Here in Toronto, Ontario, we live in a small community of nine townhouses set back from the main road in a private cul-de-sac. We each have our own parking spots, and from our kitchen table I have an unobstructed view of our courtyard. The cars out front are mostly what you’d expect to see: a couple of Honda CR-Vs, three Subarus, a Hyundai, an Audi, a BMW -- with one outlier. One day last summer, my next-door neighbor Felix pulled in driving an Aston Martin Vantage. Just like that, our cul-de-sac’s property values went up by 15% -- or so I like to think. Felix has put an abrupt stop to any attempts at one-upmanship in the car department. He’s trumped us all.
Aston Martin used to be based in Newport Pagnell, in Buckinghamshire, England, just up the road from my old hometown of Aylesbury. (They’ve since moved to Gaydon, in Warwickshire.) My father, a keen car enthusiast, used to regale me with stories about the brand, and one that stuck in my mind was a tale about That One Guy who made the engine. Each engine was the responsibility, Dad told me, of a single man who did all of the assembly work, from start to finish. This level of craftsmanship, in a world dominated by the automotive assembly line, fascinated my father. Sure enough, when I looked under the hood of Felix’s Aston Martin, I saw the signature of Andrew Gough, That One Guy who supervised the engine build.
Andrew Gough, meet Matthew Tomlin
As I perused the owner’s manual for PMC’s Fact.8 Signature speakers ($12,000/pair, all prices USD), which sit before me in my listening room as I type, my father’s stories of Aston Martin came rushing back. There in the manual was the signature of Matthew Tomlin, That One Guy who built this very pair of speakers.
As you may know, PMC is a British speaker manufacturer with deep roots in professional audio. But in this context, by pro audio I do not mean sound reinforcement. PMC doesn’t build PA speakers. Rather, they build monitor speakers for use in recording studios. In fact, that’s their name: the Professional Monitor Company Limited, formed in 1991 and based in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, near Luton. PMC has had significant success in penetrating the studios that produce many top-rated films and TV series, and has won an Emmy for its contribution to recording excellence.
It stands to reason that the speakers used in such professional settings would be designed to reproduce with utter neutrality whatever the recording mikes and master tapes are picking up, and sure enough, that’s PMC’s stated goal: “to relay the purest intentions of the artist without colouration” -- and, the company avers, they let the results trickle down to their consumer products.
PMC’s most notable characteristic is their use and continual refinement of transmission-line cabinets and associated bass alignment. A transmission-line is sorta-kinda like a super-long port. The woofers’ rear-firing energy is directed down a long, folded tube built into the cabinet. This tube is lined with foam of varying densities, to damp frequencies that would otherwise result in problematic resonances. Having traveled down this long pathway -- in the case of the Fact.8 Signature, just under 10’ -- the bass energy is vented into the room through a large port at the cabinet’s bottom front. I say that the bass energy is vented, but that’s a gross oversimplification -- the physics behind the actual workings of a transmission line are far more complicated. (If you’re interested, there’s some good reading to be found at Wikipedia.)
PMC calls their implementation of this technology the Advanced Transmission Line (ATL). It includes extensive cabinet bracing, use of varying damping materials, and, undoubtedly, significant investments of time and money in research.
A side benefit of PMC’s ATL topology is an ultra-rigid, heroically braced cabinet of HDF, most of its panels 0.7” thick (18mm), but with a 1.4”-thick (35mm) front baffle and a 2”-thick (50mm) base. The internal channel that constitutes the transmission line extends through the entire cabinet, also serving as long, sturdy interior braces.
The Fact.8 Signature is descended from the reach-for-the-stars Fact Fenestria ($65,000/pair), which our own Aaron Garrecht reviewed in November 2019. PMC claims that many of the lessons they learned in reducing resonances and building crossovers for the Fenestria have been trickled down to the Fact.8 Signature. There’s also the larger Fact.12 Signature, which is more similar to than different from the Fact.8, though its dedicated midrange driver makes it a three-way design.
The two-way Fact.8 Signature has two 5.5” (140mm) midrange-woofers described as a bespoke design unique to this model, and made for PMC by a supplier. The Fact.8’s slim, narrow cabinet seems even smaller than is implied by its dimensions of 40.6”H x 6.1”W x 15”D and weight of 44 pounds. PMC claims a frequency range of 28Hz-30kHz, which indicates serious low-end extension, even at 6dB down -- we’re talking a ton of low bass from a deep, narrow cabinet housing three small drivers.
