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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Consonance Droplet CDP-5.0 [on loan]; Canary Audio CD-100 [on review]; Zanden Audio 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: Bel Canto Design PRe2
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Mk 1.5; Gallo Acoustics Reference 3
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Stealth Audio Indra (x1); Zu Cable balanced Varial; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan
Review Component Retail: $8,500/pr; $1,700/pr for optional stand

Once upon a time, a loudspeaker company called Paradigm made a speaker called the Active 40. The fearless scribe of the wicked pen Corey Greenberg proclaimed it boffo beyond belief. Anyone who heard it agreed. Naturally, audiophiles didn't buy it -- the acclaim or the speaker -- and the Active 40 went away. Ask any speaker designer worth his salt -- preferably off the record -- and she'd tell you how she'd love to design a fully active speaker. Alas, it wouldn't sell. How about a flat-panel speaker to hang right next to your plasma screen instead? That shit's hot, bozo.

The speaker of today's review is all wrong, too. It's very expensive and finished in black or blue paint only. It's got a mere two drivers. The puny 6.5" woofer is flat as a pancake and not at all awe-inspiring for raves. Hell and damnation, this box is designed for the professional market. What do they know about music anyway (except to use cheap-ass Yamaha monitors to master all the CDs we're listening to?) Like Paradigm's overachieving dud, today's insult to all that audiophiles hold dear is fully active. Two internal 80 and 100-watt Bryston amplifiers and an active crossover with user-adjustable EQ provisions control the drivers. This thing only takes a balanced input. It's got no grilles. It has a heatsink sticking out its arse. The optional custom stand is $1,700/pr. Let's face it, the PMC AML1 is an audiophile travesty of the first order. None will sell. Go home, limeys!

Truth be told, Peter Thomas, CEO of the Professional Monitor Company in England, had his doubts when minority share holder of newly formed PMC America, Richard Colburn, insisted on bringing the firm's smallest active monitor from its professional division into the USA. But that's what Richard listens to at home. And Richard's been working in audio since 1971. He was one of the founding fathers of Mirage well before Ian Paisley got involved and API took over. He worked for AudioQuest for 5 years. He worked in two HiFi stores and as a manufacturer's rep. He attended the same college class as Ken Kessler.

To Richard who sold IMF speakers when Bud Fried imported them -- we're talking Dahlquist DQ-10 days -- the AML1 is the Ferrari Enzo of the speaker world. During his travels across America to introduce dealers to the PMC line now that its domestic marketing arm has separated from Bryston -- Richard has bought into PMC not just figuratively to head its new US branch -- he has made it his personal mission to demonstrate this active miniature to anyone who wouldn't listen. Go ahead, tell him the speaker sucks - after you've heard it. He's calm as a tiger before the pounce. He knows you won't be able to. He knows you'll be flabbergasted, coming apart at the seams in disbelief. What do audiophiles know about live sound anyway? All you'll be able to complain about is price and perhaps cosmetics. Richard will shrug his shoulders. He knows floorstanders don't sell anymore. 'Tis the reign of the small speaker today. The iPod rules. So do feature-enhanced cellphones and flat-panel televisions.

So set aside your audiophile beefs and judgments. Let's look this 'un over again, shall we? It's small. To be precise, 15.75" tall, with a footprint of 7.87" wide by 12.44" deep. That's good in today's "I don't want to see the bloody HiFi" climate. It can dish out 106 decibels at 30Hz flat all day long. I know, that's a shocker and sounds like so much poppycock. Remember though, this is a folded transmission line 1.7 meters or 5.5' long, making for a resistive load with very shallow rolloff. Remember as well that as an active speaker, the crossover comes before, not after the amps. This allows for built-in linearization. Lastly, remember that for large spaces, you can engage a 3dB bass boost with its knee at 500Hz. (Disengaged, the EQ and contour circuit is entirely out of the signal path. Engaged, you can control LF rolloff by -3dB @ 50Hz, 80Hz and 160Hz, useful for near-field applications. You can control LF tilt @ 30Hz by -9dB, -6, -3 and +3dB. You can do the same for HF at 10kHz in -5dB, -2.5dB and +2.5dB, with the knee then at 1kHz.)

Amplifier distortion at full bandwidth and full output is <0.009%. Slew rate is >60V/microsecond. Power bandwidth is 1Hz to 100kHz, S/N ratio 90dB referenced at 0dBu. 1 out of 5 of the 1.25" silk-dome tweeters are rejected during in-house testing. Incidentally, there's no reimbursement by the vendor who can't find anything wrong with the rejects. The flat-piston bass driver is constructed from a carbon fiber/Nomex honeycomb. Like the tweeter, it's pair-matched to excruciatingly tight tolerances as is the crossover, all of it referenced in PMC's service library to insure that replacement parts will honor the inherent calibration of each speaker pair sold. Every element of the AML1 including the Os-Con capacitors in key areas of the crossover and amplifiers are "highest audiophile grade". For this speaker project, PMC was adamant that only the best would do, money and compromises be damned. What do pros know about speaker design when their clients comprise some of the world's most famous recording studios that use PMC speakers literally 'round the clock?

