Home Theater - VS300 System
September 1, 2006
Neil Young was on NPR chatting about his new movie, Heart of Gold, when he uttered a line that stuck with me: “The art of singing is making a sound that comes from your heart”. Thanks Neil, I ‘m co-opting the idea to describe what distinguishes great home theater systems – their sound touches your heart. Yeah, that’s it. While components are getting better all the time, many lack that special something. There’s nothing obviously out of whack, its just that their sound doesn’t connect on an emotional level. Sometimes the individual components are all top notch, if they’re not well matched to each other, the sound suffers. When everything clicks, you know it.
That was certainly the case when I hooked up with Marantz’s SR8500 A/V receiver with a set of PSB’s VisionSound VS300 speakers and SubSeries 5i subwoofer. They’re all charmers.
I knew something was very right with the Marantz/PSB marriage because I played a steady stream of discs without ever thinking about their sound quality. Take Elvis Costello’s Live in Memphis concert DVD. I’m a huge fan, but, on most of the systems I review, this DVD’s harsh sound and scarey mix distracts me to the point where I can’t enjoy the music. The Marantz/PSB ensemble didn’t hide the sonic snafu; it instead somehow revealed more of the great music from this 2004 concert. When I looked over the VS300 speakers’ specifications, I saw that their sensitivity rating is somewhat less than what many others claim (86 decibels at 2.83 volts at 1 meter). Elvis was on fire that night, and I just had to take him in at maximum volume. More feebly powered receivers might have run out of juice, but, with the SR8500’s lusty 125 watts per channel on tap, power was never an issue.
Of course, the best recordings, like Bowie’s David Live DVD-Audio came awfully close to providing a virtual-reality experience. I could clearly hear Bowie and the band on stage, and the ambience of the concert hall filled my home theater. The PSB/Marantz systems laid-back demeanor didn’t short change the disc’s umber resolution one bit. I was there.
Form Following Function
Flat screen TVs created a market hungry for skinny wall mountable speakers, and an industry wide feeding frenzy of manufacturers rushed to meet that demand. The catch is, on-wall speakers face a daunting acoustic challenge, so the designer who merely crams even good-quality woofers and tweeters into a trendily thin cabinet probably won’t produce a satisfying-sounding on-wall speaker. I must be extra sensitive to this dilemma, because I find most on-walls to be woefully anemic.
That’s why I was relieved to find that PSB’s engineers had successfully wrestled with the design constraints and developed a selectable wall-boundary compensating EQ circuit for the VS300. The task was trickier still because the VisionSound speakers also had to sound great mounted vertically or horizontally with the speaker’s integrated bracket. Yes, I bet the engineers were tempted to develop digital-signal processing techniques to compensate for the varying acoustic requirements of on and off the wall mounting, but that would have dramatically boosted the speaker’s retail price. PSB instead devised a purely passive system that staggers the response of the VS300’s two 4.5 inch poly-propylene woofers; one crosses over to the tweeter at a higher frequency than the other. This approach is often called a two and a half way speaker.
PSB uses the VS300’s 1 inch aluminum dome tweeter on a number of their speakers, but, for the Vision Sound speakers, they’ve fitted it to a contoured waveguide.
The rakishly angled, three-sided speaker cabinets are fabricated from aluminum extrusions. Magnets hold their form-fitting grilles in place. The speakers are available in titanium or black finishes. An optional stand transforms the VS300 into a tabletop miniature tower.
For this review, I listed to the VS300s on stands placed up against a wall and out into the room. (I switched off the boundary EQ when I listened with the speakers away from the walls). The tonal balance remained fairly constant but on-wall placement flattened the speakers soundstage depth compared with the away from the wall sound. You can toe-in the VS300s toward the listening position or aim them straight ahead. I tried it both ways and much preferred the toed-in sound. Its easy enough to experiment, so try it both ways and hear for yourself.
Rather than offer dedicated front, center, and surround VisionSound models, the engineers went with a single decision that you can use throughout your home theater. That’s a smart approach; I find that using the same speaker up front and as surrounds always produce the most coherent soundstage. The other VisionSound Series speaker, the VS400 tower ($999 each), wasn’t yet available when I was writing this review, but it should be out by the time you read this. With its four 4.5-inch woofers flanking a 1-inch tweeter, I”d think of it as a VS300 on steroids.
Overall Rating 93. "Lets face it. A lot of on wall speakers sound flat, washed out and thin, so the PSB Vision Sound VS300's balance was a very pleasant surprise."
PSB doesn’t offer a VisionSound Series subwoofer, so they recommend their SubSeries 5i for use with these speakers. The venerable sub has been part of PSB’s line for years, but the 10-inch, 150-watt bad boy is still a terrific design. It goes nice and low, without forfeiting definition. It’s definitely a synergistic match with the VS300s – that’s for sure.
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