PSB Synchrony Home Theater Loudspeaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Thomas Garcia   
Wednesday, 01 October 2008

Introduction
With modest beginnings commencing in 1972, loudspeaker manufacturer PSB has become one of the most recognizable icons in today's audio industry.  Receiving endless accolades from industry peers, as well as delighted consumers, the Canadian-based company is well known for providing products with exceptional performance, which are value-engineered to compete with products often costing substantially more.

Now that PSB is part of The Lenbrook Group, original owner Paul Barton operates as chief designer and continues to be one of the most impassioned patriarchs in the audio industry today.  Barton has been highly influential in developing many of the design protocols and scientific guidelines used in many of today's high-performance loudspeakers.  Throughout his career, he has extensively utilized Canada's National Research Council (NRC), a government-managed scientific and engineering research institution, taking full advantage of their expansive resources and state-of-the-art testing facilities. 

PSB's most recent loudspeaker series, Synchrony, embodies Barton's philosophies on developing a true reference loudspeaker, retaining the company’s high-value standards.  The Synchrony Series includes a variety of floor-standing towers, bookshelf monitors, center channels and a very versatile tri-mode surround speaker.  The complete product line can be mixed and matched to accommodate different performance requirements and budgetary constraints.  For this review, PSB provided a pair of Synchrony One full-range towers ($4,500 per pair), Synchrony One C center channel ($2,000) and two Synchrony S Tri-mode surrounds ($2,000 per pair).  PSB also supplied their SubSeries HD10 subwoofer ($1,499) to complete the 5.1 home theater system. 

Throughout the Synchrony series, fit and finish were impeccable and PSB's stringent attention to detail was quite evident.  As the largest floor-standing loudspeaker in the series, the Synchrony One is a multi-driver three-way capable of full-range audio reproduction.  Attractively proportioned, the Synchrony One’s overall measurements are 43 inches tall by eight-and-three quarters inches wide by 12-and-three-quarters inches deep.  With its machined aluminum front baffle, curved seven-ply MDF side panels and form-fitting aluminum rear panel, the Synchrony One feels exceptionally solid throughout its construction and has an overall weight of 60 pounds.  

A plethora of unique construction techniques were used in creating the Synchrony series to minimize enclosure resonances and manage energy transfers.  Using the computer-aided design software SolidWorks, PSB was able to do extensive analysis of the entire enclosure and subassemblies, optimizing much of the design before the first speaker was built.  I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon with Paul Barton and he enthusiastically shared with me the exploded renderings of all the new loudspeakers.  From its exterior, Synchrony One could be considered as somewhat conventional, but the internal design and construction is anything but that.  From its extensive bracing, distinctive driver mounting and unique modular construction, the Synchrony One’s internal engineering and design is extraordinary. 

Driver complement consists of a one-inch titanium dome tweeter with ferrofluid, a four-inch fine-weave fiberglass midrange and three fine-weave fiberglass six-and-a-half-inch woofers.  Compared to many traditional three-ways, the Synchrony driver positioning is somewhat unconventional.  PSB has positioned the tweeter below the midrange in order to optimize frequency response for a normal seating position.  Furthermore, the three woofers are spread out symmetrically along the front baffle, one positioned at the bottom, a second approximately in the center, and the third at the very top of the speaker.  The design is intended to minimize the typical frequency deviation that is caused by the first-floor reflection typical of loudspeakers using a single woofer.  By using multiple woofers and placing them at different distances from the floor, the sum of the output of all the drivers creates a smoother and more uniform frequency response throughout their operating range.  Additionally, the tower utilizes three ports at the back of the speaker to further augment the lower-frequency response.  Another nice touch is the well-made binding posts that allow for bi-wiring or bi-amping the floor-standing tower.

Overall sensitivity for the Synchrony One in an anechoic chamber is rated at 88 dB and 90 dB in a typical listening room.  Impedance is listed at a nominal four-ohm load.  These measurements are fairly typical for the entire line of speakers for the Synchrony, with slightly lower sensitivity for the surrounds.

Covering center channel duties is PSB’s substantial Synchrony One C.  Parallel to the Synchrony One, the three-way center channel uses similar drivers in a dual-woofer horizontal layout.  Using the same one-inch titanium dome tweeter with ferrofluid and a four-inch fine-weave fiberglass midrange, the center channel also deploys two fine-weave fiberglass six-and-a-half-inch woofers in an enclosure volume measuring 24-and-one-quarter inches wide by eight-and-three-quarters inches tall by 12-and-three-quarters inches deep.  By keeping the driver complement and configuration similar to that of the floor-standing tower, timbre accuracy and dynamic capability are closely matched between the two different loudspeakers. Equally stout in construction, the Synchrony One C weighs 37 pounds.

