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Product Review - PSB Image 5T Floor-Standing Speakers - September, 2000


Arvind Kohli

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PSB Image 5T Floor-Standing Speakers

One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, Two 6 1/2" Polypropylene Woofers, Bass-Reflex

MFR 35 Hz - 21 kHz ± 3 dB

Sensitivity 92 dB/w/m

Impedance 6 Ohms Nominal

Power: 10 - 175 Watts

Size 36"  H x 8" W  x 14 1/4" D  

Weight: 42 Pounds Each

Finish: Black Ash or Cherry Vinyl

MSRP: $799/pair 

PSB Speakers; Web http://www.psbspeakers.com 

Introduction 

For a few years now, I have owned a pair of the PSB Century 500i speakers. This was the first component that took me on the road to putting together an audio system. Over time, every change I introduced into my system was easily heard. This not only further piqued my interest into the hobby, but also proved that the speakers were never the limiting factor in my system. When I heard of the new PSB Image line that is to replace the Century line, these new speakers were of much interest for me to review.

The Manufacturer

I had a chance to talk with Paul Barton about his approach to building speakers, and the Image line in particular. For those who do not know much about this remarkable person, here is a brief introduction. His music career began at a very early age. His father researched, designed, and hand crafted a violin for Paul. This launched Paul into recitals at a very young age, and later lead to his interest in recording and reproducing music. In high school he invented the name and logo for his company, PSB, as an anagram for Paul and Sue Barton. Sue was his high school love to whom he is still married, and my wife is very touched whenever she hears this story. In 1972, he founded PSB and started attending the University of Waterloo in pursuit of an Engineering degree. Two and a half years later, the growing demands of his company distracted from letting him finish. In 1974, two years after starting PSB, he met with Dr. Floyd Toole, who then was a researcher with the National Research Council in the field of acoustics. This meeting had a strong impact on the future of PSB and Paul Barton. Ever since that year, PSB has used the facilities at the NRC to develop their speakers. Paul Barton firmly believes in using double-blind listening tests and empirical measurements as the basis for all product development.

The Image Line

The Image line replaces the Century line in PSB’s product offering. However, the Image series was not designed using the Century Line as a basis for improvement or changes. Instead, Paul Barton envisioned a range of consistent sounding speakers that were designed from scratch. He also wanted to keep the price of the speakers as low as possible, extending PSB’s long standing reputation as an outstanding value provider. The entire Image line of speakers shares one common tweeter and two types of woofers. It took about two and a half years of development and a total of four years to roll out the line. It is obvious that these products were not a rush to market attempt of jumping on the home theater band wagon.

The Image line has three bookshelf speakers, four floor-standers, two center channels, one surround (the 10S), and one powered subwoofer. This is a vast enough offering to accommodate a variety of budgets, room sizes, and configurations for audio and home theater applications. After consulting with PSB’s Public Relations rep Alan Lofft, and Paul Barton, I chose the 5Ts as the review sample. The 5Ts are the mid sized entries in the floor-standing models of the Image line.

Setup

The boxes were clearly marked indicating the correct side to open, and the speakers inside were packed with ample protection to stand the rigors of most shipping companies. They easily slid out and took less than an hour to put together, wire, and move into position. 

My listening room is 16’ by 16’ by 8’ high. For normal listening, the speakers were placed so that there were 70” between the tweeters, and 128” from the tweeters to the listening position. For critical listening, the tweeters are still 70” apart, but the distance to my ears is 100”. This is not as far away from room boundaries or wide a listening setup as I would like, but reality tends to not accommodate most audiophile wishes.

The Outside

My first impression of these speakers was how handsome they were. The review sample was a Cherry laminate and you would be hard pressed to tell it was not real wood, unless you were inspecting it point blank. Judging from the pictures on their web site, I was expecting them to look more appealing than their preceding Century line but not this good. The ultimate aesthetic validation was the several “These are NICE!” approvals, by my wife.

The top of the front baffle is a curved plastic molding that houses the drivers. The grille is set on a rigid plastic frame that is curved to fit the baffle.  Black plastic feet hug the bottom sides giving a smart appearance, and adding to stability. Also supplied are rubber levelers for hard surface placement and spikes for carpet placement. A dual set of gold plated binding posts with plastic fasteners are set on the bottom of the rear panel, thus allowing for bi-wire or bi-amp configurations. All in all, the 5Ts are furnished with all the trimmings you would expect of speakers in a much higher price bracket.

If I had to wish for something, it would be a hollow, mass-loadable cavity to provide better damping/stability, and a plinth for added stability. If it seems like I am obsessed with stability, it’s because I have a large excitable dog with a powerful and happy tail.  Add to that the prospect of children in the future and it makes for justifiable paranoia.

I subjected the review units to the proverbial audiophile “tire-kicking”. Rapping the cabinet with my knuckles proved the 5Ts are fairly well braced, but have some areas not as dull sounding as others. According to audio wisdom, the cabinet should have near to zero response when rapped. Despite this, I did not notice any midrange coloration in my listening. To the contrary, the midrange sounded as beautiful and natural as I have ever heard. Actually, the 5Ts sounded better than the 500is, and the 500is are duller sounding when rapped. Of course, there is more to sound quality than an absolutely non-resonant enclosure. As a post-note, talking with Paul Barton confirmed what my ears were hearing. Paul stated that it would take an extraordinary amount of  power, perhaps a few thousand watts, to bring the cabinet resonances to the sound level of rapping your knuckles on them.

