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The Sound
My listening tastes focus primarily on classical and traditional jazz music. Large orchestral and symphonic works are of high importance, but so is voice and solo piano material. Pipe organ and choral music holds a special place for me, both as a listener and as someone who does live recordings particularly of that style of repertoire. My vinyl and CD collections include a fair amount of classic rock as well, but very little has been added there over the past 20 years. Give me CSN&Y, The Band, Beatles, Dire Straits, Lyle Lovett and that genre of stuff any day; just keep the more recent rampant noisy crap away. While mentioning my listening biases, I should say that I have a strong preference for recordings which feature a natural acoustic as in purist capturing techniques with little post-processing. Interestingly, one of my friends characterizes me as one who would rather sit in a cathedral to hear a concert versus hunkering down in a smoky, noisy club. There is a speck of truth to that but I am not stuck exclusively in that ethereal domain since about 75% of the music I enjoy for pleasure listening is outside the cathedral.

In order to get a general impression of any new gear coming into my system, I routinely resort to a compilation CDR I created at high resolution, reflecting a diversity of music. Many of the tracks come from favorite commercial discs, however, a number of pieces include recordings of live performances I made using pro gear in my collection of goodies. Schoeps mics, Tascam and Sony DAT machines, a Millennia Media HV3B mic preamp along with a Sound Devices 744T Hard Drive recorder comprise the main pieces there and this 'recordist' side of my audio life has been revelatory, instructive and fun. The range of music on this compilation disc includes solo singers, piano, pipe organ, string quartets, jazz quartets, full orchestra, synthesizer stuff and even a touch of opera. Parameters such as tonal balance, frequency extremes, spatial presentation, imaging and dimensionality are handily revealed by playing this disc and it has served me well for the past year. After using this disc for early impressions, the stable of regular CDs and LPs come into play and that helps to refine impressions and reveal concerns deserving further exploration.

One very favorite but oddball recording is Noye's Fludde, op. 59 which I own in both LP and CD [London 436 397-2] versions. This Chester Miracle Play set to music was composed by Benjamin Britten and conducted by Norman Del Mar. The interesting mix of soloists, children's chorus and a small orchestra -- performed in Oxford Church, UK during a music festival -- presents a fascinating treatment of the Noah story. Excellent sonics using minimalist recording methods are a major treat, especially noting that this was recorded in 1961. The IB2 speakers provided insights into this disc which had heretofore eluded me. Not only were the dynamic shifts more obvious but the intelligibility of words, which up until this experience often felt blurred, came through with a directness and energy that instilled a deeper emotional connection to the performance. Furthermore, there are many sections during which the performers move about the soundfield. This was portrayed with more precision and image specificity than had been obvious in my previous systems and on several fancy rigs owned by a number of my audio pals. The ability to sense the size of the room and acoustic reflections from boundaries was enhanced in a way that added to the thereness of the listening experience. Having strong familiarity with this disc, I am pleased to note that the sense of vocal accuracy and tonal correctness is also a standout feature of the IB2 speakers. Something in the way both strongly spoken and musically projected voices float into the listening space reveals how neutral, uncolored yet rich and full bodied human sounds can feel when presented this convincingly. The various instruments found on this piece also take on new character, primarily in being fleshed out in transiently precise and well-scaled dimension. For over 10 years, my Nestorovic System 12 based system served this style of music well and gave heaps of pleasure to me and visiting friends. I am now able to see more deeply into this music via the PMC speakers and can only think of one other system which did it better. That gargantuan system, as assembled a while back by Jeff Catalano at High Water Sound in NYC, included the Hørning Hybrid Alkibiades coffin-sized speakers driven with top-level Kondo Ongaku Neiro electronics plus other very exotic gear; the sum total constituted a reference package which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Considering the difference in cost, space requirements and other detail-bearing fussiness, I'd say that the IB2-based system in my listening room was doing more than its fair share of credible performance.

