My audiophile journey began over 15 years ago with a pair of used Paradigm Mini Monitors and an old NAD integrated amp. Over the years my system has gone through countless changes, ranging from esoteric to absurd and yet every time I've hit reset one type of speaker has always served as my foundation in which to rebuild - a bookshelf loudspeaker. You see, bookshelf loudspeakers are more than just space saving alternatives to larger floorstanding speakers - they represent the essence of what a speaker is all about, for they often possess the coherence, finesse and simplicity that is missing from many of their floorstanding counterparts. Bookshelf speakers also represent the best bang for your buck among many speaker lines, offering much of the performance (minus the deep bass of course) of their larger siblings at far more advantageous prices. Over the years I've owned several terrific bookshelf loudspeakers beginning with Paradigm's Mini Monitor on through to Bowers & Wilkins' 685 and 805, and later Paradigm's Signature S2 with my final stop being Soliloquy's 5.0 (discontinued). It's been several years since I last welcomed a bookshelf loudspeaker into my system and yet as I glance upon Bowers & Wilkins' new PM1 bookshelf loudspeaker I wonder if yet another reset isn't around the corner. They say you can never go home again but if my time spent with the PM1 is any indication, I believe you can.
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The PM1 is an exquisitely finished, compact two-way monitor that sits among Bowers & Wilkins' product line just under their lauded 800 Series but above the CM Series. The PM1 is the first and only speaker (thus far) in its range, making it an army of one, though it doesn't appear to need any backup, for in terms of aesthetics, it's nearly as big of a visual statement as Bowers & Wilkins' iconic 800 Diamond Series loudspeaker. The PM1 retails for $2,800 a pair, which isn't hugely inexpensive but still within reason for many, though the matching stands, which I consider to be mandatory, retail for $550 bringing the total cost of ownership to $3,350. To put it into better perspective, the only other bookshelf Bowers & Wilkins offers to compete or best the PM1s reported performance is the 805 Diamond which retails for $2,500 apiece or $5,000 a pair plus stands.
The first thing that grabs you about the PM1 is its appearance, which is absolutely stunning to behold and every bit as high-end looking (and perhaps more) as anything found in the 800 Series. The PM1 is smaller than it appears in photographs, measuring in at 25 and a half inches tall by 10 and a half inches wide and nearly 12 inches deep. Each PM1 weighs a startling 20 pounds, which speaks volumes to its construction. Speaking of construction - the PM1 is built using the same materials and methods found in the 800 Series. One rap of the knuckles and it's clear the PM1's cabinet is about as inert as one could hope for. The PM1's finish is first rate though limited to a real wood veneer finish that Bowers & Wilkins calls Mocha Gloss. Mocha Gloss looks like an ebony-like wood with a thick, pronounced vertical grain structure that, despite not being as whimsical or unique as, say, Bowers & Wilkins' Tiger's Eye maple, does share some similarities in that at first glance they appear somewhat solid; though upon closer inspection you become lost in their visual idiosyncrasies. The Mocha Gloss finish flanks either side of the PM1 itself like wooden "caps" with a soft touch, rubberlike material resting in between and around the PM1's midrange driver and Nautilus tube loaded tweeter. With the magnetic grills in place, the PM1 looks more like the bookshelf equivalent of the 800 Diamond than the 805 Diamond. The matching stands are finished in the same Mocha Gloss and complete the PM1 beautifully in terms of aesthetics and performance - again, I consider them to be mandatory.
With regards to the PM1's drivers, it utilizes Bowers & Wilkins' trademark Nautilus tube loaded tweeter, though it has been redesigned a bit to allow it to sound similar to Bowers & Wilkins' flagship diamond efforts whilst still utilizing an aluminum dome. The biggest difference found in the PM1's Nautilus tweeter is its use of Carbon Fiber to brace the voice coil assembly, which results in a smoother, wider frequency dispersion as well as a new break-up frequency breakthrough of 40kHz. Previous Bowers & Wilkins aluminum tweeters had a break-up frequency of 30kHz but the PM1 raises the bar and gets closer to Bowers & Wilkins' diamond tweeter in terms of its break-up frequency which is 70kHz. The PM1's tweeter itself, apart from its Nautilus construction, is a one-inch all-aluminum affair. Aside from its tweeter the PM1 also utilizes another Bowers & Wilkins trademark technology, Kevlar, in its five-inch bass/midrange driver. The PM1 has a forward firing bass port, which helps augment the PM1's low-end performance giving it a reported frequency response of 48Hz to 22kHz plus or minus three dB on axis. The PM1 has a surprisingly low sensitivity of 84dB though it presents a pretty easy load for your amplifier at eight Ohms (5.1 Ohms minimum). Bowers & Wilkins recommends pairing the PM1 with any amplifier or receiver rated between 30 and 100 Watts, which sounds about right though you can feed it more if you like. As for connection options, the PM1 has two sets of high-end five-way binding posts, which can accept bare, banana and spade terminated speaker cables. The PM1 does not use cheap metal bridging plates for those not wanting to bi-wire or bi-amp the PM1; instead Bowers & Wilkins supplies custom bridging cables - a feature lifted from their 800 Series.
