PSB Stratus Gold loudspeaker Page 2

Coming to the PSB after an extended diet of dipole listening via the Apogee Stages, I had a bit of sonic gear-shifting to do. I'm not one to sing the praises of one or another particular design approach—the "all else is gaslight" school of thought. But dipoles and forward radiators excite the room in such different ways that changing from one to the other inevitably involves a period of readjustment to what is, to a degree, an "altered" listening environment.

Once I was over that (thankfully brief) period of acclimatization, the PSBs presented me with an open, detailed, clear soundstage, a solid low-frequency foundation, airy, articulate highs, and an unmuddled, low-coloration midrange. Their sound is immediate and vibrant—not pushy, but clearly not laid-back either. They have a natural clarity and inner detailing which do not slight small-scaled instrumental groups and vocals, but have the weight and impact required for dramatic, large-scaled works. I was particularly struck by the Stratus Gold's open, unboxy midrange. Voice was particularly well-handled. "Clarity without shout," my notes relate, and that seems to sum up my observations. The sound is notably open from the upper bass through the lower midrange—often a problem area for three-way loudspeakers crossing over in the 300-500Hz region.

The PSB may well avoid this problem because it crosses over just below this band, with a rapid rolloff of the woofer above that point. On "Meditation," band 6 of the Jazz Sampler Vol.1 (Chesky JD37), Ana Caram's vocal inflections and accent were particularly well-defined and free of smear. Carnahan and Petrie's "No Regrets" (DNA Records 70101) is not a particularly natural recording in the top octaves, but the vocal perspective is excellent and the midrange clear. It certainly sounded that way through the PSBs (which also did nothing to disguise the excessive artificial reverb used in the mastering). And it wasn't difficult to hear the interplay between the different sections of the chorus in Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony (EMI CD-EMX 2142). Many loudspeakers in my experience thicken and obscure this quality, substituting the proverbial velvet fog—not to mention their failure to handle this recording's striking dynamics, some of the most extreme that I know of. The PSB didn't fail the latter test, either, handling the explosive attacks in stride.

The Stratus Golds are not your typical laid-back, polite, audiophile loudspeaker. They definitely impressed me with their up-front, immediate, but never in-your-lap soundstaging. Still, some listeners will prefer a more rear-of-the-hall sound. My initial feeling was that this immediacy somewhat constrained the PSBs' presentation of depth. But while they never truly knocked me out with a sense of front-to-back layering, their overall handling of that all-important third dimension was nearly always effective and convincing. As was the feeling of being transported into the recording environment on recordings which are themselves capable of providing this information. The huge, ambient space on Pictures at an Exhibition (CD, Dorian DOR-90117) was clearly evident, as was the more intimate environment on Herbie Mann's Caminho de Casa (CD, Chesky JD40). And the clearly artificial but nonetheless stunning depth recorded on Patrick O'Hearn's Between Two Worlds (LP, Private Music 2017-1-P) could, on the PSBs in a darkened room, make you reach for the light to be certain you hadn't accidentally wandered into another dimension entirely.

The Stratus Gold's potent, extended bass response contributed significantly to its overall impact and feeling of realism. On the above-mentioned Pictures at an Exhibition, the stunning low-frequency extension of this recording was reproduced here—not merely hinted at, as with most loudspeakers. There are, I am certain, depths to the low end on this disc which the PSB did not actually reveal—my recollection is that the B&W 801s go even deeper—but in my present listening room, the PSB's bottom reach, its way of presenting not only the fundamentals but the shudder of air in the pipes, was dramatic and fully convincing. The extremely low-pitched drums and other miscellaneous grumblings on Rhythm Devils (LP, Wilson Audio W-8521) formed a solid foundation to this, ah, unusual work. And on Michael Hedges's Taproot (CD, Windham Hill WD-1093), band 2 has striking, deep-bass fundamentals—subtle yet contributing significantly to the overall musical context. They are not loud, but are clearly audible through the PSBs as an undistorted, solid underpinning, without which the musical message would be entirely different. I have heard a few loudspeakers go lower or sound more awesome at the bottom of their range, but none that were not also more expensive or less appealing in other aspects of their performance.

Through the mid and upper bass, however, the Stratus Gold did not quite maintain that level of performance. Transient response in this region was a bit softened rather than tight and punchy. To a certain extent, however, my listening room is on the "warm" side. Experimentation with placement did help improve clarity through the bass (although it was still not exactly hair-trigger fast), but at what I deemed to be unacceptable sacrifices in other qualities, notably soundstaging. Since the original locations had provided a very precise stereo image, I elected to accept the compromise and go for the soundstage. While the PSB's mid and upper bass then tended toward a definite fullness and warmth, I never felt that they edged over into parody. The PSB's overall low end is still not as "fast" as the real thing, but I have not yet heard a competitively priced loudspeaker, with comparable bass extension, which does any better. The search will continue.

In the upper octaves, the PSB was open and sparkling, but without hardness or exaggerated detail. The musical selections on the Chesky Jazz Sampler were superbly clean and unexaggerated, with an appealing delicacy, especially on lightly brushed cymbals. Strings had a silky sheen, percussion an appropriately sharp attack. Though the Stratus Golds never sounded "bright" (as in too much lower treble), they could betray a trace of over-eagerness in the top octave, of too much sheen, of transients responding just a bit too vigorously. This was most apparent on classical music, where the tweeter would sometimes make itself audible as a separate entity, detracting from the overall coherence of the sound. It was almost never problematical on other types of program material, aside from the occasional, overly aggressive percussionist or too-sibilant, closely miked soloist. But I did not find the problem to detract from the PSB's strengths; if the high end were aggressive, relentless, or grainy, that would be another matter entirely; I did not find any of these characteristics to be present. And I would ponder hard before I gave up the PSB's open, airy quality to effect a "cure."