PSB Image 5.1 Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Matthew Evert   
Saturday, 01 October 2005

Introduction
PSB Speakers, aptly named after founders Paul and Sue Barton, have been producing high-performance loudspeakers since 1972. Paul Barton, the chief speaker designer, had his beginnings in high school putting together speakers for college students. Now one of Canada’s most reputable names in loudspeakers, PSB with Paul Barton at the helm, continues the craft of speaker design that started 30 years ago. In addition to Paul Barton’s passion and dedication to speaker design, PSB has a close relationship with the National Research Council (NRC). The NRC offers nearly a century of knowledge and test resources in the area of psychoacoustics research that PSB has effectively incorporated into their Image Series speakers. The midlevel price range of the Image Series speakers affords precision sound reproduction to those with limited budgets. The PSB Image Series speakers reviewed consisted of the Image T65 main loudspeakers ($1099 per pair), an Image C60 center channel ($449), two Image S50 surrounds ($749 per pair) and a SubSeries 6i subwoofer ($699), or just a shade under $3,000 for the complete package.

Description
The T65’s MDF formed cabinet sports a maple finish (also available in Black Ash) that looks splendid next to the speakers’ titanium front façade, which houses an array of drivers. Maple is not always my favorite finish, because it often reminds me of all the furniture that my old roommates would buy from IKEA. Luckily, these T65s, with silver grilles and sturdy maple cabinet, looked stunning as I set them up in my listening room. The three six-and-half-inch woofers are each accompanied by matching two-inch ports, giving this vented speaker the ability to lay down the bass when called upon to do so. The cones are constructed of injection molded, metalized polypropylene with a rubber surround. In addition to the woofers and ports on the front, the unit has a one-inch ferro-fluid-cooled aluminum dome tweeter. To enhance the listening experience of the high frequencies, the Image tweeter uses a structure called a “Phase Plug” to expand and smooth out the frequency response. Care was taken to protect the speaker drivers from incidental contact. The woofers are all sunk into the front façade, so even with the grilles off, the speakers are not likely to be impacted. The tweeter has a cage around it, thus eliminating the threat posed by children’s fingers.

The floor-standing T65 loudspeakers are nicely sized when placed next to my Paradigm Signature S8s. Standing 38-and-a-half inches tall, eight inches wide and 20 inches deep, the T65 has nearly the same dimensions as the Paradigm. At 49 pounds, the T65 is less than half the weight of the S8, which makes the handling of T65s much easier. The cabinet tapers towards the front and the back, providing more character than the typical boxy profile that seems to plague most speakers. Adjustable carpet spikes and rubber leveling feet for hard floors screw into four plastic collars at the corners of the speaker. Two sets of five-way gold-plated binding posts allow for bi-wiring or bi-amping the T65.

The C60 center employs a pair of the same woofers, ports and tweeter that its T65 sibling does. Horizontally oriented, this speaker is ready to sit above or below your TV and be the centerpiece of your movie audio content. The black ash wood finish of this speaker is matched with a black plastic façade that houses the titanium-colored woofers. Again, PSB has tapered the 25-pound cabinet at both ends to avoid the blah, boxy feel that is associated with more budget-oriented speakers. The C60 cabinet is 27-and-a-half inches across, eight-and-half inches high and nearly 12 inches deep. A single set of five-way binding posts can fit most speaker terminations that you may have. Black is the only finish that is currently offered for the C60 speaker.

The S60 surrounds incorporate bipolar design, with two faces each using a slightly smaller five-and-a-quarter-inch woofer. As with the C60, the same ports and tweeters are brought into play on the front faces of the speaker. A slightly different finish is utilized for the S60 than was used for the C60. A less natural-looking textured black ash finish is used instead. White is also available to those in need of something a little more cheerful than Darth Vader black. The back panel has wall-mounting holes for the S60 and a single set of five-way binding posts. The S60 cabinets are a little lighter than the center at 18 pounds, so wall-mounting or stand-mounting is not difficult. The S60s are seven-and-a-half inches deep and stand nearly 13 inches high and across. The fronts, center and surrounds are all magnetically shielded, so your video will not be adversely affected by close proximity to these babies.

