PSB Image B6 loudspeaker Page 2

I found the high frequencies of the B6 to be fairly detailed, extended, and colorless for such an inexpensive speaker, regardless of musical genre. Thurston Moore's and Lee Ranaldo's shimmering just-intonation guitars in "The Diamond Sea," from Sonic Youth's Washing Machine (CD, Geffen DGCD-24825), were extended and bell-like without a trace of harshness. In the classical chamber vein, both David Shively's assorted percussion and Stephen Gosling's rapid-fire harpsichord passages in Orphée, from John Zorn's Mysterium (CD, Tzadik TZ8018), were reproduced with delicacy and no trace of smear. On the jazz front, Liam Sillery's trumpet in the title track of his Phenomenology (CD, OA2 Records 22061) had a round, vibrant tone, with a naturally bronzed bite and plenty of upper-harmonic extension.

With most recordings, the Image B6's bass performance was quite natural, with fast transients and a good deal of weight. I did notice, in Antal Dorati's reading of Stravinsky's The Firebird with the London Symphony Orchestra (CD, Mercury Living Presence SR 90226), that the bass drum seemed to go lower in frequency through other similar-sized designs. This region sounded a touch warm with some recordings with significant midbass content in the bass guitar's range, most notably Jerome Harris's bass in "The Mooche," from his Rendezvous. (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), and the bass guitars on the aforementioned Mighty Sam McClain and Aimee Mann recordings. I await JA's measurements, to see if the heft of the B6's bass was a result of actual bass extension or a craftily engineered midbass "bump."

On headbanging rock tunes, the combination of apparently weighty bass and a good sense of high-level dynamic slam was able to make the PSBs boogie in the nether regions with no sense of strain or limitation. Even at high volumes, the rapid-fire bass-synth transients in Kraftwerk's Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI ASW 60611) and Overcast Radio's Midnight Sun (LP, Surface Tension STNSN002) were fast, forceful, and uncolored. However, on full-throated orchestral recordings, such as Helmuth Rilling and the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra and Choir's performance of Krzysztof Penderecki's Credo (CD, Hänssler CD 98.311), while the massed chorus was holographic and clearly defined, I did feel a sense of compression in the highest-level passages. In other words, through other speakers, the fortissimi were more . . . fortissimous. However, this particular recording really showcased the Image B6s' ability to "disappear" while throwing a wide, deep soundstage, as they did for the Group for Contemporary Music's recording of Donald Martino's Triple Concerto for Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, and Contrabass Clarinet, with soloists Les Thimming, Anand Devendra, Dennis Smylie, and conducted by Harvey Sollberger (LP, Nonesuch H 71372; available on CD as Albany 168). From my notes: "Immediacy! A window on the orchestra!"

The recording that put the Image B6 all together for me was of Tomiko Kohjiba's Transmigration of the Soul, from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival's Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2). Here, Carol Wincenc's flute (footnote 1) was airy and metallic, Nancy Allen's harp was tactile and immediate, and Tyler Mack's marimba had the requisite thunk. The music breathed with all the dynamics of the concert performance that it is, with no disturbing colorations, though I felt the timpani were a touch warm.

A Comparison
I compared the PSB Image B6 ($495) with the Epos ELS3 ($295), the Epos M5 ($695), and the Nola Mini ($600). (All prices per pair, as of when last offered.)

The Epos ELS3 shared with the PSB its silky, neutral, and detailed midrange, but I found the Epos's highs to be more delicate and refined. However, the ELS3's bass was much less extended, and the PSB was far better at high-level dynamic bloom in loud passages.

The Nola Mini shared its midrange characteristics with the two speakers mentioned above, but its bass seemed the deepest of the three, with much more effortless gut-slamming of high-level dynamics. However, compared with both the PSB and the Epos ELS3, the Nola had some high-frequency roughness in upper-register passages.

The Epos M5 shared the positive midrange attributes of the other three speakers, but with a bit more resolution of detail—the M5 made it much easier to follow individual voicings in solo-piano recordings, for example. The M5's highs were as refined as the Epos ELS3's, and therefore a bit more natural than the PSB Image B6's. Finally, I found the Epos M5's midbass to be cleaner than the PSB's but the Nola Mini was the best of the lot in terms of effortless, high-level dynamic bloom.

A Conclusion
After John Atkinson finished measuring the PSB Image B6, he sent me this e-mail: "No surprises, as well-engineered a design as is to be expected from Paul Barton." I responded: "Yep. It's the Honda Accord of bookshelf speakers."

That about sums up my reaction to the PSB Image B6. Like the Honda Accord, the Image B6 is well-engineered, incorporates lessons learned from the design of older, more expensive models, advances the state of the art, at least at this price level, satisfies predictably and reliably, and performs at a level well beyond its price. From Paul Barton, what else could you expect?

Footnote 1: This year, this flute virtuoso celebrates her 40th anniversary of performances of contemporary classical music with a series of concerts, in and around New York City, of works she has commissioned. All the best for the next 40 years, Carol!
PSB Speakers International
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