PSB’s unique Synchrony S surround loudspeaker can accommodate a variety of wiring and placement options.  For example, PSB’s “tri-mode” design allows for easy bipole or dipole deployment.  In addition, they offer the possibility of using one pair of surrounds for 6.1/7.1 systems by wiring the forward-firing drivers for the side surround channels and the rear-aiming transducers for the rear channels.  Their two-way design has a driver complement of two one-inch ferrofluid-cooled titanium dome tweeters and a pair of five-and-a half-inch fine-weave fiberglass woofers.   Their triangulated enclosure is 11 inches wide by 13-and-one-quarter inches tall and has a depth of eight inches.  Crafted with the same attention to detail as the Synchrony One and Synchrony One C, the surrounds are substantial and weigh 20 pounds each.

The self-powered SubSeries HD10 subwoofer mates an active 10-inch poly-coated fiber cone driver to two 10-inch passive radiators into a compact enclosure displacing approximately one square foot.  The built-in amplifier has a continuous power rating of 750 watts and a stated dynamic peak power rating of 2,000 watts.  Like most other compact subwoofers, the HD10 uses high-excursion drivers and powerful amplifiers to achieve the performance normally relegated to a larger conventional driver and enclosure.  The built-in fourth-order crossover is variable between 50 Hz to 150 Hz.  Additional adjustments allow for volume and phase control.  The external measurement for the HD10 is a perfect cube with a height, width and depth of 12 inches and a weight of 38 pounds.
 
Set-up
Installation was relatively straightforward for a 5.1 multi-channel system, although I did spend a fair amount of time optimizing the subwoofer placement, and configuring the surround loudspeakers.  The front two main loudspeakers were positioned about nine feet apart, with the front baffle sitting approximately three feet from the back wall and four feet from the side wall.  In my listening environment, the smoothest frequency response and best overall results were achieved by having the towers aimed directly at the primary seating position.  The Synchrony One C center channel was positioned equal distance from the listening position and placed on a stand below a flat-panel monitor.  The center channel was rotated so that the tweeter was aimed at ear level at the primary listening position.

Much more effort was put into configuring the surround sound loudspeakers and optimizing their placement.  The PSB surrounds were placed on 30-inch stands that were positioned six feet to either side of the reference listening position. With PSB’s surround tri-mode option, it was possible to configure the surround as a bipole or dipole, or wire the speaker to act as both surround and rear channels for a 6.1 or 7.1 surround system.  I achieved the best integration by keeping the surrounds in the dipole configuration.

Set-up for the subwoofer was a little more challenging, due to the side-mounted passive radiators.  In this particular listening room, the subwoofer is typically placed in one of the corners, but with the HD10, that location proved unsuitable for the subwoofer's driver configuration.  Improved results were achieved by placing the subwoofer behind the main speakers and a few feet from the side wall.

Movies and Music 
Even before I had an opportunity to optimize the PSB system, it was quite evident to me how balanced the Synchrony One towers are.  Their neutral portrayal compels you to pay more attention to the essence of the music, instead of how the loudspeaker is translating it to you.  Seldom did I find myself drawn to any particular character of the Synchrony One; this lack of drawing attention to any single quality is ultimately what one wants from a correctly-designed loudspeaker. 

I played a variety of different musical material, some well-recorded, some not.  The PSBs remained true to the source, allowing me to enjoy the better material faithfully, while avoiding any attempts to make lesser tracks more euphonic.  Pepe Romero’s compilation album, Famous Spanish Guitar Music (Philips), is loaded with rich, wonderful acoustic virtuoso guitar works.   The track “Tango Maria” was communicated cleanly by the Synchrony Ones, presenting each individual instrument and its accompanying resonances with uncanny accuracy and delicacy.

