PSB Imagine Mini loudspeaker Page 2

I investigated this by playing the half-step–spaced toneburst track on Editor's Choice (CD, STPH016-2) and listening to the cabinet sidewalls' behavior with a stethoscope. The cabinet was quite lively in the octave above middle C. Getting rid of the cones so that the Minis' hard rubber bases sat directly atop the stands reduced the effect of these resonances. Ultimately, I used small strips of Sorbothane between the speakers and the stands' top plates, which both tamed the cabinet's misbehavior and usefully fattened the upper bass a bit.

I then used the Mini's dedicated PFS-27 stands, which had arrived after the speakers. Without any filling, these stands allowed the Minis' cabinet resonances to be more fully developed than with the Sorbothane-damped Celestion stands. Filling the front section of the PSB stand's pillar with something like cat litter (use a plastic bag to minimize mess) would be a good idea. I went back to the Celestion stands.

Listening to the warble tones on Editor's Choice, I could readily hear the tones down to the 80Hz band; the 63Hz band was audible thanks to some support from a room mode. The tones were inaudible at the listening position from 50Hz down, but there was no wind noise from the port at normal listening levels in this region. Whether or not the lack of low bass will be a problem will depend on the music played. With "Just a Little Lovin'," or Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al," from his Graceland (ALAC file ripped from CD, Warner Bros.), the lack of midbass and below was not a problem. However, in the title track of Simon's Hearts and Bones (CD, Warner Bros. 23942-2), the low B string of Anthony Jackson's bass guitar was given short shrift. Similarly, in the chorus of "Here I Am," from Lyle Lovett's Live in Texas (ALAC file ripped from CD, MCA), the sound lost power when Viktor Krauss's double bass drops to the low E (42Hz). There was a good sense of pace, however, in "Get Ready for Christmas Day," from Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What (24-bit/96kHz ALAC file, HDtracks/Hear Music HRM-32814).

You can't expect small speakers to rock the house. In my ca 3000-cubic-foot listening room, the Imagine Minis were good up to about 95dB(C) at the listening position, above which the sound hardened in the upper midrange. At lower levels, below 90dB or so, the Mini was both more comfortable and its cabinet better behaved. I could then appreciate the uncolored midrange and highs in "Satellites," from Rickie Lee Jones's Flying Cowboys (ALAC file ripped from CD, Geffen), which has the widest dynamic range of any CD in my collection; and the spacious, stable soundstage in the introduction to "North Dakota," from the live Lovett album.

One anomaly stood out. During the review period, I was ripping LPs at 192kHz using Ayre Acoustics' new QA-9 USB A/D converter (review underway). Listening to the rip of Peter Skellern's classic 1979 album Astaire (ALAC file ripped from LP, Mercury 9109 702), some small clicks were more audible than I'd experienced with the speaker I'd used before the PSB, Sony's SS-AR2 (review underway). The Sony has a soft-dome tweeter, which led me to wonder if what I was hearing was due to the PSB's titanium-dome tweeter misbehaving when hit with wideband ultrasonic energy in the click. To investigate, I downsampled the Skellern album to 48kHz, which will eliminate all spectral content in the region of the tweeter's "oil-can" dome resonance, and listened again.

This kind of comparison sounds straightforward—but it isn't. First, what clicks there were were few and far between, making instantaneous comparisons difficult. Second, once I'd heard a passage with a click at hi-rez, that in itself would change my perception of the same passage when I subsequently played the 48kHz file. Third, with the 192kHz file, the clicks and other LP noises were presented in a different plane from the music, and I might just have been reacting to that. But if I had to swear, I still felt that sharp clicks were slightly more audible with the 192kHz file through the PSBs.

Elsewhere in this issue Bob Reina reviews the Emotiva XRT-5.2 X-Ref tower speaker, which listed for $799/pair when we were preparing the review. I thought the Emotiva would make a useful basis for comparison with the PSB: almost identical prices, both made in China, but a utilitarian-finished tower vs a jewel-like miniature bookshelf. (As this issue went to press, the Emotiva's price dropped to $559/pair.)

Switching to the XRT-5.2s, I found it difficult to believe I had changed speakers. In the midrange and treble, the Emotivas sounded extraordinarily similar to the PSBs. Both were neutrally balanced, both were free of obvious colorations. It took a long listening session for me to decide that the Emotivas' soundstaging was less well focused than the PSBs'; that the XRT-5.2's image depth was not as well developed.

The big difference, of course, was in the bass. The XRT-5.2's low frequencies extended a full octave deeper than the PSB's, which made me at first prefer the tower. But that extra extension was accompanied by a flabby, exaggerated quality in the upper bass that did no favors for high-level rock music. The little PSBs' better control in this region let the music flow with more ease. Which speaker someone will prefer will very much depend on personal preference and taste in music.

