As a long term fact.8 user I was excited to hear that an upgraded version of the fact range was launching at the High End show in Munich last year but it wasn’t until a month or so back that I managed to get my hands on a pair of the new Signature facts. One reason for this delay was that I moved out of a brick built listening room and into a timber framed studio at the end of 2018. Where the fact.8 worked a treat in the former space the lack of bass reinforcement in the new one did not suit them so well and I found myself using larger speakers with more prodigious low frequency output. So while I could have got the fact.8 Signature much earlier I held out for the bigger 12, I’m glad I did.
In truth I had hoped that PMC would incorporate their Laminair vent into the fact range, this tech was introduced on studio behemoth the QB1-A and swiftly used to turn the twenty series into the twenty5 range back in 2017. Which would have been enough time for PMC’s engineers to get Laminair into the fact models or so I thought, but apparently it’s not that simple and requires a comprehensive redesign of the whole speaker. And as we discovered at Munich last year they had a bigger fish to fry in the fact fenestria, the largest domestic PMC in the world ever. And the two are linked because the changes introduced to fact models for the Signature version are derived from the research carried out for that model. One of the areas that Ollie Thomas and his team looked into for fenestria was the effect that vibration had on crossover components. The keen eyed may have noticed that PMC are one of the few established companies to use Townshend Seismic Podiums under their larger loudspeakers at certain events, they clearly appreciate the benefits that isolating a loudspeaker can bring and this naturally lead to looking at ways of minimising the impact of vibration on components.
Crossovers in passive loudspeakers are generally placed inside the speaker cabinet and subject to a lot of vibration so PMC started to look for components that had been designed to minimise the microphony effect as it’s known. They discovered that Mundorf’s MResist Supreme resistors fitted the bill but this company doesn’t make similar capacitors, but it turned out that Clarity Cap had worked with Salford University to develop capacitors that reduced microphonically induced colouration by means of a clever mechanical construction.
Once PMC discovered the benefits that these components made to fenestria they set about rebuilding the fact.8 and 12 crossovers with them to see if they would benefit as well. That they introduced the Signature versions of these two models suggests that they were more than happy with the results. Interestingly both standard and Signature facts measure exactly the same in terms of response but according to PMC the new version has a much lower perceived noise floor. Which won’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the benefits of isolating individual components within a system, but you can’t as a rule isolate an element like a crossover without separating it from the cabinet.
The fact.12 Signature was until the advent of fenestria the top domestic loudspeaker in the PMC range notwithstanding the SE versions of some of the big studio monitors that are available. It incorporates the company’s finest drivers including a 50mm dome midrange and a pair of super long throw 140mm bass drivers in a what PMC calls an Advanced Transmission Line (ATL) cabinet that stands just over a metre high. You can read a lot more details of the design and construction in our review of the original fact.12, after all the only thing that’s changed is the crossover. Actually that’s not entirely true, something else has changed and that’s the finishes available. The fact models are no longer available in a wood veneer but are limited to grey and white paint finishes, which gives them more of a contemporary style but doesn’t have quite the luxury of walnut or tiger ebony.
I have reviewed the original fact.12 but it was so long ago that it’s impossible to make a reliable comparison, that said the Signature version seems to be more relaxed and refined than my memory of its predecessor. Where the original was incredibly detailed in a slightly bright fashion the Signature actually resolves more information and does so in a more seamless fashion. This comes down to the dropping of noise floor that PMC mentions, a loudspeaker doesn’t have a noise floor in the conventional electronics sense so the noise I’m talking about is essentially any form of sound that’s produced after the impulse of the signal. Essentially the question is do the driver, the cabinet, the crossover components ring, that is carry on making a sound after the signal has passed. This is why companies use exotic materials to make cabinets and drivers, conventional ones can have a tendency to reverberate or ring after the signal has been delivered. The greater this reverberation the more blurred the overall sound is and the more likely that quieter sounds will be masked by it. If you are trying to reproduce the fine details that make a sonic picture more real you need the speaker to not join in with its own colourations. Most do however but if you tune it well it doesn’t get in the way of musical enjoyment, but the degree of transparency that can be achieved is limited.
