PSB Imagine Mini Speaker System Page 2
Associated gear included a Rotel RSX-1550 A/V receiver, Oppo BDP-83 universal disc player, Rega Planar 25 turntable, Shure M97xE cartridge, and Bellari VP530 tube phono preamp. All movie demos were Blu-ray Discs with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks.
Control and Layering
Knight and Day has all the mayhem you’d expect in a Tom Cruise spy movie—plus the charm of Cameron Diaz, always a huge asset. As a plane crash is succeeded by the inevitable demolition car chase and an unexpected Spanish running-of-the-bulls scene, the PSBs showed off their ability to control effects and even layer them a bit. I quickly got used to the fact that dialogue remained stable when I moved off axis. It wasn’t long before I was spilling all over the sofa in a variety of slumping postures, which is what happens when I’m not tyrannized by a rigorously enforced sweet spot.
Micmacs is a surreal French comedy that pits a circus-like assemblage of gadget freaks against an evil international arms manufacturer. It would be impossible to overstate the continual inventiveness and charm of this film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amélie. One among many oddities is the interpolation of classic soundtrack music by Max Steiner. Sweetened by surround rechanneling and delay, this older material always seemed to come from some obscure, otherworldly dimension—and the speakers’ shrewd layering heightened this pleasing effect. Toward the end, there’s also a gratifyingly lengthy series of explosions that gave the sub a chance to throb. It performed well for a $399 sub, at least in the upper frequencies close to the crossover, but it lacked the bottom-end slam of larger and/or pricier subs.
The Strangers is a sadistic home-invasion story in which the aggressors wear masks and their motive is never quite spelled out. Hushed dialogue is interlarded with sudden, loud effects—the usual formula. The resolving power of the titanium domes did not allow the speakers to take the edge off the more assaultive effects, although I sometimes wished they had. The sub had its chance to shine when the invaders pounded on the home’s wooden door. At a 100-hertz crossover, the speaker assigned to the center channel and the sub integrated perfectly to produce a single but surprisingly complex percussive event. The sub handled the basic midbass pounding, while the woofer and even the tweeter combined to follow up with a woody decay. The decay lasted a small fraction of a second but was nonetheless startlingly real. The combined effect made me twitch in my seat.
Cantata and Guitars
From my SACD archives came a disc pairing Gordon Getty’s Joan and the Bells cantata with Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite No. 2. Alexander Vedernikov conducted the Russian National Orchestra. This 2003 multichannel mix places the vocal soloists smack in the front center channel, exactly where they belong. The Imagine Minis’ high-frequency extension delivered every shred of vocal detail, while the adroitly sculpted midrange ensured that the humans behind the voices were fully fleshed out. The three matched speakers across the front delivered the chorus and orchestra with lush, vibrant textures and not the slightest trace of side-to-side tonal shift.
Great Big Boy (CD) is one of the strongest of several fine albums Leo Kottke recorded for Private Music. One of the delights of Kottke’s expert acoustic guitar playing is the percussive urgency he gives to the lower strings. The quick 4-inch woofers gave his low-frequency attack the exciting pacing and impact it deserved. Kottke’s touch also imparts a sparkle to the upper strings, and the tweeters conveyed the tuneful beauty of his attack, giving an impression of a plastic pick wielded by a strong right hand hitting steel strings with superb pitch and timing. Perhaps more impressive was the way the speakers and sub united to deliver his graveled baritone.
The spiky avant-jazz guitarist James Blood Ulmer serves up three ensembles on his 1981 album Freelancing (LP): a trio with the rhythm section, a larger group with second guitar and female chorus, and a sextet with saxophonists David Murray and Oliver Lake and trumpeter Olu Dara. Although the music can be jarring, it got some tonal smoothing from the PSBs, those eloquent black grooves, and my vinyl rig. The most prominent element was drummer G. Calvin Weston and his alternately stuttering, rolling, and pile-driving beat. With this sub, it was less powerful than it should have been: The drummer popped more than he pounded, indicating good upper-bass response, adequate midbass response, but not quite enough low bass to give this track its full due.
The PSB Imagine Mini may be small, but it is—in its own way—a monster performer whose design and build quality are worthy of a much more costly speaker. While the SubSeries 1 acquitted itself well considering its price point, it was outclassed here by the speakers, which acquitted themselves brilliantly. Still, with the money you save on the Minis, you can buy a higher-end sub as well as an A/V receiver with amplification clean enough to fully realize the resolution of the speakers—which, I’m happy to report, are entirely in keeping with the great tradition of PSB.