PSB Imagine T2 Tower loudspeaker Page 2
But is it possible for an audio component to be accurate and euphonic? There are certainly speakers out there flying the Accuracy flag that are impressive on first hearing, providing a sense of immediacy and a focus on musical details, but that, on prolonged listening, leave you with a sense of fatigue. I think this is what Gordon was alluding to in his tongue-in-cheek way when he described accuracy as something nobody likes when he hears it. However, while the choices made in the process of designing a speaker often involve trade-offs, I think it's possible for a speaker to be both faithful to the input signal and literally euphonic, as in "pleasing to the ear," without falling into the trap of exaggerated sweetness. By way of evidence, I present the Imagine T2 Tower.
Asked to describe the Imagine T2 Tower's sonic personality, I would definitely use the word sweet. However, the PSB's sweetness didn't seem to be caused by a rolloff in its high-frequency response. Its highs sounded smooth and extended, the percussion instruments in All Star Percussion, by Harold Farberman and the All Star Percussion Ensemble (CD, Golden Strings GS CD 005), having the requisite clarity and crispness, but avoiding the sort of etched quality that results in a speaker being described as sounding "clinical" or having an "analytic" tonal balance. This easy-on-the-ears tonal characteristic was apparent with my usual audiophile test recordings, such as the Jazz Sampler & Audiophile Test Compact Disc, Vol.1 (Chesky JD37) and All Star Percussion, and even more with the recordings of musicals, operettas, operas, and classic pop that form that bulk of my listening for pleasure. I'll be interested to read JA's measurements of the Imagine T2 Tower; my prediction is that they won't show the speaker as having significant treble emphasis; and, conversely, that if they show any treble rolloff, it will be of a very gentle sort.
It's generally recognized that the most critical part of the audioband is the midrange: this is where the fundamentals of musical instruments and voices lie, and where departures from neutrality are most easily heard and most difficult to overlook. As it turned out, this was one of the Imagine T2 Tower's major strengths, and most evident in its reproduction of voices. From the sturdy baritone of Rod Gilfry on his My Heart Is So Full of You (CD, Narratus 07) to the limpid soprano of Sylvia McNair on her Sure Thing: The Jerome Kern Songbook (CD, Philips 442 129-2), voices sounded natural and nonmechanical, with very little "speaker sound" superimposed on them. Vocal sibilantswhose reproduction depends on the treble as well as the midrangewere present in just the right proportion, with differences in microphones and singers' proximity to them audible but not exaggerated.
The audible "box" resonances that are found to some degree in all speakers that comprise drivers in a box-like enclosure were not entirely absent, but were present to only a minor degree, and evident mostly at high levels. An interesting characteristic of the Imagine T2 Tower (which I think says a lot about the speaker) is that I would often start off in critical-listening mode, focusing on the sound, then find my attention shifting to the music and the performancelike admiring the way Piotr Beczala copes with the fiendish tessitura of "L'Emir auprès de lui m'appelle," from Verdi's Jérusalem, an opera I was not familiar with, and which made me want to check it out (from Beczala's Salut!, with Ion Marin conducting the Munich RSO; CD, Orfeo C715081A).
If I were given the challenge of predicting a single aspect of a speaker's sound by just looking at it, I would pick bass extension. All else being equal, big speakers tend to have deeper bass; and the more bass drivers, and the larger they are, the greater the bass extension. Subjecting the Imagine T2 Towers to the eyeball test, I would expect them to have pretty good but not great bass. As Scotty was fond of saying, "Ye cannae change the laws of physics." Even as many as three 5¼" woofers in a modestly sized box can't be expected to produce thundering bass to below 20Hzand they didn't.
However, the bass they did produce was deeper and more powerful than I would have expected, given the driver complement and the size of the cabinet. The 32Hz synthesizer note at the beginning of "Temple Caves," from Mickey Hart's Planet Drum (CD, Rykodisc RCD 10206), which tends to separate the men from the boys, was there, just not as powerfully as I've heard it. The Wharfedale Jade 7which has two 8" woofers, for a total radiating area about 50% greater than the T2'swas more convincing, and the GoldenEar Triton Two, with its built-in powered subwoofer, was better still. This is a tough testthe 32Hz fundamental of that synthesizer note is at the borderline of the T2's claimed bass extension: 3dB at 34Hz on axis, with a 10dB low-frequency cutoff at 29Hz. Still, the quality of the T2's bass was excellent, with a smooth transition between the low bass and midbass, and crisp bass-drum transients.
And dynamics? Well, when it comes to sheer loudness, I'm continually impressed by the variation in what people consider to be normal or acceptable. A frequent complaint about music played at audio shows is that it's too loudbut someone likes those levels, otherwise they wouldn't set them so high. (Audio shows aren't the greatest offenders; at a recent performance of the musical The Book of Mormon, I had to put pieces of tissue in my ears. It was still too loud.)