When I initially started using the fact.12 Signature I had a problem that also relates to the new listening room, it absorbs more sound, not through damping but through the absence of stone walls bouncing it back. This in turn meant I couldn’t get enough energy out of this low sensitivity design as I wanted with a passive preamp and an ATC P2 power amp with just over 24dB of gain. I was able to overcome this with an ATC CA2 active preamp however and while it’s not as revealing as the Allegri+ having some kick behind the music is more enjoyable than restrained dynamics with high transparency. This combo proved very entertaining indeed with excellent projection into the room and serious low frequency power and extension. It wasn’t a perfect partnership however and I had to switch the iFi Pro iDSD to its tube output setting to offset a degree of forwardness in some recordings that made them uncomfortable at higher levels. The fact.12s make the difference between the standard tube output setting and the tube+ option very clear indeed, with the latter offering a cleaner and more focussed sound that made Radiohead’s ‘Decks Dark’ time beautifully and give up nearly all the facets of its convoluted production. Viktoria Mullova’s violin was absolutely captivating palying Arvo Pärt with the sound extending upwards and outward to fill the room whilst maintaining focus on the body of the instrument. This rendition inspired me to write about the recording which really is gripping if not always easy listening, but then again that’s not what Arvo’s about. For a change I put on a track that Tidal was promoting called ‘Truth Hurts’ by Lizzo and discovered a bit more about the bass capabilities of this speaker, which is that they are truly monstrous. It’s a seriously compressed piece of music but if you want to get things shaking I can think of less enjoyable ways to do it.
Lana Del Rey’s NFR! is a rather more sophisticated recording that has fabulous depth of tone, the voice is absolutely spectacular, but this did have the advantage of coming from the Innuos Zenith SE server rather than miles of telephone cable. Around about this time two new amplifiers turned up, one was the Townshend Allegri Reference preamp (of which more soon) and the other a Bryston 4B3 power amp that I borrowed from PMC to get around the gain issue. This combo proved to be a massive upgrade as you’d expect given the more than doubling in price over the ATCs, now the system had a degree of poise and finesse that made hi-fi considerations like detail and timing far less obvious than the quality of composition, playing and recording in any piece of music. This was true of Radiohead and Schubert, Linn’s superb recording of The Great (good title) making absolute volume less important, I enjoyed this at a fairly low level, because the quality of all the elements listed above is so high. Much air baton waving ensued.
Another rather interesting product turned up whilst I was using the fact.12 Signatures in the Rega Aphelion 2 moving coil cartridge (review coming up). This proved to be quite a distraction onboard a Rega P10 and the pairing with the PMCs brought some thrilling results. These two transducers, a cartridge turns vibrations into signals while a speaker does the opposite, have very low colouration which means you get a heck of a lot of signal to vanishing levels of noise. Both are very neutral which means that the nature of the recording is always obvious, which is fantastic when it’s good as in the first Tortoise album where the bass dynamics are remarkably fast and wide dynamic range makes all the contrasts in the music stand out giving it extra depth and vitality. With lesser releases such as Rod Stewart’s Gasoline Alley (1970) the voice is a bit recessed and the mandolins too high in the mix, it was clearly made for the mid forward and fairly thick sounding systems that were prevalent at the time. The Faces’ Ooh La La (1973) on the other hand sounds twice as good with decent bass and an even balance, suggesting the engineer was more on the ball.
Whether its PMC’s studio work or just the general trend outside of mainstream, loudness wars pop but more recent albums tend to sound better with greater solidity to the bass and cleaner mids and highs. Leifur James’ A Louder Silence is extraordinary articulate through the fact.12 Signatures, with greater complexity becoming apparent in tracks like ‘Red Sea’ that don’t usually hint at what lies beneath the basic rhythmic framework. Playing vinyl through these speakers reveals why PMC decided to incorporate simple tone controls on the back of the fact.12s, the breadth of tonal variations found on recordings is simply huge and many of the older or cruder ones benefit from a bit of tweaking. It’s an inevitable consequence of making speakers that are so revealing, the difference with this PMC is that they don’t exaggerate the shortcomings to the extent that some high resolution speakers can. They tell it like it is in such effortless fashion that the music remains highly engaging and enjoyable regardless of its recording foibles.
Back with digital material from an Innuos Zenith SE server, Auralic Aries G1 streamer and iFi Pro iDSD DAC the fact.12 Signatures continued to shine, delivering fabulous depth of image on a Javier Perianes Beethoven piano piece, the quality of his playing foremost despite the reverberant nature of the recording. I love the way the the bass breathes on Tom Misch’s Beat Tape 2 and the meaty bass and drums on Krokofant’s Q. Switching to the Bryston power amp things get a bit more interesting, this is inevitably a solid combination given that PMC has been the Bryston distributor for decades and amp speaker matching is crucial. I happened to play a Japanese pressing of an Atlantic soul compilation from the 70s and tried ‘Green Onions’, it sounded extraordinary with massive reverb on the handclaps and a scorching guitar break alongside the chunky keyboard sound of Booker T. It was one of the better sounding cuts on the album but proved that a modern loudspeaker can make a fabulous job with a vintage recording if that cut was done well.
When I reviewed the original fact.12s I was loath to let them go, they combine extremely high resolution with fabulous timing and tight yet extended bass that’s to die for. The fact.12 Signature builds on that with a finesse that results from delving deeper into the signal to reveal the fine details that combine to give the fundamentals more depth and shape. I would rather the Signatures could stay as well and will have to see what can be negotiated with the powers that be at PMC, this is a speaker that’s capable of maximum thrill power and leaves no detail concealed, you can’t ask for more than that.