Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
While large speakers are still in vogue and represent some of the most expensive products in audio, they aren’t all that common. For many years, the trend has been toward smaller speakers that are meant to be less obtrusive in the room. In other words, there aren’t many manufacturers outfitting tower speakers with 15” woofers these days. Besides, it’s rare to enter someone’s home and see floorstanding or monitor speakers pulled out into the room. Assuming a home even has a stereo, it typically consists of small satellite speakers (often of the cheap home-theater-in-a-box variety) or in-wall designs. For many people, the idea of bulky MDF boxes commandeering large areas of the living room isn’t even considered. Many people don’t want to see their stereos at all.
Removing PSB’s new Imagine X2T floorstanding speakers from their boxes and seeing them for the first time got me thinking that PSB must have gone back in time to come up with the design. The X2T is a black box -- in fact, Black Ash vinyl veneer is the only finish available for the entire Imagine X series -- whose bigger profile and straight edges are reminiscent of the speakers one would have seen in an audio shop in the 1990s. Sitting at the front of the listening room, they didn’t dominate my living space, though they didn’t quite disappear.
Although some may find their appearance a touch dated, I liked it. So did a friend, who was so impressed with the X2T’s sound and look that he inquired about its cost ($1300 USD per pair). What especially drew his attention were the yellow cones of its two 6.5” woofers, which accentuate its front baffle and give it some flair. You won’t see these if you use the supplied grilles, but I never use a speaker’s grilles unless a manufacturer specifies it.
The largest speaker in PSB’s new Imagine X series, the X2T has an interesting pedigree. In the last few years PSB has been slowly replacing their flagship Synchrony line with the new Imagine models. Until October 2014, when the Imagine T3 ($7500/pair) was introduced at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, the Imagine T2 ($3500/pair) had been the most expensive product in the PSB catalog. PSB’s goal with the X2T was to use some of the design elements used in the T2 in a speaker that sold for little more than a third as much.
The Imagine X2T looks nearly identical to PSB’s Image T6 ($1100/pair), which I reviewed in 2010. The two models have the same size and numbers of drivers in the same configuration, and their enclosures are of similar size (although the T6’s cabinet is slightly curved). Given that the T6 costs only $200 less than the X2T, one could argue that these two speakers are more comparable to one another than to the T2.
The driver configurations of the Imagine T2 and Imagine X2T are also somewhat similar. Both speakers have a midrange positioned above the tweeter, and multiple woofers: two in the X2T, three in the T2. The drivers of both speakers are slightly recessed in the front baffle in a manner that resembles a shallow waveguide, which I assume is done to help control their dispersion. While the X2T has two front-firing ports, the T2’s three ports vent to the rear. Both models have separate enclosures for each woofer, and a sealed chamber for the midrange. This helps prevent standing waves from forming inside the cabinet, and braces the speaker to improve its rigidity. PSB claims that the Imagine X2T owes much of its lower price to simplifications of the Imagine T2’s cabinet design -- the T2’s curved sides and softer edges surely cost more to make. But if the X2T lacks the T2’s graceful appearance, the solidity of its cabinet makes me think it concedes far less in sturdiness of construction.
Measuring 40.1”H x 9”W x 17.6”D and weighing 52 pounds, the X2T is a three-way bass-reflex design. The uppermost in its vertical array of drivers is its 5.25” midrange, whose black cone is made of injection-molded polypropylene reinforced with carbon fiber. PSB claims that the shape of this driver, in combination with its filleted surround, is optimized for the reproduction of voices. As is typical of speakers designed by Paul Barton, PSB’s founder and chief designer, the midrange sits atop the tweeter, in this case a 1” titanium dome cooled by ferrofluid and powered by a neodymium magnet. The tweeter and midrange are crossed over to each other at 2.2kHz using fourth-order slopes.