A brief comparison with my 1978 pair of Rogers LS3/5As, which dwarfed the Minis, revealed the British speakers to sound more nasal than the Canadians, with a brighter treble, and upper bass that was as well defined but slightly heavier.

Summing Up
PSB's Imagine Mini is not going to be a universal recommendation; its diminutive size places inevitable restrictions on low-frequency extension and ultimate loudness. And good stands, such as PSB's PFS-27s, are mandatory to get the best performance, which raises the price to $1060–$1130/pair. Unlike PSB's forgiving Alpha B1, the Imagine Mini will make more demands on its owner to match it with high-quality amplifiers and sources. Its sound will still lack magnificence, but that's why PSB makes the Synchrony One. However, within its limitations, this tiny PSB is a pur-sang design: breeding matched to performance.

PSB Speakers International
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
(905) 831-6555

remlab's picture


zomin8tor's picture

The Imagine Mini's are small speakers; ideally suited for desktop or another nearfield experience. As such, and when connected to the NAD D7050 (desktop) amp, and when combined with the PSB 125 sub, I would put these speakers up against almost any floor standing speakers, in an apples to apples comparison, eg, floor standing in a living room and the Mini's in a nearfield environment. For the reviewer to expect that these beautiful little gems were ever going to fill up a room -- especially without a matching sub, was naïve at best. Although, to his credit, the floor stands do insinuate that you could use these in a living room -- but to me that application is more as a subcomponent part of a 5.1, 7.1, etc., system, NOT as the mains.

keith_h's picture

When my wife and I auditioned these some years ago, we had never heard of PSB. We were sure B&W is what we needed. But these sounded much better and the ability to mount neatly on the wall easily got this over the line for our sensibilities.

OK so its an old review, no problem. But it has many of the tropes of audio reviews, pointless observations when a certain piece of equipment is unsuited to a task that its clearly not intended to fulfil. Important looking charts and graphs that tell you nothing of how it will perform in your environment, only how it performed in a lab test. Or how it compares to "reference equipment" which most of us will never listen to let alone own. I never understand the need to supply this information.

Additionally the reviewer shows they have no clue about how to most effectively utilise these speakers and so makes some unusual assumptions and generalisations while trying to figure it out.

Here's what I've learned as a long time owner. Despite these speakers being around a looong time as I write they still kick butt sonically, when setup right. They are small for a reason and work well in a small space. They will not fill an auditorium, and while they do have a matching floor stand, this is not where they shine. We had them on floor stands for a while, but when we mounted them on the matching wall stands, amazeballs. This positions them where the designers intended and brought them to life compared to using floor stands.

The wall stands take care of the way the wiring is configured as well, something that seems to confound all reviewers. Its a simple thing folks, a neat touch and works as intended concealing the wiring. I managed to easily get banana plugs in there, unsure what everyone else's issue is with this configuration other than its not typical.

Paired with a small sub like the PSB 200, you get full and pleasing sound reproduction entirely suited to a small space. High up on the wall they are well out of the way and pretty much invisible as well in the white finish.

They are not especially efficient, but paired with a decent amp, they light up nicely. You won't get epic dynamics, but you will get a nice smooth clean sound that punishes poorly recorded material, and will bring out things you've not hear before in some recordings. Poorly recorded material will sound truly terrible, flat and lifeless. Well crafted recordings are eye opening, these speakers are quite revealing in that way.

You won't get PA levels of volume of course, but its good to know you can rock the house if you must, especially with a sub.

After some years of ownership, they continue to deliver a satisfying listening experience.

keith_h's picture

A further observation following environmental changes likely unforseen when these speakers were first reviewed. First the rise of streaming and digital music which has all but seen the demise of the traditional record shop as we once knew it. Vinyl is on the rise for enthusiasts, but digital is largely how things get done these days, either streaming or digitised recordings of some sort. My CD collection for example resides on a NAS as FLAC files.

The next thing is the rise of the single box streaming solution, compact powerful devices that connect all your digital music making it accessible via a mobile device of some sort. And finally, the implementation of room correction software like Dirac.

Imagine all this in one box and you have the NAD M10 in my case, the only input is an ethernet cable and connected to these venerable speakers, elevates them even further. It's a testament to the original design and implementation of these speakers as to how good they sound on the newest equipment all these years later.

Dirac performs some sort of incredible magic with them, sound just comes from everywhere, almost like a pair of Maggies. There is greater detail and dynamics present in music we have been listening to for years. In some cases, the music just soars. It's an interesting experience from two small boxes high on a wall and a small sub which now has its crossover controlled by Dirac. Hence low bass is present and deeply satisfying.

Long story short, all the things that were always very good, now raised to a new level. The PSB Imagine Mini combined with the PSB Sub Series 200 have been an excellent choice. Combined with the NAD M10, it now delivers hours of next level enjoyment.