Wednesday, 7 November 2018

PMC Cor Integrated Amp - Retro In Looks, Fluid In Musicality

If you already have a series of award winning speaker designs and top notch studio capability, what will you do next? PMC, a name heavily associated to the ATL design have come up with its own 25th year anniversary amplifier design, aptly named as Cor.

AV Designs, the sole local distributor of PMC brand, loaned me a unit as I wanted to hear how my PMC Twenty5.24 would sound with this matching amp. I had my doubts as the wattage is lower than my resident MF amp but given its the similar design philosophy with speakers which aims for musicality, transparency and neutrality. The amp aims to neither add nor take away anything from your source,

The Specifications and Built

The COR is a pure analogue Class A/B integrated amplifier which can deliver 95 wpc into 8 ohms and 140 wpc into 4 ohms. Compared to my MF at 200 wpc, it would be interesting to hear how this COR can deliver the music that I listen to. Although there is always that question of what is there in power, but to me it is still very critical to ensure that any model can blend in nicely into a set up.

The chassis looks like a mix of modern and vintage amp. If it was in black, one may mistook it as  new Playstation 5 game console. It may appeal to most but some may have some reservation. Measuring at 432 mm x 87.5 mm x 401 mm and weighs 12 kg, I classify this amp as a moderately sized equipment.

One unique feature that I seldom see on modern amps are the bass, treble and balance function where the slider is actually a motorized version where you can change the settings using the remote. These functions which usually are seen to be a non-purist approach is however designed precisely to give very small step change when being used.

The amp is sturdily built. The chassis is of aluminium and built to precision. However, the industrial look may not appeal to all. On the fron fascia, you get a huge volume knob, a series of input selection buttons, mono and a bypass button for the purest signal.

The treble, bass and balance function works on a small motor where they can even be controlled via the remote and you will see the slider slides left and right. There is a small LED on each to assist you getting back to the 'zero' level.

The remote is made of solid metal and relatively heavy. It does feel a bit industrial operating it. The unit I had for demo had some sensitivity issue as the amp sometimes does not respond immediately. However, I was told that PMC has rectified this in their later production.

My favourite part was actually the big PMC logo on the bottom left of the unit which actually is an on/off/standby touch screen button. It turns blue when on and turns red on standby.

Ins and Outs

Simplicity is part of the COR where there are 1 x balanced, 4 x single ended RCA and 1 x direct inputs.

For the outputs, it comes with a pair of 4 mm binding posts and also a preamp out if you wish to connect to a power amp.

The Session

I decided to only use digital source for this review, mainly from the SONY HAP Z1 ES. This is because in the recent months, there was a debate on how this Hi Res player is not capable to really deliver good sound reproduction due to its lower output level compared to other modern digital sources. 

Fields of Gold by Sting in WAV 16/44
On this track, the Cor delivered quite an airy and huge sound. It emphasizes clarity on the mids. The vocal was engaging and upfront, giving an impression of free flow musicality. It delivers quite an emotional presentation.

Where Did The Children Play by Cat Stevens in AAC 16/44
The simplistic guitar intro was surreal. High level of tranparency. Vocal was again the highlight where Cat Steven's voice was ver engaging. Even the plucking of the bass sounded natural.

La Mer by Kevin Kline in MP3 320 kbps
Another track that really focuses on vocal. The deep voice of Kevin was reproduced with such an energy that I actually forgot that this was in a less superior format of MP3.

Take Five by Dave Brubeck in DSD
What can I say, the fluidity of the Cor was well defined through this track. The wind instrument was full of life and coupled with the punchiness of the percussion provided a very lively presentation. It did not suffer any sign of fatigue to deliver this track.

Japanese Roots by Takedake in WAV 16/44
The ultimate satisfaction came from this track. It hit me with a bang with layer and layer musical instrument can be heard. It was well balanced across a hugh spectrum without comprimising the clarity of any of signature sound.

Way Down Deep by Jennifer Wearnes in DSD
With the PMC Twenty5 24 being driven by the Cor, the bass that came out from this track was really punchy and extended in a certain way. It digs quite deep but without any boominess experienced in my hall. The speakers, given the wrong choice of amp, may sometimes give me a boomy bass. 

The Book of Morris Johnson by Zee Avi in WAV 16/44
This track however sounded a bit thin on the bass. Usually, this would be one of my reference in getting some good but fun bass. However, I did not manage to get the usual experience I get from this track. Somehow, the Cor tamed the bass a bit on this one.

Enter Sandman by Metallica in FLAC 24/192
Now for a more overall observation, I put on this track to see how the Cor performance is when pumping out a speedier and more attacking track. Kirk's shredding guitar sounded ferocious and can really pump up my adrenalin. Lars's drumming sounded bold and authoritative. 

The Conclusion

The purest amp I have heard to date at this price point. It excels in delivering a very musical and engaging presentation and matches with PMC speakers. It does not struggle to allow the PMC speakers to deliver the bass that it is known for.

The transparency and high level of clarity may not appeal to all especially for those systems that are bass shy. You may find the sound is a bit flat and sterile. It is very sensitive to the source that you play with. A bad recording may sounds worst through this amp but feed it with top notch recording, it will sing gracefully. Even by using the Sony, it does not suffer from any dullness in delivering the Hi Res quality music to me. 

It is again an amplifier that deserves a listen if you are looking for a pure and honest sound. It will not make you jump out of your seat for shear wow factor but it will engage you at an emotional level.

For a demo, kindly contact James Tan or Tony Low of AV Designs.