Australian HIFI - - CON­TENTS - Gary Wil­liams

Cana­dian man­u­fac­turer PSB may have kicked an ‘own gaol’ with its lat­est sub, be­cause it’s per­for­mance just too good for the price they’re ask­ing for it!

Look at the back of the PSB Sub­Series 200 and you’ll see a small in­scrip­tion that says: ‘ Devel­oped by PSB Speak­ers in part­ner­ship with NAD Elec­tron­ics’. If you’re think­ing that it’s strange for two com­peti­tors to form a part­ner­ship, you ob­vi­ously don’t know that both com­pa­nies are owned by Cana­dian com­pany Len­brook Group. In the case of PSB, Len­brook pur­chased the com­pany from its founder, Paul Bar­ton and, since Bar­ton was also PSB’s head de­signer, had the good sense to keep him on as an em­ployee.

It’s a uniquely syn­er­gis­tic part­ner­ship, be­cause although NAD has made speak­ers, it’s more fa­mous for its elec­tron­ics—par­tic­u­larly for the Class-D am­pli­fiers that are con­tained in NAD’s ‘Mas­ter Se­ries’ com­po­nents. So as you’ve prob­a­bly al­ready guessed, the am­pli­fier inside the PSB Sub­Series 200, which is rated with an out­put of 200 watts con­tin­u­ous, is one of NAD’s own Class-D am­pli­fiers. tHe eQUIP­Ment Un­box­ing the Sub­Series 200 was like meeting an old friend, be­cause I had re­viewed the larger Sub­Series 300 for Aus­tralian Hi-Fi Mag­a­zine some months ago, a re­view in which I hope made it clear that I very much liked the ‘form fac­tor’ of that sub­woofer. That same form fac­tor is vis­i­ble in the Sub­Series 200, ex­cept that, as you’d likely guess from the model num­ber, the Sub­Series 200 is smaller than the Sub­Series 300.Un­like most sub­woofers, which to me seem rather squat and boxy (I know there are no­table ex­cep­tions) both sub­woofers are taller then they’re wide (or deep), though some of that height is due to the rather long feet un­der­neath the cab­i­net that el­e­vate it 90mm above your floor in or­der to give the large (67mm di­am­e­ter) down-fir­ing bass re­flex port plenty of room to breathe. Although the Sub­Series 200 is smaller than the 300, it’s not par­tic­u­larly small, mea­sur­ing 338×443×391mm (WHD).

That smooth-sur­faced cone you can see on the front baf­fle of the Sub­Series 200 is rated with a di­am­e­ter of 254mm. My tape mea­sure put the over­all di­am­e­ter at 238mm and the Thiele/Small di­am­e­ter at 210mm, for an ef­fec­tive cone area (Sd) of 346cm². The cone it­self is made from polypropy­lene while the sur­round is made from butyl rub­ber. The cone is driven by a 38mm di­am­e­ter voice coil that’s sur­rounded by a mag­net that weighs al­most a kilo­gram. PSB says that its en­gi­neers ‘ worked hard at min­imis­ing the dis­tor­tion of this driver, us­ing both fi­nite el­e­ment anal­y­sis (FEA) soft­ware and a laser-based Klip­pel anal­yser.’

A vol­ume level con­trol, cross­over fre­quency ad­just­ment con­trol and a phase switch (0/180°) are lo­cated above the bass driver cone in a small cut-out in the front baf­fle. The cross­over fre­quency can be ad­justed from 50Hz to 100Hz. There’s also a small chameleon LED to in­di­cate power sta­tus, which glows red when the sub­woofer has power avail­able but is in standby mode, and green when the sub­woofer is good to go. Like most mod­ern sub­woofers, the Sub­Series 200 has an au­to­matic sig­nal switch­ing cir­cuit trig­gered by an au­dio sig­nal that turns the 240V power on and off. This means you don’t have to worry about switch­ing the am­pli­fier on and off man­u­ally and helps ex­tend the life of the sub­woofer’s am­pli­fier cir­cuitry. When the am­pli­fier is in standby mode, it draws less than half a watt of mains power. The au­to­matic cir­cuitry can­not be over-rid­den: your only other power op­tion is ‘Off’ which you can do by switch­ing the rocker switch on the rear panel of the Sub­Series 200. The only time I’d ever bother switch­ing this would be if I were go­ing away from home for more than a few weeks.

