5.1-chan­nel speaker pack­age

Sound+Image - - Contents - Stephen Daw­son

Canada’s PSB Speak­ers de­liv­ers a fine and ver­sa­tile set of speak­ers — no need to imag­ine you’re at the movies with sound like this...

How ex­actly do you cat­e­gorise a 5.1-chan­nel loud­speaker sys­tem that sells for a dol­lar un­der $6000? To the nor­mal Joe in the street, they’d be re­garded as ex­pen­sive. Why, you could buy a pretty good se­cond­hand car for that money! But to the home en­ter­tain­ment en­thu­si­ast, the terms ‘mid-priced’, per­haps ‘pre­mium’, would come to mind. We all know that you can go way more ex­pen­sive, but also way cheaper.

After en­joy­ing the PSB Speak­ers 5.1-chan­nel pack­age known as the Imag­ine X sys­tem for a week or so, I’m set­tling on ‘pre­mium’. The high end of ‘pre­mium’.


The Imag­ine X range is a fairly new range from Cana­dian firm PSB Speak­ers. They con­sist of solidly-built two- and three-way speak­ers for the five or seven po­si­tions of a home theatre sys­tem. This sys­tem was ac­com­pa­nied by the SubSeries 300 sub­woofer.

For the front stereo po­si­tions two X2T floor­standers are pro­vided. These are four­driver, three-way mod­els. The tweeter isn’t at the top of the stack, but rather a 133mm dual-mag­net midrange driver cov­er­ing the im­por­tant fre­quency range of 500Hz up to 2200Hz. Un­der­neath that is the 25mm ti­ta­nium-dome fer­rofluid-cooled tweeter,

with its neodymium mag­net, as used through­out the range.

The cen­tre of these is po­si­tioned around 810mm from the floor when the speaker is mounted on its spikes. Be­neath this is a bass driver, then a bass re­flex port, then another bass driver and another port. These driv­ers also use dual mag­nets and have cones of polypropy­lene re­in­forced with in­jec­tion molded clay/ce­ramic. The midrange and bass driv­ers all have fixed phase plugs at their cen­tre rather than dust caps. These speak­ers are bi-wirable.

The grilles are re­mov­able of course. If you leave them off, the driv­ers will present them­selves as ti­ta­nium, black (for the midrange) and pale gold/bronze.

The spec­i­fi­ca­tions ex­ag­ger­ate the vis­ual width of the X2T speak­ers a lit­tle, be­cause that fig­ure in­cludes the swelling at the base for the spikes. The main body of the en­clo­sure is just 187mm wide. They stand 1036mm tall, plus the in­cluded spikes.

Scale these down a long way and drop the midrange, and you’ve got the XB book­shelf-sized speak­ers, serv­ing here as sur­rounds. Only 302mm tall, they have the same tweeter, and cross over at 1800Hz to a smaller 133mm ver­sion of the bass driver from the large speak­ers. Their bass re­flex port is to the rear, so some space will be re­quired if wall mount­ing.

The Imag­ine XC cen­tre chan­nel has the con­ven­tional lay­out: the same 25mm tweeter at the cen­tre, with two of the 133mm bass/midrange driv­ers from XB, one on ei­ther side. The 485mm-wide cabi­net is bass re­flex loaded with the port at the rear, so again some space is re­quired for proper op­er­a­tion.

All the speak­ers are rated at eight ohms nom­i­nal im­ped­ance with a four-ohm min­i­mum, and a fre­quency re­sponse up to 20kHz in a very tight ±1.5dB mea­sure­ment en­ve­lope, or 23kHz un­der the more con­ven­tional ±3dB stan­dard. At the bot­tom end the X2T, XB and XC are spec­i­fied to reach 40, 70 and 65Hz on the tight spec­i­fi­ca­tion, or 30, 55 and 50Hz on the looser one. Sen­si­tiv­ity is 88dB, 87dB and 88dB and power han­dling is 200, 150 and 150W of pro­gram ma­te­rial, again re­spec­tively.

