PSB Imagine Mini loudspeaker
The first loudspeaker I heard from the Canadian company PSB was the Stratus, an affordably priced ($1400/pair), two-way tower with a soft-dome tweeter and an 8" woofer. The Stratus had benefited from designer Paul Barton's being able to use the anechoic chamber at the Canadian government's National Research Center, in Ottawa. The Stratus was reviewed for Stereophile by J. Gordon Holt in our May 1988 issue; he described the speaker as "eminently listenable," though Gordon also felt that it was "a little lacking in guts and liveliness." I had sat in on some of his listening sessions and had been impressed by what I heard.
I subsequently met Barton at the 1988 Audio Engineering Society Convention in Los Angeles, and, in the first of many, many conversations we were to have, learned more about loudspeaker design than I had realized there was to learn. (My interview with Barton was published in our October 1997 issue.)
I have reviewed several PSB speakers over the years, but the two that most stick in my memory are the Synchrony One (April 2008 and the Alpha B1 (May 2007). The Synchrony One cost $4500/pair, the Alpha B1 $279/pair, and while I was very impressed with what Barton had achieved with the expensive speaker, I was even more impressed with what he'd managed on what must have been an almost nonexistent build budget. The Alpha B1 had not been out of place hung on the end of very expensive amplification and source componentswhile it lacked deep bass and loudness capability and ultimate transparency, it communicated the music in an effective manner out of all proportion to its price. Yet when paired with inexpensive components, the B1 was forgiving of any sonic ills committed upstreamas Stephen Mejias can testify, having used the B1s as his "Entry Level" reference ever since we published my review.
Then Came the Mini
PSB's Imagine series represented an attempt to bring the benefits of the Synchrony technology to more affordable speakers. Both Sam Tellig and Kal Rubinson favorably reviewed the Imagine T tower ($2000/pair) in June 2009, while John Marks liked what he heard from the Imagine B bookshelf ($1000/pair) in no fewer than three installments of his column, "The Fifth Element," for that year. Then, at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, PSB previewed the smallest, least expensive model in the Imagine series, the Mini. Costing $760/pair in satin-finish wood veneer, or $830/pair in high-gloss black or white, the Mini was one of the hits of CES 2011. Stephen Mejias commented that "the sound of acoustic guitars was enchanting and commanding, with fine detail, impact, and emotion"; Robert Deutsch felt the launch of the Minis to be one the show's highlights.
Measuring just 9.25" high by 5.75" wide by 8.3" deep and weighing 6.5 lbs, the Mini marries the titanium-dome tweeter used in the other Imagine models to a 4" woofer that has a 3" polypropylene cone filled with clay/ceramic materials and a rubber surround. As well as the main ceramic magnet, this drive-unit's motor uses a second, neodymium magnet resting atop the pole piece to multiply the magnetic force factor. The crossover is set at 2.2kHz, with fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley slopes. The woofer is reflex-loaded with a flared 1" port on the cabinet's rear, and electrical connection is via a recessed pair of binding posts on the speaker's base, which is made of hard rubber. Two circular cutouts at the rear allow slim (4mm) plugs to be inserted from behind to reach the downward-pointing binding posts.
The tiny cabinet features curved sidewalls and top panel, and the baffle is finished in matte black. The matching PFS-27 stands cost $300/pair; an extruded aluminum pillar bolts on to a heavy base, while the aluminum top plate is bolted to the Mini's base and locks to the stand. Cutouts in the top and bottom plates allow the speaker cable to be threaded up through the rear section of the single pillar; an internal partition allows the front section of the pillar to be filled with damping material.
For logistical reasons, I began my auditioning of the Imagine Minis with them sitting on 24" Celestion Si stands, spiked to the wooden floor beneath the carpet and with each stand's central pillar filled with a mixture of dry sand and lead shot. I raised the speakers with upturned Mod Squad Tiptoes so that my ears were level with the tweeter axes, and put Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin' (CD, Lost Highway B0009789-2) in the Ayre CX-5 player's tray.
Well, this was definitely a small speaker. While the upper bass was reproduced in full measure, with tidy control and good definition, the low and midbass were missing in action. Midrange and treble sounded natural and neutral, with good high-frequency extension, though pink noise sounded hollow if I listened with my ears much above the tweeter axes. The soundstage was wide, deep, and stable. However, Lynne's voice in the title track had a slightly "hooty" coloration.