PSB SPEAKERS Imagine X
5.1-channel speaker package
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.