PSB Imagine Mini loudspeaker Page 2
I investigated this by playing the half-stepspaced toneburst track on Editor's Choice (CD, STPH016-2) and listening to the cabinet sidewalls' behavior with a stethoscope. The cabinet was quite lively in the octave above middle C. Getting rid of the cones so that the Minis' hard rubber bases sat directly atop the stands reduced the effect of these resonances. Ultimately, I used small strips of Sorbothane between the speakers and the stands' top plates, which both tamed the cabinet's misbehavior and usefully fattened the upper bass a bit.
I then used the Mini's dedicated PFS-27 stands, which had arrived after the speakers. Without any filling, these stands allowed the Minis' cabinet resonances to be more fully developed than with the Sorbothane-damped Celestion stands. Filling the front section of the PSB stand's pillar with something like cat litter (use a plastic bag to minimize mess) would be a good idea. I went back to the Celestion stands.
Listening to the warble tones on Editor's Choice, I could readily hear the tones down to the 80Hz band; the 63Hz band was audible thanks to some support from a room mode. The tones were inaudible at the listening position from 50Hz down, but there was no wind noise from the port at normal listening levels in this region. Whether or not the lack of low bass will be a problem will depend on the music played. With "Just a Little Lovin'," or Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al," from his Graceland (ALAC file ripped from CD, Warner Bros.), the lack of midbass and below was not a problem. However, in the title track of Simon's Hearts and Bones (CD, Warner Bros. 23942-2), the low B string of Anthony Jackson's bass guitar was given short shrift. Similarly, in the chorus of "Here I Am," from Lyle Lovett's Live in Texas (ALAC file ripped from CD, MCA), the sound lost power when Viktor Krauss's double bass drops to the low E (42Hz). There was a good sense of pace, however, in "Get Ready for Christmas Day," from Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What (24-bit/96kHz ALAC file, HDtracks/Hear Music HRM-32814).
You can't expect small speakers to rock the house. In my ca 3000-cubic-foot listening room, the Imagine Minis were good up to about 95dB(C) at the listening position, above which the sound hardened in the upper midrange. At lower levels, below 90dB or so, the Mini was both more comfortable and its cabinet better behaved. I could then appreciate the uncolored midrange and highs in "Satellites," from Rickie Lee Jones's Flying Cowboys (ALAC file ripped from CD, Geffen), which has the widest dynamic range of any CD in my collection; and the spacious, stable soundstage in the introduction to "North Dakota," from the live Lovett album.
One anomaly stood out. During the review period, I was ripping LPs at 192kHz using Ayre Acoustics' new QA-9 USB A/D converter (review underway). Listening to the rip of Peter Skellern's classic 1979 album Astaire (ALAC file ripped from LP, Mercury 9109 702), some small clicks were more audible than I'd experienced with the speaker I'd used before the PSB, Sony's SS-AR2 (review underway). The Sony has a soft-dome tweeter, which led me to wonder if what I was hearing was due to the PSB's titanium-dome tweeter misbehaving when hit with wideband ultrasonic energy in the click. To investigate, I downsampled the Skellern album to 48kHz, which will eliminate all spectral content in the region of the tweeter's "oil-can" dome resonance, and listened again.
This kind of comparison sounds straightforwardbut it isn't. First, what clicks there were were few and far between, making instantaneous comparisons difficult. Second, once I'd heard a passage with a click at hi-rez, that in itself would change my perception of the same passage when I subsequently played the 48kHz file. Third, with the 192kHz file, the clicks and other LP noises were presented in a different plane from the music, and I might just have been reacting to that. But if I had to swear, I still felt that sharp clicks were slightly more audible with the 192kHz file through the PSBs.
Elsewhere in this issue Bob Reina reviews the Emotiva XRT-5.2 X-Ref tower speaker, which listed for $799/pair when we were preparing the review. I thought the Emotiva would make a useful basis for comparison with the PSB: almost identical prices, both made in China, but a utilitarian-finished tower vs a jewel-like miniature bookshelf. (As this issue went to press, the Emotiva's price dropped to $559/pair.)
Switching to the XRT-5.2s, I found it difficult to believe I had changed speakers. In the midrange and treble, the Emotivas sounded extraordinarily similar to the PSBs. Both were neutrally balanced, both were free of obvious colorations. It took a long listening session for me to decide that the Emotivas' soundstaging was less well focused than the PSBs'; that the XRT-5.2's image depth was not as well developed.
The big difference, of course, was in the bass. The XRT-5.2's low frequencies extended a full octave deeper than the PSB's, which made me at first prefer the tower. But that extra extension was accompanied by a flabby, exaggerated quality in the upper bass that did no favors for high-level rock music. The little PSBs' better control in this region let the music flow with more ease. Which speaker someone will prefer will very much depend on personal preference and taste in music.
A brief comparison with my 1978 pair of Rogers LS3/5As, which dwarfed the Minis, revealed the British speakers to sound more nasal than the Canadians, with a brighter treble, and upper bass that was as well defined but slightly heavier.
PSB's Imagine Mini is not going to be a universal recommendation; its diminutive size places inevitable restrictions on low-frequency extension and ultimate loudness. And good stands, such as PSB's PFS-27s, are mandatory to get the best performance, which raises the price to $1060$1130/pair. Unlike PSB's forgiving Alpha B1, the Imagine Mini will make more demands on its owner to match it with high-quality amplifiers and sources. Its sound will still lack magnificence, but that's why PSB makes the Synchrony One. However, within its limitations, this tiny PSB is a pur-sang design: breeding matched to performance.