Those midrange-woofers are crossed over at 1.7kHz to a 0.75” (19mm) soft-dome, ferrofluid-cooled tweeter made by SEAS. That crossover frequency sounds low for a small tweeter, but the slope is a steep 24dB/octave, which undoubtedly helps lighten the load. PMC has put a fair amount of effort into optimizing their crossovers, and they hand-test and -match all components. They also record the exact values for each speaker, so they can find an exact replacement should the need arise. Crossover components include Solen and Clarity Cap capacitors and top-grade Mundorf resistors installed on a high-end printed-circuit board.
At the rear of the cabinet are two jumpered pairs of PMC’s proprietary binding posts, and directly above those are two three-position toggle switches, labeled HF and LF, for optimizing the high and low frequencies. I got the best results with each set to its 0 (Flat) position.
The Fact.8 would be rather tippy without its outrigger feet, which are fitted with steel spikes and add enough stability that if a 40-pound puppy were to careen at full speed into a side panel after having had its bath, the speaker would keep its footing. Speaking hypothetically.
The Fact.8 Signature comes with a full fabric grille. There is also a little grille that covers the tweeter to protect from poking fingers -- a nice touch if your house is overrun with unruly children. My review samples came in White Silk, a well-applied, functional, matte paint (matte Metallic Graphite is also available). Local responses to these stark, white rectangles with their black drivers were all over the place. My wife, Marcia, wasn’t keen, while several pre-pandemic visitors went gaga over them. They looked great with our sparse, modern décor, but might not fit so well in other styles. Their decidedly A Clockwork Orange look really grew on me.
PMC has been in business near as dammit to 30 years now. That’s a good run, and they back up their products with a 20-year warranty.
When the Fact.8 Signatures first landed in our cul-de-sac, Lily Luo, of Motet Distribution, installed them for me in our larger living room, where they were driven by a Hegel Music Systems H90 integrated amplifier-DAC, fed by my long-suffering Logitech Squeezebox Touch. The overachieving Hegel did an admirable job of driving the PMCs, but this pairing went only so loud -- I could tell the Fact.8s would appreciate more juice. Don’t get me wrong -- the Hegel-PMC matchup sounded great -- but I could sense the speakers eyeing the stairs down to the main listening room. I knew where they wanted to go.
So I dragged the PMCs down to the basement. It was immediately apparent that they appreciated the extra horsepower delivered by my Bryston 4B³ power amp. With all those plump, juicy watts behind them, the sound of the Fact.8 Signatures opened like a flower. Suffice it to say that while PMC specifies the Fact.8 Signature as an easy 8-ohm load with a reasonable sensitivity of 89dB/W/m, you really should throw a reasonable amount of power at them.
Bottom line? I did almost all of my listening to the PMC Fact.8 Signatures down in the cellar with the Bryston 4B³, listening only to vinyl.
As I whiled away my COVID-19 isolation, I had plenty of time to reflect on PMC’s origins as makers of recording-studio monitors. Accurate reproduction of the source material is obviously the primary goal of all audio components, a goal whose fulfillment is often diluted by any number of design choices. From nonlinear speakers to tube amps to LPs, designers and audiophiles often choose euphony over accuracy. Just so you know where I stand: I’ll choose an easy-to-listen-to, euphonic-sounding system over a ruler-flat, dead-nuts-accurate system every time.
Over the years, I’ve tuned my reference system to nip off many of the sharp corners, installing tubes and vinyl to make soft pillows for my ears. I was at first extremely nervous about replacing my aging, no-longer-reliable, all-tube Audio Research VT100 power amp with the solid-state, pro-audio Bryston 4B³. But I took the plunge, and I’m thrilled with how well the Bryston has slid into my system. So with this toe dipped in pro audio, I felt comfortable -- heck, even a bit tingly -- as I inserted the banana plugs of my Nordost Tyr speaker cables into the Fact.8 Signatures.
But yeah, much of my listening has been filtered through an image of a recording engineer listening as he or she mixes a music recording or film soundtrack. Am I hearing what that engineer heard?
Drop the puck
There was no mistaking the presence of the Fact.8 Signatures. These speakers were not shy. The way they gripped the music and projected it out at me showed me that they were in charge.
Since PMC’s most prominent technological attribute is their Advanced Transmission Line bass alignment, I’ll begin by talking about the Fact.8 Signature’s bass. Well, if you expect a subwoofery bottom end that will blow you away, Maxell style, you’ll be disappointed. The PMCs did reach down very low to deliver extremely tight, well-defined bass, but it wasn’t cartoony or over the top. Rather, the PMCs chugged out bass that was unbelievably well integrated into the rest of the sound: linear and tight, or deep and expressive, as required.
