Phase Technology Premier Collection (PC) 3.1 Home Theater System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Ed Masterson   
Tuesday, 01 October 2002

As an audio enthusiast for over 20 years, I was surprised to learn that Phase Technology has been building speakers since the 1950s. Unlike many speaker companies in today’s global economy, they build nearly every part of the speaker themselves. This includes the speaker cones, baskets, voice coils, inductors and enclosures. They go so far as to actually coat their own wire for the voice coils. Even if you have not heard Phase Technology speakers, you most certainly have heard their speaker drivers in other manufacturers' products. They have manufactured drivers for nearly every major brand-name speaker manufacturer in the world. Phase Technology holds a number of influential patents, including that of the soft dome tweeter, a product that they introduced and patented in the 1960s and later licensed to a vast number of companies.

The Phase Technology theater speaker package reviewed here comes from their Premier Collection series. This package included three PC 3.1 II multipurpose speakers priced at $600 each, two PC 6.1 surround multipurpose speakers priced at $425 each, and their PC powered subwoofer, priced at $1,000. The PC 3.1 front left and right and center channel speakers are available in Natural Cherry, Honey Oak, and Black Ash furniture-grade real wood veneers. The PC 6.1 surround speakers are available in Natural Cherry, Honey Oak, White (with white grille covers) and Black Ash finishes. The PC subwoofer is available Natural Cherry, Honey Oak, and Black Ash furniture-grade real wood veneers as well. Phase Technology backs up their quality claims with a 10-year limited warranty.

The PC subwoofer measures 16 inches high, 15 inches wide and 19 inches deep, and weighs 65 pounds. It uses a 10-inch driver with a high-density Mica/Graphite/Polypropylene composite cone, which has a butyl rubber surround in a ported, highly-braced MDF enclosure. This powered subwoofer boasts a 300-watt amplifier with servo control and is designed to integrate with the rest of the PC series speakers. It has a variety of features including a 180-degree phase switch, user-adjustable crossover, volume control, speaker-level crossover inputs and outputs, and a switch to disable the line level input filter for connection to a subwoofer output on a theater processor. The user adjustable frequency response is rated from 22Hz to 150 Hz +/- 3dB.

The PC 3.1 loudspeaker is used for the front left, right, and center channels. It measures 22 inches high, 8.25 inches wide, 11 inches deep and weighs 40 pounds. The rated frequency response is 36Hz to 22kHz +/- 3dB. The sensitivity is rated at 92dB. This is a higher than typical sensitivity, which means that even modestly powered receivers should have no problem driving them effectively. This three-way design includes a one-inch soft dome variable axis tweeter, a one-and-a-half-inch soft dome midrange, dual six-and-one-half inch RPF™ solid-flat piston bass drivers with butyl rubber driver surrounds, and an Absolute Phase™ crossover network, all housed in a ported, braced MDF enclosure. The soft dome midrange and tweeter drivers are mounted to a plate that can be rotated for horizontal or vertical installations. For optimum performance, these speakers require stands, which must be purchased separately.

The PC 6.1 multipurpose loudspeaker is used for the left and right surround channels. It measures 13.75 inches high, 8.25 inches wide and 5.75 inches deep, and weighs 20 pounds. The rated frequency response is 80Hz to 22kHz +\- 3dB. The sensitivity is rated at 91dB. Again, this is a higher than average sensitivity and should represent an easy load for any amplifier or receiver. This two-way design consists a one-inch soft dome variable axis tweeter, a single six-and-one-half-inch RPF Kevlar-laminated solid flat piston driver with a butyl rubber driver surround, and an Absolute Phase crossover network, again in a ported and braced MDF enclosure. A wall-mounting bracket is included with each speaker.

Upon initial inspection of these speakers, I was very impressed with the build quality. Two of the PC 3.1 speakers were finished in the Natural Cherry veneer and one was finished with the black oak veneer. I really liked the look of the Natural Cherry finish. The radiused edges are a very nice styling feature. The grill shape finishes off the conservative yet elegant look.