Onto music more of you will know, let me mention the 1992 Lyle Lovett CD Joshua Judges Ruth [MCAD-10475]. Here is a recording which delivers boatloads of musicianship, enjoyable sonic signatures and neat studio artistry. In addition to using the commercial release of JJR, I made both an EAC version as well as an AMQR copy using my trusty old Yamaha CRW-F1E burner. For those of you unfamiliar with this CDR device, it allows one to copy CDs in a special way that reduces jitter by creating longer and wider pits and lands on CDR blanks. When done at 1X burn speed on serious blanks as from Taiyo-Yuden or Mitsui, the improvements in sound are not trivial. (I always find AMQR'd versions of discs more engaging by having extended frequency extremes, more agile bass and better immersive dimensionality - of course, YMMV.) So hearing Lyle perform "North Dakota" and "She's Already Made Up Her Mind" by way of the IB2s sucked me into the poignancy and delicacy of these renderings. I could go on about the piano hammer strikes, the guitar harmonics, his vocal details including saliva sounds, but suffice it to say that more of all the good stuff was now apparent. I even found the raucous tracks captivating. I think the articulation abilities of the IB2, along with the dispersion accuracy this unique midrange driver presents, do very good things when it comes to making voices sound authoritative and honest without bloating or slurring. Neat!

I won't take up much space discussing my own recordings since only a small number of other audiophiles possess these CDs. Essentially, by using fine Schoeps microphones carefully positioned during concert performances of musicians in my area, I have been able to learn a great deal about the possibilities and limitations of live recording. The associated recording gear is high quality and the efforts I undertake during editing focus on doing as little as possible to the sound for the sake of naturalness and purity. As noted earlier, my favorite captures tend to center around choral and pipe organ performances and some of those have been magical. I work diligently to retain as much of the actual feel of the event such that on a highly competent playback system, the listener gets more engaged by the music and musicians' intentions than often typically happens with doctored commercial releases. Employing the IB2 speakers has made that job much more refined than before. The ability to detect small changes in mic positions or mic configuration became a breeze. One of my mentors is Jerry Bruck of Posthorn Studios in NYC. A while back Jerry introduced me to a relatively new surround mic arrangement developed by Dr. Thiele, IRT, Germany, originally labeled as OCT.

Jerry found a way to modify this method for stereo applications and renamed it OST and shared some of those tricks with me and few other recordists he knows around the country. A very crude description of this approach is to think of it as an enhanced/augmented Decca Tree formation for those of you who know about that older, tried-and-true technique. Compared to my traditional ORTF mic set ups, the OST pattern allows for even greater hall sense while enhancing the lowest octaves. Pipe organ done this way really shines and on the IB2s the natural acoustic and spatiality come through gloriously. Yes, the Nestorovic subwoofers that I had known for over 10 years did go a tad deeper than the IB2s, but not with this newer detail, agility, textural finesse or smoothness. Studio monitors at this level of refinement are very useful tools, providing insights one could barely guess about with less sophisticated alternatives. Happily, I found that the IB2 monitors fit terrifically well in a domestic setting too, and many hours of captivating listening happened in my room over the past several months.

Speaking of choral and organ music, "Psalms" from the Turtle Creek Chorale on Reference Recordings RR-86CD is a fine example of musicianship coupled to clean, captivating recording technology. These speakers did a fantastic job of delineating the large chorus from the various instrumentation and organ parts. In fact, once again, the intelligibility of words, the dynamics and the tonality came through with an ease, grace and energy that had eluded me on other systems.

The Sera Una Noche tango disc from MA Recordings [MO52A] contains many wonderful and musically satisfying tracks. My fave is Track 6, "Nublado" and this is the piece that appears on the collaborative 6moons sampler Music in a Bottle, which you can read about and order on our site. Todd Garfinkle is my kinda recording engineer. He uses top flight, purist recording approaches and equipment in excellent acoustic spaces, capturing passionate musicians having a great time. The haunting bandoneon playing coupled to the eerie clarinet work and percussion efforts adds so much to the other excellent stuff happening here that it all comes across with delicacy, enthusiasm and life via the IB2s.

