Synchrony Speaker Review WSR

October 6, 2008

Introduction

There are people in the A/V industry who are genuinely good and decent people. Paul Barton, head of PSB Loudspeakers, is one of these people. The fact that he is also one of the top loudspeaker designers in the industry doesn’t hurt his company’s business either. I talk to Paul at every trade show I attend and it’s always an entertaining conversation that covers topics from the CE business to what’s new at PSB. But that’s never the end of the conversation. Paul is also a bit of a computer junkie, so we inevitably end up talking about something that I’m a little more knowledgeable about than he is. We both have been “playing” with computers long enough to have a storied history and can marvel at the progress that’s been made in the computer world all these years. Paul’s computer interests aren’t just a passing fancy for him, though, and we’ll get to that in due time.

Before I go further, I have to give an apology here – I’ve taken far too long to get this review done. I received the samples in late 2007 and the only excuse I can give is that I changed jobs, which means I have far less free time than I used to have to dedicate to this work. One positive side benefit is that I’ve managed to become intimately familiar with the system’s sonic characteristics.

Design Characteristics

All of the Synchrony loudspeakers share an interesting cabinet construction technique. Each contains a double-walled, flat, black-brushed aluminum front baffle, which hides any driver-mounting hardware from sight. The back portion of the loudspeakers is a similar aluminum panel. The panel has openings (as appropriate) for ports and binding posts. Going from memory, when the prototype synchrony loudspeakers were demonstrated and discussed, the cabinet is friction fit with each piece of the cabinet fitting together without fasteners.

The Synchrony One (aka One) tower loudspeaker is especially well done in both design and execution. The One is a five driver, three(ish)-way Synchrony One loudspeaker home theater systemloudspeaker with some novel configuration elements. The driver layout (from top to bottom) is woofer, midrange, tweeter, woofer, woofer. The 6.5-inch woofers and 4-inch midrange drivers use proprietary laminated cones of fine-weave fiberglass and compressed felted fibers. There is a 1-inch titanium dome tweeter and all of the drivers use a neodymium magnet to maximize control of the driver, regardless of excursion. The cabinet is a three-ported solution, with the woofers and the midrange each having a dedicated enclosure. The rated low-frequency response of the One is 30 Hz at -3dB. I ran the Ones with a 50 Hz crossover for the smoothest in-room frequency response. The One’s crossover has had the benefit of extensive computer modeling, which allows PSB to fine tune the frequency response characteristics very closely.

Clearly Paul (and PSB) love to take advantage of the very fast PCs that are readily available and modestly priced these days. The woofers have benefited the most from the modeling, and the lower woofer driver is intentionally notch filtered with a substantial drop in the 150 to 300 Hz range to keep driver and floor reflections to a minimum. The net gain is a smoother frequency response in the lower-midrange region. The woofer/midrange crossover is at 500 Hz, and provides any useful notes on that segment. I also noticed that the dialogue clarity from the One C was always excellent.

It’s hard to believe that The Matrix is coming up on 10 years old, but this movie still serves as a reference for many, including me, for audio and video quality. It starts with the opening scene, when Trinity encounters the police (and Agents, after dispatching the police) with complete sonic envelopment. All throughout this, gunshots ring around the soundfield, while a piano part in the soundtrack frantically tries to keep pace with the front soundstage’s dancing. Sadly, there are a few spots where ADR punch-ins are evident. That’s the downside of an outstanding loudspeaker system – you hear the flaws and gaffes as well. Later, as Morpheus speakers with Neo on the true nature of The Matrix, you hear all of the nuances in Fishburn’s voice – resonant and non-resonant – as the camera angles change on him from medium shots to close-in shots. At one point, Morpheus says “No Neo” with a clearly distinct space, which I think is an ADR punch-in.

