Here we are then with another loudspeaker review, this time from another well-known manufacturer, PSB. I’m lucky enough to have both the 2 and a half way floor standing Imagine T and the surprisingly tiny Imagine Mini. These guys are a Canadian born company, started in 1972 by Paul Barton, and his wife Sue, hence the name. They are now part of the Lenbrook group headquartered in Pickering, Ontario that also encompasses NAD Electronics. Paul does a lot of work listening and testing his speakers in anechoic chambers, which for those of you that don’t know is a really cool room. It’s completely free from vibration and echoing. They are also completely isolated from external noise too, and supposedly if you sit inside one on your own they are so silent you can go mad! There’s even a world record for sitting in one alone, its 45 minutes…. Anyway back on topic, and the reason this is a great place to test speakers, or anything acoustic is because there are no reflections to corrupt results etc. hopefully it wasn’t all in vain hey.
On arrival, three parcels two big boxes and one tiny one… really small. The towers came out first, they are really nicely packaged, best described as suspended within the box, grill and all. Each speaker is covered with the typical cloth and really well protected. The grill is covered and protected too, very similar to the packaging of the bookshelves. Each tower comes with 4 spikes for carpet and 4 hemispheric feet for hard flooring as well as a little wrench for tightening. One bung per speaker is also provided, despite the 2 ports per speaker.
Brief Drivers and Cabinetry stuff:
I’ll start with the Imagine T and first of all what’s this 2.5 way thing all about? Well as you will have noticed from pictures we have a single 1” titanium dome tweeter controlled by a Ferrofluid Neodymium Magnet, we also have two 5 1/4” Clay/Ceramic reinforced Polypropylene Cones with Rubber Surround. Only one of these woofers extends above 800 Hz up until 1.8 kHz the other one is given the easier task of just coping with everything below the 800hz down to a claimed 38hz +- 3db.
The dual ported bass reflex design allows the ports to be plugged to adjust bass levels to the environment and to personal preference. You only receive one plug per speaker though, and there are two ports per speaker and although you are able to purchase more from the PSB site it would have been fair to assume that included within the box should be 4 bungs. That’s what I would have expected anyway. The shape of the cabinet is gorgeous as you can see, but more on that later. The shape of it is actually designed to eliminate standing waves within the fairly modest 29 litre, 18.5kg, 210 x 945 x 346mm cabinet and as I say it looks good too. Shape is achieved using MDF laminates, it’s a fairly easy and low cost way to achieve high quality shapes such as this, and I have made curved products myself using the same technique! Recommended amplification is up to 200 watts so plenty of power handling for most of us to annoy a significant other if you get my drift.
The Imagine Mini uses the same tweeter as the floor-standing relative, but the woofer is a bit different but purely in size, they use a single 4” version of the reinforced Polypropylene cone which gives 60 watts of power handling. We crossover at 2.2 kHz on the mini, so the tweeter isn’t responsible for 400 Hz that it is on the tower , both seem to integrate well. The mini is clearly from the same family as the tower as it maintains the yellow cone and the curvaceous cabinet. Just 2.8 litres, that’s it, a really tiny speaker that measures 143 x 234 x 212mm and weighs in at just 6kg for the pair, definitely the lightest £600 speaker I’ve come across…
Build, Finish, Aesthetics:
Usually with speakers priced around this level, there is an expectation, from me anyway, of fairly average built quality that’s more than adequate but not exciting or anything too special. With the PSB’s though the build and finish is the single best thing about them. I have the gloss white towers and the gloss black Minis’ and both finishes are stunning, really very good. Even the materials used to attach the binding posts feel such high quality, the plastics on the ports are the same and they really do make a difference. I mentioned the flush mounted drivers earlier and seriously this looks great and isn’t the norm at this price. Then we have the cabinet, it’s so beautifully curvaceous but in a really natural organic way, I love what they have achieved on these products from a material and finish point of view, it’s really outstanding.
One thing which is 100% personal preference is the yellow drivers with the black surrounds and the white gloss finish. I don’t like it; it’s too much for me and I much prefer the grills on look. On the bookshelf’s, I don’t find it as offensive but the yellow cones just aren’t my cup of tea and I can see them struggling to fit with the décor in a normal living or bedroom, as at 1500 quid I doubt they will be in a dedicated listening room. The grills are black metal mesh with a black cloth covering and I must praise these too, they feel solid and the floor to top design on the towers looks brilliant I must say. Something else I must mention is the bungs for the bass ports and although I think you are supplied with half the required amount, they are extremely easy to use and insert. They work much like a rubber bath plug as opposed to a foam cylinder which is the norm. The raised grip in the middle makes it easy to grip and twist in which is really thoughtful and I cannot stress how much all these little differences contribute to a really satisfying, high quality product.
A Quick Word on Usability:
Unbox and plug ‘em in you might think? Yea me too, until I unboxed the Imagine Mini’s, actually the unboxing was fine but the plugging in? What the hell, I was perplexed; the speaker terminals are placed in the most ridiculous place I have ever come across. I accept that not many people buying these £600 speakers are going to have snake like speaker cables but even so, if you have banana plugs you are going to struggle I had to find different speaker cables to actually get them connected. For me this wasn’t a useful design feature in the slightest.
