Widescreen Review-Platinum System
March 1, 2005
PSB Platinum Series Surround Loudspeaker System Refined Performance
Usually when you hear the term “flagship loudspeaker” you think of five figure price tags (or more) per pair of loudspeakers. While this category certainly doesn’t lack in über-expensive five and six figure loudspeakers, it gets very interesting when a company known for great loudspeakers at less than stratospheric pricing works on a flagship line of loudspeakers.
PSB has been manufacturing loudspeakers since the early 1970s, while Paul Barton was attending college. Because of the ever-increasing popularity of his loudspeakers, Paul never did get the opportunity to finish his higher education––given the success he has enjoyed in the industry, it’s a safe bet that he’s not concerned about this any more. The PSB name is a reference to Paul and his high-school sweetheart Susan (Paul and Susan Barton), whom Paul is still married to some 32 years later.
PSB actively uses the superb facilities of the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa, Ontario as part of their loudspeaker design process. This allows for a combination of scientific and engineering discipline and facilities for critical listening evaluations. As time progresses, PSB uses these facilities less frequently, as sophistication of their computer modeling increases. Use of the NRC facilities is still a crucial part of the end result, but less time is necessary in these facilities, as it is used as a “proving ground” rather than as an integral design tool.
Cabinets And Construction
... The samples sent to Widescreen Review were all finished in cherry, and they make for a handsome appearance. Unlike many other loudspeakers, only the sides and back of the loudspeaker are veneered. The front panel of all of the Platinum series is an aluminum laminate, with cast aluminum top and bottom caps. The caps are painted a platinum (dark silver) shade, which contrasts nicely with the cherry veneer and the aluminum laminate. The entire cabinet is constructed from 1-inch Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) with extensive bracing utilized throughout. Due to a communication gaffe, I ended up with a 7.1 channel system, which covered the bulk of the Platinum series lineup. For front left and right duties, a pair of T6 tower loudspeakers ($4,999/pair) were provided. Center channel duties were covered with the smaller of their two center channels, the C2 Center Loudspeaker ($1,499 each). Rear channel loudspeakers were the M2 monitor loudspeakers ($1,999/pair). The mighty SubSeries 10 subwoofer ($2,499 each) was provided for the LFE channel, and for side surrounds the S2 Surround Loudspeaker ($2,399/pair) were sent. In addition, PSB’s center channel loudspeaker stand ($399 each) was provided for the C2, while the M2s were perched atop their dedicated loudspeaker stands ($499/pair). All told, the entire system retails for just over $14,000 (including stands), which is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, yet this still costs less than a single pair of many “flagship” or “statement” loudspeakers.
“...this is the best I have had any center channel match with mains.”
All loudspeakers in the family share the same cones and domes; however, the drive unit is specific to its application. In other words, the drives are impedance-matched for their implementation, with the voice coils and motor structures varying as per their usage. Even though the T6, C2, C4, M2, and S2 all have identical cones on their 6.5-inch woven fiberglass drivers, the voice coils and motors do vary based on the individual loudspeaker it is being installed in. The aluminum dome tweeter is identical across all main loudspeakers in the Platinum lineup. An identical midrange/tweeter/midrange (D’Appolito) module is used in the T6 (under review) and C4 center channel (not reviewed). All drivers utilized in the Platinum Series are designed by PSB.
The T6 is a mid-sized floor-standing loudspeaker with a complement of six drivers to provide a rated frequency response of 30 Hz to 33 kHz. The low-end is handled by a trio of 6.5-inch drivers with an effective surface area of a single 11-inch driver. The three woofers are crossed over at a relatively low 300 Hz to a D’Appolito module. The low-pass crossover for the woofers is a relatively low 300 Hz and is listed as a Linkwitz-Reilly 4th order (24 dB slope per octave) crossover. If one were to take apart this crossover, you would find that the parts aren’t quite appropriate for this rating. PSB specs the acoustic transfer function of the crossover, which relates to both the electrical and mechanical results of natural driver roll-off. The dual mid-range drivers operate in a pass band from 300 Hz to 2.2 kHz with a high-pass crossover that is comparable to a Butterworth 3rd order crossover (18 dB slope per octave). The rated low-frequency response of the T6 is a quite impressive 30 Hz, and when testing as a full-range loudspeaker without room correction engaged, I found the -3dB point to be 31.5 Hz, which indicates an accurate low frequency rating.