The PM1s and their matching stands arrived on my doorstep in two compact boxes. It was only upon my first attempt at lifting them did I realize the extremes in which Bowers & Wilkins has gone to build the PM1s to such a high standard - for both boxes were heavy as hell. Bowers & Wilkins should put a warning on the PM1's packaging for the whole lot is deceptively heavy or as my wife said, "Packed with star matter." Unboxing the PM1s is easy enough for a single person though I don't recommend removing them until you've first built the PM1's custom stands.
The PM1's stands come in three pieces: a two and a half inch thick base, 22-inch vertical support and a metal mounting plate. The vertical support connects to the 10 and a half by 12 inch base via four heavy-duty screws (supplied) with the small metal plate mounting to the top of the support via four more heavy-duty screws. No additional hardware or tools are required, nor is lead shot or sand, for the stands are already heavy and inert enough. Fully assembled, without the speakers, the PM1's stands reach a height of 25 inches and are not adjustable. Building the stands took about twenty minutes, largely due to the fact that I accidentally installed one of the vertical supports backwards - oh, well. Connecting the PM1s to their stands isn't difficult but care should be taken, for you must first line up the PM1's mounting holes with the holes in the metal plate, which can be difficult considering you'll be doing it while lying down and looking up at the bottom of the speaker. I asked my wife to help maneuver the PM1s into position while I screwed the mounting screws into position from below. Once the PM1s are connected to the stands the entire package is rock solid and able to withstand an out of control bulldog without tipping over.
I placed the PM1s roughly where my reference Bowers & Wilkins 800 Diamond Series loudspeakers sat, which was 27-inches off the front wall, four feet off the side walls and seven feet apart (tweeter to tweeter) with them toed in to fire directly at my primary listening position. I used my two JL Audio Fathom f110 subwoofers to augment the PM1's low end. As for the rest of my system I used a variety of components starting with my Integra DHC 80.2 AV preamp accompanied by my Parasound 5250 v2 multi-channel amp. Later in my review period I substituted in Anthem's new AV receiver, the MRX 700. My sources remained the same throughout my review period and consisted of a Sony universal Blu-ray player, Dish Network HD DVR, AppleTV and Cambridge Audio DAC Magic. I connected everything in my system, including the PM1s, using Transparent Link interconnects and Wave speaker cables. Depending on which configuration, separates versus receiver, the total system cost was between $8,500 and $11,500. Of course you could easily assemble a system around the PM1s for less.
I let everything play together for about a week before sitting down for any sort of critical evaluation.
I started my critical evaluation of the PM1 with Three Doors Down's self titled album (Universal Records) and the track "She Don't Want The World." The opening rim shots were captivating in their effortless attack and long, airy decay giving them a haunting flavor versus one that was necessarily "live" or natural sounding, which is what the recording called for. Lead singer, Brad Arnold's vocals appeared from one of the blackest backgrounds I've heard from a sub $5,000 loudspeaker and hung firmly in place dead center of the soundstage with surprising weight and scale. I say surprising because I had to remind myself that the PM1 only has a five inch bass/midrange driver, which despite peaks in excess of 95dB showed no signs of compression in my room. The drum kit, which is mixed to sound more ethereal, was just awesome and showcased the PM1's soundstage prowess, which I have to say is arguably among the best I've heard, possessing stunning width and depth with amazing detail and near laser imaging throughout. Overall, with the track "She Don't Want The World," the PM1's sound was smooth and seductive, which fit this particular track like a glove.
Read more about the performance of the B&W PM1 loudspeaker on Page 2.