Most important, PSB has included the SubSeries 6i subwoofer to add shake, rattle and roll to this home theater. Housed in a nearly cube-shaped MDF cabinet, the 12-inch polypropylene woofer uses a 350-watt amplifier to deliver impactful bass. The black ash finish of the cabinet is complemented by a rounded plastic black front façade. This façade is comprised of dual two-and-a-half-inch ports and a set of volume and crossover controls. Conveniently located in the front of the unit, the crossover can easily be adjusted from 50 to 150Hz. Most people will use the LFE inputs and outputs to connect to their preamp, but those looking to place this subwoofer in series with their speakers have high-level inputs and outputs available as well. The large amp and woofer are cleverly oriented in this housing, so that the footprint is only 15 inches across, 20 inches tall and 19-and-one-quarter inches deep. Using the provided carpet spikes or hard floor levelers, this 41-pound powerhouse can be placed in almost any room environment.

Set-up
For carpeted floors, much frustration can be avoided by electing to not put the spikes on the speakers until you have determined the exact placement and orientation of all the speakers. By sliding the speakers around on the carpet, I was able to quickly place the front T65 speakers about 18 inches from the sidewalls and about 14 inches from the front wall. By towing them in about 25 degrees, I was able to set an optimal listening position for maximum imaging and high frequency/midrange accuracy. The center did not come with a stand, so I found an end table that was about two feet off the ground and again about ten feet from the listening position. I located the surrounds on the walls about five feet above the floor and two feet behind the listening position. Unlike my bulky wall-mounted Polk LSiFXs, the S60s are shallow enough to avoid a lawsuit from visitors knocking themselves unconscious as they walk to their seats. The subwoofer worked nicely in the back corner of my room, where it would deliver the most powerful amount of bass without people stumbling over it. The T65s were bi-wired with my Audioquest Mount Blanc cables and the rest used some bare-wired 14-gauge monster cable, since they could not accept the terminations from my other bi-wired cables. You should check that your amplifier has the juice to power these babies, since the T65s and S60s both have a nominal impedance of six ohms.

Listening
Powered by my Anthem A5 and Anthem AVM30 preamp, the PSBs had no difficulty living up to their potential. I began the music listening segment with something I rarely listen to, country music. Van Zant’s own flavor of rock country music is embodied in their Van Zant II (Silverline Records) album. The S60 surround speakers employ a bipole design and I felt it was important to test the performance of this PSB system with multi-channel DVD-Audio material. Bipole surrounds are great for movies, since they have an even dispersion, creating a sound field that gives the listener a sensation that the room is larger than it actually is. The trade-off to this is that multi-channel music is optimized for direct radiator style surrounds. “Oklahoma” begins with a gusty wind whistling all around the listener’s position, circling from front left to back right and around again. Thunder chimes into the scenery, as does a police siren that moves across the front left to the center and then the front right before finally fading in the opening guitar riff. With all the hurricanes making the news these days, the simulated tornado soundstage that the PSBs produced had me reminiscing about the hurricanes I sat through on the East Coast. The transition of the whistling wind from speaker to speaker around the room was superbly reenacted by the PSBs. Pinpointing which speaker was most active at any moment was difficult, giving the listener the illusion that there were more than five speakers in the room. Obviously, my earlier concern about sacrificing multi-channel performance with a bipole was unfounded in the case of the S60s.

“Wildside” featured some hard driving guitar riffs and a bouquet of percussion. While sitting on my couch, I was rapidly enveloped with a blissful bath of transparent high-frequency taps of the high hat. The taps chimed in and out of the left side of the sound field with great detail. The excellent performance from the T65 in the high frequencies was consistent with other music samples throughout my evaluation. The vocals were numbed a little in this song, lacking some punch and sounding laid-back. The numbness was not consistent with all tracks, but the laid-back nature of the speaker was more reproducible. Bass production from the T65s was not as strong as my Energy C-5s, and lacked some chest-pounding impact, as I would have expected. The bass was precise, just not as strong as I prefer.

