PSB Image 5.1 £1500

20th Aug 2011 | 09:00

PSB Image 5.1

The baby brother to an award winning sound system shows AV performance runs in the family

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A brilliant entry-level speaker system that's great value, if a little shallow in depth of sound at times

Like:

Design and build; Full-bodied sound with crisp high frequencies; Value for money;

Dislike:

Stereo music misses the sub's low-end grunt; Grilles feel a bit cheap;

PSB Image 5.1: Overview and spec

PSB, named after founders Paul and Sue Barton, isn't a particularly well-known brand in the UK. Yet this Canadian outfit, distributed in Britain by home cinema specialists Armour Home, makes some pretty tasty surround sound speaker packages that are worth consideration.

PSB's Imagine 5.1 array scooped the Home Cinema Choice magazine annual award in the Best Speaker System, £2,000-£5,000 category. That £3,000 package blew us away with its build quality and full-range sonic performance, and left us wondering what the brand's high-end models sounded like.

Well, we're still wondering, as the next set of PSB speakers we've clapped eyes and ears on, the PSB Image 5.1, is in the more affordable step-down range.

Hinting at its shared heritage with the more potent Imagine line, these Image cabinets deliver "affordable high performance", according to PSB.

The "performance" element will come later, but PSB certainly has the "affordable" part sorted. Our review setup retails for a very appealing £1,500, putting it in the same price bracket as other cash savers such as Acoustic Energy's Neo V2 and KEF's T-Series.

Tastes in speakers vary, but we're happy to say that Images are things of beauty. The black wood finish (also available in dark cherry if that's your thing) aches to be stroked, and there are subtle curves aplenty. Remove the grilles (no magnets here, I'm afraid – but costs have to be cut somewhere) and they look even better, with their yellow driver cones, PSB-branded tweeters and dividing line down the front fascia. If you can trust your family and pets not to damage them, keep the grilles off at all times.

The floorstanders of this speaker array are the T5 models. These tower just under one metre high and use a two-and-a-half-way design with identical 5.25-inch bass drivers (but with different crossovers) and a 1-inch tweeter. The enclosure is front-ported and around the back are twin sets of speaker posts, giving you the option of bi-wiring/bi-amping.

The tweeter is a titanium affair, with Ferrofluid-cooling and a neodymium magnet – the same sort of high-quality driver found in the Imagine lineup, which bodes well for high-frequency delivery.

There are more potent Image floorstanders available, such as the T6, which drop one of the 5.25-inch midrange drivers and bring in a pair of 6.5-inch subwoofers in a three-way design.

The same tweeters and bass drivers of the T5 are used on the B5 bookshelf speakers and the sizable C5 centre.

Taking care of the low-end is PSB's 150W, 10-inch SubSonic 5i subwoofer. This isn't solely part of the Image lineup and it shows somewhat in its design, which, despite the matching finish, seems a tad more in-yer-face than the other cabinets. But that's how we like our woofers, anyway.

After a flick-through of the excellently written and idiot-proof manual, the array was plumbed into our Onkyo TX-NR5008 audio receiver. And good things started to happen.

PSB Image 5.1: Verdict

PSB image 5.1 review

With both movie material and music, the PSB Image 5.1 speaker system delivers an appealing sound that's easy on the ear. It's warm and rich, without being brash or grating. Much of this comes from the mid-range strengths of the T5 and B5s, which ensures soundtracks come across as full-bodied, rather than simply a mix of highs and lows.

Avatar on Blu-ray offers demo-worthy audio, so that's what we started with, and the PSB Image 5.1 sound system is more than a match for the impressive visuals. James Horner's somewhat irritating score swells across the front soundstage, while the Screenwriting 101 dialogue comes across crisp and clean in the middle of the mix. The C5 centre may present a bit of an installation problem in some smaller systems, but its performance merits it.

As with the more costly PSB Imagine lineup, it's perhaps the tweeters that grab your attention most here. These techtastic titanium domes spit out high-frequency effects (so important in movie mixes) with speed and relish.

When Sully and Grace land on Pandora and explore the wildlife, the buzzing of the forest insects is insistent and tactile. The same applies to when the Na'vi attack their invaders' helicopters with bows and arrows.

With the same tweeters lurking in the bookshelf speakers, surround sound effects are delicious, too, and the B5s certainly have enough weight to ensure front-to-back pans don't fizzle out.

The enveloping nature of the PSB Image 5.1 system is aided by the subwoofer. It underpins the whole array with a tangible low-end presence and goes surprisingly deep. It could, however, be a little tighter in its delivery.

With just the front left and rights in use with stereo music, the lack of real low frequency punch in the T5s becomes more apparent. We'd never not use our subwoofer, though, and suspect even dedicated hi-fi heads will still think the T5s more than adequate, thanks to the richness of the overall sound.

The tweeters that excelled so well with the ambient sounds on Cameron's Pandora do the same for the intricate hi-hats on Megadeth's Rust In Peace.

Then, with the AVR switched to Full Channel Stereo mode (our preferred weapon of choice with two-channel tunes), all six cabinets come to life to create musical mayhem, and keep their poise even with the volume raised to neighbour-bothering levels.

System with a smile

For the money, it's hard to find much fault with PSB's new entry-level speaker array.

Yes, the subwoofer could be a touch more agile and the towers don't plumb the depths, but the design, build quality and overall performance easily put a smile on our faces.

Anyone ready to step up from a sub/sat system to floorstanders should track a set down and have a demo.

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