PSB Imagine T2 Speaker System Page 2
The Imagine S surround speakers were smaller than I expected based on the dimensions of other high-performance bipole/dipole surround speakers I’ve encountered in the past. The surface-mounted Imagine S speakers take up less than 11 x 13 inches of wall space and extend only a tad more than 7 inches into the room. They’re not quite as elegant as the Imagine T2 and Imagine C, but their curved front and prominent center strip of wood definitely identify them as part of the Imagine family while still allowing them to remain unobtrusive in most rooms. The Imagine S speakers aren’t ported, and they include 1-inch tweeters and 5.25-inch woofers. In this case, one tweeter/woofer combo fires forward, and the other fires rearward—but the Imagine S isn’t your standard bipole or dipole surround speaker. The tri-mode Imagine S’s fore and aft drivers are independent of each other, and depending on how you use the included jumpers to connect the separate pairs of binding posts, the Imagine S will function as either a bipole or a dipole speaker. Remove the jumpers entirely, and each Imagine S essentially becomes two surround speakers that you can use in a 7.1-channel system with the forward-firing drivers becoming the surround speakers and the rear-firing drivers doing the job of back surround speakers. In addition to the obvious awesomeness of being able to use the Imagine S speakers in whichever ’pole mode you prefer, the tri-mode design means that if you don’t already have an AVR with 6.1 or 7.1 capability, you’ll be ready whenever you do upgrade.
PSB’s Imagine series doesn’t include any powered woofers. (Depending on your room and your listening taste, you might not need one with the Imagine T2s.) So PSB included a 300-watt SubSeries 300 ($1,000) powered subwoofer to complete my review system. Aside from four conical feet at the bottom of the cabinet and the slightly curved, black grille that covers the forward-firing 12-inch polypropylene cone driver, the SubSeries 300 is pretty much a featureless black box. PSB figures that most people will hide the sub anyway, so keeping the cosmetics simple helps minimize the sub’s overall cost. Minimalism extends to the sub’s features, too. There are knobs for adjusting the sub’s volume and crossover point plus a 0-/180-degree phase switch on the front (hidden behind the grille), while the uncluttered back panel contains the high- and low-level inputs, the LFE input, and the main power switch. The SubSeries 300 includes an auto on/off circuit and consumes less than half a watt in standby mode. There’s a 3-inch down-firing port on the bottom of the cabinet, and PSB says the SubSeries 300 is the first in a new line of subwoofers to include a high-efficiency internal amplifier designed by NAD. (Both PSB and NAD are subsidiary brands of the Lenbrook Group.) According to PSB’s Stidsen, an extremely important part of the design of the subwoofer’s amplifier is the limiting circuit, and particular attention was paid to what frequencies are affected and how fast the limiting circuitry acts.
On the Level
Even without the aid of the SubSeries 300, the Imagine T2s’ two-channel musical performance was absolutely stellar. They had that wonderful character of having almost no character—sonically, there’s nothing that draws specific attention to the speaker. The placement of the tweeter below the midrange puts it at seated ear level, which is generally the goal. In this case, I found the soundstage’s plane to be lower than is typical. In other words, I find that other speakers tend to place vocals slightly above the level of my ears. With the T2s, Bonnie Raitt’s voice on “Take My Love With You” from the new Slipstream CD seemed to come from a position directly even with, or perhaps just below, my ears in front of me. Especially impressive was the smooth transition from driver to driver, as well as the extremely wide soundstage the T2s produced. On “Until You Remember” from the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Revelator disc, the horns’ plaintive notes at the beginning of the song were so smooth, it felt like the T2s were slowly pouring pure New Orleanian sadness into the room. That was followed by the tight plucking of guitar strings to the left of center, and, once Tedeschi’s dead-centered voice was joined by the remainder of the band, each instrument was clearly defined and placed across a wide soundstage.