Subterranean bass hides in plain sight on Genesis’s A Trick of the Tail (LP, Atco SD36-129). This was the band’s first album following Peter Gabriel’s departure, and it sounds as if they had something to prove. It’s a massive album that I’ve been listening to for more than 40 years now. The Moog Taurus bass pedal in “Squonk” is somewhere low in the 30-40Hz decade, and sometimes it’s hard to make out against Mike Rutherford’s electric bass, but through the PMCs I clearly heard each of Rutherford’s bass runs in the chorus without the bass pedal muddying it all up. The pedal bass didn’t jump out at me or overpower the rest of the music. Instead, from that low note right up through the midbass, the entire bass range was beautifully integrated, all of the microranges within it working together.
My listening position is in a bit of a bass null, which works well to counteract a couple of nasty peaks. During “Squonk” I walked around the room and noted some seriously hammering bass emanating from the slim, modest Fact.8s. But back at my sweet spot, I was again enamored of how tight and well controlled the PMCs were in the low end. As the album ended with “Los Endos,” the Fact.8s presented Rutherford’s busy bass line as an integral part of the band’s sound, but still easy to follow and enjoy for its own sake.
The Thorpes’ is a busy household. Several times each day I have to turn the volume down while Marcia remote-teaches her students, for which activity she inexplicably feels Genesis to be an inappropriate soundtrack. So these days I often listen at a much lower volume level than I prefer.
Usually, as the volume level descends, the bass recedes faster than do the mids and highs -- hence the usefulness of the good ol’ Loudness contour, which slightly boosts the bass for low-level listening. But are we not Audiophiles? No Loudness buttons for us, right?
Color me surprised, but the Fact.8 Signatures worked exceptionally well at low levels. They seemed to have their own built-in loudness contour. They didn’t, of course, but what I experienced was eerily similar to one. With the volume at late-night, don’t-wake-the-baby levels, I could still hear -- and, to some extent, feel -- the bass. It was still easy to make out discrete bass notes and follow them along with the rest of the music.
At the other end of the audioband, the Fact.8 Signatures were also possessed of serious jump factor, snapping out the leading edges of notes. These dynamic attacks were easily heard with percussion, of course, but I also clearly heard them in the sounds of instruments you wouldn’t normally associate with this characteristic. Such as trombones.
Is a trombone powerful? Sure thing. But trombones aren’t the “fastest” instruments in the world -- you don’t usually think of them as being capable of crisp attacks. Listen to them in “Solitude,” from Duke Ellington’s Indigos (LP, Columbia CS 8053/Impex IMP6010), and you’ll think differently. Through the PMCs, them ’bones billowed out in a concussive wave, with a feeling of power that was immediate and seductive. With “Where or When,” I heard the same sort of thing from the trumpets -- there was tons of spit on the bells, a crispness that stood out in its ability to reach forward and place the musicians right there in a physical space.
These speakers reached forward. They came out from themselves to present music in a deliberate, assured manner. Soundstages didn’t languish somewhere off in the distance but were right up front at the plane described by the speakers’ baffles. There was tons of depth, but more notably, images came slightly forward into the room, and did so in a physical, assured, realistic manner.
There’s a lot going on in Indigos -- it’s the perfect album with which to evaluate speakers. “Willow Weep for Me” begins with Ellington’s languid piano at dead center. Shorty Baker’s trumpet crackles in at hard right, round and full and electric, just in front of the speakers. I was surprised how well, so far off to one side of the stage, the PMCs could bend the sound into so realistically brassy an image of this instrument.
But that’s what these speakers did. That crisp trumpet, Ellington’s rich, delicate piano . . . and then the rest of his band kicks in: a wall of saxophones redolent with power, the Fact.8 Signatures spreading that army across the front wall of my room, emulating the depth of the deep, resonant space of Columbia’s legendary 30th Street Studios.
So they were great for delicate, nuanced music. But I hear you -- what about Tom Waits?