The rear panel of the Sub­Series 200 is dom­i­nated by the am­pli­fier plate, but be­cause the am­pli­fier is a Class-D type, which gen­er­ates very lit­tle heat, there are no heat-sink­ing fins.

Play a track with deep bass— any track, any mu­si­cal genre— and you’ll hear beau­ti­fully depthy bass sound

The plate has a dedicated LFE in­put, plus an LFE out­put so you can loop to an­other sub­woofer if you de­cide to run more than one (which you’d be ad­vised to do if you have prob­lems with room modes caused by the shape and di­men­sions of your lis­ten­ing room), plus line-level in­puts and out­puts (via gold-plated RCA ter­mi­nals), as well as high level (speaker) in­puts, which are via multi-way ba­nana ter­mi­nals.

Like other PSB sub­woofers, in­clud­ing the larger PSB Sub­Series 300, the PSB Sub­Series 200 has what PSB dubs a ‘smart bass’ cir­cuit, which is ac­tu­ally PSB’s pro­pri­etary ver­sion of a lim­it­ing cir­cuit: a type of cir­cuit de­signed to pre­vent au­di­ble over­load. In do­ing this, it not only pre­vents au­di­ble over­load, but also phys­i­cal over­load—ei­ther of the in­ter­nal am­pli­fier or the bass driver it­self. Hav­ing tested this with the PSB Sub­Series 300 and found it au­di­bly trans­par­ent (that is, the cir­cuit has no ef­fect on the sound qual­ity per se, but sim­ply lim­its its vol­ume, I wasn’t go­ing to test it again on this PSB Sub­Series 200, but ‘com­plete­ness’ got the bet­ter of me and I did, with ex­actly the same re­sults. The cir­cuit was not only ef­fec­tive, but also au­di­bly trans­par­ent.

My sole crit­i­cism of the man­ual PSB pro­vides with the Sub­Series 200 is the same one I lev­elled at the Sub­Series 300, which is that it’s a ‘generic’ one, in­tended to cover mul­ti­ple mod­els, so some of the con­nec­tion di­a­grams shown in it do not ap­ply to the PSB Sub­Series 200—some­thing some users might find con­fus­ing. How­ever, if you don’t want to use the po­si­tion­ing and cal­i­bra­tion tech­niques I will give you the links for later in this re­view, the man­ual pro­vides enough ad­vice on th­ese mat­ters to get you up and run­ning… which is more than you find in many sub­woofer man­u­als th­ese days. In Use and LIs­ten­Ing ses­sIons The ro­tary con­trols on the front baf­fle are ac­tu­ally quite long, so although the plate on which they’re mounted is re­cessed quite deeply into the front panel, the knobs still pro­trude be­yond the baf­fle. This won’t mat­ter a jot, of course, be­cause once you’ve set them to the cor­rect po­si­tions (about which more in a mo­ment), you’d put the grille back on the front panel which would hide them—and the driver—from sight. Un­like full-range speak­ers, where the pres­ence of a grille can some­times af­fect sound qual­ity, the same is not true of a sub­woofer, which will sound iden­ti­cal ir­re­spec­tive of whether or not the grille is fit­ted or not. If you have not po­si­tioned a sub­woofer in your room pre­vi­ously, the first thing you will have to do is es­tab­lish the best po­si­tion in the room son­i­cally, which you can do by fol­low­ing the sys­tem out­lined here:­woofer-place­ment

This is a sim­ple (but rather lengthy) pro­ce­dure, but you only have to do it the once. (And, if for rea­sons of mat­ri­mo­nial har­mony you are obliged to put the PSB Sub­Series 200 sub­woofer where it will look the best, rather than where it will sound the best, you don’t have to worry about the pro­ce­dure at all!).