I was surprised to find that the T2s performed best positioned about 8 to 10 inches closer to my listening room’s front wall than is usually the case with most other speakers. Vocals and wind instruments, such as Wild Bill Davison’s coronet on the lovely “If I Had You,” gained clarity and energy with a wonderful sense of space and openness. Psychologically, those short few inches made a huge difference in the way the room looked and felt. The Imagine T2s became an integrated part of the living space rather than dominating it. Without the subwoofer, the T2’s bass extension was lowest without plugs in any of its rear ports. Jamming the plug into the bottommost port noticeably tightened up the bass, but at the expense of depth and fullness. Plugging the middle port produced a minimal difference, while the top port’s status had no appreciable effect on the sound.
Imagine There’s No Speakers
Of course, as spectacular as the Imagine T2s were solo, they still benefitted from the addition of the SubSeries 300 when it came to movies. In fact, the SubSeries 300 is a standout in its own right. Although it’s short on beauty, it’s long on beast; and it energized the room with extremely low and controlled bass better than most other $1,000 subs. In my room, I found that plugging the Imagine T2’s bottom port provided the strongest, most natural blend in combined output from the towers and the sub—and the matchup could be frighteningly powerful. In the fight scene with the white apes in John Carter, for instance, the many heavily overdone impacts were near-teeth-rattling. In Black Swan, when Natalie Portman’s stage character, Princess Odette, slowly grows black feathers and becomes (in her mind, anyway) the Black Swan as she dances across the stage, the scene both begins and ends with extremely low and tight orchestral bass notes that the plugged-T2/SubSeries 300 handled wonderfully as if they were one speaker.
That same scene in Black Swan showed off the exceptional smoothness of the Imagine T2’s tweeter/midrange combo. The clarity and openness of the upper end was so spot on that it seemed as if you could hear the crackle of each individual feather as it burst through the skin on Odette’s arms. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the system, however, was how amazingly the Imagine C integrates with the T2s. The scratchy sliding of Odette’s ballet slippers against the stage floor was perfectly consistent as the ballerina danced from side to side. In fact, from the standpoint of LCR integration, I think the pairing of the Imagine C and T2 was one of the best I’ve ever heard.
Seamlessness, it seems, is an overwhelmingly consistent feature of the system, as the acoustic match of the Imagine S surrounds with the Imagine T2 was almost as fantastic as that of the towers with the Imagine C. In Tangled, as Rapunzel swings down and slides across a pool of water to escape the thugs, the sound of the swishing water began in the front and quickly splashed into the back of the room with impressive smoothness and coherence. I was most impressed by the way the entire system came together during the disastrous wedding scene in John Carter. Amidst the swelling panorama of music, the spoken wedding vows start in the center but then echo out throughout the room—and even in the wild chaos of the ensuing battle, the dialogue remains crisp and clear. By the way, I tested the Imagine S surrounds in all three configurations, and without a doubt, I preferred to use them in a 7.1-channel configuration. It expanded the rear surround field and gave it more depth. The effect, of course, is highly room/seating dependent—but in my case, I found it more realistic and enjoyable than using, as I often do, a pair of in-ceiling speakers for the back surround channels.
The Imagine T2 system is splendidly seductive. The graceful curves coyly play with your eyes without demanding constant attention. In the same way, the Imagine T2’s sound is beguilingly smooth and natural; and those alluring sonic qualities extend to the Imagine C center and Imagine S surrounds—and the SubSeries 300—when they’re brought together in one room. Even though it’s composed of six individual boxes, the system is absolutely superb at working together as seamlessly as if it were one big speaker—or, perhaps, no speaker at all. Even if the Imagine T2 system were pink and yellow with a purple-fringed grille cloth, I’d still have to recommend it because it sounds so damn good. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful and elegantly designed piece of work. If this is what comes from living in an anechoic chamber for a good part of your life, then so be it. Maybe Paul Barton isn’t such a nutcase after all.