Home Entertainment Synchrony Two B Review

September 19, 2008

There’s a problem with engineers: All they care about is engineering. In many industries, the best-engineered products are often among the least attractive and hardest to use.

Paul Barton, founder and chief engineer of PSB Speakers, could be considered the poster boy for meticulously engineered but visually bland products.

That has changed. Well, the latter part.

Thanks to the thousands of hours of design work and experimentation he has undergone in the anechoic chambers and listening labs at the Canadian National Research Center in Ottawa, his speakers always rank among the very best in their price range. But until just recently, his products have won little praise for their visual aesthetics.

A few years ago, Barton had an epiphany when he purchased his first iPod. Marveling at the music player’s clean lines, he decided to carry those same design concepts into his next line of speakers. The result is Synchrony, the second-costliest marque in PSB’s line.

As with the iPod, there are no visible fasteners. The panels in the Synchrony speakers snap into aluminum extrusions, and screws securing the drivers and the jack panel are covered with rubber grommets. It’s a handsome package that bespeaks both thoughtful design and elegant engineering.

The Synchrony One and Two tower speakers have grabbed most of the attention, but in my opinion, small speakers and a subwoofer deliver better sound.

So I called for a quartet of Synchrony Two B bookshelf speakers, each of which has a 5.25-inch woofer, a 1-inch tweeter, and bass response rated at a usefully low 50 Hz. I also asked for the matching Synchrony Two C center speaker, which has the same tweeter and two of the 5.25-inch woofers.

A SubSeries HD10 compact subwoofer provided the low end; its 10-inch woofer, dual passive radiators, and 750-watt internal amp make it more than a match for the dynamics of the tiny Synchrony Two B.

Setup is simple as long as you have the space to put the speakers on stands a foot or two out into the room. All of the Synchronys are rear-ported, so shoving them up against the wall will screw up the bass response. Barton designed the Synchronys for broad, even dispersion, so aiming and positioning aren’t terribly critical.

First I wanted to see what the Synchrony Two B could do by itself, in stereo, so I ran the front pair full-range and turned off the subwoofer. I had to check a few minutes later to make sure the subwoofer was off, because the Synchrony Two Bs put out more bass than I can ever remember hearing from a speaker that size.

The secret is the 5.25-inch woofer, which is designed for super-long excursion. Just two of the Two Bs filled my large listening room with deep, satisfying, well-defined bass. Don’t expect miracles, though—the very deepest bass notes on a couple of my CDs did overwhelm the little woofers, so if you want to crank up your hip-hop tunes, get a subwoofer.

It sounds to me like Barton focused primarily on perfecting the Two B’s response in the vocal range.

My music test CD is packed with difficult-to-reproduce vocals, such as Donald Fagen’s reedy whine, Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto’s spitty purr, and Hawaiian vocalist Dennis Kamakahi’s throaty, chesty croon. The Two B never choked on any of them—in fact, I ended up listening to all of these test cuts for a lot longer than I usually do because they sounded so much smoother and more natural than I’m used to hearing.

I noticed that the Two B’s treble is a little subdued compared to most of the speakers I’ve tested; those who want dazzling treble probably won’t be seduced by these.

It’s the surround sound that really knocks me out. The excellence in the vocal range carries into the Two C, and it makes movie dialogue sound exceptionally natural and clear.

The speakers conjure up what another speaker manufacturer of my acquaintance calls an “acoustic bubble”—i.e., they seem to create an ambient bubble around me that makes me feel like I’m a part of the action. I attribute this character to excellent manufacturing consistency.

The Two B does cry out for help for a sub, though, when I play DVDs; action-movie soundtracks are too much for it to handle on its own.

Fortunately, the SubSeries HD10 blends beautifully with the Two B if you set your surround-sound processor’s internal crossover to 80 hertz—I doubt Barton designed the two to go together, but it sounds like he did. This sub could go great with larger speakers, too; it can play much louder than the Two B can.

The Synchrony Two Bs remind me of my best old friends. They’re always pleasant to be around, they’re not fussy to deal with, and they’re appropriately attired with no annoying ostentation. I think they’d make a nice addition to just about any listening room.

Brent Butterworth
Home Entertainment Magazine

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