21 is that none of this engineering really makes itself felt in the basic exterior design of the speaker. The transmission line terminates in a rectangular port with mesh that is fixed to the cabinet which is slightly larger than a conventional bass port, but otherwise there are no clues to the internal design. One distinctive and immediately noticeable part of the design is that the entire cabinet - front and back - is staggered. This forms part of the time alignment of the two drivers to improve their cohesion with one another. It also looks rather smart. Around the back, the PMC is increasingly unusual in that it supports bi-wiring and bi-amping.

What's good about the PMC?

PMC twenty.21
The twenty.21 is only marginally larger than the Q Acoustics 3020 reviewed recently. If you can find room for one you can almost certainly find the space you need for the other. Thanks to the way that the transmission line works and the front placement of the vent, the twenty.21 is not too sensitive to placement near walls although it does work best with a little distance from both rear and side walls if you can.
It is also an attractive and well finished speaker. Historically, PMC designs have been rather functional - as if to emphasise the studio heritage but in recent years this has changed a little. This leaves the twenty.21 looking elegant but businesslike. The wood veneer is well finished and in the walnut of the review sample lets the PMC sit happily in most environments. Build is excellent and the stonking twenty year warranty is a fairly emphatic vote of confidence that the twenty.21 will last the course.

What's not so good about the PMC?

While it is the most affordable stereo member of the twenty series, the twenty.21 is not an especially large speaker for your £1,485. Even making allowances for the UK origin of the twenty.21 it is possible to secure rather larger speakers for your budget. The design, while handsome is less elegant than some rivals and if you work on the principle that the PMC will do its best work on a solid pair of stands, it is not a significant amount smaller than a floorstander.
PMC twenty.21
The stonking twenty year warranty is a fairly emphatic vote of confidence that the twenty.21 will last the course.

How was the PMC tested?

To complement the twenty.21, PMC supplied a pair of their matching stands - yours for £295. These are staggered with the same lean as the cabinet to further aid performance. For source equipment the twenty.21 was used with a Naim ND5XS streamer with XP5XS power supply, Chord Hugo and both the Innuos Zen and Melco N1A servers as well as Avid Ingenium Twin and Roksan Xerxes turntables, all connected to Isotek mains conditioners. Media used included lossless and high res FLAC, DSD and vinyl.

What does the PMC sound like?

PMC twenty.21
The review samples supplied have enjoyed both PMC's lengthy and intensive run in process, and seen some use in addition to that, so I have been able to dive straight in to listening to the PMCs critically but previous experience of the brand suggests that making any judgement on a pair without a few hours on them is not a great idea. Suitably run in though, the PMC makes quite a case for itself.

First up, the bass. As mentioned before, the laws of physics are immutable. If you want to feel music in your internal organs and receive that palpable smack in the chest from a kickdrum, the twenty.21 is simply not going to deliver this in the same way that no speaker of this size and driver complement is going to. With expectations duly set to where they need to be though, the way that the PMC goes about delivering music is deeply and consistently impressive.

Where the twenty.21 excels is filling out the lower registers with a depth and authority that is simply not something you'd expect from a speaker of this size and design. With the hefty bass guitar line of Seasick Steve's Down on the Farm, the PMC sounds fuller and richer than you might reasonably expect a small standmount to be. Furthermore, this is not achieved at the expense of speed. The PMC never sounds slow or bloated and will stay with anything you throw at them.

This brilliant low end is well integrated into the rest of the frequency response and the PMC feels commendably flat from top to bottom with perhaps a little lift at the top and the very slightest sense of a dip in the upper midrange. With any remotely well recorded material, the twenty.21 draws you into the music in a way that larger and more complicated speakers can struggle to do. There is something to be said for the innate simplicity of two way loudpeakers and if the two drivers are well integrated - and make no mistake, that is the case here - they can sound more believable than notionally more able speakers fighting to keep all their drivers working together.
PMC twenty.21
The twenty.21 is more visibly domesticated than some PMC designs of old but the studio heritage does show through. The detail retrieval from these relatively small boxes is phenomenal with incidental aspects of recordings brought to your attention and woven into the overall performance. The twenty.21 is more than capable of displaying the differences between my resident Avid Ingenium and the visiting Roksan Xerxes despite costing an order of magnitude less than either of them.

Another area where the PMC is deeply impressive is the soundstage. With the speakers placed with toe in that means they notionally 'cross' about a metre behind your listening position, the twenty.21 generates a convincing and consistent portrayal of the artists performing. In my 6 metre by 5 metre lounge, they are in their element and the sound is genuinely room filling. Naturally, if you live in a hangar, you'll need to look to something larger but the twenty.21 is more than up to the task of filling a normal UK room without any signs of strain.

The flipside of this detail and assurance is that the PMC will only flatter your musical collection up to a point. It will show compression in recorded material like an iceberg in the Med and if you play bright and edgy pieces on them they will - logically enough - sound bright and edgy. Some level of care and attention will be needed when system matching the twenty.21 - the more recent Naim products do seem to work well, and the company itself has often used Heed electronics, as well as the Bryston electronics they distribute, which also work well.

The pay-off for these demands is a speaker which delivers accuracy, speed and scale in a way that puts clear air between itself and most rivals. I don't make any real secret of my fondness for rival British speaker brand Neat - indeed I own a pair - but I am not sure anything in their lineup at the price has an answer to how consistently competent the twenty.21 is. There is a balance to the PMC that makes it hard to respond to - few speakers with more bass can match the speed and transparency and they will be larger and harder to accommodate. I like bass and find it hard to live with speakers that don't possess it whatever their other talents are. The PMC does enough at the bottom end to leave you marvelling at what it does elsewhere.
PMC twenty.21
The pay-off for these demands is a speaker which delivers accuracy, speed and scale in a way that puts clear air between itself and most rivals.

Verdict

Pros

  • Incredibly authoritative sound from a small speaker
  • Superb build
  • Handsome looks

Cons

  • Won't flatter poorer material
  • Stands are relatively pricey
  • Demanding on partnering equipment

PMC twenty.21 Speaker Review

The arguments over whether you want a big 'budget' speaker (I use the term in the loosest sense) over a small 'premium' one are likely to run and run, but the dividing lines are clear enough for the most part. Having spent some time with the PMC though, this is a speaker that does a very fine job of subverting them. I hope I have managed to convey that for truly deep bass, you obviously need a larger speaker, but if you audition the twenty.21 against bigger rivals in a sensibly sized room, I would be confident that the surprising heft of the PMC coupled with the detail, tonality and sheer groove that it delivers would have you picking the smaller speaker. Small is beautiful and never more so than here.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Sound Quality

.
9

Build Quality

.
9

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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