HT G•Design Review

October 1, 2007

Price-sensitive yet refined, sophisticated sound.

Paul Barton doesn’t merely talk about Canada’s National research Council; he preaches about the facility, acting as the Billy Graham for Canadian scientific research. And well he should. The NRC was founded to provide scientific, practical, and developmental support to Canadian companies wishing to compete in a global economy. Barton began using the NRC’s facilities and its scientific minds in 1974, just two short years after he launched a modest little speaker company called PSB. Within a year, PSB released the Avante, the first speaker the company designed with the NRC’s help. Since then, Barton has continued to design well-received and well-reviewed speakers, each delivered with assistance from the NRC’s facilities.

During an interview as part of this review of the G-Design speaker array, Barton waxed poetic (really!) about the NRC’s benefits to product development across Canada for assorted businesses, including his business, speakers. You get the feeling that here sits an engineer and violinist who loves the process of creation, one who cannot contain the excitement he experiences running computer optimizations/simulations on his next vision in the NRC’s world-class anechoic chamber. For example, Barton will typically change out a small part in a speaker under development and conduct a test, analyze the numbers carefully, adjust some more, then run another simulation, and so on and so on. “Seventy-eight,” he offers. “I’ve conducted 78 optimizations thus far, developing our new high-end line, whose working title is Synchrony. We worked just as thoroughly with optimization with the G-Design Series.”

Golly G

The G-Design constitutes a bass-reflex, front ported design with cabinets dressed in a stunning high-gloss black finish. (The center channel has a port flanking each woofer.) In addition, the tweeters across the entire G-Design family are 1-inch aluminum Ferrofluid-cooled domes, the center channel uses a pair of 5.25-inch woven fiberglass cones that flank the tweeter, and the front and surround speakers rely on identical 6.5-inch Seas sourced (and adapted) woofers, utilizing cast-baskets and rubber surrounds. “The drivers,” offers Barton, “are direct trickle-down descendants from our high-end Platinum series. Only the colors are different between the two lines.” This design showcased what could emanate from the mind of a genius, as he has been called, when parts cost is not a primary part of the equation.

Barton further points out that the G-Design series also relied on science to determine the internal bracing points. Thanks to the use of the NRC’s laser vibrometer, PSB located the precise bracing points to minimize vibrations in each of the array’s cabinets, a sophisticated design, indeed. Add to that PSB’s use of “blind listening” panels to refine the speakers even more, and you’ll understand why the company has won so many awards.

To create a 5.1-channel system for this review, I used PSB’s SubSeries 6i subwoofer with the GT1 towers, GC1 center, and GB1 surrounds. Moving away from current trends to build ever-smaller subwoofers, the 6i design sports a 12-inch polypropylene driver in a dual-ported reflex design. Using a 225-watt Class H, discrete MOSFET amplifier, the sub, according to the manufacturer, hits dynamic peaks of up to 700 watts. The sub has line-and speaker-level inputs, as well as a crossover bypass. Although it’s not an official part of the G-Design Series family, the SubSeries 6i proves itself to be a good match for this system.

Music to the Ears

Even though Diana Krall’s Love Scenes has become shopworn to some golden-eared audiophiles (most likely because she chose to pursue crossover success rather than remain a “secret”), the compact disc continues to be a marvelous listen. It’s also a reliable test for tonal reality, despite the fact that it has been processed. Listening through this system as a two-channel setup, the first thing I noted was the accurate sense of instrumental placement across the front of the room. Each performer occupied a real sense of space, surrounded by his or her own acoustic envelope. Although they were separate and distinct from one another, the pockets overlapped in Venn-like circles, creating a musical whole. It was just as easy to listen to the line of each instrument separately as it was to listen to the entire ensemble as a whole. While most systems can readily highlight the bass opening to “Peel Me a Grape,” far fewer of them can continue to expose the bass clearly once the rest of Krall’s group kicks in. But this setup stepped up to the task readily.

On a song like “I Miss you So,” where the S’s in the title become an ironic hint of the potential sibilance living within the lyric’s lines, even pricier systems have been unable to control the S’ing sound. Here, with the PSBs, the sibilance seemed quite tolerable, which isn’t bad at all for a system in this price range.

