PSB Imagine T2 Tower loudspeaker
What can you tell about the intrinsic sound quality of a loudspeaker if you've heard it only at an audio show? Arguably, not much. If it sounds bad, there may be a number of reasons for that, only one being the speaker itself. It may be the acoustics of the room, problems with speaker setup, poorly matched associated equipment, insufficient break-in/warm-up, or poor choice of demo recordings. Other conditions may not be conducive to the speaker revealing its potential, such as not being able to sit in the sweet spot, being distracted by people talking throughout the demo, etc. You might think that exhibitors would do their utmost to ensure that their products are presented in the most positive way possible, but, as Jason Victor Serinus pointed out in "There's No Business Without Show Business," his April 2013 "As We See It," this is not always the case.
But what about speakers that sound good at audio shows? Well, a speaker can't sound better than its inherent mechanical/electrical characteristics allow, but the rest of the system may have been hand-picked to be the most synergistic possible, and include ultra-expensive components. The setup may have been tweaked to a fare-thee-well, and the demo material chosen to show off the speaker's positive characteristics and minimize its deficiencies. Based on listening under these conditions, you may be sufficiently impressed to buy the speaker, then disappointed when you can't replicate in your home what you heard at the show.
And yet, while I appreciate these caveats, I, like most people, make judgments of speaker sound quality based on my impressions at the Consumer Electronics Show and regional audio shows. In fact, I choose most of the products I review based on what I've heard at such events. If I don't care for the way a speaker sounds there, I'm unlikely to review it, even though I recognize that its poor showing may have been due to one or more of the reasons listed above. I would rather not take a chance on spending months listening to a speaker whose sound I don't like, and instead select a speaker that impressed me positively. I believe that this sort of selection bias explains why Stereophile reviews tend to be positive. Stereophile's bias is to mostly seek out equipment that its writers think a) is very good, and that b) its readers will enjoy.
I first heard PSB Speakers' Imagine T2 Tower at the 2012 CES. What I heard was good enough that I wanted to hear more.
Description and Design
In designing its speakers, PSB uses the anechoic chamber and measurement facilities of Canada's National Research Council (NRC), in Ottawa. PSB designer Paul Barton is very much a "hands-on" designer; he told me that last year he spent five months in China, supervising the manufacturing of PSB speakers.
The Imagine T2 Tower is a lovely-looking speaker, well proportioned and with the sort of finish that, just a few years ago, would have been the exclusive purview of speakers made in Italy by master craftsmen. In fact, the T2 is made in China, using advanced technology as well as individual attention to detail. The cabinet is teardrop-shaped in cross section, which is more visually pleasing than a plain rectangular box, and has the acoustical advantage of having no parallel internal walls. (A number of speaker manufacturers, including B&W and Wharfedale, have adopted this sort of cabinet shape.) The cabinet panels are formed of seven layers of MDF, pressed into shape, while the front baffle is made of 2"-thick MDF. Considerable effort is made to match the grain of the wood veneers, to create a "cathedral" appearance.
The Imagine T2 Tower evinces similarities to PSB's Synchrony One, reviewed by John Atkinson in the April 2008 issue, and might even be described as a scaled-down version of that model, much of whose technology it shares. However, all the drive-units were developed specifically for the Imagine T2, whose crossover takes into account those drivers' characteristics, the distances between them on the baffle, and the height of each driver from the floor, to minimize interference between direct sound and the floor bounce.
The Imagine T2 Tower's driver complement comprises: a 1" titanium-dome tweeter with a neodymium magnet, similar but not identical to the tweeter used in the Synchrony One; above that, a 4" clay/ceramic-filled, polypropylene-cone midrange unit; and below it, three 5¼", clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene-cone woofers. Each woofer has a distortion-reducing phase plug of aluminum, as in the Synchrony One, as well as its own internal chamber and rear-firing port. Compared to speakers from other manufacturers, an unusual aspect of the T2 Tower's design is what Barton calls a "transitional" crossover in which each woofer is crossed over to the midrange at a different frequency: the one closest to the floor at the lowest frequency, and each of the other two at an incrementally higher frequency (but see "Measurements" sidebarEd.). As well as each woofer having its own port, PSB also supplies two rubber plugs, to optionally block the outputs of the two lower ports.
The Imagine T2 Towers seemed quite happy being plopped down in the general area where speakers normally sit in my listening room, but benefited from my tweakings of the distances between them, and from each speaker to the wall behind it. In their final positions, the speakers were aimed so that their tweeter axes passed just outside my ears when I sat in the listening position, forming an angle of about 60°. I then installed the supplied spikes, which somewhat tightened the bass and increased the specificity of imaging.
As mentioned earlier, the Imagine T2 Tower is supplied with plugs that permit selective blocking of the woofer ports. I tried the speakers first with no plugs (corresponding to a fully ported design), then with the lowest port plugged, and then with plugs in the two lowest ports. (I didn't try other combinations.) My preference, when listening to material that had a good amount of mid- and low bass, was for the two lowest ports being plugged. The bass in this configuration was tighter, and subjectively more extended than with no plugseven the midrange seemed cleaner.
The Imagine T2 Tower is provided with a curved metal grille that's attached to the speaker at several points, thus reducing possibility of the grille rattling. I listened to the speakers with the grilles on and off, and was surprised by the degree of veiling the grilles introduced. I strongly recommend leaving them off. They're easy to attach and detach, for those occasions when you're entertaining small children or adults who may be tempted to poke the drivers.
I had three amplifiers on hand to try with the Imagine T2 Towers: my McIntosh Labs MC275LE (75Wpc, tubed, paired with the Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 Renaissance preamp); a Simaudio Moon Evolution 860A (200Wpc, solid-state, paired with Simaudio's Moon Evolution 740P preamp); and a PrimaLuna ProLogue Premier integrated amp (40Wpc, tubed). My description of the overall sound of the Imagine T2 Tower represents a kind of "averaging" of its performance with these three amps, with differences as noted.
Unlike the Wharfedale Jade 7, which I reviewed in the May 2013 issue, and which had to be played for about 150 hours before it sounded its best, the Imagine T2 Towers seemed to require no break-in at all: the only changes in their sound during the review period resulted from tweakings of their positions. (The review samples had gone through the measurement regimen at the NRC, which may have served as break-in.) They did benefit from a good warm-up, though: their sound was more "relaxed" after about a half-hour's play.
In his book The Audio Glossary (extracted here), Stereophile founder J. Gordon Holt defines accuracy as "(1) The degree to which the output signal from an active device is perceived as replicating all the sonic qualities of its input signal, and (2) The ultimate objective of an ideal system, which everyone claims to want but nobody likes when he hears it." Gordon's definition of euphonic is "Pleasing to the ear. In audio, 'euphonic' has a connotation of exaggerated sweetness rather than literal accuracy."