For the sake of space and time, let me merely give brief mention to some of the other music that played an important role during this evaluation. I don't want to leave the impression that my efforts were restricted to a limited old phart's spectrum of music. For soundtracks, which are not typically strong in my collection, the Patriot Games disc along with Rosewood are very familiar allowing for synthesizer sounds and fancy studio effects to be obvious. For shear fun, Kid A by Radiohead has its place too, especially for revealing some of those near-hallucinogenic features captured so cleverly on this disc. Many of the Diana Krall discs, including her latest Christmas Songs release, gave a solid view into close-in microphone details while still allowing for some elegant portrayals of sweet musical arrangements. I had a good time with Trinity Sessions from the Cowboy Junkies, especially sorting out some of those funky recording qualities that were captured with that Soundfield microphone system in the church venue. For more traditional jazz, the joy of hearing Ella Fitzgerald on Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie is a reference at many levels. Certainly, music from Vladimir Horowitz, Fritz Reiner, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Radka Toneff, Cassandra Wilson, the Fairfield Four, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, the Stones and Pat Metheny came into the mix. Through all of these and many other recordings, the IB2s just continued to make listening much more pleasurable and engrossing than had been true here at chez Turoczi for a long time. It typically got so good that my brain readily made the disconnect from 'reviewer' mind set to the 'music lover' domain. If that isn't a high compliment to these speakers, I don't know what is.

Variations on a theme
During the evaluation period, several friends came by to hear the IB2s. Often they brought along some of their own gear for the sake of fun and curiosity. Let me recount some of those events.

The first change from my standard system configuration involved substituting a Bel Canto eVo2i Gen II integrated amp [a Tripath design]. My buddy Neil heard that unit in my home a long time ago when it was undergoing a follow-up review I generated after Srajan had posted his full review of that piece. Neil liked it enough in my older [Nestorovic speaker based] system to pursue the quest for a used eVo2i GII and indeed did have very good luck through Audiogon. He visited for a weekend while I was enjoying the PMCs and we put his BCD integrated amp through its paces. One immediately remarkable finding was that this unit and the IB2s made for a terrific match. There was liveliness, ease of presentation, clarity and plenty of smoothness with the eVo2i GII running the show. Just to dissect things a bit further, we tried separating the line stage from his amp by hybridizing things using either my ARC REF1 or the DNA500 as partnering tools. The outcomes were surprisingly copasetic through all of the permutations and combinations, even though when using the McCormick amp, there was a bit more oomph, warmth and lushness to things. After all was said and done, it did make me scratch my head about how good the IB2s sounded when
driven solely by the eVo2i GII as an integrated piece. If budget constraints might ever come into play when choosing these beefily priced IB2s, this BCD unit should be on a very short list of contenders for amplification duties.

A few weeks later, Doug made the trek from the hinterlands of north Jersey and carried along his Bryston BP26 DA preamp. This was another kind of experience since we used his unit running the internal DACs through a Rotel CDP he also had in tow. This meant we dropped out the ARC REF1 and my Naim CDP. As we let the system warm up, it became obvious that this was a more upfront style of sound. As Doug put it, "the singers are now six inches closer to the microphones" and he was right. The bass was a bit tighter and vocals were more forward but there was no sense of edgy hyper detail. It was this perspective change that ultimately drove Doug to comment about how this sound felt more like what he heard at clubs, bars and juke joints he often inhabits to hear live music primarily oriented along the lines of rock, folk and jazz groups. My take was that on the sort of music I usually enjoy, this closer perspective was not as enveloping or as lush as what I typically prefer. This prompted Doug's cheeky observation about how I would rather sit in a cathedral for a concert than in a smoky bar to hear a live performance. I see how one could draw that conclusion. Certainly the Bryston BP 26 DA came across with authority, clarity, density and jump, but I ultimately felt the actual sonic truth sat somewhere between my own line stage and this unit.