Listening to Steve Winwood’s recent release Nine Lives (Sony) provided some standout tracks that highlighted the agility and dynamic capabilities of the Synchrony towers.  On "Dirty City," Winwood is reunited with his Blind Faith bandmate Eric Clapton, each offering up a healthy dose of soulful blues meshed with gritty rock and roll underpinnings.  The Synchrony Ones’ reproduction of this multilayered cut, with its wide array of percussion instruments, keyboards and Clapton's growling guitar licks, was emotionally compelling.  Low-frequency reproduction was excellent, displaying great articulation and extension, falling shy at only at the lowest registers.  The easy listening track “Fly” showcases Synchrony One's midrange purity reproduction and its seamless integration throughout the upper octaves.

Functioning as a multi-channel system, the PSB Synchrony entourage mimicked the neutral characteristics presented during my two-channel audition.  Their ability to handle wide dynamics, together with a neutral, smooth frequency response, made the PSBs capable of equally deciphering demanding home theater and complex multi-channel music reproduction. Timbre matching between main, center and surround loudspeakers produced seamless left to right and front to back transitions. 

While revisiting several favorite movies, such as the war epic Black Hawk Down (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), the science-fiction adventure flick The Fifth Element (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), or the cerebrally eerie Signs (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), I found myself consistently immersed in the sonic presentation of each of these films.  Black Hawk Down gave the Synchrony system a great workout, stressing the speakers at both frequency extremes.  The system remained composed throughout the most complex combat scenes, never drawing notice to any weakness during loud passages.   Speaker to speaker transition was cohesive and effortless, recreating the all-encompassing sound field of The Fifth Element.  Micro-detail and spaciousness were some of the most noticeable attributes of the soundtrack for Signs.  Whirling winds, rustling cornstalks and minute sonic nuances were reproduced with uncanny clarity and focus, while maintaining correct spatial positioning and amplitude.

The Downside
PSB did an excellent job in hiding every finished seam in the construction of the Synchrony Series.  Unfortunately, the slot-fitting grille cover for the Synchrony One was so tight that the only way I was able to remove it was by pulling on the fabric.  This led to some undesired stretching of the material and I'm fearful that, after removing the grille several times, the material will separate itself from the grille cover.

The overall low impedance of the Synchrony's will require something more than a moderately powered receiver with a budget power supply.  This most likely will not be a problem, as I can't imagine someone investing in the PSB speakers without having a competent receiver or power amplifier to drive them.

Although the HD10 subwoofer is a very strong performer, greater performance capacities can be achieved in both the low-frequency extremes and output amplitude by incorporating a more capable, i.e., much larger subwoofer into the Synchrony series system.

PSB's cherry finish definitely has a classy refined look and offers an interesting contrast between the curved side panels and machined aluminum components.  Unfortunately, the black ash option I requested for this review, which undoubtedly will be the preferred choice for many consumers, does not offer a great deal of visual impact.   For the untrained eye, there's not a lot that would make it stand out in a generic lineup of similarly-shaped tower loudspeakers. 

Conclusion
PSB Synchrony Home Theater Loudspeaker System is Paul Barton’s most ambitious effort to date.  Making extensive use of the world-renowned Canadian National Research Council facilities and incorporating the most sophisticated design software programs and measuring instruments, Barton and his team have created a loudspeaker line of superior performance and value.  Along with the science, PSB conducted extensive double-blind listening tests to optimize their product for real-world listening environments.  Adding advanced construction techniques, along with intelligent use of high-quality materials, transducers and associated components, PSB has markedly advanced the art and science applied to loudspeaker design.

Collectively, these key elements culminate in an exceptionally cohesive reference listening system, offering high dynamic contrast with textbook flat-frequency response.  With diminishing distortion and open window transparency, the PSB Synchrony One loudspeaker series virtually imparts such a minute sonic signature that it becomes difficult to apply descriptors to how it sounds.   Dynamic music tracks and movies are rendered true to the source without enhancement of the PSB system.  Sonic elements, such as high-frequency extension, cohesive midrange and articulate extended bass, will only be experienced if the recording engineer has correctly translated it to the playback medium. 

The PSB Synchrony Series was a sheer pleasure to experience.  During my time with it, I found myself immersed in music and movie soundtracks, often oblivious to the mechanical devices that were recreating these sonic images.  “Void of character” and “absent of individual personality” are terms that often have negative connotations.  In the case of the PSB Synchrony Series of loudspeakers, these phrases are not only positive, they are some of the highest compliments I can bestow.  Enthusiastically recommended.
Manufacturer PSB Speakers
Model Synchrony Home Theater Loudspeaker System
Reviewer Tom Garcia
Configuration 5.1





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