There are no two ways about it, UK speaker brand PMC is super-smart. Few companies can claim the same success at daisy-chaining sound, from recording through to mixing and then delivery into your own home, all at the utmost level of quality.
With a performance honed and refined at the exacting professional coalface, the Biggleswade-based company has carved out an enviable niche in hi-fi aficionado adulation, particularly with its Twenty5. These backward-sloping speakers are revered for their accurate reproduction, awesome bass and expansive, detailed soundstage, thanks in the main to some innovative, home-grown technologies.
But there has always been a large elephant in the listening rooms of non-converts. The Twenty5 series is for the seriously well-funded and committed music lover, and, to put it bluntly, not everyone is in a position to pay upwards of £4k for a single element within their system.
That was the challenge the PMC engineering team set itself; how to produce a lower cost speaker that cut the cloth rather than the corners and yet maintained the level of quality the company is renowned for.
The result is the prodigy1 bookshelf speaker and the floorstanding prodigy5 reviewed by my colleague Andrew Everard. And the name? "We thought the word summed up the product nicely – a young person with exceptional qualities or abilities", says PMC.
PMC doesn’t do flash, either in looks or approach. Its hallmark is solid, unquestionable quality and performance – and the prodigy range embodys all those admirable characteristics. For a start, they are hand-built in the UK with each completed speaker being measured and attested against the reference model before being signed off by its assembler.
There are core technologies within the prodigy range that are also used to shape the higher priced PMC speakers’ distinct sound. Firstly, there is the company’s unique ATL (Advanced Transmission Line) that helps deliver the grunty low end response. A system of acoustically lined tunnels within the cabinet absorbs the higher frequencies, while channelling the lower frequencies from the back of the bass driver out through the front vent. In effect, this vent acts as a second low frequency driver and it includes another PMC innovation, the Laminair, a formed grill that controls the airflow to deliver a tighter, better-defined bass, and a reduction in colouration. In other words, a cleaner, more accurate sound.
The crossover, the electronic unit that sends the high frequencies to the tweeter and the lower frequencies to the larger driver, is another example of PMC’s take on an essential speaker component, one that aids the clarity and wide, three-dimensional soundstage that is such a mainstay of PMC speaker performance.
The prodigy1s produce a sound that is as good as, and in some cases better than, many speakers costing much more. For the price, they are diamond material. It therefore comes as no surprise to hear PMC say they have already been picked up by some mixing studios as reference speakers.
The speakers were tested in various positions in the room, including on the new Custom Design KR20 stands (around £250 a pair), chosen because the all-black, elegant, design, with the four supporting rods and a chunkier central stem, is perfectly in keeping with the carefully considered minimalist design of the prodigy1. It’s a matter of taste but I preferred the look of these to PMC’s recommended stand with its two hefty central columns which looks a bit fat-bottomed for the prodigy’s elegant proportions.
To get the best results, positioning the prodigy1s proved to be more exacting than I first realised; these are not speakers to plonk and play.
For the most pleasingly defined soundstage and overall performance, PMC recommends slightly toeing in the speakers so the apex of the triangle forms about 50cm behind your head if you draw an imaginary line from the central axis of each speaker.
It really is worth taking the time to do this, what you get for your efforts is a remarkable low-end performance, even more impressive given the dinky size of the cabinets.
The sound that comes out of the speakers is exemplary: the clarity, the defined, quick bass response, the ability to reproduce notes that sound real rather than a digital approximation (think piano), and a performance that intimately draws you into whatever is being played, whatever the genre, or even the volume. These are easy speakers to drive, not fussy and they don’t require oodles of power to get them to open up.
And while these are all mightily impressive features, it is the three-dimensional nature of the soundstage that really sets these speakers apart. That legendary ‘sweet spot’ of listening, where the minutely positioned perfect stereo image can be found, until you turn your head or the cat walks in front of the speakers, has been eschewed by PMC for a wider, friendlier more real-world appreciation, where more than just a single person can enjoy the sonic experience.
For me, the litmus test for speakers, or any other bit of kit for that matter is – am I listening just for writing a review or is there something else going on? With the prodigy1s the latter is the case. Time and time again, I'd find an excuse to wander away from my keyboard, just to listen to another track, not in the hope of finding the unexpected but simply because it is just such a pleasurable, relaxing experience.