How­ever, wher­ever any sub­woofer ends up in your lis­ten­ing room you will al­ways have to cal­i­brate its vol­ume, phase and cross­over con­trols cor­rectly to en­sure the best sonic tran­si­tion from your main speak­ers to the sub­woofer (and vice versa). You can very eas­ily do this us­ing the sim­ple and straight-for­ward pro­ce­dure out­lined here:­woofer-cal­i­bra­tion

My lis­ten­ing room is rather large, even by Aus­tralian stan­dards, so I re­ally wasn’t ex­pect­ing the PSB Sub­Series 200 to be able to sur­prise me with its low-fre­quency and sound pres­sure level ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but it did none­the­less. Play a track with deep bass—any track, any mu­si­cal genre—and you’ll hear a beau­ti­fully depthy bass sound that is fast and tune­ful with a truly mu­si­cal sonic char­ac­ter. The ar­rival of the PSB Sub­Series 200 in my home vir­tu­ally co­in­cided with the ar­rival of a CD that is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween fa­mous Aus­tralian cel­list Zoe Knighton and Ian Munro who, although he is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly renowned as a com­poser, is one of Aus­tralia’s finest pi­anists. Their col­lab­o­ra­tion is ti­tled ‘North­ern Cello’, where the two play works by Grieg, Si­belius, Pe­teris Vasks and Arvo Part. Be­ing a huge fan of Vasks, his work Gre­mata Cel­lam (for solo cello, though Knighton does a bit of singing on it), was the first I played.

Since the cello is not a par­tic­u­larly low-pitched in­stru­ment, I used small book­shelf speak­ers in or­der that I could set the sub­woofer’s cross­over to its max­i­mum po­si­tion and so have it re­pro­duc­ing lots of cello sound. It turned out to be a par­tic­u­larly good test for the PSB, with plenty of string pluck­ing which en­abled me to gauge the speed of the bass driver and its abil­ity to stop as fast as re­quired, plus plenty of sus­tained bowed notes on the low­est string. The first movement, For­tis­simo Mar­catis­sim, is like a masterclass in cel­lo­ism, with myr­iad dou­ble stops and even some triple stops, many played at seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble tempi. The sonor­ity Knighton is able to ex­tract from her cello whilst per­form­ing is sim­ply as­tound­ing, and the fact that I was able to hear it so clearly a tes­ta­ment to the qual­ity of the PSB’s own per­for­mance.

The sec­ond movement, Pianis­simo dol­cis­simo, is such a con­trast I al­most thought an­other com­poser had writ­ten it. The sounds Knighton man­ages to ex­tract from her cello in this movement are al­most ethe­real, mak­ing the cello al­most repli­cate the ef­fects one ex­pects to hear when lis­ten­ing to Mon­go­lian throat singers or David Hykes’ Har­monic Choir.

The Vasks work leads into Arvo Part’s ‘Fra­tres’, and here Munro’s pi­ano rum­bles in the low­est oc­taves to prove the per­for­mance of the PSB Sub­Series 200. The clar­ity of the PSB sub’s de­liv­ery is perfect—just lis­ten to the sound of the pi­ano at around 4 min­utes into the track, as just one ex­em­plar. You also get to hear how well the PSB is able to sep­a­rate the two dif­fer­ent sound qual­i­ties of the in­stru­ments so you al­ways hear a pi­ano play­ing along with a cello, not some amor­phous ‘pi­anello’.

The PSB Sub­Series 200 is so good that this Cana­dian man­u­fac­turer may have in­ad­ver­tently scored an ‘own goal’.

