PSB Image 4T loudspeaker Page 2
This speaker loved woodwinds. Those instruments whose registers dominate the upper-bass/lower-midrange regions sounded especially natural, detailed, and tactile, most notably the clarinet passage in the opening segment of my audiophile acid test, Kohjiba's The Transmigration of the Soul (Festival, Stereophile STPH007-2, CD). And I've never heard the opening tenor-sax tutti passage from Bill Berry's "Take the A Train" (For Duke, M&K Realtime RT-101, LP) sound more natural.
The 4T's upper midrange did exhibit, however, a fine, mildly dryish, powdery texture on most recordings. I didn't find this objectionable, but it added a distinct personality to the speaker that some might object to, depending on the recordings played. I found it least noticeable on unusually liquid and lushly engineered recordings such as Sade's Love Deluxe (Epic EK 53178, CD).
The Berry disc highlighted the 4T's major shortcoming: a relative lack of high-frequency resolution compared with its performance lower down the frequency spectrum. I'm not implying that there was a brightness, hardness, distortion, darkness, or high-frequency rolloff, but the comparative resolution in this region vs the midrange and below was not unlike comparing the resolution performance of a good moving-magnet cartridge to that of a good moving-coil. This effect manifested itself primarily in the reproduction of instruments with upper-harmonic information extending into the high frequencies. On "Take the A Train," the solo trumpet had, simultaneously, a brashness and a softness on higher notes that rendered it less realistic than other instruments on the record. Similarly, the massed violins on Antal Dorati's performance of Stravinsky's The Firebird (Mercury and Mercury/Classic SR 90226, LP) seemed a bit ragged on higher-frequency passages.
Not all instruments were affected equally; it depended on the harmonic structure of the instrument's upper partials. Mallet-struck percussion sounded natural and shimmering, with bite and clarity, from the triangle on Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" (Axis: Bold as Love, Track/Classic 612003, LP) to the two most natural recordings of a vibraphone I've heard: a CD-R of the Modern Jazz Quartet performing "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," from Pyramid, which Michael Fremer made for me from his Rockport turntable review sampler (footnote 1); and "Decision Point," from John Atkinson's recording of the Jerome Harris Quintet (Rendezvous, Stereophile STPH013-2, CD).
The Image 4T's bass performance was uncanny, with a bottom-end extension I didn't think possible from a speaker of this size and price. Reproduction of bass down to 40Hz and a bit below was no problem for this speaker. On John Rutter's Requiem (Reference Recordings RR-57CD) there's considerable organ-pedal information in the 30-60Hz range. Although some of the lower notes went completely missing in action, the big pipes were forceful and natural, and moved quite a bit of air for a speaker of this size.
Further up the bass-frequency spectrum, the 4T continued to impress. While examining the speaker's design before beginning to listen to it, I wondered how its dynamic midbass performance would pan out. I'd encountered quite a few speakers with front-firing ports that exhibited a resonant, flatulent quality, and, as floorstanding speakers have larger enclosures than satellites, I'd wondered if this would be one of the 4T's problem areas.
My concerns were unfounded; the entire mid- and upper-bass spectrum of Dean Peer's electric bass on Ucross (Jazz Planet/Classic JP 2002-1, LP) was natural, clean, and lightning-fast without a trace of overhang or resonance.
The Peer disc also highlighted the 4T's remarkable transient capabilities. Peer's speedy runs on his compressed bass guitar with round wound strings (read: sharp transients with considerable upper-harmonic information) were natural and unblurred, with neither sharp accentuation nor blunt attenuation.
The 4T also reproduced percussion music with remarkable fidelity. Charles Wuorinen's Ringing Changes (Nonesuch H-71263, LP) is replete with violent, cacophonous crashes on a battery of percussion, interspersed with delicate silences. Aided by the 4T's organic and effortless rendition of low-level dynamic information, the realistic attack and decay of each instrument impressed me at all volume levels.
Footnote 1: Fremer's right about this analog wonder. I have several CD-Rs he burned on a Marantz DR-17 machine, using his Rockport/Immedia Helicon/ARC Reference Phono Stage rig as a source. The better-sounding cuts do some things that I've never heard from vinyl with any turntable I've owned. I'm saving my pennies.