the-ear REVIEW|PMC prodigy1 brings studio sound home



Date: 2024-02-07


PMC prodigy1 loudspeaker
It’s incredible to think that the last design from PMC that I tried was the company’s first domestic product, which was back in 1991 when co-founder Adrian Loader brought his LB1 transmission line to Hi-Fi News. So much has changed and now PMC has grown to become something of a legend in both hi-fi and professional studio loudspeakers. Their creations are to be found in many of the top recording venues where engineers use them to produce a wide range of material. With all that water under the bridge it was time to give the marque another chance and the newly-launched prodigy1 standmount two-way seemed the ideal opportunity.

The new two-model prodigy range comprises a narrow two-way tower, the prodigy5, and the compact bookshelf two-way prodigy1 on test here. Whether we ever see numbers two, three and four remains to be seen. I am viewing this speaker very much as ‘My First’ PMC product for they are surely intended as a entry point to the rest of the company’s extensive hi-fi range.

Built in-house at PMC’s British factory, the prodigy1 cleverly uses drive units from existing models to save on cost. Another economy is the offer of a single cabinet finish, silk black paint, which I have to say it is probably my finish of choice anyhow and looks rather chic. Grilles are a chargeable extra, largely on the basis that few audiophiles fit them and the precious tweeter is already protected by a fixed grille.

The chosen tweeter is a Scandinavian 27mm soft-dome unit from PMC’s result6 nearfield monitors which are in the pro catalogue. As with many PMC models it has been engineered to hand over to the main driver at a far lower-than-average crossover point of just 1.7kHz. That gives it a lot of work to do but means that dispersion is smoother when the main driver hands over to the tweeter. The perforated grille and custom waveguide are also designed to achieve the same aim. PMC claim it offers reliability and low colouration alongside a smooth off-axis response. It features ferrofluid-cooling and a compact neodymium motor assembly with an aluminium heat sync for good power handling.

The tweeter is coupled with a mid/bass driver which also has its roots in the professional world as it features in PMC’s ci series which is apparently the ‘monitor of choice’ for the world’s leading Dolby Atmos mixing suites including NJP Switzerland, Dean Street London and Gold Diggers LA among many more.

This long-throw, high-excursion woofer has a 130mm (5.25”) natural-fibre dished cone which was designed specifically to couple with the company’s Advanced Transmission Line (ATL) cabinet loading. The inverted dust cap provides an extremely smooth impedance transition along the cone profile reducing unwanted high-frequency reflections across the cone’s surface.

R&D work to tune and increase the function of ATL bass-loading was developed from the substantial professional QB1-A as used at Capitol Studios, Hollywood. With the high air movements involved, PMC found that eradicating the resistive effects of turbulence had a positive effect on the effectiveness of the ATL. At high sound pressure levels, airflow at the end of the line becomes turbulent which colours the bass produced. With the company’s proprietary Laminair grille, the air flows in a very ordered laminar fashion. The idea being that more energy is converted to acoustic output and allows the drivers to react faster, there is also a huge reduction in air noise. The aim of increasing the efficiency of the ATL, by reducing turbulent losses, leads to sonic benefits such as faster, cleaner bass and higher maximum output.

The crossover in the prodigy1 deserves special mention for its minimal approach, PMC have opted for a steep, 12dB per-octave filter (for each drive unit) with that 1.7kHz crossover point, selected for improved off-axis response. The board is of high quality, being military-grade, through-plated, glass-fibre with ultra-thick, pure copper tracks, carefully aligned to optimise unrestricted current delivery. We are assured that only hand- selected, recorded components that have passed extensive comparative listening tests are used, and even their orientation is carefully evaluated to eradicate any electromagnetic interaction that could potentially impair signal transmission.

The prodigy1 has a very compact cabinet in which to attempt a transmission line, yet as the cut-away graphic shows this has been achieved. PMC have adopted their standard practice of placing the bass driver near one end of a labyrinth tube (the Advanced Transmission Line), which is heavily-damped with acoustic material to absorb the upper-bass and higher frequencies radiating from the rear of the bass driver. The lowest frequencies can pass down the line and emerge from the front vent in phase with the bass unit’s output, so reinforcing the LF output and affording operation at higher SPL albeit at the expense of the speaker’s efficiency.

prodigy1 sound quality
Unboxing and siting the prodigy1s on some 60cm Custom Design FX104 Signature XL stands it was immediately apparent that the build and finish quality were high. The units felt well-made, and, yes, the terminal panel to the rear is more budget than ESOTERIC, but costs have to be saved somewhere to meet the price-point and create an entry-level PMC. Before the listening panel assembled, I ran the speakers in my main system for a couple of weeks driven by my faithful Hegel 190 amplifier. The load is not super-friendly with a lowish impedance and only modest sensitivity. But all seemed well.

