Whether you believe or question the need for the extra speaker may answer itself once you enjoy some time in a system that includes the spatially dynamic enhancement of the height channel, as I did.
PSB Imagine XA Dolby Atmos Enabled Speaker
- Designed for use as an “elevation” or “height” channel
- 2-way design, “vertically-firing driver array”
- Surface or wall mounting options
- Excellent Atmos reproduction
- Quality fit and finish – ash veneer, 5-way binding post
- Final voicing performed by Paul Barton at Canada’s famed NRC
- Easy setup
In reviewing the PSB Imagine XA speaker, I remember my excitement back in the early 1980s when I could watch a movie or television through my two channel receiver. For the first time I was experiencing multi-dimensional sound with Dolby Stereo. Jumping off the floor during the original Predator film, with the thunderous sound of helicopters (“Get to the chopper!”) flying across the screen from left to right, it was immersive, even in stereo and I was getting the same enjoyment from movies at home, as I was from my hifi system.
Frequency Response On Axis @ 0°±3dB :
LF Cutoff -10dB:
Dolby Atmos Certified:
Anechoic Chamber 85dB
Listening Room 87dB
Impedance Nominal :
Input Power Recommended:
1” (25mm) titanium dome with ferrofluid
4” (102mm) Clay/Ceramic reinforced polypropylene cone Rubber surround Turbo magnet
6 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 6 3/4”
PSB Imagine XA, PSB, Speakers, Speaker Reivews 2017
After that, I never watched television or a movie without my receiver on, even the news sounded better.
Several years later when Dolby introduced Dolby Surround, discrete multi-channel surround sound, the home theater experience went to a completely different level. Objects came across the screen, front to back and side-to-side. A center channel gave clarity to voices and dialogue while the LFE channel added the “.1” subwoofer to your system and the bottom-end rattled your bones.
Dolby wasn’t done; in around 2012 surround sound was yet re-defined adding “3-D” sound by placing speakers over your head for what they called, Atmos®. Although first developed for public theaters, it soon became adapted for home theaters. It was hoped to provide a shot in the arm really for a stagnant speaker and audio receiver market, and continues to gain momentum to this day.
And without sounding biased to just Dolby, DTS has their version with DTS:X and Auro 3D with its multi-layered, height speakers:
Read Chris Eberle’s early technical review of these new formats.
Two ways to achieve the height channels in a Dolby Atmos® system include either, mounting ceiling speakers for a directly down-firing path, or what Dolby refers to as Atmos® Enabled speakers meaning the sound doesn’t fire down but rather bounces up to the ceiling and back to your ears. This illusion is considered a “phantom” sound, emulating the direct sound heard from a ceiling speaker. The obvious challenges to this concept are of course your physical space; ceiling height, sloped ceilings, etc.
PSB makes a strong case for the “enabled” speaker in the Imagine XA module.
In a public theater, Dolby Atmos can utilize up to 128 discrete channels or “audio objects”. Effective mostly as overhead objects, sound engineers place birds, rain, helicopters, explosions at pin-point locations. The idea is to go beyond the traditional surround sound format by creating an envelope rather than a two-dimensional horizontal plain of sound.
Imagine your home theater with 2, 4, 8, or even 12 discrete overhead speakers along with the 7 or 9 normally found in a home theater setup. In fact, Blu-ray is able to place up to 34 speakers.
Read Brian Florian’s primer for more Atmos information
For most of us, just having a couple of overhead discrete channel speakers might do the trick; a better case can be made for four. However, like most of us, we simply can’t, nor want to cut holes in the ceiling. PSB and Paul Barton associated closely with Dolby Labs and the Dolby specification to develop the enabled speaker – PSB designed the XA module. I’m told that Dolby uses the PSB XA to demonstrate the Atmos technology.
“Through our knowledge of psychoacoustics and sound physics, we’ve developed technology that enables speakers to create overhead sound even though they’re only a few feet off the floor. Dolby specifies the angle of incidence in the speaker cabinet, directivity, frequency response (including height-cue filtering), and other performance characteristics to ensure that the majority of acoustic energy is directed toward the ceiling, generating audio that the listener perceives as coming from overhead. All of these speaker characteristics work together to ensure that the re-creation of overhead sound is highly accurate and produces a lifelike height image. The performance of Dolby Atmos enabled speakers, whether integrated or add-on modules, must be experienced to be believed.”
The PSB Imagine XA speaker is like most Atmos® Enabled speakers with a sloped top angled about 30 degrees. The angled top baffle is well-hidden below the cover grill which is unusual because it provides more than a decorative cover for the drivers. The cover is lined with foam acting as a wave-guide to provide a baffled-focus to the emanating sound.
The two drivers included match the Imagine X Series with a 1” Ferrofluid cooled, titanium tweeter and a 4”, clay-filled polypropylene mid-range driver.
The PSB Imagine XA speaker is designed to sit on top of a left/right front speaker, I was also sent the Imagine X Series floor standing for fronts in the X2T, the monitor XB speakers for surrounds and the XC center channel. The PSB XA module was designed to be placed on the four speakers surrounding the sitting area, providing a ceiling-reflected path from in front and behind the listening position. With matching black ash finishes, once placed on the larger speaker it does disappear or seem part of the whole. PSB does provide rubber feet to give it stability to the XA placed on a speaker, while also protecting the finish. I was definitely concerned about bumping the XB speaker with the XA on it as they aren’t technically attached. In my space I have to walk around the speakers on the stand, so that was a bit of stress. Luckily nobody ever tipped it over.
