PSB New Stratus Mini Page 2
The original PSB Stratus Mini was a soundstaging champ, throwing well-defined, stable, accurate stereo images with depth a-plenty. The New Mini built on its predecessor's performance in this area. While its soundstaging didn't quite have the palpability of the JMlab Micron Carat, it was the equal of the B&W Compact Domestic Monitor 1. The orchestra on Stereophile's Festival CD (STPH007-2) was arranged in a deep but narrow configuration live. The piano on Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, for example, should sound as if it were at the left rear of the stage. This was the case via the Stratus Minis, the speakers accurately reproducing the depth cues captured by the ORTF microphone technique. And the huge acoustic space of London's Albert Hall on Eric Clapton's live 24 Nights album (Reprise 26429-2) was easily audible as a dome of reverberation between and behind the speakers.
In the midrange, the PSB was as uncolored as the other two speakers but had a somewhat different balance. Whereas the British speaker was balanced to be a little forward in the low treble and the French speaker was tilted upward in the treble, the Canadian design was rather laid-back overall. This endowed its presentation with a somewhat distant perspective, instruments being placed behind the plane of the speakers. This also made it kind to recordings that had been balanced on the hot side. As much as I admire the virtuosity of John Popper's harmonica playing, I previously found Blues Traveler's Four (A&M 31454 0265 2) hard to get into, its rather relentless mix getting in the way of some of the music some of the time. With the Stratus Minis, the recording's brightness was tamed, and with the speaker's excellent bass quality, I was freed up to enjoy what I was hearing.
Ah yes, the bass. The PSB had the best-defined low frequencies of the three speakers. Subjectively extending a little lower in frequency than the B&W CDM1, the excellent control of the Mini made the British speaker sound a little tubby in comparison. On the Silverman Liszt recording, where massive octave and double-octave passages regularly roar through the bass, the Stratus Mini didn't lose by much to larger, very much more expensive speakers.
While this is still a small speaker and will have limited maximum loudness compared with much more expensive speakers, much of the majesty of the big Steinway's lower registers was apparent. When a rock recording featured deep synthesizer bass—for example, the descending line on Annie Lennox's version of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down" (on Medusa, Arista 25717-2)—the Mini allowed me to hear enough of what was happening to make musical sense. By comparison, the Micron Carat could only hint at the presence of frequencies below 50Hz. Again, the Stratus Mini's somewhat shelved-down high frequencies tamed this recording's excessively bright mid-treble balance.
Although the New Mini's treble balance was somewhat laid-back, it didn't lack for midrange and treble detail. Readily apparent were the tiny differences in inflection and attack on Nathan East's bass guitar solo on "Old Love" on the live Clapton album. And the treble was clean, well-recorded cymbals sounding like shimmering metal plates, not like gated bursts of white noise. This tweeter (similar to the 1" Vifa unit used in PSB's top models, the excellent Stratus Silver and Stratus Gold) is obviously a good one.
Putting together these audiophile areas of performance—I mean, no one other than a reviewer listens to just "bass," "soundstaging," or "treble"—the overall performance was consistently musically pleasing. Orchestral works had sufficient lower-midrange bloom to sound believable, rock music had sufficient kick and control in the bass to get my feet a-tappin'. And on all musics, the Minis threw a large, well-defined, palpable stereo soundstage. As a pair of speakers should!
Criticisms? Just one: Occasionally I was bothered by a sense of the upper midrange not being as smooth as I'd expected. This was very music-dependent: I heard it with some recordings; with others, when I was expecting to hear it, I didn't.
As I have come to expect from its designer Paul Barton, the PSB New Stratus Mini is a superbly well-engineered loudspeaker offering a lot of performance at a price lower than you would expect. The Mini's tonal balance is a little laid-back in the treble, while its well-defined low frequencies can benefit more from judicious boundary reinforcement than the other two speakers I review this month. When everything is right, however, the result will be a clean, coloration-free, grain-less, musically satisfying sound, with superb soundstaging, at an affordable price. As with the B&W, it is gratifying to discover a loudspeaker like the little PSB that offers so much quality for so few bucks. Highly recommended.