PSB G-Design Speaker System and Adcom GFR-700HD A/V Receiver Page 2

The GFR-700HD additionally provides for lip-sync adjustment, letting you set the audio signal delay from 0 to 169 milliseconds. It also automatically adjusts the dynamic range and defaults to the maximum range of 100 percent.

With its Room 2 (second zone) function, the GFR-700HD is quite configurable to meet most tastes, from input selection and "pseudo" surround-effects mode, to tone control of bass or treble and setting relative gain for each source selected to the secondary listening room.

The Adcom's AM/FM tuner sports a response of 50 Hz to 15 kilohertz, and it offers variable and fixed gain options. And, for those of you who fall asleep in front of the system, the GFR-700HD has a sleep-timer function that you can adjust from 30 to 180 minutes, which means you can go through two REM cycles if you set the function at top range.

To compete effectively, today's electronics companies must utilize all of the resources available to them to sustain market share. One method for retaining a competitive edge is the ability to send firmware updates to users. And this is precisely what Adcom does. With a PC and a serial-port connection to the GFR-700HD, Adcom offers periodic updates at both the machine and application levels. The most recent firmware update, for example, was offered in June, 2007, and it included, according to the company, "improved digital acquisition reliability, tone controls for the main outputs [originally only available for Zone 2], input source labeling for the OSD and FLT displays, and added support for the 1080i 50-Hz format to the Output Resolution Selections."

For this review, the Onkyo DV-SP800 SACD-DVD player and Mitsubishi HC500 1080p LCD projector performed source and projection duties, respectively, while Kimber Kable's classic 8TC cables connected amps and speakers, and assorted Tributaries and Monster Cable wires served as interconnects. Before I started my serious listening and evaluation, the Home Theater team allowed the PSB G-Design array and Adcom GFR-7000HD to run in over a long weekend. Then I settled in.

1007PSB.8.jpgMusic to the Ears
Even though Diana Krall's Love Scenes has become shopworn to some golden-eared audiophiles (most likely because she chose to pursue crossover success rather than remain a "secret"), the compact disc continues to be a marvelous listen. It's also a reliable test for tonal reality, despite the fact that it has been processed. Listening through this system as a two-channel setup, the first thing I noted was the accurate sense of instrumental placement across the front of the room. Each performer occupied a real sense of space, surrounded by his or her own acoustic envelope. Although they were separate and distinct from one another, the pockets overlapped in Venn-like circles, creating a musical whole. It was just as easy to listen to the line of each instrument separately as it was to listen to the entire ensemble as a whole. While most systems can readily highlight the bass opening to "Peel Me a Grape," far fewer of them can continue to expose the bass clearly once the rest of Krall's group kicks in. But this setup stepped up to the task readily.

On a song like "I Miss You So," where the S's in the title become an ironic hint for the potential sibilance living within the lyric's lines, even pricier systems have been unable to control the S-ing sound. Here, with the PSBs, the sibilance seemed quite tolerable, which isn't bad at all for a system in this price range.

Because Paul Barton has been a lifelong violinist, I tried out the Fry Street Quartet's Joseph Haydn, a special SACD because it utilized an experimental acoustic baffle system during recording. Called the IsoMike, this baffle system—created by Ray Kimber of Kimber Kable—renders this quartet into an eerie facsimile of the real thing. You don't often hear music rendered so realistically, with that "you are there" quality, unless you play this compact disc through a much more expensive system. But here it is, and the piloerection (my mother would call them "goose bumps") running up my arm attested to this Spotlight System's abilities to render music.

Whether it was the lazy Andante of the String Quartet in F major, Opus 77, No. 2, or the Menuetto of the String Quartet in D minor, Opus 9, No. 4, with its dainty dance of small steps, the string tone was ethereal and flawlessly arrayed. Each instrument had requisite body and fullness or resinous bite as necessary, and ambience seemed subjectively to be just right, sounding nothing less than an appropriately located back-of-the-hall bounce. I recall sinking into the listening seat, and only now, as I write this, I realize that my ear-brain interface had been working naturally, as it does at a live performance. My notes indicate, "Amazing, delicious, a four-channel recording no less."

