PSB Speakers, based in Pickering, Ontario, and headed by the legendary Paul Barton, is a highly respected manufacturer of loudspeakers and headphones. Although Lenbrook Industries has owned PSB for a number of years now, Barton still oversees the design and testing of PSB speakers at the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa, Ontario, a world-class facility for measuring and testing speakers in which he and many others refine their designs. In fact, the SoundStage! Network’s own founder and publisher, Doug Schneider, often runs into Barton at the NRC, where Doug gets exclusive measurements of the performance of many of the speakers we review.
The subject of this review is PSB’s Imagine Mini home-theater speaker system, which includes the new Imagine Mini C center-channel speaker. When our editor, Jeff Fritz, asked if I was interested in reviewing this system, I answered with an emphatic Yes! -- I’d read Roger Kanno’s rave review of the Imagine Mini two-channel system. Additionally, at $759 USD per pair, the Imagine Mini is the least expensive speaker in our list of Recommended Reference Components. I also wanted to hear how the Imagine Mini C center-channel would measure up to the Imagine Mini, and, given these speakers’ small size, whether the system could handle the dynamic range required of a good home-theater system.
The first thing that struck me about the Imagine Mini was how small it is -- at around 9.25”H x 5.75”W x 8.375"D and weighing only 6.5 pounds, a pair of them could easily find a home on your computer desktop. My second impression was of the Mini’s fabulous high-quality cabinet. My set was finished in a beautiful real-wood veneer of Dark Cherry. Also available are Black Ash and Walnut, all at the base price of $759/pair; add $70/pair for high-gloss black or white. The Imagine Mini looks classy and upscale, with curved sides that meet at the back, and a down-sloping top plate. On the slightly curved front baffle are a 1” titanium-dome tweeter above a 4” polypropylene midrange-woofer, the latter reinforced with what PSB calls clay/ceramic, a unique means of stiffening the plastic. Toward the top of the narrow rear “panel” -- more of an edge -- is a port, its aperture framed by a vertical plastic strip that runs from the port down to the bottom panel. Unusually, the binding posts are on this bottom panel, accessible through two holes in the plastic strip.
This makes sense when you look at the Mini’s optional PFS-27 stand. The stand is made of hollow, extruded aluminum, which allows you to run speaker cables up through it and into the posts, for a neat, clean appearance. PSB should be commended for charging only $299/pair for these stands; the prices of many other manufacturers’ stands are, I think, too high a proportion of the cost of the speakers themselves. I use locking banana plugs, and the Minis’ posts and stands worked well with them. However, when I placed the Minis atop my own stands, it was no longer possible to reach the binding posts through those tiny holes in the back. The other problem is that PSB’s stand is secured to the speaker with two keyholes. When I first cranked up the Minis, the stand produced a buzz -- a keyhole plate was insecurely fastened. I tightened the plate to the bottom of the Mini and reinstalled the speaker on the stand. Problem solved. I recommend buying the stands, because they look great -- the top plate fastens flush to the bottom of the speaker for a sleek, clean appearance. If you don’t want to spend the money and/or you already have your own stands, prepare to use bare wire instead of spade lugs or locking banana plugs.
Another alternative to stands is to mount the Imagine Minis on a wall with the optional PWB-1 bracket ($99/pair). With this you can swivel the speaker 50 degrees to left or right, 15 degrees up or 45 degrees down, to fine-tune the imaging. The brackets held the Mini tightly, but one thing kept me from using them -- as with the stands, accessing the binding posts was difficult. You have to snake a low-gauge speaker wire through a hole in the bracket, then down to the holes in the back of the Mini.
Both the Mini and Mini C have a crossover frequency of 2200Hz, and their claimed sensitivities are, respectively, 87dB/W/m and 88dB/W/m. They were easy to drive to loud levels with the two amps I tried: an Adcom GFA-7500 class-AB home-theater amp rated at 135Wpc into 8 ohms, and a Bel Canto C5i class-D integrated rated at 60Wpc into 8 ohms.
Imagine Mini C
The Imagine Mini C ($699 to $769, depending on finish) is designed to accompany two pairs of Imagine Minis in a surround-sound array (the way I reviewed the system). However, the Mini itself is so small that I’d think that just using a single Imagine Mini placed vertically might better match the rest of the system and cost less to boot. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t sell a home-theater system without a speaker labeled “center-channel,” and apparently PSB and almost every other speaker manufacturer knows this. Despite my practicality, the Imagine Mini C measures 14"W x 6"H x 8.5"D, weighs 9.8 pounds, looks the part, and is visually well matched to the Mini. It features the curved Imagine design elements, and works with the stand- and the wall-mount options. The Mini C’s binding posts, however, are easier to access: they’re on the rear panel. More important, the Mini C has two 4” polypropylene midrange-woofers, one to either side of its 1” titanium-dome tweeter.