With all the previous parts of the PSB’s impressing me as much as they have I was expecting a lot from the sound and truly hoping these were going to be the full package for this price bracket. So lets see. First off, the towers;
I would describe both these speakers as being pretty flat in response all the way down to what sounds like about 50-60 Hz for the tower and maybe 80 Hz for the Mini where they appear to fall of the bass cliff. Other than that though, I find them to be a pretty neutral and quite a clean sounding loudspeaker, there truly weren’t any horrible peaks that glared at you every so often or randomly shouted their presence mid song, it was balanced a little relaxed but completely comfortable throughout. Someone that favours a really in your face aggressive loudspeaker will not necessarily get on with the laid back nature to the sound of these glossy white PSB’s.
Soundstage is an area I was a little surprised by. As it’s a little more laid back the stage seems to be just behind the speakers with little going on up in front. I found the PSB’s balance and staging to be best when toed in towards listening point, but more on positioning later. While getting to know the towers the first thing about the soundstage I noticed was that there was a good amount of height in the centre which gave vocals a nice projection and space which was maintained up to pretty high volumes without any merging or confusion. However there was a rather narrower sound to what I was expecting with the sound remaining well within the realms of what’s doable. Not much going on to each side of the speakers except the occasional pling or twang that was thrown outside the sound bubble. The vocal space and height are both nice, as is the performance on acoustic tracks where a sense of airiness and space is really conveyed very well and the cleanness of the Imagine T’s does suit this genre in particular. Really though, other than that, there isn’t anything special about the imagery, on a range of amps there was a sense of bleed between instruments and not the precision and definition I have heard at this price, not bad, don’t misunderstand, but not as refined as it could be.
Before I talk about the Mini assume I’m talking about the smallest room because that’s the only place they will be listened to in my opinion. Anyway, it’s actually a very similar story with the Imagine Mini which has the same enjoyable characteristics but it does offer up the same positives. There is a little more weight to the general sound of the Mini’s, obviously by outing the towers in a small room the sound will seem weightier but it isn’t controlled comfortable weight, that’s what I mean about the Mini’s, on some nice stands in a small room they have some solidity to the sound. In terms of imagery, like many small speakers, when there’s a lot going on they struggle, a bit of a messy image at times if you give them something busy. What I like about these though is how you can put them anywhere if you want without degrading sound too much. They are quite unfussy from that perspective and at this price, for their target market that is absolutely key.
Ok so we have some nice extension on both the Tower and the Mini actually, very capable treble to my ears and in no way spiky or harsh at any reasonable levels. Composure at the top end impressed me and the speed combined with the effortless airiness was also an impressive quality. No sibilance, no harshness, good extension, what more could I want from both of these loudspeakers up here?
The Tower first; a great balance and evenness across the middle spectrum, I have to say the consistency of the towers performance is truly admirable. Vocals are smooth, and pretty darn true, a good representation. Clarity is not the best, but way beyond me being rude enough to call it below acceptable and its only when you take a step back and listen to the overall sound that you notice this, especially at this price.
The Mini is a funny one, there is a bigger sound than I was expecting and a nice projection from this area of the band, but I can’t help but feel a lack of dynamics and edginess holds them back. At £600 maybe I’m being tough but with complex stuff they really struggle to give a Hi-Fi performance.
Bass is once again a balanced affair with the Tower, not too slow and not too fast; it’s neutral and doesn’t draw attention to itself negatively which can be the case with floor standers around this price in my experience. The only thing is the extension down low; it’s just missing, but in an almost intentional sounding way, almost as if it’s been designed to be integrated with a sub. I say this because it seems so flat everywhere else, these do seem to be very popular in HT systems and I can see that working very well with the integrated sub or two.
The Mini should be commended for their effort from such a tiny box, what they have achieved with such a tiny lightweight speaker is clever. They remain composed at levels you kind of know they shouldn’t that isn’t to say it’s a powerful, beefy, deep performance but let’s be realistic here they aren’t going to be used for critical listening and they are going to be on a pretty modest system, so for the target market, in a small room they do a good job.
The important bit; the connection, the final chapter:
You would be absolutely right for thinking that these speakers have some good technical properties when looked at in isolation and some qualities that you look for in the higher end of loudspeaker performance on top of the amazing build and beautiful design BUT I gotta be honest and say I have felt absolutely no connection with them. It’s actually a pretty small sound from the towers in terms of presentation and I feel no dynamism or emotive engagement with what’s going on. I appreciate them on a technical level and I can truly understand why some people will enjoy them in a medium sized room but they just don’t get me going, and honestly, I personally don’t enjoy them. That’s what so wonderful about this hobby, you might think these are great and fair play if you do, but they just aren’t for me it’s as simple as that.
If you are wondering if I’m placing them wrong or using wrong amps and sources I have to disagree, I’m lucky enough to have been able to test the towers in no less than 7 rooms, ranging from 14 foot by 12 foot all the way to 40 feet by 30. I have also driven them with tube amps, solid states, low power, high power you name it. So it’s fair to say they have well and truly been put through their paces. They just weren’t for me and that’s the way it goes sometimes, if they aren’t your bag they aren’t your bag.
I’ve tried my best to represent these speakers for their individual properties from an objective point of view as much as I can until the end but the outcome has to be my personal opinion and unfortunately the Towers specifically didn’t do it for me as part of a Hi-Fi system. They are super flat in response (apart from sub bass) and as coherent as I could ask for and that is high praise indeed. Unfortunately the smaller presentation and lack of connection to the music could put some off, as it is a big deal; this is music after all….
For the Mini’s it’s a £600 speaker and If you do struggle for space and just want some decent, attractive speakers that are built brilliantly with some wonderful finishes to place on a bookshelf or even on a desk the Mini’s should be looked at, but not in a Hi-Fi system especially when you consider what else can be bought for the price. I strongly believe they have a place in the market, they could be for you.