GoodSound T65 Review

June 1, 2005

PSB Image T65 Loudspeakers

The Image speakers from Paul Barton and company, aka PSB, fall between their inexpensive Alpha Series and their top Platinum Series. The Alpha speakers have served as introductions to good sound for many people, the Platinums as the end of many people’s search for the ultimate audio experience. (Check out reviews of the Platinum M2 Monitor Speaker and T6 Tower Speaker in our Audio/Video Reviews archive.) The Image series falls into a less exalted price class, ranging from $349/pair USD for the least expensive model, the B15 Monitor Speaker, up to $1099/pair for the T65 Tower Speaker.


Smart construction principles

All of PSB’s Image speakers use a modular construction that results in a family sound that ensures that all channels in a multichannel system will sound similar. In the current environment it makes good sense to buy speakers that could eventually fit seamlessly into a multichannel system. Even if you’re a diehard two-channel fan, the move to more and more multichannel programming on DVD, DVD-Audio, SACD, and the imminent Blu-ray and HD DVD formats means you won’t want to be left out in the cold. When putting together a multichannel system, it’s a good idea to have at least the front three channels (and, preferably, all channels) be the same model, or at least the same series, of speaker. This ensures that the timbre of instruments is uniform; otherwise, you might end up being able to pick out the mismatched center-channel, which would defeat some of the appeal of multichannel music.

The Images’ modular construction doesn’t just help in building the speakers; it also helps the consumer by reducing the price. Because PSB uses only a limited number of components throughout the series, they’re able to reduce production and manufacturing costs. All Image models use the same 5.25" or 6.5" metalized polypropylene-cone woofers with rubber surrounds and the same 1" aluminum-dome tweeter. The speakers’ front-firing bass ports allow them to be placed closer to walls than many rear-ported speakers. Every Image speaker is magnetically shielded to permit placement on or near a television. Of course, this also means you could use it near a computer monitor, but all except the Image B15 are probably too big for such applications.

The floorstanding Image T65 is a bass-reflex design with three 6.5" woofers, three 2" bass ports, and that 1" dome tweeter. It stands 38.5" tall by 8" wide by 20" deep and weighs 49 pounds. Each T65 has two sets of five-way, gold-plated binding posts on the rear to allow for biwiring or biamping. Two vinyl veneers are available: maple and black ash. I was sent the black ash for review, but if I were buying a set of T65s, I’d opt for the maple.


Listening

The first DVD-Audio I bought was Frank Sinatra’s Sinatra at the Sands with the Count Basie Orchestra [Reprise R9 73777]. I’d first heard the DVD-A 5.1-channel remastering of this album at a press demonstration for some electronics last year. Elliot Mazer and Diana Haig, the disc’s producer and editor, respectively, were playing it to try out the equipment being shown, and I liked it very much. Unfortunately, the album wasn’t as impressive through my previous home-theater speaker system as it had been at the demo. It was still good fun, but the sound wasn’t as good as I’d remembered.

The Image T65s, however, made Sinatra at the Sands sparkle as much as it had during that press demo. I was easily transported back to the Sands, with a sound that filled the room in a way that made it seem much larger than it really is. The spatial cues were all actualized: the orchestra was spread out across the soundstage, the audience was in its place, and we were all enjoying Frank.

Another DVD-A favorite, Björk’s Vespertine [Elektra 62653-9], tested the T65’s deep-bass and dynamic abilities. I was consistently impressed with the speaker’s control of the low end. On such tracks as "Hidden Place" and "Aurora," the PSB produced the deepest bass I’ve heard in my theater, except from a powered subwoofer. Unlike an inexpensive sub’s, however, the T65’s bass was very musical and focused.

The recent SACD release of Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony’s A Hi-Fi Spectacular [BMG Classics 61387-2] gave me a chance to try out how well the T65 fared with symphonic music. The complexity of sound produced by an orchestra can cause troubles for some speakers, but the T65 handled it with aplomb. The contrasts between orchestral instruments and organ-pedal tones in Saint-Saëns’ Symphony 3 were well done and allowed the music to flow smoothly.