Want the proof? Grab yourself a hi res recording of Adagietto by Lily Maisky and Mischa Maisky on Deutsche Grammophon (MQA, Tidal), find your local PMC dealer, spend 10 minutes listening to the excerpt from Mahler: Symphony no. 5, and tell I'm talking nonsense...
In my listening area, the optimum position for the prodigys-on-stands proved to be around half a metre from a solid brick wall and a couple of metres apart. Moving them further into the room affected the otherwise excellent bass response – they sounded a little less impressive and gutsy at the bottom end.
As an alternative, I tried positioning the speakers on a solid shelf, coincidently at about the same height as the stands but so they were slightly closer to the rear wall. With the speakers sitting directly on the wooden shelf, the low end became somewhat boomy and distracting but on PMC’s advice, the additional of a few blobs of Blu Tack between the speakers and the shelf transformed the sound into a tighter, more pleasurable result, with better definition and clarity.
Realistically, not everyone is going to have the space, or desire, to position these speakers on stands, in their quest for the optimum quality. So, it was gratifying to find that the shelf and Blu Tack option provides a credible, enjoyable real-world alternative.
There is also the design to take into consideration. Perhaps not to all tastes, but for me the prodigy1s look absolutely up to the mark as opposed to the slightly conservative feel of the Twenty5 series, thanks to the wood finish. The satin black suits the speakers’ proportions and the inclusion of the subtle, thin metal detailing surrounding the bass driver and the tweeter enhance the understated, elegant, lacking-in-frills, appeal.
Quite frankly PMC has pulled off a remarkable feat with the prodigy1, retaining its typical high standards of performance and technology but serving up the speakers at a considerably lower price than the popular Twenty5 series. For example, the Twenty5 22i with stands sells for a smidge over £4000, the prodigy1, complete with Custom Design KR20 stands looks more like £1500. I can certainly live without the Twenty5's individual sloping design and speaker grilles for an entry into PMC’s welcoming wide soundstage and thoroughly enjoyable listening.
The prodigy1s respond to some care and attention. Spending time to set up the position as recommended pays dividends in every single respect of accuracy and involvement. And pay no heed to the slightly, lukewarm, 'neutral' terminology to describe the speakers' sound in some reviews: Think accurate, think wow...
And if grills really are a deal breaker, although it’s beyond me why that would be the case because the prodigy1s look better without them, you can always treat yourself to a pair as a £99 add on.
The Kills No Wow (The Tchad Blake Mix)
A yesteryear track from the Anglo-America pair, given a 15th birthday anniversary remix with menacing form and a demon bassline, snarling guitar riffs and disturbing lyrics. The prodigy’s nimble nature keeps up with the speed and never shies away from some visceral, low end thwackery
Steve Earle Transcendental Blues
Recorded back in 2000, rediscovered thanks to the cracking soundtrack of the Disney+ series, The Bear. Opening with a harmonium and some random noodling, it soon chugs into vintage Earle – exemplary country roots-rock with a driving bass line, frugal with its chord changes. A tad chaotic in the wrong hands, the prodigy1 delivers a cohesion that makes it sound better than it ever did 20 years ago.
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra The Firebird (Live)
A real thrill to experience the performance of Stavinsky’s complex Firebird at the BBC Proms in the flesh, so to speak, and then listen to the recording, complete with ‘man coughing frequently’. The orchestra is huge including three harps, and the prodigy neatly sorts them into position on a pleasingly wide soundstage. Any thoughts of the speakers’ diminutive form missing out on the lower stuff is thunderously dispelled with the force of the finale.
AV Forums were full of praise for the prodigy1 saying that it is an excellent new arrival that is able to deliver rhythm and joy without compromising on a more than respectable dose of reality with it and that it is an unquestionable Best Buy. What Hi-Fi also found that the prodigy1's sounded spectacular with more than hint of sonic sophistication typically associated with speakers beyond its price.
In a word, quality, in ever single respect; From the thoroughly modern sleek, matt finish design, the remarkable sound for pound value, the alluring musical reproduction, whatever the genre or source, and the practical compact dimensions that produce a highly captivating sound in all but the most massive of rooms