Some will ask why three relatively modest sized drivers for the woofer section are utilized when a single larger driver (about 11- inches) would have comparable surface area. I put this question to Paul Barton to find out his reasoning. He said that there are a number of advantages to this configuration, the least of which is that the footprint of the loudspeaker can be kept dramatically smaller. Other (more important) reasons for doing so are mainly to do with control of the driver. When using smaller drivers, the motor strength tends to be more uniform across the surface area of the drive, as opposed to a less uniform driving force on the larger driver. As far as using a single larger driver in a side mount configuration, according to Barton this was considered. The tradeoff with this approach is that due to the proximity of the rear wall to the driver in a side mount, you actually need more cabinet volume to achieve the same low-frequency extension as multiple smaller drivers mounted on the front wall.
The M2 is the small fry of the Platinum Series lineup, but it gives up very little in comparison to its larger sibling, the T6. Composed of a single 6.5-inch woven fiberglass cone and the standard aluminum dome tweeter, along with a ported enclosure, the M2 was shipped with its matching stands for review. Don’t let the small size fool you, it is a quite capable loudspeaker and comes in an inverted cabinet. In other words, the tweeter is on the bottom of the cabinet, and the woofer is mounted above....
The C2 center channel is a moderatelysized center channel loudspeaker. Designed as a D’Appolito array, it has a pair of the 6.5-inch drivers crossed over to the Platinum Series aluminum dome tweeter at 2.2 kHz, with an effective result of a Butterworth 3rd order design (18 dB per octave slope). As per the other Platinum Series loudspeakers, the C2 has bi-wire capability provided and also includes a pair of ports with one at either end of the cabinet. Also provided was the dedicated loudspeaker stand for the C2, which places the loudspeaker at a slight incline, so that in a typical seated position you are located on-axis to the drivers to better match the apparent image height of other loudspeakers...
The S2s are an interesting loudspeaker design and have a great deal of versatility. The loudspeaker itself contains dual drivers installed at 90 degree angles, with dual binding posts provided. The woofers are 6.5-inch woven fiberglass, with the 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter in a sealed enclosure. When discussing this with Paul Barton, I was told that the problems with porting these loudspeakers are insurmountable, and as such they are the only loudspeakers in the lineup that are sealed. The S2s are designed for wall or stand mount and include all appropriate hardware to mount on a typical residential wall. If I can install the hardware easily, you can. It only took me about 20 minutes with zero expletives bursting forth from my oral cavity. This might be the first time I’ve done anything resembling construction without emitting an expletive. The S2 is a very flexible loudspeaker and can be driven in three different ways. First, the S2 can be used as a single loudspeaker with both faces of the loudspeaker producing the same signal. This can also be described as bipolar operation, since the drivers are operating inphase. The S2 can be driven as two discrete loudspeakers, with each face receiving discrete signals. With included jumper wires, the S2 can be driven as a dipolar loudspeaker, with the woofers and tweeters running 180 degrees out of phase.
Finally we come to the PSB SubSeries 10 subwoofer. The cabinet is relatively small for a subwoofer with dual 12-inch drivers, coming in with a floor footprint of roughly 15 inches by 25 inches. The SubSeries 10 is powered by a BASH amplifier delivering 500 watts of continuous power, 750 watts of dynamic power (short term), and 1500 watts of peak power. The Class H amplifier utilizes continuously variable rail voltages, which minimizes the heat production from the power amplifier. As with other drivers, the subwoofer in the SubSeries 10 is made from woven fiberglass, and contains a 2-inch coil and a 40-ounce magnet inside a ported cabinet. The specified low frequency cutoff point for -3dB response at the low end is rated at a modest 27 Hz, but I found in testing with boundary reinforcement that I was achieving a -3dB point of 22 Hz, which exceeds the published specifications. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with conservative estimates on performance, especially when discussing low frequency performance from a loudspeaker. The SubSeries 10 keeps the two most used controls, for volume/gain and crossover frequency on the front panel, along with one of the drivers, a dim green LED to indicate power on and a massive 5-inch external diameter flared port. The back panel contains the BASH plate amplifier, as well as the remaining controls and connectors. The subwoofers crossover has a two position toggle switch; Active will use the internal crossover subwoofer and OFF will defeat it. Subwoofer phase/polarity is also provided on a toggle switch between 0 and 180 degrees. For inputs, a pair of line level RCA input jacks are present, along with filtered outputs for using the subwoofer between a preamplifier and power amplifier. Finally, loudspeaker level binding posts are available for those who are using the subwoofer as a crossover between a power amplifier and loudspeakers.
