Recently I've had the "pleasure" of installing not one but two seven-channel in-wall surround systems for review purposes. You can read my review of the first system here. The second system hails from the PSB CustomSound architectural speaker line. As many of you probably already know, PSB is part of the Lenbrook family of audio companies, which also includes NAD and Bluesound. The company is known for its numerous speaker offerings that have garnered a multitude of accolades over the years. Based out of Canada, PSB still retains its founding father, Paul Barton, as lead designer.
The notable guiding principle for the PSB CustomSound architectural speaker line is the use of a sealed enclosure, similar to a freestanding speaker but with a few tweaks optimized for installation into a ceiling or wall. While an installed speaker with an enclosure is not a new concept, it's not as common as an open-back design.
The flagship for my installation, and the main focus of this review, is the PSB C-LCR ($799 each), which is an in-ceiling, two-way design with a crossover point of 1,750 Hz. It uses two 5.25-inch bass drivers that employ clay/ceramic cones, reinforced with polypropylene, flanking a one-inch titanium Ferrofluid-cooled dome tweeter. Both the bass drivers and tweeter are borrowed from the PSB Imagine Series of freestanding speakers. In fact, all of the speakers in the CustomSound Series share these same drivers, in various configurations and quantity, which allows for mixing and matching as needed for your installation. Since these drivers are also used in the Imagine Series, those freestanding models will integrate well with the CustomSound Series, if you want a combination of freestanding and in-wall speakers.
The C-LCR enclosure is a square, 13.19-inch box, made from medium density fiberboard (MDF), and it features a concave v-shaped baffle that angles all three drivers toward the listening position (when installed properly, of course). For input connections, gold-plated, spring-loaded binding posts make connecting bare wire simple and fast. The depth of the cabinet is 7.75 inches, taking full advantage of the deeper ceiling cavity in most homes, which provides for an internal volume of 0.36 cubic feet. The manufacturer claims that this volume is optimal for the driver complement.
White magnetic grilles, square in shape, attach to the face frame speaker flange, seamlessly covering the entire enclosure. All of this comes in at a whopping 17.6 pounds, which isn't bad when you consider all three drivers, the crossover, and the enclosure.
PSB also sent me an in-ceiling speaker, the C-SUR ($799 each), that I chose to use for the surround channels--as well as the W-LCR in-wall speaker ($799 each) to perform surround back duties. Related in many ways to the C-LCR, these two models have an MDF enclosure with the same driver components in different configurations.
I absolutely must highlight the ingenious C-SUR (shown right). It has the same dimensions as the C-LCR but with two tweeter/bass-driver sets. Each pair possesses its own crossover network, speaker input, and enclosure chamber, allowing this model to act as a single bipole or dipole monitor when the inputs are bridged or as two separate monitors when unbridged. Consider the challenge of finding good mounting locations for seven speakers in most family rooms or great-rooms. In this situation, one C-SUR can act as two speakers, as long as you wire those locations with a four-line speaker cable. Each C-SUR can then act as two speakers: half of the enclosure is for the surround channel, while the other half for the surround back channel.
The W-LCR is a typical two-way in-wall speaker, 10.25 inches in width and 15.5 inches in length, with a shallow enclosure measuring 3.75 inches deep. The CustomSound line also includes the W-LCR2 ($999 each), which is a larger, three-way version of the W-LCR that incorporates a four-inch midrange driver. PSB was kind enough to send me this product as well, since I was unsure which models would incorporate into my room structures until I dug into them. In the end, unfortunately, I was unable to use the W-LCR 2 in my installation.
I installed this system in my family room, with three C-LCRs across the front ceiling for the left, center, and right channels. I installed two C-SUR units in the rear of the room in the ceiling for surround duty (wired as dipole speakers, in phase), and I used two W-LCRs for the surround back channels. Installation was a snap once all of the location openings were cut. The dog-ear clamp system, which is common these days, is somewhat larger than others I have seen, with a deep reach capability if needed, but it can also work well with clamping just the drywall (connect the speaker wires first for best performance).
All the speakers were wired up to an Anthem MRX 510 AV receiver, along with a MartinLogan BalancedForced 210 subwoofer. Sources included a DirecTV HD receiver and Sony BDP-BX650 Blu-ray player. I used a MacBook Pro to stream music from Tidal for my main music source.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...