Also included is a wall-mounting kit in the event you’d prefer, or simply rather not place them on your speakers. If you choose this direction, PSB does recommend that the ultimate height of the XA sit as high as the main L/R speakers but not more than 18” above. Additionally, it should not be mounted lower than the seated ear height of the listener and not any closer to the ceiling than half the wall height. And lastly, it is also recommended that the XA is mounted above or nearest the front L/R speakers rather than say, surround speakers mounted to the left and right sides of the room. PSB suggests keeping it within close proximity (no more than 2 or 3 feet) of the main speaker.
Using a Pioneer Elite VSX-1131 receiver I was able to dial in the PSB XA Atmos modules using the MACC automatic calibration. I did make some adjustments once I spent some time with the system. I used an Oppo BDP-103 BluRay player for source material.
Now that the hardware was setup, I was lacking in reference material, off to shop for titles with Dolby Atmos and came back with several I thought would best demonstrate the new technology. Although it should have been obvious, most if not all Atmos movies are action movies. That certainly doesn’t exclude other genres but for the most part, Atmos is for action movies, (and gamers?)
I wouldn’t say I was skeptical leading into the review, I was certain the PSB Imagine XA speaker module would perform very well based on my experience with the brand. But I was more concerned about my space, or other factors; were my speaker stands too tall for the surrounds, was I placing them too close to the ceiling in my low space, or too close to the walls, I have a dropped soffit around half my perimeter ceiling. Would toe-in for the mains conflict with the angle required for the XA? So I had many concerns, all for naught by the way.
This is no gimmick. Although each movie offered a slightly different presentation for Atmos, the extra dimension in sound was palpable, meaning I felt further enveloped into the action. I did mention that although the auto calibration set the speaker levels, I did boost the XA module about 4-5dB because I simply wanted more from that channel.
Believing also that the sound would be more ambient, as in Gravity with Sandra Bullock having music fill some space sound gaps, I did find the XA delivered some eye-brow raising pin-point accuracy when debris flew over your head. Hearing her heartbeat in space is provocative, intensifies as she comes from a distance towards the camera while she is out of sight. What’s really very pleasant is that the sound image doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s coming off the ceiling but rather as part of a whole aural experience.
Quite opposite to Gravity is Mad Max: Fury Road with yet another beautiful starlet in Charlize Theron, (is there a pattern here?) The Atmos channel is thunderous; explosions, roaring engines and warrior-like screams add dramatically to the intense experience of the movie. It was the first time I wondered if the movie would be lacking in simply just conventional surround sound, like 5.1 or 7.1? The XA performed the task, bringing clean articulate life to the soundtrack.
This is the part I tell you how the overall PSB speaker system performed and how the XA module created a special character to the experience, a perfect complement to the Imagine X Series. The X2T floorspeaker is no slouch in comparison as I come off reviewing the PSB flagship Imagine T3. I couldn’t help but spend some time listening to some stereo music with them as well. Typical from Paul, excellent timbre, open, fresh and clean-sounding, they would be excellent on their own anchoring not just a surround system, but a two channel as well.
The other brilliant piece is the Subseries 300 subwoofer that produced such depth and force… which brings me back to the review at hand…The earthquake scenes in the movie San Andreas are thunderous through the PSB Subseries 300, it not only kept up in a tight bass response, but nailed a very plausible sound-effect.
The visual effects of San Andreas alone are worth seeing the film. The storyline plays a subservient role to the effects, no doubt. There are many scenes with action around you; driving through a building with a tunnel effect, buildings falling overhead and naturally, the preverbal helicopters flying above you.
I did keep coming back to the music however and how the audio music tracks were especially pleasant through the additional height channel. My huge pleasurable surprise in reviewing the Atmos XA module from PSB is the use of the channel for ambient music, typically during credits. I wonder about music not related to movies released on BluRay specifically for surround with Atmos?
While most audiophiles prefer straight two channel, there are those that enjoy music in surround. But the idea that music is coming off the ceiling may provide an aura of a concert hall, for example. That may be worth another editorial from me.
I Highly Recommend THE PSB IMAGINE XA Regardless Of Whether You Own Psb Speakers Or Not, The Module Will Enhance Any Surround System You Already Have. At $499 For A Pair, Get Four.
- Simple, clean styling
- Easier to setup than I anticipated
- Wall mounting kit included
- Classic PSB sound
- I would like to see more than 4 XA modules.
- A stretch but perhaps more color options?
- A better attachment to the speaker it sits on, to prevent tipping.
Excuse the drama or hyperbole but the difference from "conventional" surround to Atmos through the highly polished sound of the PSB Imagine XA module (and Imagine Series speakers) is like comparing a painting to a piece of sculpture. Neither is a better art form, but the experience of the three-dimensional aspect, walking around a piece of art versus sitting in front adds a certain intimacy and attachment to the piece. Atmos is like staring at art versus walking in and around and through it.
I did suggest earlier that two height channel speakers might do, but having four PSB Image XA modules was that much better, regardless of room size.
Could I live without the extra channel, probably, but if you were paying attention, I couldn’t live without stereo from my video sources once I heard the difference. I will do the same with the added height channel.
I don’t mean for this to sound like a testament to Atmos more than the performance of the PSB Imagine XA but it’s the new technology that allows the XA to shine. This speaker is not merely an “add” but an integral part to the overall performance to the system. The XA performs remarkably; exacting sound, controlled, and natural. I look forward to hearing more music through Atmos and the PSB X Series with the XA module.