PSB Synchrony One Speaker System
There are two questions you could—maybe should—be asking right now. The first, "Didn't y'all just review some PSB speakers a few months ago?" And two: "Aren't you the video editor?" Well, yes. That either question should come to mind should say something about these speakers.
While my day job is as plucky video editor Geoffrey Morrison, in my off hours, I am a dyed-in-the-wool audiophile—always have been. My office is in our main testing lab, so everything that's reviewed in the magazine comes through here eventually. And as such, I make it a point to listen to as many of the audio do-dads as I can. If you wouldn't do the same given the chance, I'm not sure why you're reading this magazine.
Therefore, when I heard these Synchrony speakers, in a demo set up in a hotel room of all places, I knew I had to review them. In a mediocre environment, they sounded incredible. I couldn't wait to dust off my demo CDs and listen to them in our lab. Following a small amount of begging to audio editor Mark Fleischmann, I somehow found time in my schedule. And here we are.
So, would they sound as good in a treated, well-designed room as they did in a hotel? How would they measure? Would my vidiot brain get confused when the lights went out and there was no glowing rectangle at the front of the room? I was happy to find out.
I won't succumb to that tired intro tactic of explaining where the designer and company came from. I'm sure if you read some other PSB review on our Website, you can find all that. Suffice it to say, Paul Barton has been doing this a long time, and PSB has a long history of making great speakers. Like any financial advisor will tell you, however, past performance isn't indicative of future results. This is especially true as more and more speakers are being built in China. This isn't to imply that China can't make some well-put-together products (these speakers, for example); it is just that if a company doesn't pay attention, results may vary. The fact that the fit, finish, and overall build quality of these speakers belie their place of origin is due in no small part to the careful oversight of PSB engineers.
What we have for this review is PSB's top-of-the-line Synchrony One tower, the Synchrony One C center channel, a pair of Synchrony S surrounds, and a SubSeries HD10 subwoofer that isn't directly part of the Synchrony line, but it complements the system nicely. The Synchrony One sports a 1-inch titanium dome tweeter, a 4-inch "fine weave fiberglass and natural fiber cone" midrange, and three 6.5-inch woofers of the same material. The center shares the same drivers but does away with one of the woofers. To combat the typically poor off-axis response of horizontal center channels, the tweeter is mounted above the midrange. The surrounds double the tweeters, ditch the mid, and have two 5.25-inch woofers.
When approaching the crossover design, Barton had a completely logical and surprisingly rare approach. Knowing that the drivers near the bottom of the speaker are going to have to deal with sound bouncing from the floor differently than those higher up, each of the three woofers crosses over to the midrange at a different frequency and resides in a subenclosure tuned slightly differently from the others.
A Little Johann
For this review, I used a Parasound C2 pre/pro hooked to a Sunfire Cinema Seven amp. For sources, I used a Toshiba HD-XA2 for HD DVD and a Pioneer BDP-94HD for Blu-ray. For SACD, DVD-Audio, and CD, I used our aging Onkyo DV-SP800. Cables were either Monster or Kimber, depending on what leg of the audio journey the signal was on. I also switched in a Parasound 5250 amp for variety.
One of my favorite discs of all time is an SACD of the English Chamber Orchestra performing Bach's Brandenburg Concertos on the Vanguard Classics label. I've listened to this disc on countless systems since its release. From the richness, subtlety, and clarity in the recording, you'd never know it was 32 years old. The mix is a little different from what you'd expect from a classical recording. You are placed, more or less, where the conductor is. This requires all the speakers in the system to perform at a certain level. The Synchrony system's cohesiveness immediately impressed me. The weak links in most systems, the center and surrounds, were holding their own. Not only did they hold their own, they were closely matched in timbre, as well. Normally, you need five identical speakers to have this level of timbre matching. The cellos and double bass had a rich warmness that towers can have but often don't achieve. My personal taste tends to run toward a warm-sounding speaker, and these were able to be warm without sounding muddy. The midrange was strong, bringing out all that the violins and violas had to offer. Multipole surrounds can lack low end, but the Synchrony S handled lower midbass surprisingly well.
One of the greatest lines I've ever read in a review proclaimed that Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet was "really very good, in spite of the people who like it." So true. The songs are catchy and deceptively complex. This, too, is available on SACD. The added resolution is welcome, and the surround mix is pretty traditional. What impressed me the most with this album on the Synchrony system was the clarity of the cymbals. Metallic sounds can be tricky to reproduce. The PSB system made the metallic sounds of Morello's cymbals sound authentic without being biting or harsh.
For two-channel listening, I put in Rachael Yamagata's 2004 release Happenstance. Her raspy voice appeared solidly between the two Synchrony Ones, which reproduced the extra bass levels inherent in this recording without sounding thick. And while I would never recommend an HT system without a sub, the Synchrony Ones can play quite deep on their own. One thing I noticed here—as well as on Death Cab for Cutie's 2003 release Transatlanticism on SACD and a few other two-channel selections—was the one shortcoming I could find in the Synchrony Ones: While the center image is strong, the soundstage does not have much width or depth past the speakers themselves. In reality, this is probably due more to the speakers' accuracy in relaying what's really in the content than any shortcoming in the speakers themselves.
It is home theater after all, so in went some movies. The TrueHD soundtrack on the Matrix HD DVD is worth the price of the disc and player. Chapter 29, where Neo and Trinity assault the government building, is an aural feast. On most systems, the gunshots, breaking tile, and pounding score can overwhelm the little sounds, like the occasional voice or boot squeak. All of that was audible on the PSBs. Nothing was buried or muddled, even in the center channel, which, on many systems, will whimper and compress when you play this selection at high volumes. Male voices never sounded chesty or boomy. The diminutive HD10 was a surprising powerhouse. It played loud and quite deep for such a small sub. The Synchrony S surrounds also did an excellent job of spreading out the sound across the side walls. They walked the line of not being too directional, but not being so diffuse as to lack any directionality.
I put the soundfield uniformity to the test again with the uncompressed PCM track on House of Flying Daggers. This Blu-ray's video transfer may be terrible, but its audio is excellent. The scene starting at chapter 3 is essentially a room full of drums that are hit on and off screen. The soundtrack calls on each speaker to reproduce a wide range of frequencies, from deep drum hits to high metallic rattling. No matter what sound the track put where, the entire Synchrony system was up to the task and reproduced it beautifully. Across the front and from front to back, the system seemed to have the same timbre all around.
Three to Get Ready
At a system price of $10,000, this Synchrony One system is by no means cheap. The real questions are, for this price, can you get more, or are there other systems for less that perform as well? Having heard many of the speakers that have come through here in the past few years, I can say that the stale line about being able to pay more to get less is absolutely true here. I've heard many systems that cost more than this one that don't sound nearly as good. As for paying less, well, you can always pay less. But for this level of performance, aesthetics, and build quality, I haven't seen—or heard—many systems that could best this one for less money. Now if I could just figure out how to make them deinterlace 1080i. . .
• Solid build quality
• Warm, vibrant sound