Imagine Home theater - LA AudioFile

December 2, 2009

PSB is widely regarded as a leader in high-performance loudspeaker design. The 35-year old Canadian company has an impressive track record and has recently introduced the new Imagine series with the intent of making a "higher-end" speaker line for the masses. The Imagine series took much of what was learned during the 3-year development of the Synchrony line of speakers. The concept of affordable "high-end" speakers has become a reality with four new models being launched. Among them are the Imagine T full-range tower, Imagine C center channel, Imagine B bookshelf, and the Imagine S surround speaker. All four of the Imagine models share a common set of drivers featuring a very high-output 5.25-inch woofer, and a highly accurate, titanium-dome 1-inch tweeter. The cabinets have baffles that are 1.5-inches thick with sides, tops and bottoms constructed with 7 layers of 3mm MDF laminated together along with strategically placed internal bracing for structural rigidity. The speaker enclosure construction was developed primarily for its acoustical properties, yet the sculpted design has a beautiful satin finish that is available in black-ash or dark-cherry furniture-grade veneer.

The Imagine speakers all use heavy, all-metal multiway binding posts that accept bare wire (up to 10-gauge), lugs, banana plugs, open and closed spades, and enable bi-wiring or bi-amplification. The 5.25-inch woofers incorporate injection-molded diaphragms of a proprietary, ceramic-filled polypropylene that delivers a unique combination of stiffness, inherent internal damping, and amazingly low mass, resulting in a transparent midrange with tight bass. A highly efficient motor structure with a unique compound magnet delivers higher sensitivity at declining frequencies, effectively extending response with no penalty to the size or system efficiency. The bullet-shaped aluminum phase-plug enhances linearity at higher frequencies and measurably lowers distortion. The Imagine tweeter, also common to all models, uses a highly linear and efficient neodymium-magnet design that helps to extend output at both frequency extremes resulting in a transparent, uncolored response through the critical crossover region coupled with high power handling.

Paul Barton

PSB's founder and chief designer Paul Barton is well known in the industry for his innovative designs and has been with PSB for over 30 years. His ability to create a high value loudspeaker is evident with the paul bartonImagine line where sonics, build quality and beauty have morphed into a single system that works well with both music and movies. Mr. Barton pays close attention to detail and like every great speaker designer places critical importance on all aspects of the final product including the drivers, the crossover design, and the cabinet structure. Similar to virtually all PSB speaker designs, the Imagine crossover networks employ fourth-order acoustic Linkwitz-Reilly design topologies. Mr. Barton finds this design topology maximizes performance with minimal impact on the frequency-response and phase-response.

It should be noted that PSB takes great care in the way they package these speakers and places each unit in a cloth wrapper before covering them in plastic bags and deep foam. This packaging technique protects the beautiful finish so that each speaker has a much better chance of arriving safely and unblemished. Our review system came directly from Canada and all of them were perfect out of the boxes.

We had the opportunity to review a pair of Imagine T Towers, an Imagine C Center channel and a pair of Imagine S Surrounds speakers. Our goal was to put the system through the paces with high resolution multi-channel music along with aggressive movie soundtracks.

Imagine T Tower

The Imagine T Tower is a three-driver, two-and-a-half-way dual-port bass reflex design. The port design is so smooth that there was absolutely no port noise even at higher volumes. The full-range floor-standing speaker comes with a port plug that allows the user to cover one of the two ports enabling a modest degree of system tuning to accommodate individual room acoustics, speaker setup or listener preference. We found the presence of this plug to be beneficial when playing music with improved transient response and a more detailed soundstage. The speakers are designed with separate circuitry for the high and low frequencies making it ideal for bi-amp and bi-wiring applications. A set of parallel conductors are included for those with a single connection from their amplifier.

Whether music or home theater is your priority, PSB's Imagine system delivers well in both categories.

The Imagine T Tower speakers weigh just over 40 pounds each and have a beautiful finish typically only found on some of the best loudspeakers. The smooth and rounded edges make them aesthetically pleasing especially when compared to the more common rectangular looking speakers. The speakers stand almost 38-inches tall and include a set of rubber feet and spiked feet. The floor surface area occupied by these speakers is relatively small for the amount of sound they produce. Priced at $2000/pair these speakers are an amazing deal.

Imagine T Impedance

The Imagine T Tower speakers have two sets of speaker inputs that are normally connected in parallel. However, as mentioned earlier they are designed to be separate in the event the user wants to bi-wire or bi-amp the speaker for improved performance. We took impedance measurements with both separately and combined to show the line effects of the crossover network used in the T Tower. These speakers are rated with a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. However, our measurements indicate a slightly higher ratings closer to 6 ohms. Our lowest measurement of 4.8 ohms was around 200 Hz. We measured a peak of 53.3 ohms at 63 Hz. Any capable receiver should have no problem driving these speakers.