Because of the variety of loudspeakers involved, I’m taking an inverted approach to the sonic performance of the loudspeakers in the Platinum series. I am going to be building up from stereo reproduction all the way out to a “7.1” system of loudspeakers.
...[T6] Within their soundstage the imaging was first rate, and you could picture Harris playing the piano for you in the room, with a smooth fluid pan between and slightly outside the loudspeakers. Second, the tonality is simply fabulous. I pulled out recording after recording and was tremendously impressed with the clarity of vocal reproduction...
... I disconnected the rear channels and tested integration of the C2 center channel with the T6 towers for the front soundstage. By judicious angling of the dedicated stand for the C2, I was able to get an excellent match of front soundstage height, which has always been a bugaboo for me. While not perfect, this is the best I’ve had any center match with mains... The striking point of the reproduction here was in the fine gradation of left/right imaging.... That the imaging between different loudspeakers can be very precise indicates ample time was spent in insuring that the C2 speaks with the same voicing as the other loudspeakers of the Platinum series.
Expanding out to surround sound, the M2 monitor loudspeakers were brought into play. I always use a Steely Dan track or two to lock in the surround imaging. In this case, specifically we’ll discuss “FM” from their Two Against Nature concert DVD (Image ID9584CGDVD). The specific attributes I listen for are all in the back soundstage. Are the horns spreading from back left to right of center, and does the “bare midriff section” (the female background singers) get presented with each in a unique space from back right to just left of center, and does the late Cornelius Bumpus’ honking tenor saxophone solo come at me from right behind? In this case, that’s what you hear. The combination of short riffs and extended lines flow forth from his tenor, and the unique timbre of his playing cuts through the music to be placed in the forefront where it belongs.
For full integration of the package, I turned to the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots for the hyper-aggressive surround mix by Elliot Scheiner. Not for the surround phobic, the track “Do You Realize” swirls the mix around you clockwise, then counterclockwise. It’s an ethereal experience, and if you tend to get motion sick, don’t close your eyes! Although the loudspeakers are “mismatched,” with the exception of the C2s image height I found the entire loudspeaker system to be of one voice, with superb blend between all components. reverb, indicates excellent resolution.
... the SubSeries 10 plays its role, wonderfully accentuating the low frequency rumbles that are part of the score. As the Larsen B Ice shelf breaks off, you hear the crackling of the ice move all about you, with the mix of the loudspeakers positively seamless. Considering the disparity in drivers for the T6s, C2, and M2s, the seamless blend is a remarkable achievement. When engaging the S2 side surrounds via Dolby® Pro Logic® IIx, I found the effect pleasing, although it was a tradeoff between greater envelopment and imaging specificity. The low frequency impacts are punctuated magnificently by the SubSeries 10, and the measurements show that in my room it’s a bit conservatively- rated for low frequency extension.
.... Once more I found that Pro Logic IIx combined with the S2s created a more enveloping presence while sacrificing image specificity. When running in straight 5.1 channel mode, the circling is much more effectively panned than in Pro Logic IIx. My experience with direct radiators versus dipolar or bipolar loudspeakers suggests that for my taste, I prefer direct radiators and their imaging specificity over the more diffuse presentation of the S2s.
James Taylor’s Live At The Beacon Theater (Columbia CVD50171) is still a very good recording some six years after its initial release. The Platinum series faithfully returns the recorded amount of sibilance, which is somewhat exaggerated during sections where JT introduces the various songs. Of particular note is “Only A Dream In Rio,” where the S and T syllables are very pronounced. My point here is that if the recording has some sibilance, you’ll hear it, no sugar coating is applied.
Blue Man Group’s Audio (Virgin 7234 4 77893 9 7) on DVD-Audio has some tremendous impact without hitting the same low frequency depths as the aforementioned wind orchestra piece. I ran the tracks “PVC IV” and “TV Song” together for about seven minutes of material, and the SubSeries 10 faithfully delivered the slam of the Big Drum while agilely delivering the low-frequency portion of the PVC-based instruments that are the Blue Man Group’s signature instruments. Throughout, as lowfrequency emphasis was required, the SubSeries 10 complied without hesitation.
Reviewers get an unusual version of “buyer’s remorse.” In the loudspeaker category, we think about the road we didn’t take and discover loudspeakers that do all of the things that our reference loudspeakers do, just as well. The Platinum series covers all the bases very well, with superb reproduction of spoken voice, singing voice, instrumental timbres, and slam or delicacy as appropriate. That they provide performance and frequency extension that competes on par with dramatically more expensive statement loudspeakers is testimony to their engineering acumen.
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