Peter Thomas founder of PMC loudspeakers

PMC in conversation: 30 years of loudspeaker innovation

Question: What makes a truly great recording studio speaker? 

Answer: One that you can’t hear!

So says Peter Thomas, Chairman of PMC, the British manufacturer currently celebrating three decades of lauded loudspeaker design.

It was back in 1991 that Thomas, then a BBC engineer, along with colleague Adrian Loader, formed PMC loudspeakers, with the aim of developing a high resolution monitor speaker for the BBC.

“Right at the beginning, Adrian and I couldn’t believe how engineers and producers could work with many of the studio monitoring speakers on the market at the time because they made their work so much harder,” he told Audio Media International.  

“In my opinion, what makes a truly great recording studio speaker is one that makes your job easier by not having to worry about any deficiencies in the monitors. This leads to the other great test for your monitoring speakers – do your recordings translate? This really is the acid test because if your recordings sound poor on different systems or in different environments then the monitors are usually the culprit…assuming the engineer is reasonably competent!”

Thirty years on from the launch of that first loudspeaker, the iconic BB5, Thomas says he has mixed emotions.

“While I’m sad that my business partner Adrian Loader is not alive to see the amazing things we have achieved in 30 years, I find it incredible that we have come so far since those early days designing and building prototypes at my house in North East London.

“We were both sound quality nuts and to be able to combine what you love with your business is very special. For it to lead to success all over the world, and in the process meet your heroes in music (especially Elton!) is just unbelievable.

“What is wonderful is that Tom, Adrian’s son and Ollie, my son, are both key directors in PMC to see the next 30 years through. We really are a family business.”

PMC Studio London

As Thomas and Loader listened to their first Big Box speaker, then garage fresh, glue probably still drying, neither could have imagined where it would take them.

“We were confident that we had developed a speaker that was a significant leap in performance but, of course, that isn’t always a recipe for success” he recalls. “It has to go hand in hand with great marketing plus considerable investment to gain momentum in a crowded marketplace.”

PMC loudspeaker’s first customer, BBC Radio, proved an education in customer care and support, says the CEO: “We felt we were getting somewhere when we supplied three of the top film score recording engineers in LA, plus the mastering suites at Metropolis studios in London!”

Thomas says he still listens to the brand’s early loudspeaker designs. 

“They still sound great! Sound balance-wise they’re the same, which is really important as we know what we are trying to achieve in terms of accuracy and consistency. The big development over the years is the transparency. Each new design removes another layer of distortion, whether from the drive units, the cabinet vibrations or the electronics. So the older designs are not as revealing as the current models.”

“Of course, at the time, we couldn’t see how we could improve our designs any further, but then new measurement techniques come along that speed up the analysis, which allows you as the designer to explore whole areas that before you would not have had the time to. This plus new materials and new techniques all add together to increase performance, in particular with image placement and detail.”

The CEO is a self confessed ‘avid collector of pro audio technology’, with a large number of speakers designs, not only PMC, in his personal collection. “We hope to eventually put the entire collection on display for visitors at PMC’s head office in Bedfordshire,” he tells us.

Oliver Thomas Commercial Director PMC

Commercial Director Oliver Thomas believes the brand’s early designs remain one of its greatest assets. “Having a reliable and high quality range of products available as benchmarks and references is really important because it allows us to review and improve upon their various attributes when we are developing new products.”

The old products compare very well to modern designs, he notes. “We normally reflect on how we can get a bigger sound out of a physically smaller speaker now, but there are always little characteristics that we will find and say ‘oh yeah, we really nailed that bit’.”

Obviously loudspeaker design and technology has changed dramatically over three decades. Thomas cites Acoustic measurement equipment advancements, as well as rapid prototyping and simulation technologies, as key areas of change. 

“3D computer aided design software with integrated finite element analysis simulation have allowed us to achieve a more refined design faster,” he says. “Moving into a practical test and trial stage of development; rapid prototyping, utilising 3D printing technologies have allowed us to create more iterations, again faster, to further refine new products. Measurements utilising laser displacement sensors as well as a variety of software to compute acoustics have allowed the biggest jump forward in performance. Our new products utilising these technologies find a new level of accuracy and refinement that was not possible previously.”

Over the past decade, PMC loudspeakers have become the reference for Atmos music mixing, partnering with Dolby to install Atmos Music mixing rooms in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville. Most recently it opened PMC Studio London, a cutting edge Dolby Atmos music mixing suite, conceived to offer artists, record labels and recording professionals an opportunity to experience the creative potential of Dolby Atmos music mixing.

We’ll be looking at PMC’s leadership in this area, and its passion for immersive audio, in another feature article, so stay tuned.

So where is PMC heading next in terms of hardware development? It seems the brand has its eye on the burgeoning custom install sector, recently opening a new production factory for CI product manufacture.

“Personally, I’m looking forward to new product releases over the coming years that offer an even better window on the recording process!” says Thomas.

PMC speaker aficionados wouldn’t expect any less.