Review: PSB Speakers Imagine Mini Speaker System

It’s been a dream of audio engineers and enthusiasts for decades: Create a compact speaker system that performs like a big one.

Paul Barton didn’t seem to me like the guy to do it — at least not until recently. The founder and chief engineer of PSB Speakers has had success with a few small models, but I associate him more with large, clunky tower speakers. However, Barton recently shifted his focus to lifestyle-oriented products. He has incorporated graceful, modern styling into his speaker lines, and also lent his efforts to headphones and iPod/iPhone docks.

The Imagine Mini is Barton’s latest attempt to bring his uncompromising ideas about sound quality to a broader market. The $749-per-pair Mini is just 9.25 inches high, more the size of a home-theater-in-a-box speaker than something you’d expect from an esteemed brand like PSB.

Yet the Mini employs the same technologies found in the larger, more expensive Imagine tower speakers. Same titanium-dome tweeter. Same clay-and-ceramic-filled polypropylene woofer cone material. Same ultra-rigid curved cabinet. Same sleek, no visible-fasteners design. The sole downgrade from the pricier Imagine models is that the Mini’s woofer has a dust cap shaped like a phase plug, rather than the real metal phase plug found on other speakers. (A phase plug fills the space in the center of the cone to eliminate resonance, and the metal provides thermal mass to help cool the driver’s motor structure.)

It seems the Imagine Mini might sound much like the other Imagine speakers, at least in the midrange and treble. What about the bass, though? Can a little woofer in a tiny enclosure pump out enough low end to satisfy without a subwoofer? That’s the big question.

PSB played it safe by sending along the SubSonic 1, an 8-inch subwoofer that at just $399 seems to be a different class of product. It’s a straightforward, front-ported design with no frills and none of the Imagine Mini’s visual charm.

Along with two pair of Minis and the SubSonic 1, I borrowed an Imagine C center so that I could do a full 5.1 system. The Imagine C is the same center designed for use with the larger and more expensive Imagine models, and as I suggested above, its woofers are a little more upscale.