Monday, July 3, 2017

Godfather of Internet Direct: BIC America Acoustech PL-980 Skyscraper Speakers

The Godfather of Internet Direct: 
BIC America Acoustech PL-980 Skyscraper Speakers

I was lucky enough to be offered a review pair of BIC PL-980 towers by the great people at Acoustic Sound Design ( In case the name is new to you; the BIC brand has been around since the early 70's and the since its re-introduction in 2003, the Acoustech line has had a strong cult Home Theater following with overwhelming praise from their owners. I've been given the chance to spend some time with their current flagship Acoustech PL-980 tower speakers, and believe me they embody the definition of tower.

Coming in at 47 inches tall and about a foot square, the first thing you notice is the sheer size. Easily the biggest speakers I've taken home, dwarfing my Pinnacle BD 2500's. These are not speakers to be trifled with, so take the WAF into consideration. Not only in physical stature are they impressive, but also in the sound they put out. There is no question, these can fill a big room with big sound and sound good doing so.

The speakers are marked as left and right as indicated by the placement of the side passive radiator. I would take the left and right designation more as a grain of salt than an unbreakable placement rule. Depending on your listening position, room, or entertainment console; you might want to play with orientation to see what works best.

So How do These Skyscrapers Sound? 

First, they are not has bright or harsh as you might expect in a budget priced speaker with a horn tweeter to be. Have no fear of an angry bright speaker. If anything their output at the highest registers remains smooth and mellow. It wouldn’t be fair to set the expectations that these are primarily intended as critical listening speakers, and I don’t think that’s what BIC or their fan base would argue either. There are more than few places where the BIC PL-980 really shine. I had great luck with Rap/Hip-Hop, Techno/EDM and was especially pleased with home theater usage. The latter being the most commonly advertised use case. Both in music and home theater, the PL-980s are capable of some pretty impressively deep and full bass. They won’t have the tactile sub-bass rumble in the floor during a Michael Bay movie, but you won’t be missing out on much else.

The PL-980 do a really good job of creating a strong center image, I ran them with a little bit of toe in and they still threw of a huge sound stage. The dedicated mid-range, really brings out vocals in generally a good way, smooth, clear and well centered. Across the test tracks vocals were most often clean, clear and free of being harsh, but could sometimes be a bit forward, something that was a bit of a boon in my home theater testing.

See my listening impressions at the end for additional context.

Is there anything that can shake these towers? They do struggle in one respect, at being polite. While the horn tweeter performs well enough, it doesn't carry much of the audio load and is more muted than I anticipated; and while the midrange generally did well with vocals, it can over emphasize electric guitars in some mixes and some musical tastes. I think this may, at least in part, be an issue of the shallow crossovers on the bass and tweeter drivers, the crossover at almost the exact midpoint of the midranges response and measurable null at 2khz. Complicated bass lines can lose little bit of definition, however many users report that these really sing with some strong power behind them and I can definitely believe that to be true and help bring out some of the bass detail and definition.

How Did They Measure?

The BIC PL-980 is a 3 way system using a horn loaded tweeter and treated paper drivers and passive radiators rather than ports. The closed back midrange appears to steeply band passed, while the tweeter and woofers both have comparatively shallow crossovers. Due to the shallow slopes, there is a bit of cone break up that happens to the woofers, however it is relatively smooth and seems to manifest more in nulls rather than spikes. The front and side mounted passive radiators look to be tuned at about 40hz and share similar break up characteristics. 

Overlaying a the 1m outdoor on axis measurement (gated and blended with close mic measurements at 400hz) with the driver measurements, you can see that on the tweeter access there a bit of a null that occurs and is centered at exact peak of the midrange output and the crossover point between the tweeter and woofers. I would be very interested to see how this would change with a steeper crossover on the woofers. It might be a great DIY hack for enthusiast owners.

Because the towers are so tall, seated your ears maybe more in line with the midrange rather than the tweeters, changing the perceived output and bringing the midrange forward.

