Product Review - PSB Image 5T
Floor-Standing Speakers - September, 2000
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
|PSB Speakers; Web http://www.psbspeakers.com|
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Speakers: PSB Century 500i
Power Amplifiers: Bryston 4B, NAD 912
DH labs BL-1
Speaker Cable: Self designed
- Arvind Kohli -
© Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home
Theater & High Fidelity
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