As a fully active speaker, all you provide to run the AML1 is a source with balanced outputs (preamp optional). The just reviewed Consonance Audio Droplet CDP-5.0 player with XLR outs and integral volume control would make for a high-level 3-piece system, nothing else required. Imagine - one player, one pair of speakers, one pair of long interconnects. Done! In fact, your player needn't even sport variable outputs. Each AML1 has a master gain control. Granted, it's not as convenient as aiming a remote but you can run these boxes from fixed source outputs without a problem.

Master volume & EQ controls hide smartly behind a trap door on the top's rear. Contrary to intuition, a green LED signifies bypass, a red circuits engaged.

Now we're getting at the raison d'être for this product: miniaturization and simplification wedded to peak performance. Think Avantgarde Acoustic's Solo without the horns. Ron Whitworth's custom stands (bolted directly to the speakers for a worry-free interface) even sport slanted egress openings below the top plate so you can run your interconnect and power cord inside the two rear columns and have them exit down below between the rear spikes for a super-tidy appearance. The US customer Richard Colburn targets with the AML1 wants big, loud, distortion-free, turnkey sound from the smallest possible package. Forget about subwoofers. Use the bare minimum of external electronics. This customer, she doesn't want to futz with components, dick around with wires, tweak, tune, dial and agonize. She wants high-performance invisible music that does movie soundtracks with the same aplomb. He digs the LF/HF tilt controls for a set-then-forget customization to the room, thereafter tucks 'em away beneath the trap door and never tells her of the knobs' existence. For this couple, money's not really an issue. If performance and convenience warrant the expense and relegate monstrous floorstanders with their massive amps to the monkey coffin cemetery, it's H&G - hi and goodbye.

Clearly, no average wheeling-and-dealing AudiogoNers or high-strung super-tweaky 'philes, these folks of ours. They're hi-tech clients who appreciate that active speaker drive is far superior to passive. They acknowledge that a bit of carefully administered (and fully bypassable) EQ in the analog domain can be the cat's meow to optimize in-room performance without violating any hackneyed religious commandments. This hi-tech client delights in the fact that impedance matching and power transfer issues have been solved by the designer. He is savvy enough to realize, too, that a BAT fully balanced remote-controlled tube preamplifier (or equivalent) allows for some deliberate audiophile voicing in the harmonic domain should one's leaning favor it over studio monitor accuracy and ultra-low distortion.

The question boils down to this: Does our profiled target customer live anywhere in the United States of A? Or do music lovers with $10,200 for a stand-mounted monitor insist on automotive lacquers, recognizable name-brand transducers, Trophy HiFi and the whole mix'n'match mentality audiophiles delight in as their God-given right (to often screw things up)? PMC does make veneer-clad passive monitors and floorstanders for their Home Division to support at least the final point in that list. But when it comes to name brand recognition in the consumer sector? Forget it. For most intents and purposes, PMC is as unknown as are ATC, Klein & Hummel and Genelec. PMC America man Colburn has his work cut out for himself. Having been around the block a few times already, he's confident that he's betting his money, time
and sweat equity on a winner. To him, the contemporary-most crown jewel in the line -- appropriated as it were from its professional lineup -- is the AML1. Why? Because it conforms to the small-is-better maxim that rules audiophilia in US dealerships these days. Because it offers uncompromised full-range performance in a smart and highly reliable package (the AML1 is at least six unchanged years old). Because it does everything big speakers do but goes well beyond most of them due to being actively biamped.

So here we are, Mister Tweakoid SET man in Taos with his wide-bandwidth crossover-less speakers and the diminutive PMC AML1. Had Mr. Colburn chosen the right reviewer for the job? That'll be the story for another day. Richard personally delivered the speakers after a demo for an Albuquerque dealer. Unlike nearly most such visits in Arroyo Seco, he closed his eyes and sat through complete music tracks going elsewhere without any of the usual eyes-wide-shut running audiophile commentary.

He claims all the folks at PMC are like him - driven by a passion for music. Referencing the AML1 in Taos against how it performs in his CA digs by way of a few custom compilations, he happily nodded his head and dryly quipped "they're doing exactly what they're supposed to" before hitting the trail for Flagstaff for yet another prospective PMC dealer demonstration. Meanwhile, moonie Les Turoczi has taken delivery of PMC's mighty IB2S. Here now is installment #1 on the PMC sound.
The hatch to the hidden controls bay