And Now the Movies
One of the first films I turn to when I assess a product is Underworld, a modern classic about a centuries-old war between vampires and werewolves. In order to establish a sense of dramatic, otherworldly unease, the sound designers allowed themselves to break the usual conventions. Each clap of thunder is rendered large and powerful from its own initial location, but just before each clap decays, it first swells, filling the listening space, and then surrounds the listener with its ebb. (The initial attack from the SubSeries 6i subwoofer is indeed powerful.) Ditto on the powerful peals from a church bell. Both effects set a strong mood. However, when it comes to the standard precision of weapons fire found in other films, here the sound is more vague, distant, and at times diffuse—actually seeming, well, otherworldly. What added to this effect, nevertheless, was the PSB speakers' ability to localize sound not only across the stage but at different heights, and with timbre that matched across the soundscape, within the listening environment. At times, the effect could be quite startling. Barton attributes this to localization, an ability not found in many other speaker arrays I've heard at this price, as well as to the amount of time he and his team spend optimizing phase and time coherence during the development process. Barton believes that a good part of this success has to do with how well a designer can match the crossover design with the drivers and their positions within their cabinets; how they handle diffraction artifacts and the like; and their ability to maintain consistency during the production process. All of this may explain why he spends so much time "rehearsing" the evolution of each speaker model in the anechoic chamber at the NRC.

The Day After Tomorrow is a true test for a system's ability to resolve everything from subtle nuance to great dynamic shifts. In one of the hair-raising sequences early in the film, the viewer experiences the cracking of an ice shelf. With the PSB/Adcom system, the phenomenon becomes a true surround experience; you can hear ice splintering, even beyond the edges of the soundfield, truly engulfing the viewer. In another scene depicting a UN assembly about global warming, you can clearly hear the click of camera shutters firing variously from around the room, as you'd experience in real life. In yet another scene that depicts a fury of sound in the streets of Calcutta, the dialogue is clear, intelligible, and authentic in timbre through the center channel, despite the bedlam and crowd sounds that surround the listener. This sense of engulfment occurs throughout the film, immersing the viewer into a frightening experience of the potential impact of climate change and global warming.

A certain irony attends the completion of the preceding sentence. You see, PSB's G-Design system was built in compliance with European Union guidelines referred to as the RoHs Directive, effective as of July 1, 2006. This Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive, though not law, restricts the use of six materials in electronic equipment. Among the four banned heavy metals is lead-based solder, which is absent in the PSB G-Design system, making this arguably Canada's first green speaker array.

Caveats and Split Hairs
Before summing up, in the interest of due diligence, it's important to note that the listening assessments have some caveats. Initially, the sound through the Spotlight ensemble seemed tipped up, sounding a bit hot when I pushed the Adcom receiver hard. Only after I altered the left and right speakers' first-reflection points (which were bouncing off glass monitor screens left behind in the listening space) did the sound smooth out, becoming less grating. As a lark, I connected the G-Design system to a pricier Parasound Halo processor and amplifier. At this point, the sounds that the PSB system produced seemed a bit more fleshed out and refined. Of course, the PSB and Halo setup is a much more expensive match at twice the cost, especially considering the incremental gain in finesse. The point is this: The PSB/Adcom combination is a complementary setup when you take price into consideration. Of course, if you don't have room for separates or the money to spend on them, by all means, you'll be able to live easily with the PSB/Adcom system.

PSB G-Design Speaker System:
• Stunning finish
• World-class sound
• Environmentally friendly, lead-free solder connections

Adcom GFR-700HD A/V Receiver:
• First one-piece receiver from this company
• Basic, unassuming looks
• Ample connections, especially for meeting newcomer's needs