Although the Imagine T2 Tower may not have been designed for headbangers, it was no slouch at playing at what, for me, are higher-than-normal levels. I played Frederick Fennell and the Dallas Wind Symphony's Trittico (CD, Reference RR52) with the volume control of the Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 Renaissance preamp two notches above my normal level, which produced peaks that measured 98dB(C) with the Studio Six Digital Audio Tools app for the iPhone4. That's about as loud as I'd want to listen for a prolonged length of time, and the Imagine T2 Tower seemed quite comfortable at that level. The PSBs also put in a fine performance in microdynamics, effectively communicating the ebb and flow of the music.
In my CES report on the Imagine T2, I said that the speakers had "excellent imaging." I'm happy to report that I was able to confirm this with more extended listening at homein spades! The soundstage thrown by the T2s was wide, deep, and high, with excellent specificity of images (depending on the source material, of course). The bass drum in the opening of Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla, conducted by José Luis Ocejo (CD, Philips 420 955-2), was unambiguously defined as being in the far distance, with the chorus then entering closer at hand, and spread wideand, finally, tenor José Carreras located firmly in the front and center. The positioning of images was less dependent on where I sat than with many other speakers of my experience, and the soundstage remained pretty stable even when I stood up.
I've heard the Stratus Gold, PSB's previous flagship, many times at shows, and for a while had a pair of the one-down-from-the-top Stratus Silvers in my system, on loan to help me with an amplifier review. I had high regard for these speakers, and felt that they offered good value, but their sounds weren't entirely to my taste, the bass (especially the Stratus Gold's) being a bit too heavy, and with an overall character that was on the warm side. I'd come to think of this as the "PSB sound," and there was nothing wrong with it as such. Paul Barton would have been justified to stay with the same basic design, tweaking only the details. However, that is evidently not his way.
The Imagine T2 Tower, while building on the tradition established by the Stratus series, seems to me to represent a considerable departure from, and a marked improvement on, the old PSB sound. The bass, while still extended, no longer dominates the tonal balance, and the speaker generally sounds "quicker," with a better sense of rhythm, than what I remember with the Stratus Gold and the Silver.
And while the Gold and Silver both required high-powered solid-state amps to deliver their best, the Imagine T2 Tower was a good match with tube amplifiers as well, including the 40Wpc PrimaLuna Premier. In fact, although the Imagine T2 Tower benefited from being combined with high-end electronics like the Simaudio preamp-amp combo of Moon Evolution 740P and 860A ($23,000), and the pairing of Convergent Audio's SL-1 Renaissance with McIntosh Labs' MC275 ($16,000), I had some of my most pleasant listening experiences with the speakers when I drove them with the PrimaLuna integrated ($2295).
Yes, there are better speakers out there, some of which can play louder without strain, have more startling dynamics and/or greater bass extension, and even less of a specific sonic signaturebut all of that comes at a price, and such speakers are usually more fussy about associated equipment. The Law of Diminishing Returns applies to audio, and the Imagine T2 Tower strikes me as being right around the point above which improvements begin to be more and more difficult to attain, and the additional cost may be considered disproportionately high.
At $3498/pair, the Imagine T2 Tower faces serious competition from speakers like the Focal Chorus 826W ($3699/pair), the GoldenEar Triton Two ($3000/pair), and the Wharfedale Jade 7 ($4199/pair). Which would I choose? That's a tough oneI haven't had all of them on hand at the same time, so I must rely on aural memory, and my system has changed throughout the period that these speakers have been in my listening room. But if forced to make a choice, it would be between the PSB Imagine T2 Tower and the GoldenEar Triton Two. Each is an excellent speaker that offers outstanding value; it's hard to see how you could go wrong with either. The GoldenEar has more extended and impressive bass, courtesy its built-in powered subwoofer. The PSB sounds a bit sweeternot that the Triton Two has any hardness or edgeand may be a better match with inexpensive solid-state electronics. Both have superb imaging. The Imagine T2 Tower has a fine furniture finish that many people will prefer to the GoldenEar's cloth covering. Audio can be an expensive hobby, but it doesn't have to be. A system based on the Imagine T2 Tower or the Triton Two, perhaps combined with PrimaLuna's ProLogue Premier integrated amp, can be not only accurate but provide a pleasant listening experience.
As I write this on my laptop in the living room, music is drifting down from the listening room upstairs. It's Haines His Way, featuring the vocalism of a certain Guy Haines, the nom de microphone of Bruce Kimmel, a record producer, stage director, and author who is also a more-than-competent singer (CD, Fynsworth Alley FA2109 SE). The song is "You Must Believe in Spring" (by Michel Legrand, Jacques Demy, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman), which I've heard sung by more famous singers, but none has matched the smooth delivery and emotional involvement of Haines/Kimmel. I go upstairs and listen to it again. It brings tears to my eyes. The speakers are the Imagine T2 Towers. The review is finished, so I'll have to arrange for the speakers to be picked up by PSB, to be shipped to JA for measurements. They'll be replaced in my listening room by my Avantgarde Uno Nanos. I'm in no hurry to make the switch.