T6 Home Theatre System Review

September 2, 2010

PSB Image T6 Speaker System By Thomas J. Norton • April, 2010
At A Glance: Sweet sounding yet detailed • Wide dynamic range • Big soundstage • Limited subwoofer extension
More for Less

The new Image line of speakers from Canadian manufacturer PSB follows on the heels of two other PSB ranges: Synchrony and Imagine. While they aren’t exactly blue-light specials, the Images provide an intangible quality that today’s speaker buyer demands: value. And with the increasing costs of domestic manufacturing, value most often means overseas production. All of PSB’s new models, including the Imagines, are engineered in Canada but made in China. This is an increasingly common practice in the speaker industry.

"The bottom line to any review is if the reviewer would spend his or her money on the product, and if he could live with it long term. The answer to both questions here is unequivocally yes."

Description

The Image line consists of eight models: two floorstanders, three monitors, two centers, and a dedicated surround. The system reviewed here includes the largest floorstander, the Image T6; the largest monitor, the Image B6; and the largest center, the Image C5. To fill out the package, PSB also sent me the SubSeries 5i subwoofer.

The woofer and midrange drivers throughout the Image lineup employ clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene cones. The woofers are all long throw, and the 1-inch titanium-dome tweeter is the same tweeter that appears in the Synchrony line. All of the crossovers are third or fourth order at 500 hertz and 2.2 kilohertz in the three-way Image T6 and 1.8 kHz in the two-way Image B6 and Image C5. Each speaker has two pairs of terminals for biwiring, if desired. I left the shorting straps in place and single-wired the speakers.

The cabinet quality of all the Image models is exceptional for the price level. The finish is vinyl and not real wood veneer, but you wouldn’t guess it. The vinyl doesn’t just look like the real thing (particularly the Dark Cherry option), it feels like it as well. It effectively simulates the touch of real wood. A gentle tapering at the front and back cabinet edges (barely visible except in close-up) further enhances the real-wood effect. It gives the speakers far more visual character than your average rectangular boxes. The rounded, black-finished front baffles and molded trim rings around the drivers top off the speakers’ uniquely attractive appearance. I liked how the speakers looked without the removable grilles, so I did all of my listening that way. You may be less smitten than I was by the high-tech look of exposed domes and cones.

The only downside here is that the Image T6’s narrow cabinet and relatively light weight of 48 pounds make it a bit unstable. A gentle nudge won’t push it over, but it might give you a moment of panic, particularly if there are rugrats lurking about.

The SubSeries 5i subwoofer’s active ingredients include a 10-inch polypropylene-coned woofer and a 150-watt continuous (225 watts dynamic, 450 watts peak) Class H/BASH amplifier. PSB provides both line-level inputs and speaker-level inputs/outputs. It also includes switches for phase (0 and 180 degrees) and bypass for the built-in low-pass filter (selectable from 50 to 150 Hz). Filter adjustment and level controls are conveniently located on the front of the sub.

The speaker-level outputs from the SubSeries 5i to the main left and right speakers are always full range—the SubSeries 5i doesn’t have high-pass filters. But speaker-level connections are mainly a convenience for use in a two-channel system that needs a subwoofer but lacks a line-level subwoofer output. I used the SubSeries 5i’s line-level input, which is the preferred connection for most home theater setups.

Setup

I set up the Image T6 speaker system in my usual 26-by-15.5-by-8-foot home theater studio. I placed the Image T6s about 9 feet apart to the left and right of my projection screen. Then I toed them in toward the main listening position. (I retract the projection screen for music listening.) I positioned the center speaker on a low stand below the screen. I didn’t biwire or use spikes (in the latter case, I did this so I wouldn’t mar the oak flooring under the near room-filling area rug). The speakers were driven by a Parasound Halo A 51 power amp and an Integra DTC-9.8 surround processor. Sources included the Pioneer Elite BDP-09FD and Marantz BD7004 Blu-ray players. For music, I connected the Integra via coaxial digital; for movies, I used HDMI. Audio cables included vintage designs from Monster Cable, Cardas Audio, and Kimber Kable.

I directed all the main-channel bass below 80 Hz to the subwoofer via the crossover in the Integra DTC-9.8. The bottom end of the front left and right Image T6s was rolled off below 80 Hz whenever the subwoofer was engaged. However, those speakers were driven full range when I auditioned them with music and without a sub.

Listening: Music

With good program material, and in two-channel mode without the sub, the Image T6s performed well above what I’d expect at their price level. When I compared them with more expensive speakers, they gave up a little refinement, but I enjoyed what I was hearing too much to give it much thought. They handled vocals particularly well. The Image T6’s open midrange was a delight on all sorts of music. It didn’t have any boxiness, nasality, or other obvious colorations to remind me that I wasn’t listening to the real thing.

Most speakers image well in my setup, and the PSBs were no exception. They precisely positioned centered vocals and instruments, so that most listeners would swear the center speaker was on—when it was not. Depth, if present in the recording, was also convincing.

When you feed the Image T6 good material, the top end also shines. The Image T6 captured the subtle fingering details on guitar strings, delicately brushed cymbals, and the spaciousness of a reverberant recording venue. I never felt like I was missing anything, or that the treble was too bright or over the top. While the treble couldn’t quite match the inner detail and airiness that the best speakers convey, there wasn’t anything obviously missing. In fact, these speakers were lighter on their feet and less warmly balanced in my room than my recollection of the Synchrony and Imagine models that I recently reviewed (HT, December 2007 and May 2009). In fact, they could be a bit unforgiving in the low treble. But this was a sometime thing, and I only noticed it on overly bright music recordings or soundtracks played at relatively high levels.

