Introduction to the PSB Imagine mini-Monitors
For the audiophile world to take seriously a small bookshelf speaker, let alone a “mini”-monitor there has to be some significant backing and/or history.
Much has been said and written about the NRC, or National Research Council located in Ottawa, Canada. The decades of research developed helped shape many generations and iterations of speaker design by focusing on the “physchoacoustics” or specifically the tools by which we analyze sound within a space. Much of the jargon we all use; open, airy, transparent, open, closed, etc., comes from the many papers presented from this group. The NRC gave designers and audio visionaries like Paul Barton the facilities to develop research and experiment.
Given so, PSB or Paul and Sue Barton’s Canadian company has been in business since the early 1970’s.
So here I’m presented with the amazingly small but beautifully crafted “gem” in the Imagine mini-monitor. Despite just referred to as the Mini’s at this point, they are far from sounding like a speaker with diminutive stature. I’m sure many reviews will praise these tikes, so I’m just glad to throw in my adoration.
Within minutes of receiving them, I immediately threw them into the system and played something, anything, and everything. I didn’t care what the drivers were or crossovers, or filters applied, I just wanted to hear them. So my first session was impressive; WOW! I didn’t expect a full, rich and complex sound, at least not right away, but that’s what I got.
So who are they for? During my interview, Paul modestly suggested, the professional who wants a great sound in their office, or a bedroom, etc. Geez Paul, how about anywhere you want good sound, especially in a space-challenged environment.
PSB IMAGINE mINI-MONITORS SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: Two-way, Ported
- Drivers: One 1″ Titanium Dome Tweeter, One 4″ Mid/Woofer
- MFR: 55 Hz – 23 kHz
- Sensitivity: 87 dB
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Input Power Recommended: 10-80 Watts
- Dimensions: 9.25″ H x 5.75″ W x 8.4″ D
- Weight: 6.5 Pounds/each
- MSRP $760/pair USD in Black Ash, Dark Cherry or Walnut, $830 in High Gloss White or Black
- SECRETS Tags: Mini-Monitors, Bookshelf Speakers, Monitors, PSB
Design of the PSB Imagine mini-Monitors
The Mini’s are in fact just that, they stand about 9.5″ high, 5.75″ wide and 8.3″ deep and weigh 6.5 pounds. Given that the speakers are not square in any form, the perception of size is further reduced with the volume barely 0.26 cubic feet.
Available in a few traditional finishes– Dark Cherry, Walnut, and Black Ash as well as High Gloss White–, I received the luscious and glossy black. All the edges are softly turned and radius from a new manufacturing process that involves a very big belt sander and a cam that spins the enclosure freely. Paul described them to me as, “beautiful little objects”.. got that right, I said!
Since this speaker is part of the lineage of Imagine speakers, we see the classic advantage of trickle down development. The Mini is an 8 ohm 2-way design with a unique 4″ woofer and a 1″ titanium dome tweeter and a rear port bass reflex. Without the screen, the injection molded clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene woofer cone is a soft gold color. What I immediately noticed during playback is the movement of the driver – it moves in and out like no driver I’ve seen at that size. Designing the woofer, Paul describes the issue of a smaller driver needing excursion, but a smaller diameter means it must be fast. Paul referred to the dual magnetic structure as a turbo magnet.
The 1″ titanium tweeter is borrowed from the flagship Synchrony Series, boasting a “ferrofluid and neodymium magnet structure”.
I’d be remiss to mention that although shelf mounted, the Mini was designed to be held on the wall as well with an optional bracket from PSB. The PWB-1 bracket offers a full range of motion because of a swiveling “worm gear” mechanism. And if you’re like me and prefer stand mounted, the Mini can be paired up with the PFS-27 stand.
On the rear, the speaker binding posts are recessed and accessible by threading your cable, (banana plugs help) through.
PSB Imagine mini-Monitors Subwoofer
Although I’m not really reviewing the SubSeries-1 on its own, PSB sent one along to complement the Mini’s, which brings up what will probably be the Mini’s harshest critic, perhaps a bit shy on low bass. But I have more to say on that issue later on.
The bass reflex SubSeries-1 offers 110 watts of continuous power all the while it also boasts 140 dynamic power and 280 watts of peak power. The affordable SubSeries-1 sports an 8″ polypropylene woofer and a front port. A convenient front-mounted crossover adjustment from 50-150 Hz and volume control are very convenient. The specs give low end around 32Hz.
On the rear; phase control, crossover on/off and both line level and speaker level inputs. A standby mode can be activated as well.
It’s finished with traditional flat black ash veneer.
Setup of the PSB Imagine mini-Monitors
Having said all that, most of my critical listening of the Mini was without the sub on. Frankly I wanted to hear the Mini on its own merits and I achieved pretty good bass response by experimenting with proper placement. Ultimately I had them about 7 ft apart and was placed on a continuous shelf about 30 inches high and about 12 inches from the back wall. I sat back about 9 ft.
Most of the time I had the Mini’s powered by my A-21 Parasound amplifier and Parasound P-3 preamplifier with my Marantz SACD and turntable. Towards the end however, on hand for review were the Onkyo Reference M-5000R amplifier, the P-3000R preamplifier and the C-7000R CD player. Overkill? I think not!
The PSB Imagine mini-Monitors In Use
Piano recordings offer an excellent reference in the mid-range. Sa Chen’s PentaTone Classic SACD recording of Rachmaninov’s 6 Etudes Tableaux piano concertos is simply wonderful. The Mini’s handle Sa Chen’s graceful playing with delicacy and finesse. Although studio recorded, the image from the Mini’s created a believable depth and dynamic all the while maintaining an excellent tonal balance.
I had just received a new 45 rpm recording of Johnny Hartman’s 1963 recorded “I Just Dropped by to Say Hello”. It’s hard to get a deeper baritone voice than JH. The Mini exuded a wrmth in his chesty voice. Accompanied by a tenor sax, piano, bass, and Kenny Burrell’s guitar, the ensemble was controlled, natural and balanced. Could I argue for slightly deeper bass, perhaps.
On an entirely different direction, the new release on SACD of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” also arrived. There is a freshness to the original recording and the tracks have never sounded better. The dialogue between the saxophone and Gilmour’s guitar in Shine on You Crazy Diamond is rich with character. The guitar sound is actually sweet and floats above the range of the saxophone in timbered harmony. This placement of sound makes the Mini outstanding!
The crackly old megaphone sound in the opening of Wish you Were Here transitions to the clarity of the acoustic guitar unveiled in clean and elegant definition. The Mini is revealing as it is clean.
Track after track convinced me I was listening to a very accomplished speaker, capable of any genre. I pulled out the well recorded Alison Krauss + Union Station Live on vinyl. Crystal clear guitars and Alison’s fiddle along with her vocals are so well balanced and the Mini’s present the overlapping instruments with convincing live realism.
Conclusions About the PSB Imagine mini-Monitors
Of course let’s be realistic, it would be completely unfair to compare the Mini to a full range, floor-standing speaker, keeping in mind that there are many very good floor-standing speakers that have flaws. Positioned right, the Mini can achieve a pretty amazing soundstage.
The Mini’s hold their own so well, with surprisingly punchy bass, a mid-range clarity and elegance. With the added SubSeries 1, this is a formidable package capable of delivering a well balanced presentation.
I’d strongly considered a package of five of these “little gems” for a surround system, for both music and movies – you could do a lot worse, and not a lot better.