"It’s hard to point at a pair of loudspeakers and say, "they’re a bargain" at the retail price, but these are superb performers"

Moving through the movie with my “chapter ahead,” there is a segment where the Nebuchadnezzar is traveling through the various tunnels trying to find a spot to hide from sentinels. Here, the ship sounds are everywhere, with a great rumble from time to time from the subwoofers. It’s hard to say how “real” this is, but it definitely seems appropriate to the scenery and action. Sometimes, it’s the space that matters, and as the Nebuchadnezzar powers down, you get an eerie quiet on you. Finally, there’s the clichéd sonic and visual masterpiece of the “Lobby Shootout Scene.” Suffice to say that this was a deliciously chaotic ballet of sonic landscape. Early on, Neo tosses two handguns to the floor – these are heard clearly and in sharp relief over the intense, pounding bass line of the soundtrack, crumbling building structure, and massive gunfire bursts. The HD10s give good visceral impact in this section. This happens once more at the end, where you hear an M16 hit the floor multiple times, stock and barrel.

Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds’ Live At Radio City Music Hall disc has incredible sonics and it’s the first Blu-ray concert disc I’ve used for reference material. The soundtrack is presented as a Dolby® TrueHD™ 24-bit/96 kHz surround encoding. This is outstanding integration of the soundstage. On “Crash”, both of the guitars are excellently presented with Reynolds’ guitar (left channel) sounding fuller bodied. When Reynolds switches over to play his guitar with the slide, the difference jumps out to announce its use. It seems as though his guitar takes on a Theremin-like tonal quality as he plays at the top of his instrument with the slide. At the opening of “Gravedigger,” Reynolds is using some type of distortion box to give his instrument a similar signature to an electric violin. As Matthews sings, the somewhat dark nature of his lower register shows. The left and right channels deliver each unison passage as two unique timbres playing identical voicings. Throughout, Reynolds’ playing intricately weaves around the vocals, never intruding. Additionally, the softness of Matthews’ voice, when he goes into his brief falsetto, is quite obvious. As he reaches the top of his standard register, there is a bit of raspiness and gravel as he belts out the notes.

PSB HD 10 Subwoofer - Compact=I hate to say this, but I’m not getting any younger and neither is one of my favorite groups, The Eagles. Their Farewell I tour is available on HD DVD, and it has very good video quality. I wish the soundtrack were lossless – maybe we’ll get that on a Blu-ray version if one ever gets created. This is another very good recording of Elliot Scheiner. I don’t think the performances were quite as good as they were on Hell Freezes Over but it’s still quite a bit of fun. On “New Kid In Town,” Glenn Frey’s voice is a little heavy, but that’s the unstoppable passage of time. The One C still brings it out in great detail. The alternate lead guitarist (Stuart Smith) plays all of the original lines crisply and cleanly, and the tone of his well-traveled Fender® Stratocaster® is immaculate. Through there are moments of tremolo on both Joe Walsh’s and Smith’s guitar that are sonic ear candy – played quite faithfully by front right and left channels. In addition, on massed vocals, the blend (something the group prides themselves on) is seamless from side to side, as the group works together well. On the more rocking “On Of These Nights,” the One C highlights the “chesty” nature of Don Henley’s vocals. Throughout, the One C produces the bite of Glenn Frey’s lead fills on his Les Paul guitar. Finally, there’s the mandatory closing of “Desperado”. Here, I have to say Henley looks weird and uncomfortable just standing in front of a microphone and singing. The reproduction of the acoustic piano is not as full bodied as I would like and not quite up to the level of my reference left and right loudspeakers. We aren’t talking about a huge difference, and frankly, I think I’m nit-picking here.

Conclusion

Without sounding like I’m being over-the-top complimentary, I have to say that once again PSB has built a set of outstanding loudspeakers at what are relatively (very) bargain price points. It’s hard to point at a pair of loudspeakers and say, “they’re a bargain” at the retail price, but these are superb performers. Compared to what else is out there, and how much you’ll have to spend to get there, you can’t go wrong with the Synchrony system of loudspeakers. Making disparate loudspeakers speak with one voice is a nearly impossible job to do, but PSB has done it. There is minimal variation between the various loudspeakers of the family and some of that is invariably going to be room influenced. The only big thing lacking is a little but of support for the lowest octave. The proof (even in my job) is in the details – and these details are very well done.

John Kotches
Widescreen Review

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