Respected Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer PSB and its founder/chief designer Paul Barton have built their reputation by creating high-performance, high-value products for AV enthusiasts. While I've had favorable impressions during brief auditions of PSB speakers at audio shows, I've never had the chance to spend time with PSB speakers in my own media room. What matters most, after all, is how a loudspeaker sounds in your own listening environment, so I was really excited when I was asked to review one of PSB's latest offerings, the Imagine X speakers.
The Imagine X speakers incorporate trickle-down technology from PSB's more expensive models, but in a simpler cabinet design and at a more consumer-friendly price point. PSB is a company that believes not only in research and technology, utilizing the highly respected National Research Council of Canada to measure its speaker designs, but also in performing blind listening tests with real people to better understand what customers want from a loudspeaker system. For this review, PSB sent me a complete 5.1 speaker package consisting of the Imagine X2T towers ($649 each), the Imagine XC center ($349), the Imagine XB bookshelf ($499/pair), and a SubSeries 200 subwoofer ($649). Rounding out the lineup is a smaller tower speaker option called the Imagine X1T ($449 each). All Imagine X speakers are timbre-matched for setup as a home theater system, and these speakers are only available in a simulated black ash finish.
The X2T tower is a slim, three-way design that measures 40.13 inches tall, nine inches wide, and 17.63 inches deep, and it weighs a reasonably hefty 52 pounds. Looking from top to bottom, it consists of a 5.25-inch poly-filled carbon fiber cone midrange driver in its own enclosure, a one-inch pure titanium dome tweeter with a phase plug to extend high-frequency response, and two 6.5-inch clay/ceramic poly cone drivers in their own chambers, each tuned with front-facing ports. The drivers are mounted to the satin-finish front baffle such that there are no visible screws, providing a cleaner look. Frequency response of the X2T is rated at 30 to 23,000 Hz, +/-3dB. Sensitivity is rated at 90 dB, and the impedance rating for the X2T is the same as for all the models in the Imagine X lineup: eight ohms nominal and four ohms minimum. To bring out the best performance that the speakers are capable of, you should pair them with at least a mid-priced receiver that can handle the occasional impedance dip to four ohms. The speakers have molded feet with threaded inserts for using either the supplied speaker spikes (carpeted surfaces) or isolation levelers (hard surfaces). On the back of the speaker is a metal jumper strap between the two sets of gold-plated five-way binding posts connected to the high and low frequency inputs, providing for your choice of standard, bi-wire, or bi-amp connections.
The Imagine XC center is a two-way horizontal, rear-ported design consisting of a pair of 5.25-inch clay/ceramic poly cone woofers flanking the same one-inch titanium dome tweeter with the phase plug found in all of the Imagine X speakers. The center channel measures 6.38 inches tall, 19.13 inches wide, and 11.13 inches deep and weighs 19.8 pounds. There is a single set of gold-plated five-way binding posts on the back. Frequency response is rated at 50 to 23,000 Hz, +/-3dB. Sensitivity of the XC is rated at 89 dB.
The Imagine XB bookshelf is also a two-way design measuring 12 inches tall, 6.75 inches wide, and 10.75 inches deep and weighing 12.3 pounds. It features a one-inch titanium dome tweeter and a single 5.25-inch clay/ceramic cone woofer. The XB has a rear-facing port for extended bass response and a single set of gold-plated five-way binding posts. Frequency response is rated at 55 to 23,000 Hz, +/-3dB.
The SubSeries 200 active subwoofer is a bass-reflex design with a down-firing port and a single, front-facing 10-inch woofer. The SubSeries 200 sits right at the midpoint of the PSB subwoofer lineup. It measures 17.5 inches tall, 13.38 inches wide, and 15.5 inches deep, and it weighs 34 pounds. Its custom power amplifier was developed in partnership with sister company NAD Electronics, producing 200 watts continuous power and up to 560 watts peak dynamic power. NAD has a longstanding industry reputation for designing quality, high-performance amplifiers. All connections on the SubSeries 200 are single-ended and found on the back. These include LFE jacks, stereo low/line level, and stereo high/speaker level inputs and outputs. For easy access, all adjustments are located on the front and include a volume control, crossover frequency control, and phase switch. Frequency response is rated at 25 to 150 Hz, +/-3dB. I should note that I was impressed by the fact that PSB includes an easy-to-understand, comprehensive 20-page owner's manual for setup and optimization of the SubSeries 200. This is a nice touch that I wish all speaker manufacturers would adopt.
While unboxing the brand new PSB Imagine X speakers, I noted that the packaging was fairly substantial given this price point. That's reassuring, especially given some of the heavy-handed delivery people out there. While these speakers do have some heft, they're still quite manageable for one person to set up. I placed the PSB sub in the front right corner of my room, in the same spot previously occupied by the M&K Sound X12 sub I had just boxed up. My first thought was that the SubSeries 200 looked small compared with the behemoth X12. I couldn't help but wonder if it would be able to deliver adequate bass impact (I would soon discover I needn't have been concerned).
After a little experimentation, I ended up with the X2T towers sitting in the same spots normally occupied by my reference speakers. I set the XC center-channel speaker on my Sound Anchors stand. The XB bookshelves were placed on stands behind the listening position, but far enough away from the rear wall to allow the rear ports to breathe. I used WireWorld and Transparent cables to connect the speakers. For the sub connection, I ran a Kimber Kable RCA interconnect between my Marantz AV8801 pre/pro's subwoofer output and the LFE input on the sub. Amplification was provided by my Classe five-channel amp, and sources included an Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player for physical discs and a Mac Mini music server for digital media.
After making initial speaker and sub settings manually, I listened to a few familiar 5.1 music tracks to get a baseline. The system sounded quite good overall, but bass response seemed a bit heavy. Rather than continuing to fiddle with manual adjustments, I just ran the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 auto room correction software on my pre/pro to see if the software could squeeze out better performance. The calibration software instructed I turn down the sub's volume to about 40 percent to match reference levels, and it also adjusted crossover settings on the speakers a bit from my initial settings. I then played the same 5.1 tracks over again. The bass response was now more even, blending better with the midrange and high frequencies for a more balanced presentation overall. With the system now dialed in, I let the speakers play as much as possible over the next two weeks before doing any critical listening.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...