My rule of thumb for an ef­fec­tive home cinema sys­tem has long been that the sub­woofer should cost around one third of the whole sys­tem to pro­vide com­men­su­rate per­for­mance. This sys­tem is pretty much spot on with that, since the SubSeries 300 sells for $1999 separately. As it hap­pens, the sub­woofer has re­cently been re­viewed very favourably in our sis­ter mag­a­zine

Aus­tralian Hi-Fi, with an em­pha­sis on its mu­si­cal per­for­mance, as is ap­pro­pri­ate for those pages.

It is a mid-sized unit, stand­ing fairly tall (510mm) on a more com­pact foot­print (390mm x 441mm). The cabi­net is bass re­flex loaded with a down­wards-fir­ing port; its pre-at­tached feet hold the bot­tom about 70mm up from the floor. The 300mm driver uses a polypropy­lene cone with a rub­ber sur­round, a 50mm voice coil and a 1.4kg mag­net. The am­pli­fier is Class D, us­ing dis­crete MOSFET out­put de­vices, and is rated at 300W con­tin­u­ous, 425W ‘dy­namic’, and 850W at some­thing called ‘Dy­namic Peak’, which we sus­pect to be less than use­fully in­for­ma­tive.

The vol­ume, cross­over con­trols and phase switch are mounted on the front panel of this sub­woofer. There are stereo line-level in­puts and speaker-level in­puts at the back, both un­der the in­flu­ence of the low-pass fil­ter. There are also stereo LFE in­puts which by­pass all that. A pair of line-level out­puts al­low for daisy chain­ing with ad­di­tional subs. Miss­ing is a con­trol switch for auto on — it is al­ways in that mode when the main power is switched on.

PSB rates its fre­quency re­sponse at 27 to 150Hz ±3dB, with the -10dB point put at 24Hz.

The sys­tem is avail­able in ab­so­lutely any colour that you want… so long as it’s black ash — there id none of the wood ve­neer that beau­ti­fied the pre­vi­ous Imag­ine range.

There are op­tions in range re­gard­ing speaker choice, how­ever. If you want to go 7.1 chan­nels, another pair of the Imag­ine XB speaker will cost $899. Or rather than the Imag­ine X2T speak­ers, you might be happy with the smaller Imag­ine X1T floor­standers ($1899 rather than $2499 a pair). These omit the midrange and use two 133mm bass/ midrange driv­ers.

Man­u­als are not pro­vided with any of the speak­ers, just spec­i­fi­ca­tion sheets and graph­ics-in­ten­sive ‘Quick Start’ guides. The proper man­u­als have to be down­loaded from the com­pany web­site.


We let the auto set-up func­tion of a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent home theatre re­ceivers have their way with the speaker sys­tem — level, tim­ing and sub­woofer cross­over only, of course, not EQ nor any other mas­sag­ing of the sound. Both pro­duced off-kil­ter re­sults: one had the crossovers way too high, while the other set all speak­ers as ‘Large’. (You can gen­er­ally trust au­to­cal­i­bra­tion sys­tems for dis­tance and level, but not for ‘size’.) So I went man­ual for that, go­ing for ba­sic THX-style set­tings of 80Hz for the cen­tre and sur­rounds, and let­ting the front speak­ers do the full range.

For most lis­ten­ing I used the Yamaha Aven­t­age RX-A3050 re­ceiver, mostly es­chew­ing the At­mos-suit­able ceil­ing speak­ers to give this sys­tem a fair run on its own. (But it was lots of fun with the Z di­men­sion run­ning as well! We note that PSB has a pair of At­mos-en­abled ‘XA’ speaker tops to match this pack­age.)

And so to home theatre work, with a bunch of movies and TV shows. In sum­mary, this speaker sys­tem de­liv­ered a first-class,

ex­cit­ing and de­tailed sur­round field. Truly ex­cit­ing. The bass was there with un­lim­ited au­thor­ity and power... if not quite the ex­ten­sion into the in­fra­son­ics the oc­ca­sional sound­track de­liv­ers.