SubSeries 200 subwoofer
You can see a family resemblance between the Imagine Mini and the SubSeries 200 subwoofer ($649) in the slightly curved front panel and grille that they share. Other than that, the SubSeries 200 is boxy and utilitarian in almost every way. It’s compact, measuring 17.5"H x 13.375"W x 15.5"D and weighing 34 pounds, with a footprint of just over one square foot, but a bit taller than the more cubical shape I’m used to seeing. My review sample came in Black Ash, which was thoroughly outclassed by the sexy finishes of the Imagine Mini and Mini C.
In regard to the SubSeries 200’s connections and controls, there’s little to complain about -- both low-level stereo inputs and outputs are present, along with a dedicated LFE input and output, and high-level inputs -- basically, the SubSeries 200 can accommodate any system you can throw at it. A nice touch is that the controls are mounted on the front. They are: volume, variable crossover frequency, and a phase switch that toggles between 0 and 180 degrees. The SubSeries 200’s 200W amplifier drives a 10” polypropylene cone, its output augmented by a 2.5” downfiring port.
I set up the front left and right Imagine Minis some 10’ from my listening seat and 7.5’ from each other. The Imagine Mini C was placed straight ahead of my listening seat, 10’ away. The SubSeries 200 went to the front left of the room, slightly behind the left front speaker. The two Imagine Minis I was using as surrounds were placed to each side of my listening seat, near the back wall.
I used my A/V processor to set the crossover for all speakers to the THX-approved 80Hz, which also sounded best. That surprised me, given the PSBs’ diminutive size -- but when I tried higher crossover frequencies, the speakers sounded too thin.
In the many weeks I spent auditioning the PSB Imagine Mini home-theater system ($2866). It punched way above its weight class, clobbering and embarrassing systems much larger and more expensive. One of the Blu-ray Discs that demonstrated its capabilities well was the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. In the opening scene, the muted orchestral music explodes into a crescendo of speeding cars, crashes, and gunfire. The gunshots were crisply reproduced by the Imagine Minis, and the SubSeries 200 provided the deep-bass thuds of the many car crashes. When the chase enters a tunnel, the surrounds gave an unnerving sense of actually being in one. When chapter 2 begins and Alicia Keys’s “Another Way to Die” kicks in, the SubSeries 200 sounded authoritative with that bass-heavy music.
Chapter 3 of Quantum of Solace includes a lot of dialogue. The Imagine Mini C sounded fantastic, with Daniel Craig’s and Judi Dench’s voices both easy to understand. I listen closely for comb filtering in center-channel speakers, to see if the high frequencies sound dull at either side of the room -- something that almost always happens with horizontal woofer-tweeter-woofer driver arrays such as the Mini C’s. But kudos to Paul Barton and his design team -- I could hear no trace of that from the Mini C. Anywhere in my room, the dialogue was always intelligible.
In chapter 4, Bond chases double agent Mitchell across the rooftops of Siena, Italy, including the bell tower of a church. To flush out his prey, Bond pulls ropes to get the big bells ringing, and the sound of the bells rotated from the front speakers to the surrounds. The Imagine Mini system provided a textbook display of timbral matching -- the sound didn’t change, and remained perfectly matched through all of the speakers, including the Mini C. The dynamic range of the Imagine Minis rocked with this scene. I played it louder than I normally like, but the Minis never let me down, always sounding clean and clear, without the compression that small speakers almost always exhibit.
I used to favor multidirectional surround speakers, such as bipoles or dipoles, for their superior surround envelopment. In recent years I’ve softened that stance, as the surround mixes of movie soundtracks have improved and seven-channel systems (with rear surrounds) fill in the back and sides as well as or better than only two bipole surrounds. If PSB ever makes a bipole Imagine Mini, I’d probably prefer that, but for now, the marvelous soundstaging depth and imaging of the conventional direct-radiating Minis seemed uncompromised. This was evident in chapter 19 of Quantum of Solace, where Bond and Camille save themselves by parachuting out of a plane. Through the PSB system, the rushing wind surrounded me; I didn’t feel there were any gaps in the surround soundfield.