Mike Patton is one of my favorite vocalists of all time. Not only can the guy belt out opera-like lyrics, but he can also come up with the most unimaginable sounds using his versatile voice. As the front man for eclectic bands Mr. Bungle, Patton is responsible for much of the creative energy in the band. In “Squeeze Me Macaroni,” Patton uses his voice to create anything from loud dog barks to soft soprano serenades. The smooth whispers from Patton arrived to my ears as lush as a mother’s lullaby to her newborn child. The challenge for any speakers playing Mr. Bungle is the rapid transition from soft to loud segments within the songs. The T65 was not fearful of this challenge and excelled at keeping pace with the ever-changing dynamic range of the music. Mr. Bungle’s “Quote Unquote” began with a faint snoring sound in the distance, punctuated by a loud crashing sound of a glass bottle being broken. Again, the PSBs were able to tackle this rapid change without sounding brittle or harsh at all. The advantage of the laid-back nature of the T65s was that the speakers never fatigued my ears and were consistently warm and sweet-sounding.

“Scent of a Woman” (Universal Studios Home Video) features a tango scene that is worthy of analysis. The violins were alive with richness and blessed my ears with lush highs that seldom appear in this price category of floor-standing speakers. The accordion and pianos contributions of low and midrange clarity completed the sound stage. The PSBs have a fantastic ability to image. This ability was demonstrated by the subtle clicks of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade’s walking cane on the concrete, dancing from the left to the right side of the sound stage. Another example of the PSBs sound staging ability could be heard in “Shrek 2” (DreamWorks). As Shrek’s wagon rides off into the distance, you can hear Donkey singing “Rawhide” from when he begins the tune in the foreground until it is a faint whisper on the horizon.

“The Peacemaker” (DreamWorks) stars George Clooney and Nicole Kidman as they both try to save the world from terrorists armed with nuclear weapons. The rumble of the train compartment doors as they closed was pounded into my chest by the SubSeries 6i. Countless explosions throughout “The Peacemaker” reinforce the importance of a good subwoofer in any action movie. Having placed the subwoofer in a corner close to the listening position, there was plenty of high-impact bass for this film. Despite the large amount of bass the SubSeries dished out, I found it seldom to be boomy or overbearing.

The Downside
Most of my issues with these speakers are some commonsense matters. It makes no sense to me why there are no wall or stand-mounting options for the C60 center channel. There is also very poor clearance for the binding posts on the surrounds and the center. If your intent is to wall-mount these, non-terminated smaller gauge wire may be your only option. The T65s are bi-wire capable, with two sets of posts, but the center and surrounds are not. This is undoubtedly due to the cost of the speakers, yet I feel they could benefit from the addition. The terminal lugs on the T65s are not on par with the performance of the speaker. They are very difficult to use with large spades and do not accept the large-size banana plugs.

It would be nice if they offered a dark wood (like rosewood) finish for the speakers, and offered each finish for all the speakers, instead of just the T65s. Maple was available for the T65s, but not for the C60 or the other speakers. The bass impact was below average from the T65s for music listening, in my opinion. With the SubSeries 6i in the system, the deep bass was more evident, yet still weaker in overall punch than other systems I have evaluated in this price range.

Conclusion
Having listened to many similar speaker systems in this price range, I am very impressed with the value of the Image Series PSBs. There is amazing high-frequency reproduction and it never sounded harsh to my ears. This is unusual for this class of speaker. Throughout the frequency range, I felt the sound was consistently precise and lush. This speaker system does image well and creates a wide soundstage. Although I did feel that the system leaned towards the laid-back side of the presentation scale, many ears may actually prefer this. The deep bass issues that I discussed earlier may be resolved to a degree by adding another subwoofer, at least for movies. The PSB Image Series speakers have delivered on their promise for a precise and dynamic-sounding system at an excellent value and have raised the bar for the competition.
Manufacturer PSB Speakers
Model Image 5.1 Speaker System
Reviewer Matthew Evert





Like this article? Bookmark and share with any of the sites below.
Digg!Reddit!Del.icio.us!Google!StumbleUpon!Yahoo!Free social bookmarking plugins and extensions for Joomla! websites!
 
Joomla SEF URLs by Artio