The easiest comparison for me to make was with my usual home-theater main speaker, the Axiom M22ti ($440). I think the Axioms are very good for their modest price, but the T65 seemed a wonderful bargain for their asking price, almost $700/pair higher. The Axioms didn’t sound as forward as the T65s and, as I mentioned with the Sinatra disc, were not as good at soundstaging. Unsurprisingly, the Axioms also fell short on bass. From some highly unscientific experiments, I’ve concluded that bass plays a big role in getting the best soundstaging.

I then wanted to hear the T65s in my two-channel room. This was no easy task -- my two-channel system is on the floor above my home theater. Getting the T65s up those stairs wasn’t the easiest thing to do by myself, but once I had, I put them in place of my Quad 21L ($1300) speakers. The rest of the system was a Rogue Audio Tempest integrated amplifier, a Rotel RCD-1070 CD player, and the same cabling as in the home theater. The PSBs’ larger size was not appreciated by my wife, who thought the Quads looked much better in the room. You may or may not agree.

Comparing the Quads and PSBs proved a tough thing to do. Both are very good speakers, but their presentations were very different. Choosing between them was like choosing between two delicious desserts: which you choose will be determined more by personal preference than by a concern with quality.

The PSBs sounded forward and precise compared with the Quads’ smoother, more laid-back sound. On Johnny Cash’s last album, American IV: The Man Comes Around [CD, American 440 077 083-0], the PSBs seemed to put me up close to the performers, as if I were right next to them -- every little sound was present. On Cash’s cover of Depeche Mode’s "Personal Jesus," for example, I felt as if I could reach out and touch the Man in Black. The Quads seemed to move me back a few feet and give me more of an observer’s perspective. I was no longer a member of the band, but an audience member with the best seat in the house.
On symphonic works, such as the recently rereleased discs of John Williams’ soundtrack music for Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope [CD, Columbia S2K 92950], the PSBs gave me a more detailed account of each and every instrument, and again put me closer to the music. In a direct comparison, the Quads appeared to smooth over some of the faint details.

The Quads took first place when it came to small-ensemble jazz, such as John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme [CD, Impulse! 314 589 945-2]. They had a slightly better timbre on the piano and bass, and the instruments sounded a bit more as if they were in the room. On the other hand, Elvin Jones’ cymbals seemed to decay more realistically through the PSBs. Both speakers handled the chanting of "a love supreme" very well; both times, I was sucked into listening to this masterpiece.

I wouldn’t mind owning both speakers and switching them out as the mood struck me. Space and practicality prevent this, of course, but if I did, I might end up using the Image T65s with symphonic and rock music, the Quads for acoustic jazz, folk, and chamber music. If I were in the market for speakers, I’d have a hard time deciding between them -- my choice would likely depend on my mood. Luckily, I don’t have to face that dilemma.

My only hesitation about the T65 has nothing to do with its sound. These are big speakers that will not easily blend into a living room or small city apartment. If you’re worried about their size, check out the smaller Image floorstanders, the T45 and T55 -- or even the bookshelf B15 or B25 -- which should have a similar sound. Those lucky enough to have dedicated listening rooms or home theaters need not worry about this. And the larger size means deeper bass


Conclusion

It should by now be no surprise that I really liked PSB’s Image T65. Every PSB speaker I’ve heard has had a good money-to-performance ratio, and the T65 was no exception -- it’s a bargain for $1099/pair. You can purchase them knowing you won’t be tempted to upgrade for a long time, if ever. If you’re in the market for speakers, why not buy the right speakers once and stop upgradeitis before it can begin? There are other good-sounding speakers at or near this price, but I wouldn’t want to purchase any of them without first hearing these PSBs.

My best description for the Image T65: big, bold, and beautiful.
...Eric D. Hetherington, GoodSound

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