On day one I enjoyed Radio 3’s Record Review where orchestral works were handled superbly as evident with Handel’s Gran Pena é gelosia which spread out across a gloriously wide soundstage which also had decent height and depth. It was so easy to imagine the performers there and realise just what a wonderful feeling this composer had for the human voice, not least duets. The way that one voice floats free while the other remains captive convey such emotion and was done so brilliantly by the prodigy1s.

These are monitors in the modern sense and are well suited to heavy-duty music and film soundtracks. With Jennifer Rush’s The Power of Love the vocals don’t seem as prominent as I am familiar with, nonetheless it’s an emotive performance which is engaging and full of dynamic involvement to entertain the listener, greater dynamics than I am used to and, of course, so much more bass information.

Listening with the panel
Several days later, the panel assembled and we began with Imagination’s Just an Illusion. Several members mentioned the sensation of a hugely wide soundstage, one that went way beyond the loudspeaker cabinets; superb imaging and a real furnace of vocals along with a captivating beat. Sitting off-axis, controlling the equipment, it was evident that even here imaging was spot-on – nearly as good as on-axis in fact. This is the sign of not just a good speaker, but a great one.

With Awake’s 2017 electronic offering of heart-wrenching melodies and shaking bass on the Illenium album the panel commented on the material’s power, energy and dynamics as being captivating and provoking involuntary foot-tapping. So, the prodigy1s are clearly highly musical, and we perhaps expect nothing less from a brand such as PMC with its success in equipping many top recording studios. The effect was cemented by The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me where the speaker’s bass abilities were shown off most impressively with a speed and agility which was most absorbing. In this regard they shame many larger and much more costly designs.

A listener requested Paint The Town Red by Doja Cat which merely confirmed the bass as being awesome and staggering from such a small cabinet. Who says that transmission line designs won’t work in small enclosures? It was here that we also discovered just how the sound could be improved by increasing the volume, listening at higher levels than I otherwise would. These beauties like to play loud.

Back on to more comfortable territory for me and Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra courtesy of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra’s new recording which was superbly reproduced and brought the venue to the listening room. The panel agreed that it was an involving, dynamic and refined presentation reflecting great airiness and space around the performers. This is clearly a monitor loudspeaker of pedigree that relies on all of PMC’s professional know-how despite it being an entry-level product. Be not fooled by the price-tag; the prodigy1 is every bit a PMC.

Another favourite disc of mine is the Beaux Arts Trio and their wonderful recording of Schubert’s Piano Trio 1. Although pretty lifelike here, the piano did yield minor imperfections such as occasional metallic twang which warmer, BBC-style speakers do not exhibit. Now, is this just something they cover up and the PMCs reveal, or is it the result of some minor colouration? Whichever, it did little to dampen the enjoyment and small-scale acoustic music was reproduced as if the performers were in the room in a most lifelike and absorbing way.

Finally, we returned to more modern material and Justin Biebers’ Sorry where the timing was noted as ‘superb’ and the speaker’s pace and rhythm abilities clearly demonstrated. They have no difficulty in following the tune and generating a captivating soundstage which draws the listener into the performance in the way that a masterful loudspeaker can.

There’s no doubt that with the prodigy1 PMC have succeeded in their quest to produce a loudspeaker to introduce the brand and its house-sound to a whole new audience. The prodigy1 will appeal to a new market sector and, the company would hope, entice them along the road to bigger, better models in the catalogue as their tastes develop.

But, more than that, these minis will also become firm favourites with existing PMC fans I am sure. They will find favour in secondary systems, such as the kitchen/diner or the study, they will be used as rear and side speakers in surround systems and they will be ideal to gift to offspring either going off to university or starting a system of their own.

Audiophiles seeking the PMC sound can grab themselves a bargain in the shape of the prodigy1s and I can’t really see how they can be made for the money; so grab a pair quickly since they encapsulate the very essence of the sound that has made the marque so successful.

Type: two-way standmount transmission line loudspeaker
Crossover frequency: 1.7kHz
Drive Units:
Mid/bass: PMC 133mm natural fibre long-throw
Tweeter: PMC 27mm soft dome
Nominal frequency response: 50 Hz – 25 kHz
Nominal impedance: 6 Ohms
Connectors: PMC single wire binding posts
Sensitivity: 87.5dB 1w/1m
Dimensions HxWxD: 320 x 162 x 237mm
Weight: 4.5kg
Finishes: silk black