The Image T6s alone were effective on loud bass transients like bass drums. Still, in my setup, with the speakers positioned relatively far from any adjoining walls, I wouldn’t describe them as full bodied. Surprisingly, third-octave in-room measurements showed some excess output between roughly 60 and 80 Hz, which was not obvious in listening. There was solid response down to about 40 Hz with a sharp drop-off below that, which was consistent with what I heard. (Closer wall positioning will help shore up the sub-40-Hz in-room response, but that could trigger other tradeoffs, as near-wall positioning often does.)

Fortunately, the Image T6’s slightly lean balance in my room helped it blend smoothly with the SubSeries 5i. This extended the effective in-room response, at average levels, to a hair below 30 Hz. The SubSeries 5i isn’t a monster sub, but it performed admirably on most material. While I couldn’t always hear the improvement over the sound of the naked Image T6s, it was a plus when I could hear it. I only heard overhang or boom on rare occasions, and with some very low-frequency material. This will usually depend as much on the room and placement as it does on the SubSeries 5i itself. This is a fact of life with even the most expensive subwoofers. This is especially the case when you use the sub without equalization, which I did here.

Listening: Movies

The Image T6 impressively handled music, but it sounded even better with the entire system fired up for some of my favorite movies. I experienced more than a few of the films for the first time. The sound was as big, clear, and open as the most active soundtracks demanded. It didn’t have the excessive brightness and overly forward balance that can make your speakers turn-it-down unpleasant and aggressive. On big action epics, the system played as loud as I could ever want in my medium-sized room, and it revealed only a rare trace of strain.

The Image C5 center speaker’s balance with pink noise (the most challenging test) didn’t match the sound of the left and right speakers as well as I would have liked. It was less open, warmer, and had a bit more coloration than the T6s. Still, that’s a common problem with dissimilar center speakers, and it was rarely audible on real source material. More significantly, I was happy to find that off-axis-response irregularities were relatively unnoticeable here. These can plague two-way, woofer-tweeter-woofer horizontal center-channel designs and degrade their balance and reduce dialogue intelligibility. These problems will show up most noticeably for listeners who are seated off of the center axis. We’ve never tested a center speaker of this design type that didn’t have off-axis suckouts. Still, the system produced clear dialogue and a uniformly balanced front soundstage at seating positions up to 25 degrees off axis. That’s sufficient for everyone sitting on an average-size sofa that’s positioned 10 to 12 feet from the speaker.

The system’s big, generous soundstage and consistently realistic balance impressed me the most. Sound effects were eerily real. They only sounded edgy on the very loudest effects that, in reality, probably should sound edgy. Of course, you might think that screeching wheels, ripping metal, screaming jet engines, explosions, and general mayhem should sound sweet and pleasant.

If you’ve read my past reviews, you know that I put a lot more weight on how a system—and speakers in particular—reproduce a movie score. A well-recorded and well-reproduced score can’t save a truly awful film, but it can make a poor one tolerable. Whiteout was a dramatic washout in its five-minute theatrical run, but it offers a sweetly richsounding score to go with its tepid, murder-mystery plot.

On the other hand, Knowing held my attention all the way through, or at least until its sort-of downer ending. A big part of the film’s ability to hold my attention was its spectacular soundtrack. The screeching wheels, ripping metal, screaming jet engines, explosions, and general mayhem here were as cringe-worthy on the Image T6 system as you’d expect them to be in real life. But more often than not, the audio thrills in this film were in the music score. From the eeriest cues to sweeping cinematic themes, the PSBs grabbed me, got my juices flowing, and drew me into the story.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a longtime demo favorite that stands out with an incredibly dynamic, detailed, and surprisingly musical soundtrack. The Image T6 system handled it all, from the thunderous crack of the cannons in the battle scenes to the string duets that punctuate the friendship between Captain Aubrey and the ship’s surgeon.

The PSBs also beautifully handled my favorite demo sequence from Transformers. It’s the montage that begins with the arrival of the main contingent of Autobots (beginning in chapter 11) and ends when the scene shifts to an aerial shot of a jet in flight. Again, it’s the big, sweeping score in this sequence, with choral accompaniment, that I found more thrilling than the noisy metalhead battles that populate most of the film’s running time.

The SubSeries 5i subwoofer also performed impressively with the soundtracks. It handled all of the challenges I threw at it without a hiccup or complaint. More often than not, it did its job with subtle and intense music and sound effects. It didn’t call undue attention to itself, which is what a good subwoofer is supposed to do. But don’t expect miracles, or bone-rattling, bottom-octave response. For example, the cannon shots in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World reverberated convincingly around the room, as did the thunderous footsteps of the robots in Transformers. But with the SubSeries 5i, this sort of material won’t make you wonder if your homeowner’s insurance covers subwoofer-induced damage, as more expensive and ambitious subs sometimes do (such as the Revel Performa B15a that often spends time in my system).

Summing Up

The Image T6 system skillfully walks the fine line between edginess and boring politeness. It never falls to either side unless you push it there with program material. This is exactly what a good speaker system should do. Have I heard better in my room? Certainly, but invariably from systems that cost more, and usually a lot more.

The bottom line to any review is if the reviewer would spend his or her money on the product, and if he could live with it long term. The answer to both questions here is unequivocally yes. PSB makes more sophisticated speakers, with upscale performance and design. But there was nothing cut rate in what I heard from the Image T6 system. I would be selling the system short if I raved about its value alone. It also provides outstanding performance. Highly recommended.

Thomas J. Norton
Home Theater Magazine

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