The cabinet build quality of the PC series speakers is exceptional when compared to other speakers in this price range. All of the speakers in this package were impressively heavy for their size. When I performed my usual knuckle-rap test on cabinets, they felt as solid as some of best (and much more costly) speakers that I have heard. All of the speakers except the subwoofer use high-quality gold-plated binding posts for solid, confident connection. My experience has shown that a properly-designed stand can dramatically affect speaker performance. Unfortunately, Phase Technology does not produce matching stands for their speakers, so you will be forced find a good match yourself.

The Technology
Phase Technology offers some unique design features that set their products apart from the typical speakers in this price range. First, they use a soft dome midrange, which was chosen due to its extremely low mass. It weighs less than a tenth of a typical four-inch midrange cone. This gives it the ability to move more quickly and be controlled more accurately. It’s pretty obvious that the lighter the driver, the more quickly you can start and stop it. Secondly, they use a tweeter design that allows a degree of adjustment, which helps compensate for off-axis listening. Thirdly, they use Unicell™ anti-diffraction foam around the midrange and tweeter to absorb unwanted diffracted sound, so that all you hear is the output of the drivers themselves. Next, their RPF solid piston driver is essentially like most other cone woofers, except that these have ultra-light foam that fills the conical cavity. This is said to increase the stiffness of the driver, as well as to attenuate any sound from inside the box as it passes through the driver. This design also changes the dispersion pattern for the driver and works to achieve another design goal of good off-axis response in the vertical plane. They use a phase-aligned Absolute Phase crossover, which is said to help with off-axis response. There is no questioning the importance of off-axis response. Early reflections are responsible for many negative aspects of music reproduction. The best way to limit this negative interaction is to increase its audible quality. Finally, they have a proprietary mechanism designed to limit driver excursion in order to avoid bottoming out and potential damage when it is overdriven. This acts like a soft clipping device for the speaker and should eliminate overheating and the eventual dynamic compression that comes with it.

The Music
I initially set up the speaker system in my theater, using it for television and movies for a couple of weeks. I have found this to be the easiest way to get a little break-in time without being too critical. Next, I began to work on the setup of the front main loudspeakers and subwoofer for two-channel music playback. I found that the mains were easy to arrange and produced a wide and deep soundstage. The subwoofer took a little more work, but I eventually managed to get it to blend very well with the main loudspeakers. Overall, I felt the speakers had a pleasantly laid-back presentation. Nothing sonically glaring or shrill jumped out at me. I was drawn in by the sound of the piano at the beginning of “Locomotive Breath” from Jethro Tull’s Original Masters (Chrysalis). The piano was full and rich, but not quite as dynamic as I have heard from other speakers in this price range. During “Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day” from the same release, I was impressed with the depth and spaciousness of the soundstage. Every instrument was set back in the stage and well separated from the other instruments. The sound was detailed but not analytical. It seemed that the sharpest transients were smoothed out a little, which turned out to be a benefit on this recording. With this system, I found myself listening to more songs than I had planned. If you listen to a lot of recordings that are not up to the audiophile standards, you will most definitely enjoy the non-fatiguing nature of these speakers.

A good example of a great performance on a poorly recorded album is Staring at The Sea - The Singles, by The Cure (Electra/Asylum). I am not sure if it was intentional or just an unavoidable artifact, but the first track on this CD, “Killing an Arab,” sounds like it was recorded in a garage. The PC 3.1 speaker/subwoofer combo was able to communicate this unrefined sound without sounding overly harsh or boring and dull. The third track on this CD, “Boys Don’t Cry,” starts out with a solo electric guitar that sounded detailed and dynamic. I found myself halfway through the disc, in full suspension of reality, before I realized it.

I next decided to switch over to a recording with an emphasis on vocals. Billie Holiday’s Body and Soul (Verve/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab) is one of my favorite classic jazz vocal albums. This is an old monaural recording, originally made in the mid-'50s and was deliciously re-mastered. During the third track, “Darn That Dream,” the raspiness in Billy’s voice and deep sounds emanating from her chest and throat were all conveyed with detail and power, while remaining separated from the other instruments in the stage.

