PSB Imagine home theater speaker system

The Short Form
$4,000 (as tested) / PSBSPEAKERS.COM / 905-831-6555
Snapshot
An impeccably engineered and beautifully designed midsize speaker system that's not cheap but couldn't be much easier to set up, listen to, or live with
Plus
• Clear, super-neutral sound • Slick industrial design • Just plop 'em down and plug 'em in
Minus
• Expensive for their size •Home theater use demands addition of a subwoofer
Key Features
• Imagine T ($2,000 a pair): 1-inch tweeter, (2) 5 1?4-inch woofers; 37 1?4 in high, 41 lb • Imagine C ($800): 1-inch tweeter, (2) 5 1?4-inch woofers; 20 1?2 in wide, 41 lb • Imagine S ($1,200 per pair): (2) 1-inch tweeters, (2) 5 1?4-inch woofers; 12 5?8 in high, 16 lb
The success of PSB's Imagine speaker system hinges on whether Paul Barton has more in common with Phil Collins than with Peter Cetera. Phil Collins is the former prog-rock drummer who transformed himself into a much-loved pop star. Peter Cetera is the bassist/singer who helped remodel the once-edgy band Chicago into a pabulum factory. And Paul Barton is the founder and chief engineer at PSB Speakers, which just broke character by launching a stylish new speaker system.

Barton's speakers are renowned for technical excellence - but until recently, they've been renowned only for that. Last year, Barton adopted a new philosophy when he created Synchrony, a line of speakers designed for both visual beauty and sonic perfection. The new Imagine speakers make the Synchrony available at more affordable prices.

Obviously, Barton is responding to the demands of the market, just as the aforementioned rock stars did. But will he, like Collins, be able to carry over his core aesthetic values into a more commercially viable product? Or will he abandon everything he once stood for and just go for the money, as Cetera did?

The new line consists of the Imagine T tower speaker, the Imagine B bookshelf speaker, the Imagine C center speaker, and the Imagine S surround speaker. For this review, the company sent two towers, one center, and two surrounds. The industrial design grabs you at first glance. The cabinets couldn't be less boxy. Except for every speaker's bottom and the tops of the surround speakers, they have no flat sides. The curves stiffen the cabinets and minimize acoustic resonances inside. Stout construction further reinforces the cabinets. The front baffles are made from 11?2-inch-thick medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and seven laminated layers of 3mm-thick MDF form the sides, tops, and bottoms.

All of the Imagine speakers have a 1-inch titanium-dome tweeter and a 51?4-inch woofer with a mineral-filled polypropylene cone woofer. Rubber trim rings hide the speaker fasteners. With each Imagine T, C, and B, PSB provides a rubber bass port plug that lets you tune the response to suit your room or your taste.

On the Imagine S surround speaker, PSB provides separate speaker terminals for the front- and rear-facing halves. By removing the jumpers and connecting each half separately, you can create a seven-channel system using only five speakers.

SETUP

PSB designs its speakers so that the sound off-axis nearly matches the sound on-axis, which makes them less sensitive to placement and acoustics. Getting good sound from the Imagine T tower speakers was as simple as plopping them in place about a foot and a half from the wall behind them and pointing them straight at my listening position. I preferred the sound with the rubber port plugs inserted (which left one port open in each Imagine T and no ports open in the C). The bass wasn't as full with the plugs in, but it was more precise. I suspect, though, that fans of Collins and Cetera alike will greatly prefer the no-plugs sound.

Since the Imagine C has a curved bottom, PSB supplies a rubber wedge that holds the speaker in place and tilts it up or down. Here's the only place where I encountered setup difficulty. The wedge is too large to allow the Imagine C to sit flat - it has to tilt up or down - so I tossed the wedge aside and used big blobs of Blu-Tack reusable adhesive to secure the speaker in a flat position atop my stand.

No such problems with the flat-bottomed Imagine S surround speakers. They can hang on the wall from the supplied brackets or sit stably on stands or shelves.

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