Glad you asked. The medley of “Lucinda” and “Ain’t Goin Down” on Glitter and Doom: Live is magnificent music. It’s a barfight on acid, it’s Wile E. Coyote vs. Butterbean. Waits’s voice is monstrous on this track, a giant head gargling hot sauce, and the Fact.8 Signatures presented that obscenity as it should be presented: larger than life. Huge, in fact. And because this album needs to be played loud, that’s what I did. While Marcia and little Toni went for a nice healthy bike ride, I sat in my basement, all pasty-white and high blood pressure, listening to a mutant Tom Waits howling blue murder. I turned up the PMCs as loud as I could comfortably stand and they kept the same tonal balance, their sound refusing to harden. Shit just got louder. The sizes of aural images also remained constant. Despite the PMCs’ general demeanor of sounding somewhat forward -- or, at least, not reticent or polite -- I found that the louder I played the music, the more I enjoyed these speakers.
That’s a new one for me -- a speaker as comfortable playing at whisper-quiet levels as it is slamming out raunchy rock at lease-breaking levels. This facet of the Fact.8 Signature’s performance alone merits an extremely strong recommendation.
Up through the top of the midrange and into the lower treble, the PMCs never relinquished their control of the music. Given the whole studio-monitor thing, I was a touch concerned that the Fact.8s might sound a bit bright and, well, revealing. I guessed that’s what those studio guys probably want, so they can hear everything that’s going on, even waaaay deep in the mix.
But I suppose it makes more sense that a recording engineer or producer would want to hear a realistic representation of what’s went down in the studio or is going down on the master tape, yes? Otherwise, the final result would sound way too rolled off, because the engineer was hearing a boosted treble. That notion came to me as I listened to Sonny Rollins’s Alfie: Original Music from the Score (LP, Impulse! IMP-223) -- a big, meaty album of lyrical, loping jazz arranged by Oliver Nelson. Alfie drips with Rollins’s humor-filled jazz lines, the rest of his band going along with the joke. It’s beautifully recorded, and my late-1990s reissue of the 1966 original sounds fantastic. There are tons of highs, with burnished overtones on Rollins’s tenor sax, and Danny Bank’s hi-hat shimmers with a golden light. The Fact.8 Signatures didn’t overtly highlight his cymbal work, or belabor the juice coming out of Rollins’s horn. They walked a fine, correct line between hiding warts and sounding too hot -- their sound was, in a word, realistic.
As I’ve repeatedly said, I can’t abide an overtly bright top end. I’d rather err on the side of politeness than of aggression. At no point in my listening did I think, This is kinda bright. No, my overall impression of the Fact.8 Signature’s highs was that they were correct. And with that delivery of the appropriate quantity of highs came an attendant feeling of silkiness and lack of grit.
You gotta work for a living
Another preconception smashed -- and good riddance, I say. I’m left with no aspect of the Fact.8 Signature’s sound that smells even slightly of a pro-audio lineage. These are just really good speakers: dynamic, with fantastic bass, an expressive midrange, and a silky, extended treble.
I suppose I could say that their functional, nonfussy boxes, rectilinear and matte-finished, aren’t exactly furniture grade. Then again, you’d be just as right if you declared them modern, minimalist masterpieces. Eye of the beholder.
I suppose you could view all of the attributes that make the Fact.8 Signature a great-sounding audiophile speaker as the same things that would make them the perfect tools with which to master a recording. However you want to slice it, as my listening progressed, I forgot about this aspect of the speaker’s sound and settled in to just enjoy the heck out of them.
What it’s all about. Right?
. . . Jason Thorpe
- Analog sources -- Dr. Feickert Analogue Volare and VPI Prime Signature turntables; EAT Jo No8, Mobile Fidelity Master Tracker, Roksan Shiraz, Vertere Mystic cartridges
- Digital source -- Logitech Squeezebox Touch
- Phono stages -- Aqvox Phono 2 CI, Constellation Audio Andromeda, JE Audio HP10
- Preamplifier -- Sonic Frontiers SFL-2
- Power amplifier -- Bryston 4B³
- Integrated amplifier-DAC -- Hegel Music Systems H90
- Speakers -- Estelon YB, Focus Audio FP60 BE
- Speaker cables -- Audience Au24 SX, Nordost Tyr 2
- Interconnects -- Audience Au24 SX, Furutech Ag-16, Nordost Tyr 2
- Power cords -- Audience FrontRow, Nordost Vishnu
- Power conditioner -- Quantum QBase QB8 Mk.II
- Accessories -- Little Fwend tonearm lift, VPI Cyclone record-cleaning machine
PMC Fact.8 Signature Loudspeakers
Price: $12,000 USD per pair.
Warranty: 20 years parts and labor.
43-45 Crawley Green Road
Luton, Bedfordshire LU2 0AA
Phone: +44 (0)870-4441044
Fax: +44 (0)870-4441045