While the Imagine Mini models formed a cohesive system, I felt the weakest link was the SubSeries 200. In chapter 25 of Quantum of Solace, a hydrogen canister explodes when engulfed by fire. Rather than the tight, gut-wrenching boom I hear and feel from more expensive subwoofers, the bass response resonated in my room longer than it should have. The SubSeries 200 isn’t worse than other $649 subwoofers, but the Imagine Mini is in a higher class and deserves a better sub -- such as one of PSB’s two HD models.
In my den are speakers I normally use for gaming that are of comparable size to the PSB Imagine Mini: Definitive Technology’s ProCinema 1000 system ($1595). Although it seemed unfair to compare the Definitives to the PSB Imagine Mini system, it did answer one question: Is the PSB Imagine Mini system worth the extra cash?
When I reviewed the ProCinema 1000s a few years ago, I found it had remarkable imaging characteristics, especially given the low cost of the ProMonitor 1000 main speakers. The PSB Imagine Mini equaled the lateral imaging of the ProMonitor 1000s, but brought the added dimension of imaging depth. Listening to “Cry (If You Want To),” from Holly Cole’s Steal the Night: Live from the Glenn Gould Studio (CD, Universal Music B006YYUQM8), I was able to hear the studio ambiance more clearly through the PSBs.
An area where Definitive Technology shows innovation in the ProMonitor 1000 is the use of a top-mounted passive radiator to extend the bass response. In comparison, the PSB Imagine Mini has a port and a smaller woofer (4” vs. 5.25”). Surprisingly, the PSB had greater low-frequency output, which resulted in an engaging speaker on its own, even without a subwoofer. In contrast, the ProMonitor 1000 really needs a sub to be satisfactory for music listening. The Imagine Minis were ideal companions for recordings of acoustic jazz trios, such as the Oscar Peterson Trio’s We Get Requests (CD, Polygram B0000047D5). The imaging was superb, with piano, bass, and drums properly located across the front soundstage. The deepest double-bass notes weren’t completely audible, but enough that I could enjoy this recording immensely through the PSBs, even without a sub. With the Definitives, I’d need a subwoofer to get close to the same level of satisfaction.
Another area where the PSB Imagine Mini bested the DefTech ProMonitor 1000 was dynamic range. Watching movies, I could crank the PSBs as loud as I wanted, and the Minis’ high frequencies retained their smoothness and clarity. With the DefTech ProCinema 1000 system, the highs went a little brittle when pushed, and I heard some cabinet ringing. The DefTechs are ideally suited only to small rooms, whereas I could push the PSB Imagine Minis hard without much detriment in rooms of up to medium size. If you have a large room, however, you’d probably want to look at a tower speaker, such as PSB’s Imagine T2.
To answer the question that I posed at the start of this section -- is the PSB Imagine Mini home theater system worth it? -- my answer is a resounding “Yes!”
With the Imagine Mini home-theater system, PSB has tossed out the window my preconceptions about what’s possible with minimonitors. This system played far louder and cleaner than I thought it could when I began my listening. Not only that, within the area of the audioband that it could actually reproduce, it didn’t lack in any audiophile performance area: imaging, high-frequency reproduction, and soundstage depth were all top notch. Think of the PSB Imagine Mini as a reference-quality speaker that you can hold in the palm of your hand. If you have a small room and want a quality system, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this setup to you. If you’re like me, you’ll probably find they’re all you’ll need -- even if you were willing to part with a lot more cash. And I urge those of you with rooms of medium size to also give these speakers an audition -- you may need nothing more.
. . . Vince Hanada
- Preamplifier-processor -- Emotiva UMC-1
- Power Amplifiers -- Adcom GFA-7500, Bel Canto C5i
- Sources -- Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6, Oppo BDP-83 universal Blu-ray player
- Cables -- Analysis Plus Blue Oval in-wall speaker cable, Analysis Plus Super Sub interconnects
- Monitor -- Sanyo PLV-Z5 projector with Grandview LFM-92 tab-tensioned motorized screen
PSB Imagine Mini / Imagine Mini C / SubSeries 200 Home-Theater Speaker System
System price: $2866 USD.
Warranty: Five years, subwoofer and speaker drivers; one year, subwoofer amplifier.
PSB Speakers International
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
Phone: (905) 831-6555
Fax: (905) 837-6357