Home Theatre - Synchrony Review

December 1, 2007

There are two questions you could, maybe should, be asking right now. The first, “Didn’t ya’ll just review some PSB speakers a few months ago?” And two; “Aren’t you the Video Editor?” Well, yes. That either question should come to mind should say something about these speakers.

While my day job is as plucky Video Editor Geoff Morrison, in my off hours I am a dyed in the wool audiophile, always have been. My office is in our main testing lab, so everything reviewed in the magazine comes through here eventually. And as such, I make it a point to listen to as many of the audio do-dads as I can. If you wouldn’t do the same given the chance, I’m not sure why you’re reading this magazine.

"They look nice, they're built well, and they sound awesome. They're warm but not muddy; they're clear but not brittle or harsh. They're yet another excellent speaker from a company, and designer, that really knows what they're doing"

Therefore, when I heard these Synchrony speakers, in demo set up in a hotel room of all things, I knew I had to review them. In a mediocre environment they sounded incredible. I couldn’t wait to dust off my demo CDs and listen to them in our lab. A small amount of begging to Audio Editor Mark Fleischmann and time somehow found in my schedule, and here we are.

So would they sound as good in a treated, well-designed room as they did in a hotel? How would they measure? Would my “vidiot” brain get confused when the lights went out and there was no glowing rectangle at the front of the room? I was happy to find out.

Background, Briefly

I won’t succumb to that tired intro tactic of explaining where the designer and company came from. I’m sure if you read some other PSB review on our website, you can find all that. Suffice it to say Paul Barton has been doing this a long time, and PSB has a long history of making great speakers. Like any financial adviser will tell you, however, past performance isn’t indicative of future results. This is especially true as more and more speakers are being built in China. This isn’t to say that China can’t make some well put together products (these speakers for example), it is just if a company doesn’t pay attention, results may vary. The fit, finish, and overall build quality of these speakers belie their place of origin, due in no small part to careful oversight by PSB engineers.

Parts

What we have here is the top-of-the-line Synchrony One tower, the Synchrony One C center channel, a pair of Synchrony S surrounds, and a SubSeries HD10 subwoofer that isn’t directly part of the Synchrony line, but compliments them nicely. The Synchrony One sports a 1-inch titanium dome, a 4-inch “fine weave fiberglass and natural fiber cone” mid-range, and three 6.5-inch woofers of the same material. The center shares the same drivers, but does away with one of the woofers. To combat the typically poor off-axis response of horizontal center channels, the tweeter is mounted above the midrange. The surrounds double the tweeters, ditch the mid, and have two of the woofers.

PSB Synchrony speakers
PSB Synchrony Full line

When approaching the crossover design, Paul Barton had a completely logical and surprisingly rare approach. Knowing that the drivers near the bottom of the speaker are going to have to deal with sound bouncing from the floor differently than those higher up, each of the three woofer crossovers to the midrange frequency and resides in a subenclosure tuned slightly differently from the others

A little Johann

For this review I used a Parasound C2 pre-pro hooked to a Sunfire Cinema Seven amp. For sources I used a Toshiba HD-XA2 for HD DVD and a Pioneer BDP-94HD for Blu-ray. For SACD, DVD-Audio, and CD, I used our aging Onkyo DV-SP800. Cables were either Monster or Kimber depending on what leg of the audio journey the signal was on. I also switched in a Parasound 5250 amp for variety.

One of my favorite discs of all-time is an SACD of the English Chamber Orchestra performing Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos on the Vanguard Classics label. I’ve listened to this disc on countless systems since its release. From the richness, subtleties, and clarity in the recording, you’d never know it was a 32-years-old. The mix is a little different from what you’d expect from a classical recording. You are placed, more or less, where the conductor is. This requires all the speakers in the system to perform at a certain level. The Synchrony systems cohesiveness immediately impressed me. The weak links in most systems, the center and surrounds, were holding their own. Not only holding their own, but closely matching in timbre as well. Normally you need five identical speakers to have this level of timbre matching. The cellos and double bass had a rich warmness that towers can have, but often don’t achieve. My personal taste tends to run towards a warm speaker, and these were able to be warm without being muddy. The midrange was strong, bringing out all the violins and violas had to offer. Multi-pole surrounds can lack low end, but the Synchrony Ss handled lower mid-bass surprisingly well.

One of the greatest lines I’ve ever read in a review proclaimed that Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet was “really very good in spite of the people who like it.” So true, the songs are catchy, and deceptively complex. This too is available on SACD. The added resolution is welcome, and the surround mix is pretty traditional. What impressed me the most with this album on the Synchrony system was the clarity of the cymbals. Metallic sounds can be tricky to reproduce. The Synchrony systems was able to make the metallic sounds of Morello’s cymbals sound authentic, without being biting or harsh.

"...for this level of performance, aesthetics, and build quality, I haven’t seen, or heard, many systems that could best this one for less money."

For two-channel I put in Rachael Yamagata’s 2004 release Happenstance. Her raspy voice appeared solidly between the two Synchrony Ones, which reproduced the extra bass levels inherent in this recording without sounding thick. And while I would never recommend an HT system without a sub, the Ones were able to play quite deep on their own. One thing I noticed here, and with Death Cab for Cutie’s 2003 release Transatlanticism on SACD, and a few other 2-channel selections, was the one shortcoming I could find in the Synchrony Ones. While the center image is strong, the soundstage does not have much width or depth past the speakers themselves. In reality, this is probably due more to the speakers' accuracy in relaying what's really in the contentment then any shortcoming in the speakers themselves.

Dodge This

It is home theater after all, so in went some movies. The TrueHD soundtrack on the HD DVD of The Matrix is worth the price of the disc and player. Chapter 29, where Neo and Trinity assault the government building is an aural feast. On most systems the gunshots, breaking tile, and pounding score can overwhelm the little sounds, like the occasional voice or boot squeak. All of that was audible on the PSBs. Nothing was buried or muddled, even in the center channel, which on many systems will wimper and compress when this selection is played at high volumes. Male voices never sounded chesty or boomy. The diminutive HD10 was a surprising powerhouse. It plays loud, and quite deep for such a small size. The Synchrony S surrounds also did an excellent job at spreading out the sound across the side walls. They were able to walk the line of not being too directional, but not being so diffuse as to lack any directionality.

I put the soundfield uniformity to the test again with the uncompressed PCM track on House of Flying Daggers. The video on this transfer may be terrible on this Blu-ray, but the audio is excellent. The scene starting at Chapter 3 is essentially a room full of drums that are hit on and off screen. The soundtrack calls on each speaker to reproduce a wide range of frequencies, from deep drum hits, to high metallic rattling. No matter what the soundtrack put where, the entire Synchrony system was up to the task, and reproduced it beautifully. Across the front and from front to back, the system seemed to have the same timbre all around.

Three to get ready

At a system price of an even $10,000, this Synchrony One system is by no means cheap. The real questions are, for this price can you get more, or are there other systems for less that perform as well? Having heard many of the speakers that have come through here in the past few years, I can say that the stale line about being able to pay more to get less is absolutely true here. I’ve heard many systems that cost more than this one that don’t sound nearly as good. As for paying less, well, you can always pay less. But for this level of performance, aesthetics, and build quality, I haven’t seen, or heard, many systems that could best this one for less money. Now if I could just figure out how to make them de-interlace 1080i…

Geoffrey Morrison
Home Theater

Related News and Reviews

Synchrony One

Synchrony One C

Synchrony S Surround

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