FULL REVIEW: PSB Speakers is one of remarkably many Canadian speaker companies that have come to prominence in recent decades. PSB Speakers itself was founded 40 years ago this year.
Its Imagine series is the second top of its four ranges, and this package uses the second from top pair of speakers in the series — the Imagine T Tower — and uses the bookshelf-style Imagine B, rather than bi/tripole Imagine S Surround speakers. Also included was the HD8 compact cube subwoofer.
The front Imagine T speakers are towers only in the sense that they are fairly tall for their width. At 945mm tall, they place the uppermost-mounted tweeters some 880mm from the ground, which is pretty much the right level for couch-seated listening. The tweeter is a 25mm titanium-dome unit with ferrofluid cooling. Its face has a small sound-diffusing ring over the front that would also offer some physical protection.
Underneath this are what PSB calls two ‘woofers’. But in fact this is a 2.5-way system, so the upper of the two should properly be called a bass/midrange driver. The crossover between this one and the tweeter is at 1800Hz. The lower unit seems to be physically identical with a 135mm polypropylene cone, but it handles only bass, from 800Hz down. PSB says that all the crossovers are Linkwitz-Riley fourth-order designs. Bi-wiring capabilities are provided for all the speakers via substantial gold-plated binding posts.
Each of the Imagine T speakers has two bass reflex ports at the rear, though this does not mean that there are two internal chambers. (Certainly both of the larger drivers share the same internal space — it was impossible to see into the area behind the tweeter.) One rubber bung is provided with each speaker. This can be fitted into one of the ports to tune the bass, typically softening the output a little around the normal cut-off, but gaining a slight extension. Additional bungs are available at additional cost. You also get a bung for the centre-channel speaker, but not for the Imagine B models.
The speaker cabinets are heavily curved — PSB says that they are ‘compound-curved on every vertical face’. The drivers themselves are set into curved baffles, which are themselves barely wider than the drivers. The sides of the enclosure widen for a while as they go back from the baffle, before narrowing again to join at the back in a seamless curve. The bottoms, obviously, are flat, but the tops are also slightly curved. In addition to the sonic merits of curved cabinets, this is always a useful feature since it means that no-one in your household will be tempted to use the speakers as beer mats or pot-plant stands.
PSB rates their frequency response at 38Hz to 23,000Hz ±3dB, and from 42Hz to 20,000Hz at ±1.5dB. It puts their sensitivity at 90dB in a listening room, 88dB in an anechoic environment, rates their impedance at six ohms and says they can cope with up to 200W of music program material.
The centre-channel speaker continues the theme of curved sides. But since it is like a smaller speaker on its side, the curves are applied to the top and bottom. That would cause it to roll back and point all the drivers over listeners’ heads, so a dense rubber-like shaped bar is included with the centre speaker. You put this somewhere under the rear, adjusting its position slightly to allow the speaker to fire at any height you choose, creating another merit for the curves.
Driver complement on the centre is the same as for the large speakers, although it is two-way (with an 1800Hz crossover) rather than 2.5-way. Its ±3dB frequency response is rated at 42Hz to 23,000Hz, and 55Hz to 20,000Hz for ±3dB. The sensitivity ratings are 89 and 87dB under the aforementioned conditions, power handling is 150W, and impedance is the same six ohms.
The Imagine B speakers from the rear channels drop the second large driver and stand 330mm tall. You could wall mount them, but you’d need some kind of platform bracket, as they weigh a hefty six kilograms (not the 7.8 kilograms PSB says) and have their binding posts poking a long way out of their back, below the bass reflex port.
The specs are the same as for the centre-channel speaker.
All the review speakers were beautifully finished in a dark cherry veneer with black baffles (see inset picture); the alternative finish is the gloss black shown in our main image. The grilles are all removable.
The HD8 subwoofer really is compact, measuring just 267mm on each side (plus 28mm in height for the pre-attached feet). This has a 203mm driver mounted on its front, boasting a 70mm voice coil and a 2.3kg magnet. It is driven by a ‘Class H’ amplifier, a variation on rail switching designs, where the voltage supply to the output stage of the amplifier is continuously varied to match the signal, allowing very high efficiency operation.
PSB rates the amplifier as capable of producing 500W continuously. (It also offers such uncertain measures of extreme performance as ‘Dynamic’ 800W and ‘Dynamic Peak’ 1600W.)
The cabinet is loaded by means of two 203mm passive radiators, one on the left side and the other on the right side of the enclosure. This makes it unwise to jam the unit squarely into a room corner. I put it on a 45-degree angle so that each radiator had plenty of air around it.
It comes with both high- and low-level inputs plus a crossover-skipping LFE input. All the low-level inputs have matching passthrough outputs. PSB rates this unit’s frequency response at 35Hz to 150Hz ±3dB.
We used these speakers with two different AV receivers. As always, how the receivers treated the loudspeaker through their auto set-up routines was instructive. In both cases, in my room at least, the speakers were treated as fairly large. The receiver using Audyssey decided that all five speakers were big small ones — that is, they were set to ‘Small’ but with a low crossover of 40Hz. This was clearly inappropriate for the centre and surround speakers, but did suggest that they are surprisingly capable at the bass end.
I manually re-set the crossovers to a more appropriate figure — 60Hz for these to allow adequate crossover — and left the front pair on 40Hz. Obviously I left all the receiver EQ stuff off, and over a period of several weeks I never once felt any sense of needing it. Indeed, the character of the sound was above all smooth and accurate.
With stereo music the theme was one of precision, with delightfully rounded stereo imaging and excellent dynamism. There was respectable imaging depth and width. Tonally the performance was smooth, with sweet violins or orchestral pieces and female vocals completely free of sibilance. Most importantly, the speaker seemed to provide a background of silence to music, adding nothing themselves in the way of distortion or spurious noise, allowing the actual recording to emerge with complete integrity.
I went back to one of the best ever surround mixes, Michael Mann’s 1995 crime drama ‘Heat’. On Blu-ray of course. With a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, of course.
There are two aspects to the audio of this movie. One is a constant immersion of ‘natural’ urban sounds. In most scenes there’s something going on in the soundfield to your sides and behind you, accompanying the action at the front. This system was delightful on all that stuff, with a precise surround field that was frequently startling in its realism.
The other parts of ‘Heat’ are the various sonic assaults it delivers with gunshots, with explosions, with rolling luggage carriers at an airport, and the thunder of the taxiing jet plane that De Niro and Pacino skirt.
In all but one respect the performance on this front was excellent. Using a high quality 135W per channel receiver the speakers were capable of delivering mountains of volume at all the right times, while maintaining excellent coherence and no sense of stress.
The deficiency, and only a surprisingly slight one at that, was with the deepest of bass. But then this is comparing with our reference, a rather larger 15-inch subwoofer, which has a full octave on this one. Yet even so, the PSB sub managed to pump the air in my listening room in a nicely satisfying way, establishing an actual pulsing pressure wave, while keeping up happily with the rest of the speakers.
Aside from that wish for a larger subwoofer to add an extra octave down the bottom end, there’s little to criticise and much to praise in this PSB Speakers Imagine package; it’s well worth an audition for any serious music and movie fan considering speakers in this price range.