PSB Synchrony One loudspeaker Page 2

I've been listening a lot of late to Smetana's tone poem Má Vlast, with Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (SACD, LSO Live LSO0516). Recorded in concert in London's Barbican—one of my least favorite halls—the sound is a little on the dry side. However, from the resonant harp intro of the first movement through each string entry, each instrumental choir was delicately delineated in space, and every instrumental tone color was presented without coloration or undue emphasis. This speaker was also a natural for showing off that masterpiece of orchestration, Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. My longtime favorite recording is with the composer conducting the LSO in London's Kingsway Hall (reissued on CD as Decca 417 509-2 or JVC XRCD 0226-2), but this 1963 recording sounded a bit too brash through the PSBs. A modern recording, of Paavo Järvi conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (SACD, Telarc SACD-60660), sounded very much more natural at high frequencies, and had much the same weight and impact in the bass as the English performance.

The top octaves sounded smooth to me on this Telarc SACD—the delicately brushed triangle at the end of the final variation before the fugue was beautifully resolved, without sounding spotlit—but Erick Lichte was less tolerant than I of the PSB's performance in this region. However, in the "Measurements" sidebar accompanying this review, I wonder if he was reacting instead to the small response peak between 16 and 18kHz, which, unlike me, he could hear. The height of this peak is not affected by the perforated-metal grille, which proved to be transparent other than suppressing the speaker's output by a couple of dB between 9 and 16kHz. Even so, at the end of the mixing sessions we listened to one of my 2008 "Records To Die For," violinist Hilary Hahn performing Vaughan Williams' song of serenity, A Lark Ascending (SACD, Deutsche Grammophon 28947-48732-6), with nary a complaint from either of us.

The Synchrony One really shone with classical orchestral music, in part because its slightly warm upper bass and extended low bass gave the sound a firm underpinning. The double basses on the Telarc Britten SACD had the optimal combination of attack and weight to their tone. This speaker did go surprisingly low in the bass, considering its relatively small stature. When I listened to the 1/3-octave warble tones on my Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2), the Synchrony One gave full measure down to the 25Hz band, with only the 20Hz warble inaudible. The half-step–spaced tonebursts on the same CD were reproduced cleanly and evenly from the lowest frequency, 32Hz, with little sign of doubling in the lowest two octaves and without undue emphasis on any specific note. There was also a commendable lack of wind noise from the flared ports, even at high levels.

Both the dual-mono pink noise and the in-phase bass-guitar tracks on Editor's Choice were reproduced as they should be: as narrow, central images without any frequencies splashing to the sides. With true stereo recordings, such as the Gershwin Prelude arrangements on Editor's Choice, there was no sense of images being localized at the speaker positions. Instead, individual instrumental images were precisely and solidly located in the plane between and behind the speakers. And when out-of-phase information was present in the recording, such as some of the effects on Trentemøller's album of chill-out music, The Last Resort (Pokerflat PFRCD18), these wrapped around to the sides in a stable, nonphasey manner.

Not only was the PSBs' stereo imaging stable, precise, and accurate, but throughout my auditioning of the Synchrony Ones I kept getting the feeling that I could hear farther into the soundstage that I had been used to. The timpani and the xylophone in the percussion variation of the Cincinnati Britten recording were set unambiguously behind the orchestra's woodwind and string choirs. This was not because the speakers were suppressing mid-treble energy, a not-uncommon means for a speaker designer to fake the impression of image depth—the PSBs were, if anything, a little hot in this region. Instead, there was such an absence of spuriae that recorded detail was more readily perceived.

But, as I said, this superb retrieval of recorded detail was accompanied by a slight lift in the presence region. This was not nearly so much as to add brightness to the balance, but voices were presented as being more forward in the mix. With the Cantus mixes Erick and I were working on, we felt we had to slightly reduce the level of the closer-sounding cardioid mikes in the mix to compensate for the more distant-sounding omnis. With recordings that are themselves overcooked in the highs—Bruce Springsteen's dreadful-sounding Seeger Sessions, for example (DualDisc, Columbia 82876 82867-2)—it all became a bit too much in-your-face. But with more sensibly balanced rock recordings, such as So Real, the Jeff Buckley compilation released on the 10th anniversary of the singer's death (CD, Columbia/Legacy), the PSBs effectively drew forth the music from the mix.