It is also worth to note that in these measurements the Midrange has about 5db on the woofers output, but remember there are two woofer and passive radiators with equal output. (Second driver is not shown but matches output exactly)

A nice benefit to those who don't want to see drivers or need to protect drivers from over inquisitive hands or paws; is that the grills while plenty beefy remain suitably transparent. Bringing output down a few DB's but not adding any nulls or peaks as some grills can. (EDIT) I realized that the colors were reversed in my discription. RED = With Grill, BLUE = without Grill

Horizontal axis response remains smooth but there is some significant loss of output past 30 degrees.

I think different people will like PL-980s for different and possibly opposite reasons. Metal heads might love these because they can turn things up to 11 without the whole experience falling apart. All your electric guitar can go balls to the wall and in your face. Hip hop/rap fans will like these because of their ability to get loud and full room filling sound that can still hit the deepest of 808's. Home theater users will have a big tower that throws a huge soundstage and sounds good doing so. You'll still want a subwoofer to shake the room, but you won’t be missing much besides the tactile feedback of sub-bass.

No speakers is perfect, and many perform better in certain situations. Overall these are going to be another solid option that compare very favorably to their most obvious and often more expensive competition from Klipsch. General enthusiast and owner reviews are overwhelmingly positive, so you’ll be in good company if you give these a shot. While measurements are not the end of the discussion, they measure better than speakers more than a few price points higher. If you're looking for a big easily assessable home theater speaker package, these should be on the short list. also has pretty unique buying format where you can make offers on their packages and see if it is accepted. No doubt some great deals will be had.

I'm very happy I got the chance to spend a few weeks with the BIC PL-980, they do a lot of things really well and more people should take the time to investigate them as an option.

Detailed Listening Impressions and Parts Breakdown

Cee Lo Green - Closet Freak

Really tight upper bass/mid bass. Even High Hat/horns/bells were never bright or fatiguing even at volume. The lowest of the low bass notes were a little lacking but they were audible. Though my opinion is clouded because I'm a car audio bass head. The 5 inch midrange is very detailed

Clutch - Ghost

Really can get the full bass impact and presence, but could be tighter, complex basslines get a little lost. Vocals are a little forward. Great left and right stereo separation. Both the acoustic and electric guitar sounds great but can also be a little forward.

The Glitch Mob – Fortune Days

Big and Dynamic sound, but complex bassline is troublesome. Track Might even be a little muted sounding overall.

The Glitch Mob - We Can Make the World Stop

Sounded great! Fun, lively, dynamic, handles very well. Another highlight track.

Chris Cornell - Sweet Revenge

These speakers really shined here. Dance or club hip hop music. Big room filling sound, simple but deep basslines, massive sound stage. Vocals and some of the synthesized sounds remain a bit forward, but a clean, clear and no sense of sibilance.

Coheed and Cambria - The Final Cut

In a song where everything is already in your face, these speaker highlight that. Possibly a little too much. This was the first song that became a slight strain to listen too. But the mix isn't doing it any favors. However the solo (probably because is a lower pitch) came off without a hitch. The drum at the start of the secret track following made me jump a little, major impact sounded great. The acoustic guitar that follows it was perfect example to highlight the forwardness of the speakers, sounded great, just too much of it.

Eminem - No Love

There isn't much to say other than the BIC PL 980's killed it. Absolutely zero criticism on playback. Happy accident or high lighting the speakers intended strengths? Don't know, don't care. I was too focused on pretending I was a gangsta rapper.

Jay-Z - Holy Grail

Justin Timberlake’s voice is clearly forward you can hear a hit of vocal fry and it's a distracting if you are trying to listen critically, but I don't believe these are intended to be critical listing speakers. Lots of mid bass impact is tight, Jay-Z sounds appropriate and strongly centered.

Hollywood Undead - Outside

My go to bench/dead/squat song. Don't judge me. It's not a complex song by any stretch. Handles the bass great. Another song that matches the speakers’ performance characteristics really well.

The Civil Wars - Billy Jean

Great Left & Right stereo separation. John Paul White's voice is again forward and sounds a little more strained than normal. Given a sense that Joy Williams is much farther back in the recording. Musically, things sound good.

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