Phase Technology Premier Collection surround speaker system Page 2
A new find that's quickly becoming a favorite is Leon Bolstein conducting the London Philharmonic in Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra (Telarc CD-80564). The woodwinds and brass take turns with the lead in this work, but the music is a great workout for any system. Starting at the bottom, the PC 9.1s nicely rendered the pulse of double basses. Woodwinds were pleasingly rounded, and the brass definitely cut through with force, but without overly aggressive bite. The sense of space was very convincing at lower levels or quieter passages, the 9.1s creating a stable spread from left to right and front to back. Only if played at unrealistically loud levels, or during some particularly excited passages, did their soundstage flatten somewhat and become more pointed.
Also from Telarc, on a hybrid SACD/CD, is Carl Orff's oft-recorded Carmina burana, this time with Donald Runnicles conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Choir (SACD-0575). The classic Telarc timpani whacks are ever-present, and the 9.1s moved a great deal of air when asked. The requisite dynamic snap was well presented, leading to a sense of excitement each time the mallets struck.
But Carmina burana is, above all, a choral work. During the more relaxed passages, with the sparse instrumentation of gentle woodwinds and plucked strings, the sense of depth was convincing if a bit lacking in high-frequency air. The overall effect was one of a slight warming of the venue—a gentle drawing-in of the soundstage that was by no means unappealing. Close-miked tenors exhibited just a hint of the "cupped-hands" quality that is fairly universal among box speakers. In contrast, female voices, particularly in ensemble, were light and airy and subjectively free of coloration.
While they're large speakers with a quintet of capable drivers, I couldn't push the PC 9.1s to the same level as some other dynamic speakers of similar price before compression set in. They didn't misbehave when I asked too much of them, but I preferred giving them free rein in a range where they were most comfortable and comforting. Pushed too much—and I'm talking about the fine line between loud enough and louder still—and the 9.1s became aggressively pointed, particularly with male vocals, and their sense of depth collapsed to a degree, leaving a flatter soundstage. In a smaller room of more typical size, the Phase Tech 9.1s would likely never reach these limits. A home trial is your best bet.
Phase to Phase
Home theater was the real treat with the Phase Technology Premier Collection. While I elected to use two PC subwoofers in my large room, the pair barely breathed hard, much less ran out of air. I could almost have gotten away with one. Not only that, the fixed 80Hz crossover point in Krell's Home Theater Standard 2 surround processor turned out to be ideal for the PC system—the bass was finely integrated. Listening to "Neutron Dance" and "Stir It Up" on the Beverly Hills Cop DVD brought me back to the 1980s, when synth bass was all the rage. The system had good punch (although I didn't try to bring it up to disco levels), and a sense of dynamic timing that just felt right.
But Beverly Hills Cop hardly has state-of-the-art sound. Jurassic Park III, on the other hand, gives any system a sonic workout from the moment you insert the disc. After selecting DTS, you're "treated" to a one-minute Universal promo before the movie begins. Usually I just skip it, but this time I sat through it, marveling at how good it sounded. Once the movie started, the opening dinosaur foot stomps had my room shaking. These were very powerful whacks, and I had the system pegged at admittedly high levels. While not up to the level of what the big Velodyne sub might do, the Phase Techs never bottomed out. Very convincing and effective.
Further into JPIII, the more subtle soundtrack components of any Jurassic Park movie (you know, the five minutes after the opening blitzkrieg) were well presented. Dialogue from the center channel was clear and understandable. At unreasonably loud levels, what manifested as a slight wispiness in the PC 3.1's vocal presentation could turn hard, prompting me to back off lest the dinosaur himself choose the next moment to speak.
By themselves, the PC 9.1s offered reasonable but hardly exceptional levels of detail and resolution. But when combined with the rest of the speakers, the overall resolution seemed to kick up a notch or two. No doubt aided by the addition of discrete 5.1-channel placement, imaging could become more definite. Wanting a spooky and dynamic soundtrack, I pulled out What Lies Beneath, whose opening credits build to a rapid screech that I'm sure had theatergoers jumping out of their seats. As Michelle Pfeiffer putters around the house, chasing ghosts or her own elusive sanity, the parade of slamming doors, breaking glass, and bubbling trouble are all clearly articulated and placed in perspective. If anything, the Phase Tech system seemed to almost magnify the sound effects—although there's no doubt the sound engineers wanted it that way for such a creepy movie.
Using the PC 3.1s as surround speakers might seem excessive or even overkill, considering what some systems use as surrounds, but anything less would compromise the Phase Tech system, in my view. When there was rear surround information, the 3.1s were no less revealing than the center-channel 3.1. The effect was to place me within a soundfield, not standing at the doorway looking in. For this, the quality of the surrounds must match the rest of system.
The Phase Technology Premier Collection is a well-thought-out line of speakers. Its consistency of design and driver selection promised a decent timbral match for all channels, and that's what I heard.
The system was most effective with home theater, with the PC 3.1 offering superior dialogue intelligibility for a midpriced center speaker. The PC subwoofer is a very good deal—one of the few $1000 subs that's not all flatulence and fanfare. It would work well in any number of systems, and moved enough air that I probably could have gotten by with just one, even in my very large room. The PC 9.1 is full-range, attractively finished, reasonable resolute, and would be comfortable going home with just about anyone lacking a Guns 'N' Roses tattoo on their arm.
Taking the larger view, the Phase Technology Premier Collection is another fine example of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.