Because Paul Barton has been a lifelong violinist, I tried out the Fry Street Quartet’s Joseph Haydn, a special SACD because it utilized an experimental acoustic baffle system during recording. Called the IsoMike, this baffle system – created by Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable – renders this quartet into an eerie facsimile of the real thing. You don’t often hear music rendered so realistically, with that “you are there” quality, unless you play this compact disc through a much more expensive system. But here it is, and the piloerection (my mother would call them “goose bumps”) running up my arm attested to this Spotlight System’s abilities to render music.

Whether it was the lazy Andante of the String Quartet in F major, Opus 77, No. 2, or the Menuetto of the String Quartet I D minor, Opus 9, No. 4, with its dainty dance of small steps, the string tone was ethereal and flawlessly arrayed. Each instrument had requisite body and fullness or resinous bite as necessary, and ambience seemed subjectively to be just right, sounding nothing less than an appropriately located back-of-the-hall bounce. I recall sinking into the listening seat, and only now, as I write this, I realize that my ear-brain interface had been working naturally, as it does at a live performance. My notes indicate, “Amazing, delicious, a four-channel recording no less.”

And now the movies

One of the first films I turn to when I assess a product is Underworld, a modern classic about a centuries-old war between vampires and werewolves. In order to establish a sense of dramatic, other worldly unease, the sound designers allowed themselves to break the usual conventions. Each clap of thunder is rendered large and powerful from its own initial location, but just before each clap decays, it first swells, filling the listening space, and then surrounds the listener with its ebb. (The initial attack fro the SubSeries 6i subwoofer is indeed powerful.) Ditto on the powerful peals froma church bell. Both effects set a strong mod. However, when it comes to the standard precision of weapons fire found in other films, here the sound is more vague, distant, and at times diffuse – actually seeming, well, otherworldly. What added to this effect, nevertheless, was the PSB speakers’ ability to localize sound not only across the stage but at different heights, and with timbre that matched across the soundscape, within the listening environment. At times, the effect could be quite startling. Barton attributes this to localization, an ability not found in many other speaker arrays I’ve heard at this price, as well as to the amount of time he and his team spend optimizing phase and time coherence during the development process. Barton believes that a good part of this success has to do with how well a designer can match the crossover design with the drivers and their positions within their cabinets; how they handle diffraction artifacts an the like; and their ability to maintain consistency during the production process. All of this may explain why he spends so much time “rehearsing” the evolution of each speaker model in the anechoic chamber at the NRC.

The Day After tomorrow is a true test for a systems’ ability to resolve everything from subtle nuance to great dynamic shifts. In one of the hair-raising sequences early in the film, the viewer experiences the cracking of an ice shelf. With the PSB system, the phenomenon becomes a true surround experience; you can hear ice splintering, even beyond the edges of the soundfield, truly engulfing the viewer. In another scene depicting a UN assembly about global warming, you can clearly hear the click of camera shutters firing variously from around the room, as you’d experience in real life. In yet another scene that depicts a fury of sound in the streets of Calcutta, the dialogue is clear, intelligible, and authentic in timbre through the center channel, despite the bedlam and crowd sounds that surround the listener. This sense of engulfment occurs throughout the film, immersing the viewer into a frightening experience of the potential impact of climate change and global warming.

But here it is, and the piloerection (my mother would call them “goose bumps”) running up my arm attested to this Spotlight System’s abilities to render music.

A certain irony attends the completion of the preceding sentence. You see, PSB’s G-Design system was built in compliance with European Union guidelines referred to as the RoHs Directive, effective as of July 1, 2006. This Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive, through not law, restricts the use of six materials in electronic equipment. Among the four banned heavy metals is lead-based solder, which is absent in the PSB G-Design system, making this arguably Canada’s first green speaker array.

Caveats and Split Hairs

... As a lark, I connected the G-Design system to a pricier Parasound Halo processor and amplifier. At this point, the sounds that the PSB system products seemed a bit more fleshed out and refined. Of course, the PSB and Halo setup is a much more expensive ... The point is this: The PSB [G•Design system] is a great setup when you take price into consideration...., you’ll be able to live easily with the PSB system.

Jerry Kindela
Home Theater

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