I was thrust into an­other mu­si­cal world when I then played the CD start­ing at the true be­gin­ning, which is Grieg’s Cello Sonata in A mi­nor, Op. 36, and lis­tened to the beau­ti­fully ro­man­tic melodies that in­form the first movement. I have al­ways been be­mused by this work, be­cause one the crit­i­cisms of it that Grieg re­cy­cled some of this own melodies in it. Could the peo­ple who lev­elled this crit­i­cism have named any com­poser (past or present) who hasn’t re­cy­cled their own themes and melodies?

To in­ves­ti­gate the PSB Sub­Series 200’s per­for­mance in the low­est mu­si­cal oc­taves I turned to an old favourite that co-in­ci­den­tally fea­tures Vask’s own dou­ble bass con­certo, a disc ti­tled ‘The Sonatas: Brahms, Gubaidulina, Hin­demith & Vasks’, on which Niek de Groot (dou­ble bass) and Cather­ine Klipfel (pi­ano) play works by th­ese com­posers. Nat­u­rally, the Hin­de­smith is his fa­mous Sonata for Dou­ble Bass and Pi­ano, of which Sasha Brandt once said: ‘ I love ev­ery­thing about this piece, with one ex­cep­tion; it’s hard to find a pi­anist who is will­ing to tackle it with you!’ Niek de Groot plays an Amati dou­ble bass made in Cre­mona, in 1680, which is re­port­edly the only re­main­ing dou­ble bass from that era and the PSB Sub­Series 200 cer­tainly did its sound jus­tice, in that it was easy to hear the su­pe­ri­or­ity of its tone over that of lesser in­stru­ments.

Since it’s al­most in­evitable that many peo­ple read­ing this re­view will be in­tend­ing to use the PSB Sub­Series 200 in ei­ther a dedicated home the­atre set-up, or one that does dou­ble duty as a stereo rig and a 5.1-chan­nel (or more-chan­nel) rig, I also spent quite a bit of time with it us­ing it ex­clu­sively to watch/ lis­ten to TV and to movies (the lat­ter sourced from var­i­ous medi­ums). Given the PSB Sub­Series 200’s per­for­mance with de­mand­ing mu­sic, I was not the least bit sur­prised to find my­self to­tally sat­is­fied with its per­for­mance in an AV sce­nario—and most so with movie sound­tracks. With th­ese I found the sound of the con­tin­u­ous low-fre­quency en­ergy used by pro­duc­ers to in­duce sus­pense in view­ers was par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive, in­duc­ing in me the ex­act de­gree of sus­pense re­quired, yet not au­rally in­trud­ing on the sound­track it­self. Sound ef­fects were also de­liv­ered nat­u­ral­is­ti­cally, and when I found the very low­est of them be­ing ‘felt’ by my stom­ach, rather than ‘heard’ by my ears, I knew PSB’s Sub­Series 200 was the ‘real McCoy’. Con­CLU­sIon The PSB Sub­Series 200 is so good that I think that in bring­ing it to market this Cana­dian man­u­fac­turer may have in­ad­ver­tently scored an ‘own goal’. By this I mean that its bass ex­ten­sion and dis­tor­tion-free vol­ume lev­els are so good that many peo­ple who com­pare this sub­woofer with the larger and more expensive PSB Sub­Series 300 sub­woofer might well opt for the PSB Sub­Series 200, and I can’t say I’d blame them. But if this hap­pens it is at least true ‘own goal’ be­cause I have heard most of the other sub­woofers avail­able in Aus­tralia that sell at around the Sub­Series 200’s ask­ing price, and this lit­tle PSB sub blows them out of the wa­ter too.

Be­ing lo­cated as they are on the front baf­fle, the ro­tary vol­ume and cross­over con­trols and the phase switch are very easy to ac­cess.

The LFE out­put is so you can loop to an­other sub­woofer if you de­cide to run more than one in or­der to equalise the room modes in your lis­ten­ing room

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