Overall, the appearance and trimmings are a definite upgrade from the preceding Century line. They are more in line with higher price point speakers. The most amazing fact is that the selling price of these speakers has not increased from the Century models that the Image series have replaced. This is quite a feat of economics, but not surprising coming from a known value provider like PSB.

Construction

The tweeter is a 1” aluminum dome with ferrofluid, a 6.5” mid-range/bass driver and the same for a bass unit, each with rubber surrounds. Each of the two 6.5” drivers has a 2”vented port. Crossovers are a Linkwitz-Riley 4th order at 500 Hz between the two 6.5” drivers, and a 3rd order Butterworth at 2.5 kHz leading up to the tweeter. The two and a half way design is intended to produce coherent sound from proximate drivers. In other words, the 1” tweeter is next to the 6.5” driver that picks up where the tweeter leaves off, thus that range of sound come from about the same area in the front baffle. The lower 6.5” driver plays only below 500 Hz and thus integrates with the middle driver.

Sensitivity is very high, rated at 92 dB in a typical room and 90 db in an anechoic chamber. Impedance is rated as 6 ohms nominal and 4 ohms minimum. This makes for an easy load for amps rated into 4 ohms. Even my 30 wpc NAD 912 played them at painfully loud levels without any sign of stress, not that most of us would want to do that. Power handling is rated as 10 to 175 watts, and 250 watts at peak transients. This high sensitivity and easy load was no accident. Paul Barton had the average system in mind when designing the Image line. He did not want to burden his customers with the need to buy expensive, behemoth amplifiers. This is actually very considerate if you think about it. Insensitive and low impedance speakers certainly force you to buy top line amplification to get any use or satisfaction. For the Image line, most budget receivers will easily do the job, although switching to a monstrous Bryston 4B certainly made some wonderful improvements in my home.

Sound

Right out of the box I noticed several improvements over the Century line. I dutifully ran them through several days of break-in at varying volumes and with a variety of source material. There was no noticeable change to my ears, and of course I had been listening to them every chance I could.

Both the 500i and the 5Ts have two aspects in common. First, they sound very natural. On several well recorded pieces, I was repeatedly amazed at how accurately a voice or instrument sounded, as though it were right there. Secondly, they have the ability to distinguish each sound source regardless of how many individual sources are playing at once. This is very evident on classical scores with a full orchestra going full bore. It sounds more like ‘you are there’ and can differentiate each section, instead of listening to an unintelligible morass of sounds. Sometimes this is referred to as not having midrange congestion.

The soundstage is definitely more defined, and bass is much tighter than my 500is. The only major shortcoming I had heard with the 500i was a slight but noticeable resonance with some male vocals, call it boominess or chestiness if you will. But, with the 5Ts, this artifact was gone.

The 30 watts per channel NAD 912 powered the 5Ts into high levels with no audible distortion or clipping. I did not care to go above levels that were starting to be painful to my ears. This testifies to both the easy load the speakers present and the quality of the NAD, notwithstanding any clipping that the NAD was introducing.

Swapping out the NAD for the Bryston really made the PSBs shine. Bass was much deeper and tighter, and the imaging a little better defined. I had no need for a subwoofer on virtually all music material. Only on some tracks with synthesized tones or movie effects could I hear additional information with a subwoofer. On movies, I could justify the use of a subwoofer more often. The speakers are rated down to 30 Hz as the –10 dB point, and my ears would approximate the same with test tones.

If you are not a bass nut, or listen mostly to music, or have an amp comparable to the Bryston, you may not need a subwoofer. If you must have a sub, you will not be able to skimp. You will have to get a real sub, that goes flat below 20 Hz and has proper controls to affect a seamless match with the 5Ts. I personally cannot live without one, and my Velodyne does function flat well below 20 Hz, except the low pass control only goes down to 40 Hz. This did not allow for perfect matching, and thus, I did most of my listening without the benefit of a subwoofer and frankly did not miss it very much.

Conclusion

If you have not already figured it out , I absolutely adore these speakers. They fit into a price range that is within the reach of most folks who are serious about good sound. Yes, there are speakers that are much more refined, but they cost multiples of what the 5Ts sell for, and you would probably need correspondingly expensive amplification as well.

Frankly, the recent years of general prosperity have seen a rush to market by audio manufacturers of “new and improved” products. Often, new and improved is only in the packaging and hype, at increased cost. The price of equipment has been increasing significantly every year, and dramatically if a model change is involved. PSB has not only improved upon the sound and aesthetics of their mid level line, but managed to deliver it without increase in price, not even with inflation. 

Associated Equipment:

Speakers: PSB Century 500i

Subwoofer: Velodyne F1500R

Power Amplifiers: Bryston 4B, NAD 912

Preamplifier: NAD 917

DVD Player: Pioneer 414

Interconnects: DH labs BL-1

Speaker Cable: Self designed

- Arvind Kohli -

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