I gave the sys­tem a thor­ough work­out with ‘San An­dreas’, and the PSB Imag­ine speak­ers proved eas­ily ca­pa­ble of pum­melling all within the lis­ten­ing room with the acous­tic el­e­ments of the end of Los An­ge­les. Pum­melling, but still plac­ing the whirl­wind of ac­tiv­ity with pre­ci­sion in the space around the lis­ten­ing area.

Through­out it all, di­a­logue (such as it was) re­mained clear and eas­ily un­der­stand­able (even if the char­ac­ters them­selves were less so).

The sub­woofer did prove to be a su­perb match with the other speak­ers, eas­ily cop­ing with what­ever lev­els were re­quired from the LFE along with the redi­rected bass from three of the other speak­ers.

I was a lit­tle con­cerned that the in­abil­ity to select an ‘al­ways on’ mode might re­sult in the sub­woofer some­times not com­ing on­line when needed. In­deed, it didn’t start up for the first auto set-up de­spite the blast from the home theatre re­ceiver in­tended to wake it up. The ‘trou­bleshoot­ing’ sec­tion of the down­loaded man­ual ad­vised pulling and re­plug­ging in the con­nec­tion (I’d used the LFE in­put, of course). Do­ing that a cou­ple of times woke up the sub­woofer. There­after it worked with­out re­quir­ing any in­ter­ven­tion, promptly wak­ing up when­ever there was some bass which it was ex­pected to han­dle.

For stereo mu­sic, the PSB Imag­ine X2T speak­ers were sim­ply de­light­ful. I lis­tened to a very wide range of mu­sic and a wide range of gen­res (ex­cept, of course, ei­ther coun­try or west­ern) and they de­liv­ered a mu­si­cal per­for­mance suit­able to all. (Prob­a­bly even to C&W if that’s your vice.) The tonal bal­ance was ex­cel­lent, nei­ther push­ing par­tic­u­lar fre­quency bands, nor hold­ing any back. And even at high vol­umes mu­sic was de­liv­ered ex­cel­lent clean­li­ness. Bach’s ‘Pas­sacaglia and Fugue in C Mi­nor’ can get de­cid­edly messy in the cli­max of the Pas­sacaglia given the sheer num­ber of pipes run­ning, yet these speaker re­strained the acous­tic ex­u­ber­ance and kept the whole thing to­gether. (I cheated with this, and had the speaker set to ‘Small’ with a cross­over to the sub at 40Hz to get as much of that or­gan pedal as pos­si­ble.)

The same char­ac­ter con­tin­ued with more Bach, this time the choir de­liv­er­ing the St Matthew Pas­sion, a glo­ri­ous work that can be up­set by speak­ers which can’t keep things to­gether in the midst of com­plex­ity.

With clean, dy­namic mu­sic of a more mod­ern char­ac­ter — say, selections from The Po­lice’s ‘Out­landos d’Amour’ and ‘Syn­chronic­ity’, the rhythm was per­fect, and drums danced around the sound­stage with a reach-out-and-tou­chit sense of re­al­ity, while the air around all the in­stru­ments was com­plete.

Aus­tralian HI-FI ran the SubSeries 300 through its lab when it was do­ing its re­view and dis­cov­ered some­thing in­ter­est­ing: the mea­sured fre­quency re­sponse was 20 to 180Hz ±3dB — that’s quite a bit bet­ter than PSB’s own spec­i­fi­ca­tions! Con­clu­sions Yes, the fine Cana­dian de­sign be­hind the PSB Imag­ine X sur­round speaker pack­age has de­liv­ered a true pre­mium sys­tem achiev­ing sound above its price point, in this con­fig­u­ra­tion de­liv­er­ing per­for­mance that will be com­pletely sat­is­fy­ing for even quite large home cinema sys­tems.

“The sub­woofer did prove to be a su­perb match with the other speak­ers, eas­ily cop­ing with what­ever lev­els were re­quired...”

LEFT: For smaller rooms (or per­haps as full-range sur­rounds), this PSB range in­cludes a smaller floor­stander, the Imag­ine X1T.

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