My friend David came by and carried along his Bent Audio Transformer Volume Control TX102 MK II line stage. We had a fun day listening to a variety of music, including a few of my own recordings, about which David and his wife have expressed kind and complimentary opinions. We started out with my standard setup but then also had a chance to experience the Underwood HiFi modded Denon 3910 Universal Player. This is a very serious piece of high performance gear which will be getting a proper review from me later in January. After a few hours of listening, we substituted David's line stage for the REF1 and found that to be a knockout alternative. I was taken by surprise with the openness and increase in soundstage size that was revealed this way. The ARC unit is no slouch in this department, especially after a recent retubing, but the Bent Audio piece -- which employs those legendary Stevens & Billington Ltd. Transformers from the UK -- really strutted its stuff with honesty, naturalness and tonal integrity. Prior experiences with various passive volume controls over the years were very unsatisfying so my expectations were not really all that high for this trial. It was quite the revelation and I can see why Srajan has become excited over the Passive Magnetic Preamp from Music First Audio. I need to explore this general domain more thoroughly in the near future. Stay tuned.

The most recent twist has involved the arrival of the new Bel Canto S300 stereo amplifier [300wpc at 4 ohms]. This compact, beautifully made ICEPower analog switching technology design offered yet another take on things through the IB2s. The S300 was substituted for the DNA500 quickly and easily, continuing to use balanced interconnects. Initially I felt the new amp needed some burn-in time so I resorted to the Etude tuner and music played for a few 10-hour days while I was at work. There was a shift from a 'colder' feeling to something more balanced over this period but I'm not sure there was enough time to really see the amp reach its most matured status before the speakers had to be returned. Nonetheless, I spent several happy sessions with this amp on the IB2s and felt that neutrality was the first thing to manifest. The DNA500 seems to have a bit more warmth and richness and this has been the direction my listening biases have migrated toward over the years. The S300 made the bass more taut but no less extended. Big bass drum hits started and stopped very quickly and high frequency percussion instruments floated effortlessly. This ICEPower module approach did sound different from the eVo2i Gen II integrated but that comparison may not be fair since it's a matter of apples and oranges as far as design concepts go. I shall be further exploring the S300 over the next few weeks. Clearly, I am grateful to these fine friends for sharing their equipment, observations and comradeship during this process.

The wrap
PMC has done an awesome job in creating and evolving the IB2 loudspeaker system. Making it available to both pro audio folks and audiophiles alike has to be considered a smart move and I hope it foreshadows other future endeavors from these sharp Brits. Let me note that again, finding a pro monitor that does it all is rather delightful. Knowing just how complex this kind of multi-application design can get is worthy of a bit more analysis. I would seriously recommend that anyone wishing to understand that -- as well as several broader issues facing the recording industry -- have a look at a sensible essay written by Blair Jackson, the senior editor of Mix magazine at this link. Certainly the very recent article from our own Kari Nevalainen helps to specifically flesh out the monitor speaker issues in a valuable fashion.

There is no question that whatever you consider your reference sound to be dictates the direction you take in building your sound room, system and music collection. Ben and Jerry long ago figured out that offering only vanilla, chocolate and strawberry would be a mistake. Likewise, careful reflection on what comes into your personal equation for meaningful sound must address how you feel your expectations match your perceptions. Hearing lots of live acoustic unamplified music helps to keep me alert, refreshed, entertained and happy about what I can expect from reproduced sound in my home. Nothing is perfect as far as audio equipment is concerned but there certainly are places where one can go beyond the hackneyed idea that "good is good enough". I am thrilled that PMC is committed to pushing the envelope on all of this.

The excellent sonic attributes encompassed in the IB2s are significant and will more than likely be joyfully revealed to lucky owners as their associated gear improves over time. Flaws, weaknesses, the downside... where are they? Obviously I found very little to criticize and that is rare and a good thing. Yes, this is a $13K pair of speakers, which require about another $1K in serious stands like the Sound Anchors, along with additional expenditures for isolation devices on the order of the Symposium platforms. Compared to a number of other competitively priced offerings I've seen and heard in the audiophile marketplace, the IB2s offer excellent, balanced and gratifying performance in a tidy, handsome, readily manageable format. They deliver the goods in big ways and my experience with them has been an excellent learning opportunity which has served me in profoundly positive ways collectively as a music lover, reviewer and recordist. That combination of demands is complex and difficult, so my hat is off to the PMC team for their design and execution strengths along with their marketing awareness. The IB2 loudspeaker is a very special product deserving of the highest praise. Bravo!

PS: Thanks again to Richard, Bob, Peter and others for helping to facilitate this review.
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