The Movies
The first movie that I watched was "Collateral Damage" (Warner Bros. Home Video), the most recent Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie. Schwarzenegger plays a firefighter who loses his wife and son during a terrorist attack. As you might expect, he takes matters into his own hands and pursues justice his way. I mean, I love a good Arnold action movie like the next, but hasn’t Hollywood beaten this tired and shallow use of the big guy to death? In any event, this movie served as a great testing tool and involved lots of shooting, explosions, and hand to hand combat. I never had any trouble hearing the dialogue during the action scenes. The gunshots had convincing dynamics, and the explosions sounded persuasively real. The subwoofer did not have the ultimate earth-shaking low-frequency extension that I have heard in some other similarly-priced systems, but did however seem a little quicker and more articulate in the low bass than these other subs. When it came to the rear-channel effects, the information seemed to be conveyed accurately, but I could not help but notice that these effects were coming from the rear speakers. This seems to be common with theater systems that have a standard directional type of rear speaker, rather than the bi-polar variety. It is my opinion, as well as that of many mastering engineers, that surround information is best when it fills in and doesn’t draw attention to movie details.

Next I watched "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings" (New Line Home Entertainment). This is one of the more intense and scary movies that I have seen this year. The soundtrack is powerful and imminently evil-sounding. I was constantly drawn into the music score. Something about the Phase Technology system seemed to emphasize the music slightly over the sound effects. This is not to say that the sound effects were not conveyed effectively, it’s just that they do not overpower the background music. The deep rumbling sound of the horses approaching seemed to be naturally portrayed within the soundscape with no lack of low frequency extension. This speaker system genuinely transported me the event, often causing me to forget that I was auditioning the product rather than frantically trying to recapture the coveted ring.

The Downside
The front speakers and subwoofer are really designed as a subwoofer satellite system. Therefore the subwoofer is not a device used primarily in movies but an essential part of your music experience as well. Integration of subwoofer/speaker systems is not trivial and without proper setup, will not perform to the capability of the system. When purchasing this package, I recommend that you consult your dealer for advice on setup and proper integration.

The rear channels did not blend with the front channels to form a continuous soundfield in the manner of the sound I had heard with my comparably-priced Klipsch system. The rear channels seemed to call attention to themselves while producing the rear channel effects. Unfortunately, Phase Technology does not offer a bi-polar speaker for their PC speaker series. To my ears, they blend much better, especially for movies.

No matching stands are offered for the front speakers. Some consumers may prefer to pick their own stands, but as an enthusiast with an ear for detail, I want a quality set of stands, matching the aesthetic glamour of this fine package. If you have thoughts of placing a speaker of this performance on a shelf, expect to experience a sizable degradation in performance. Moreover, safety is another concern without matching stands. You want make sure your Phase Techs are perfectly level and seriously stuck on their stands so that they are unlikely to fall over and squish the dog.

It has been said that when it comes to designing something to a price point, sacrifices have to be made. As a manufacturer, if you outsource a particular component such as a driver, you might limit your options to what is available at or near your price point. However, if you engineer and build everything yourself as Phase Technology does, you maximize the number of opportunities to reduce cost and maximize performance.

Compromises are hard to find in a system with this exceptional build quality, even when compared to speakers at as much as twice the price. With their conservative and elegant styling, and relatively small size, the Phase Technology System will fit nicely into almost any décor and will not overwhelm smaller rooms. Those with a tight budget will not be disappointed with the soundstaging performance and may be surprised to find that their recordings do not have to be perfect to be enjoyable. Those with a small space available for theater will likely be very satisfied with the theater performance. The Phase Technology PC Series theater system is a well-balanced package that is enjoyable for both music and movies at very reasonable price point.
Manufacturer Phase Technology
Model Premier Collection (PC) 3.1 Home Theater System
Reviewer Ed Masterson

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