For this reason, the Synchrony One proved a better match to the warmer-sounding Mark Levinson No.380S preamp and No.33H power amps than the cooler Parasound combination of Halo JC 2 and Halo JC 1s, despite the Levinsons fattening up the midbass. Stereophile's latest CD, a reissue of Robert Silverman performing the two Rachmaninoff piano sonatas (STPH019-2), now sounded a bit too plummy, even with the bottom ports plugged. I ended up using the Mark Levinson No.380S preamp with the Halo JC 1 amplifiers, which gave the optimal top-to-bottom balance with the PSBs.

As I finish writing this report, I'm listening to the provisional 24-bit/88.2kHz mix Erick and I did of Cantus performing Lux aurumque (Golden Light), Eric Whitacre's 2001 setting of a poem by Edward Esch translated into Latin by Charles Anthony Silvestri. Whitacre constructs patterns of tone clusters that slowly move stepwise, leaving suspensions that you think will clash yet sound exquisitely tonal. Each of the nine singers was clearly and precisely positioned in space by the PSBs, with the deliciously warm reverberation of the Great Hall of Goshen College reinforcing the effect of the suspended notes in the score. And when, on the music's final page, the work modulates—finally—to the major, with the basses rocking back and forth between low C-sharps and D-sharps under a long-held high G-sharp from the tenors (who faced away from the mikes for this passage, in order to light up the hall with sound), the superbly neutral midrange and the low-frequency clarity of the Synchrony Ones filled my room with shimmering harmonies. Ah. It's hard to see how it could get much better.

The last two speakers I reviewed, the Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa (December 2007) and the KEF Reference 207/2 (February 2008), each cost around $20,000/pair. As much as I was impressed by those highfliers, PSB's Synchrony One reached almost as high for just $4500/pair. Its slightly forward low treble will work better with laid-back amplification and sources, and its warmish midbass region will require that care be taken with room placement and system matching. But when everything is optimally set up, the Synchrony One offers surprisingly deep bass for a relatively small speaker; a neutral, uncolored midrange; smooth, grain-free highs; and superbly stable and accurate stereo imaging. It is also superbly finished and looks beautiful. Highly recommended. And when you consider the price, very highly recommended.

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

Staxguy's picture

What are the benefits above visual presentation that the Synchrony One offers above the Gold? Could anyone who has heard both describe the difference(s) in sound between the PSB Synchrony One and the PSB Stratus Gold speakers?

Again and again, I'm finding the Synchrony Ones well regarded, by dealers and reviewers, alike. At the $4500 price point, perhaps it offers an attractive proposition?

Could anyone compare the sound to the Totem Element Earth speakers ($9000/pr), good and obtuse? The Focal Electra 1038be ($12,500)? The 1028be ($8500/pr)?

All are what I would call afforable, class B or C loudspearkers, perhaps, if recommened.

Notably, the PSB Synchrony One falls into 2012 Stereophile's Class A - R/E LF, loosing only low-frequencies to competing with the well-regarded B&W 800 diamond ($24,000/pr), or Revel Ultima's ($22,000 Salon/pr, $16,000 Studio/pr), which would be considered value-leaders, if one reads their respective reviews.

So, I am asking is the PSB Syncrhony One a huge advance over the PSB Stratus Gold, is it better than the Totem Elements and the Focal Electras, etc., and is it sonically competive with the B&W 800 series and Revel Ultima Series, with the exception of SPL and bass-extension cabability?

Does it have the same resolution, or would one only hear 75% of the detail say of an 800 or 802 diamond on the PSB's, like one would with a Totem Element speaker?

What are the various trade-offs, or is it just a spectacularly good (compared to the competive offerings) price?