SV Reviews Image Speaker System

December 11, 2009

Image T6 Tower Speakers

Speaker designer Paul Barton and the folks at PSB have been on quite a roll over the last couple of years. First up was the flagship Synchrony home theatre speaker system, which won our 2007 Audio Product of the Year award. (I even bought a Synchrony system to use as my own personal reference!) Next came the affordable, S+V Certified & Recommended Imagine Series. Now we have its new, even lowerpriced Image Series. The question is, can PSB make lightning strike a third time?

Like its bigger brothers, the new Image Series (which replaces PSB's old Image Series) consists of a broad range of models that you can mix and match as needed. For this review, I went with the top models in each category, including the T6 floor-standing tower speaker, the C5 center channel, and S5 surround sound speaker. Rounding out the rest of the range are three bookshelf speakers, a smaller center, and a smaller floorstanding model. While PSB doesn't make subwoofers specifically matched to a particular speaker series, it does offer plenty of them, including the SubSeries 5i subwoofer model with which I paired the system.

Displaying a clear family resemblance to its more costly siblings, the new Image speakers have a similarly curvaceous profile, with attractive rounded front baffles. Scratch a little deeper, however, and some of the cost-saving measures become clear. The speakers are available in both a black ash finish and the attractive dark cherry of my review samples, but these are actually high-quality vinyl wraps rather than something that started life as part of a tree. And the S5 surround speaker, which lacks the dual-channel and dipole connection options featured on both the Synchrony and Imagine surrounds, can only be used as a single-channel bipole.

"...this Image system delivers big, bold performance that you don't often see at this price level. Lightning strikes again!"

All Image models have the same titanium-dome tweeter and similar composite cone woofers and midrange drivers. This helps to ensure a good acoustic match among the various speakers - an important factor for achieving cohesive surround performance. The T6 towers come with optional plugs for the bass ports to tune bass output in problem rooms. Carpetgrabbing floor spikes as well as wood-floor-friendly rubber feet are also provided.

SETUP

Positioning the remaining speakers was somewhat more straightforward. I pressed the custom stand that I built for my Synchrony One C center channel into service for the C5, adjusting the height so that its tweeter lined up with those in the T6 towers. The S5s went in my room's usual surroundspeaker spots: up on high stands and against the walls directly to the left and right of the listening chair.

Since the T6 is capable of delivering deep bass, I set the front speakers to "large" in my Integra receiver's bassmanagement menu, allowing them to operate full-range. For the center and surround speakers, I found that an 80-Hz crossover resulted in the most seamless blend with the SubSeries 5i.

PERFORMANCE

I started off my PSB Image evaluation with two-channel music, firing up the SACD player to spin Diana Krall's The Look of Love. On "I Remember You," her voice was expressive and well focused, but there was a breathy quality that occasionally left sibilant sounds like "f" and "s" sounding just a little detached from the rest of her voice. Christian McBride's acoustic bass was tight and tuneful and had plenty of weight, while the string orchestra was presented in a large arc behind and around the musicians.

Image T6 Tower Speakers

Switching over to Art Pepper's New York Album, I cued up "A Night in Tunisia." This is a fabulous recording on the Contemporary label, and Pepper's alto sax came across with a fantastic sense of vividness and bite. The dynamic thwack of Al Foster's drums was equally impressive, as was the harmonic richness of Hank Jones's piano chords. Legendary bassist Ron Carter is famous for his big sound, but that can spell trouble for some speakers. The Image T6 managed to bring out plenty of the richness and subtlety in his tone, even if the very bottom of the scale lacked some of the weight you can hear on a system with more extended bass. As I had noticed with the Krall disc, high-frequency elements like cymbal crashes, while opensounding, ultimately couldn't quite match the smoothness and transparency I hear with my much more costly Synchrony towers.

Moving next into home theater mode, I watched The Spiderwick Chronicles on Blu-ray Disc. Near the end of the movie, there's a scene where Simon (Freddie Highmore) is caught in a car as a group of ogres charges a house. Even played at high volume, the speakers weathered the aural assault of the car hitting the house without distress.

When watching Eragon (a lame movie with a great DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on Blu-ray Disc), the scene where Eragon (Ed Speleers) flies off on a dragon demonstrated the Image system's ability to create a seamless and immersive sound field. Speaker-to-speaker pans in the soundtrack were handled beautifully, with a cohesiveness that let me forget the hardware and just watch the movie.

Vantage Point is another ear-opening movie on Blu-ray Disc - one that can test both an amplifier's headroom and a speaker's power-handling capability. When the assassination attempt on President Ashton (William Hurt) first happens, the dynamic crack of gunfire as conveyed by the Image speakers caused me to blink. And when all hell then breaks loose as the building is blown up, dialogue from the C5 center remained clear and articulate as it punched through the mayhem coming from the system's other speakers.

BOTTOM LINE

PSB's new Image Series represents the blueplate special of the company's speaker lines, serving up a generous helping of the flagship Synchrony system's flavor at less than a quarter of its cost. Sure, there are areas where moving further up the PSB line will result in definite improvements, but when it comes to the basics, this Image system delivers big, bold performance that you don't often see at this price level. Lightning strikes again!

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