PSB Synchrony One Speaker System Real-World Performance
Even without their grilles, the Synchrony Ones' top-end balance was significantly different than the sound I recall from the PSB Platinum M2s I reviewed in February 2004. Those speakers had air to spare, while generating a very flat response at the same time. The Synchronies were a bit short of top-end sparkle and openness, but they were well-balanced and in no way dull-sounding.
In fact, the Synchrony's highs were actually a little unforgiving in the low-to-mid treble. I initially thought this might be something in my setup or listening room, as I have heard this from other speakers I've reviewed, but certainly not all of them. Neither of the two sets of speakers I have reviewed most recently, the Revel Ultima2 Studio2s and the B&W 683s, sounded that way. And John Atkinson noted the same thing in his recent review of the Synchrony Ones for Stereophile, which he auditioned in a very different room. However, I only found this quality distracting on inherently bright 2-channel music played back at high levels. And I didn't hear it at all on soundtracks when I listened to them from the slightly off-axis listening position I normally use for movie watching.
The Synchrony One's midrange was superb. The most one can ask of midrange performance is that instruments and voices sound natural without obvious colorations, a more-difficult challenge than you might think. The One met that challenge handily.
The same was true of the Synchrony One C center-channel speaker. Contrary to popular myth, a center speaker does a lot more than reproduce dialog, which the One C certainly does with aplomb. It also does the "a lot more" part superbly. And even from my normal, slightly off-axis movie-viewing position, I heard no sign of the dreaded comb-filtering dip. (Post-measurement caveat—it turns out that the One C does, surprisingly, have such a dip, but it only becomes audibly significant when you move more than 20 degrees or so off-axis. See "Measurements" for more on this.)
The SubSeries 9 acquitted itself well, falling midway in performance in my room between a pair of less-expensive B&W ASW610s ($600 each) and the Revel B-15a ($3000)—the former providing about the same radiating area as the SubSeries 9, the latter slightly more. The PSB sub went deeper than the B&Ws, with more power, but the B&Ws had slightly better definition. The Revel (which, to be fair, has its own 3-band parametric equalizer tuned to its location in the room) exceeded them both, but at a substantially higher cost than the PSB.
I also took a small step into terra incognita for most audiophiles. I broke out the tone controls on my Integra DTC-9.8 pre/pro—not the Integra's Audyssey equalization system, which was not used for this review, but simply the treble control. A setting of +1—hardly a bold move—made a noticeable difference in the top-end balance. On some material, this caused the PSBs to sound a bit too bright, but on other tracks—most, in fact—the balance was just right. It was easy to change back and forth as needed, another reminder that even with a well-engineered speaker system such as the Synchrony One, little things can make a significant difference depending on program material, listener preferences, the rest of the system, and the room.
After these few relatively painless tweaks, a pair of Synchrony Ones, together with the SubSeries 9 handling all the chores below 80Hz, made the most of nearly all the music I played on them. My room and setup always does a fine job reproducing a two-channel soundstage, so I was not surprised when the Synchrony Ones did the same. Centered vocalists and instruments were hard-wired to the middle, prompting my typical 2-channel, speaker-review exercise of checking the center speaker from close up to make sure it was off.
It was. And the rest of the soundstage fell into place as well, both in width and depth. The balance was a bit forward, and the depth was less pronounced than the best I've heard in this room, but the difference was not earthshaking. The system was still a little short of air on some program material, particularly the ambience of naturally recorded spaces as presented by only two front speakers. But surround sound can compensate for this to a significant degree.
Coloration was low, with most traces of the excess warmth mentioned earlier now gone following my tweaks. Deep bass was powerful though just a little less crisply defined than I prefer. With the subwoofer off and the Ones driven full range, however, the bass was actually a bit too lean. This was likely the result of the speakers' demanding placement, which, in my setup, is well out into the room and away from nearby walls. Most speakers I've placed in these positions have really needed the help of a subwoofer for full-bodied balance, and the Synchronies were no exception. Still, if you have to forego a subwoofer, the One by itself appears to be a little less extended into the deep bass than some of its similarly priced and sized competition.
Bringing the full weight of all 5.1 speakers into the game substantially upped the performance of the system. The best movie soundtracks produced a huge, meaty soundstage. The back of the jacket for the Blu-ray release of Unbreakable says "mind-blowing." It's quoting a review of the movie itself, but it might as well be referring to the 48kHz/24-bit uncompressed PCM soundtrack.
The mix isn't over-the-top for the most part, but when it cuts loose, you know it. Combine a superbly recorded James Newton Howard score with well-chosen effects, stunningly deep bass, a wide and deep soundstage, and cleanly recorded dialog, and you have an audio mix that turns an original but otherwise relatively routine thriller into a real movie experience. And the Synchrony One system did its part to make the most of it.
Finally, I pulled out three of my favorite demo scenes: the launch sequence in chapter 4 of Apollo 13 (HD DVD, DD+), the alien sequence in chapters 17 and 18 of Chicken Little (Blu-ray, 48kHz/16-bit PCM), and the autobot arrival in chapter 11 of Transformers (HD DVD, DD+). All of these were knockouts on the Synchrony One system. The explosive power of the Saturn rocket engines in Apollo 13, the alien disintegrating rays and "big voices" in Chicken Little, and the wide-ranging effects in Transformers were completely convincing. The dialog was unfailingly clear in all cases. And last but not least, if a demo sequence lacks a dynamite music underscore, I'm not interested. All these films have this quality in abundance, and all of them sounded great on the PSBs.