PSB Image T6 loudspeaker
As is my wont, I asked for three Image T6 tower speakers to test in my weekend multichannel system, in Connecticut. The T6 is a true three-way design for a very attractive $1199/pair. For this, you get a 1" titanium-dome tweeter, a 5.25" clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene-cone midrange unit in a separate internal enclosure, and two 6.5" woofers; the crossover frequencies are 500Hz and 2.2kHz. The Image T6 measures 40.2" (1031mm) H by 9" (231mm) W by 14.8" (380mm) D and weighs 48.6 lbs (22.1kg). It has dual gold-plated binding posts and jumpers, and adjustable feet with the option of rubber levelers or spikes. Although the T6 lacks the exquisite cathedral-matched wood veneers of its pricier brethren, the black ash finish on my three samples was exemplary.
Out went my resident Paradigm Studio 60 v.3s, and off went the Audyssey room-equalization software, so that I could avail myself of the naked performance of the Image T6 trio. Immediately, they had a better-integrated sound and better-defined bass than I'd expected at their price, though the latter is what I'd hoped for in choosing this largest model of the Image line. Still, the T6s required careful positioning, with very little toe-in, to obtain a fair balance of imaging and smooth bass response. I ended up compromising the latter to optimize the former, figuring that Audyssey would eventually come to my rescue.
But on their own, once I'd found the optimum positions, the T6s offered a deep and beautifully spacious soundstage. Their tonal balance seemed a bit tipped-up in the treble, but the effect did not emphasize or highlight HF details. Bass extension was very generous for a speaker of this size, and deep male voices had wonderful presence. Plain old two-channel stereo was good, with remarkably solid center images that attested to the excellent matching of the two speakers I'd randomly selected to use as the left and right mains. In multichannel, with or without a subwoofer, I heard the same characteristics.
PSB's Paul Barton provided me with a set of measurements he'd taken, in the anechoic chamber of Canada's NRC, of the Image T6 I'd assigned to the left channel. The traces were all impressively flat from about 200Hz up to about 14kHz, on and ±15° to either side of the horizontal axis. Below 200Hz, all traces showed a smooth 23dB rise that fell off below 60Hz, but with usable bass below 40Hz. Above 14kHz, a mild dip was followed by a >3dB peak at 17kHz, both on and off axis. Considering the top-octave fall-off in my hearing, it would seem that these treble deficiencies would be inaudible to me. However, I suspect that the trough and peak combined to account for the loss of treble detail I did notice. Moreover, the variations in bass impact I heard suggested that, in my room, the smooth anechoic measurements were not being supported.
I figured that running Audyssey MultEQ would smooth out the T6's bass response and level its upper HF response. Audyssey confirmed the lumpy bass response of all three Image speakers with peaks and dips that varied in near-sinewave fashion from about 150 down to 20Hz. In addition, it clearly showed the 15kHz dip, although, as Audyssey smooths the display graphs, the sharp 17kHz peak was not shown. Unfortunately, while Audyssey's initial "corrected" response looked good, it actually sounded far worse than the T6s did on their own. Male voices were emasculated by a breathy treble and a midbass suckout. Since I had the advantage of using AudysseyPro's curve editor with my Integra DTC-9.8 processor, I fiddled with the response options. What worked was to put in a broad but subtle (<2dB) increase from about 300Hz down, and to use the more severe HF rolloff option. The former seemed to restore some "room gain" in the range where I saw the suckout due to speaker placement, while the latter restored the treble balance to what sounded, subjectively, neutral.
The result was a tonal and spatial presentation that seemed much more sophisticated than I'd expected from speakers of this size and price. I immersed myself in two SACD/CDs from Praga Digital's wonderful series devoted to the chamber music of Martinu: the Piano Quintets and Piano Quartet, with pianist Ivan Klansky and the Kocian Quartet (Praga PRD/DSD 250250); and the Piano Trios, with the Kinsky Trio Prague (Praga PRD/DSD 250256). These discs were recorded in Prague's lovely Martinu Hall, and in both one hears a fairly close-up sound: exquisite detail and instrument placements surrounded by a subtle ambience, all simulating the perspective of a seat at the front of the hall. The soundstage was absolutely seamless, seeming to fill the space without any reference to the three Image T6s sitting in front of me.
Even with much more massive music, such as Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra's performance of Mahler's Symphony 6 (SACD/CD, Ondine ODE1084-5D), the T6s offered the same deep, spacious, detailed soundstage as they had with the chamber recordings, but on a larger scale. There was such a feeling of effortlessness that I was encouraged to turn up the volume to a near natural level. It was thrilling, but when I did this I wasn't thinking about the hammer blows in the last movementwhen they arrived, I was treated to a visceral impact usually reserved for the live event. Now, this recording is 5.0, and the Image T6s were assisted by a subwoofer below 50Hz, but who cares? I played the disc again, without the sub, and the emotional effect was equal, though the physical effect was reduced. Still, the PSBs didn't cry uncle!
Finally, I fed the Image T6s the DTS Master Audio soundtrack of Roy Orbison's Black and White Night (Blu-ray, Image Entertainment ID4954OBBD), a recording I treasure for its combination of expansive imaging, immersive ambience, inventive mixing of the assisting performers, and, to no small degree, the joy of the performance. The Image T6s were again up to the task of re-creating the excitement and buzz of a live event in which all the performers were solidly placed; I could easily attend to any one of them without losing the sense of the overall eventjust as I'd have been able to do had I attended that concert.
If you think I like PSB's Image T6, you're right. In many ways, it suits me and my room better than PSB's Imagine T towers, except for some initial problems with the HF. Still, for $1199/pair, this is an absolutely wonderful full-range speaker, and is now my quasi-$1000/pair standard for an entry-level high-end loudspeaker.