Imagine C Center

The Imagine C Center is a three-driver, two-way single-port bass reflex design. A port plug is provided for those who want to tune the speaker from a bass reflex to an acoustic suspension enclosure. PSB Imagine T - Tower loudspeakers - PSB Speakersincludes a small rubberized wedge that can be placed below the front of the speaker to adjust the angle of the baffle towards the listener. This improves intelligibility and minimizes high frequency off-axis roll-off. The Imagine C Center weighs about 27 pounds and has the same beautiful finish found on the other speakers in the Imagine line. The C Center uses the same drivers and exhibits the same sonic character as the T Towers making it ideal for a multi-channel audio and home theater system. The C Center is listed for $800.

Imagine C Impedance

Like the T Tower, the C Center is designed with separate circuitry for the high and low frequency drivers allowing for bi-wiring and bi-amping. The binding posts adapters can be used to connect the inputs in parallel. The C Center is also rated with a nominal impedance rating of 4 ohms. However, our measurements also placed this speaker closer to 6 ohms. Our lowest measurement of 5.1 ohms was around 200 Hz. We measured a peak of 34.3 ohms at 80 Hz. Again, most receivers should have no problem driving these speakers.

Imagine S Surround

The Imagine S is a dual-two-way, selectable dipole/bipole/dual channel monopole surround loudspeaker which may be connected as two discrete (side/rear) two-way pairs in compatible systems. This makes it ideal for those wanting to have a 7.1 speaker system with limited space. The speaker has separate connections for each set of drivers allowing it to be wired as either a dipole or bipole speaker. The top pair of connection terminals drives the left side while the bottom pair drives the right side. The tweeters are located on the lower portion of the baffle closer to the listener for improved high frequency response. The sealed enclosure has a flat back surface making it easy to mount to a wall. Each speaker weighs about 16 pounds so the speaker must be securely fastened for safety. PSB provides mounting hardware and templates that makes it easier mount and un-mount the speaker. The same beautiful finish is available on the S Surround speakers. The S Surround speakers are available for $1200 per pair.

Imagine S Impedance

The S Surround has a set of terminal for each pair of woofer/tweeter drivers making it two independent speakers in a single enclosure. If wired in parallel, the speakers have a nominal impedance rating of 4 ohms. Otherwise, each set of input terminals are rated at 8 ohms. Even with these speakers wired in parallel, the lowest impedance measured was 4.5 ohms at 200 Hz. The peak impedance of 35.0 ohms was at 100 Hz. Overall, the average impedance was over 6 ohms, so any good receiver should work well. The Imagine S Surrounds offers excellent flexibility for many surround applications including both 5.1 and 7.1 setups.

SubSeries 6i Subwoofer

To complement the Imagine system, PSB included their SubSeries 6i Subwoofer. This dual ported bass reflex design provided us with the deep bass needed for a full impact home theater system. The 12-inch subwoofer is powered by a 225-Watt (continuous) BASH Class-H discrete MOSFET amplifier and is capable of producing a frequency response from 29 to 150 Hz using a 24dB/octave Linkwitz-Reilly low pass filter. Front controls set the level and crossover frequency. The driver has a rubber surround with a 2-inch voice coil and a 53 ounce magnet and is capable of producing substantial bass output. The 6i Subwoofer SubSeries 6i accepts both speaker level and line level inputs for maximum flexibility. We used the line level inputs from our Denon A/V receiver. This modest subwoofer is capable of producing a sound pressure level (SPL) of 111 dB at 100 Hz. The low frequency cutoff at -10dB is at 27 Hz.

The SubSeries 6i subwoofer weighs 47 pounds and measures 16 3/8 (W) x 20 3/4 (D) x 21 1/4" (H). The feet have adjustable spikes in addition to the rubber levelers, which helps compensate for uneven floors. The SubSeries 6i subwoofer has a modest looking Black Ash Vinyl finish.

Performance

Sonically, the Imagine system delivers exceptional performance with both music and movie soundtracks. The smaller 5.25-inch drivers are agile and reproduce the delicate textures from high resolution audio sources such as SACD and DVD-Audio. Sheila Nicholls' Wake album demonstrates the speaker's resolution and clarity in her song Faith. This DVD-Audio disc offers both lossless MLP and 6.1 DTS-ES versions. The Imagine drivers are also capable of producing high output levels, far above what my ears are used to. Yet, these speakers can play loudly without causing the common fatigue sometimes experienced with some lesser systems. Dialogue was crystal clear and intelligible with impressive dynamics, all while being able to provide the impact and punch from a modern action movie scene. Interestingly enough, placing the port plugs into the T and C series speakers resulted in what I heard as a more defined bass-midrange presence. In contrast, I preferred leaving the ports open where louder and punchier soundtracks were more appealing when watching movies. Critical listeners can have a speaker system that will please their senses, but not break their pocket book.

Conclusion

The Imagine Speaker system raises the bar with high performance, beautiful aesthetics and unsurpassed value. The build quality and finish of these speakers will enhance the look of any room and with the high SAF (Spouse Acceptance Factor) it will be an easier sell to your significant other. The architecture is a nice change to the boring boxes encountered with the vast majority of loudspeaker designs we have seen. Whether music or home theater is your priority, PSB's Imagine system delivers well in both categories. We never got tired of listening to this system and it was a sad day when it was time to pack it all up and ship it back home.

Kevin Nakano
LA Audio File

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