The X2T’s two 6.5” woofer cones are made of injection-molded polypropylene reinforced with a combination of ceramic and clay. Using multiple smaller drivers to generate bass is common in modern speaker designs. Smaller drivers can fit into a narrower cabinet, and their bass is often tighter and faster than what a single, larger woofer can produce -- all else being equal, a smaller driver’s lower mass is easier to control and damp. Between the X2T’s woofers is a large port; below the lower woofer, closest to the floor, is another port of the same size.
The Imagine X2T’s claimed sensitivity is a relatively high 90dB/W/m in-room; its nominal impedance of 8 ohms dips to a minimum of 4 ohms, and its frequency response on axis is 30Hz-23kHz, ±3dB. The speaker shouldn’t be difficult to drive, provided your amplifier is comfortable with low impedances -- PSB recommends 20-200Wpc, so there’s a lot of room to play with. I had no problems powering the review samples with a Bryston B135 SST2 integrated amplifier, which produces 135Wpc. The two pairs of gold-plated binding posts near the X2T’s base give one the option of biwiring or biamplifying. The posts accept spades, banana plugs, or bare wire.
The PSB Imagine X2Ts fronted a system powered by the aforementioned Bryston B135 SST2 integrated amplifier, to which they were linked with AudioQuest Comet speaker cables terminated in banana plugs. An NAD C 565BEE CD player served as a transport for a Bryston BDA-2 outboard DAC, these connected with an i2Digital X-60 digital coaxial cable. Audirvana software running on an Apple MacBook laptop provided the DAC with additional digital content via an AudioQuest Forest USB cable. The Brystons were linked with Kimber Kable Tonik interconnects. My Thorens TD-160HD turntable, with Rega Research RB250 tonearm and Dynavector DV-10X5 high-output moving-coil cartridge, was connected to a Lehmann Audio Black Cube SE phono stage. All electronics were plugged into an ExactPower EP15A power conditioner/regenerator.
After I’d spent a bit of time with the Imagine X2Ts, it was clear that PSB has no intention of conceding their position as one of the pre-eminent companies specializing in making superb speakers at reasonable prices. The warmth of the acoustic guitar and the fullness of the drum kit in “Plainclothes Man,” from Heatmiser’s Mic City Sons (LP, Plain plain173), were well served by the X2Ts, which demonstrated their ability to create a voluminous stage in front of me. Although the sound was definitely on the warm side of neutral, this didn’t detract from the PSBs’ ability to uncover detail, which was very good for a speaker costing $1300/pair or even more. And, like other PSB speakers I’ve heard, the X2Ts were adept at imaging, placing Neil Gust’s voice solidly just right of center stage in “Rest My Head Against the Wall.”
Mic City Sons sounds good, but it’s no “audiophile” recording, and the X2Ts were commendable in doing little to color the sound to make it seem better than it was. For example, I didn’t hear the same sense of space that I did when I cued up Homogenic, probably my favorite Björk album (LP, One Little Indian 539166-1). Played from vinyl, the music sounded enormous -- the X2Ts cast a huge, three-dimensional soundstage in front of me. Björk often writes complex arrangements, and the PSBs did justice to Homogenic by producing a tight, focused sound that made it easier to hear the individual parts. In addition to synthesizers and electronic bass, Björk uses a lot of strings, and in “Bachelorette” they sounded distinct and clear through the X2Ts. Listening to a CD of Homogenic somewhat reduced the album’s fullness and warmth, but overall the music was now tighter and even better focused, with the squeaky-clean sound characteristic of good digital recordings.
At 52 pounds each, the hefty X2Ts are built to take some abuse. I could feed them lots of power, and they sounded composed and clear even at high volumes. War Dance, from Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra’s recording of the suite from Respighi’s Belkis, Queen of Sheba (CD, Reference Recordings RR-95CD), is always a fun test of a speaker’s ability to handle wide dynamic shifts and resolve the sound of an orchestra playing at full throttle. The PSBs acquitted themselves very well, producing deep bass that provided a foundation for this music while also doing a nice job of sorting out the various sections of the orchestra and laying them out from wall to wall across the front of my room. The X2Ts sounded detailed and clean, and, as I turned up the volume to appreciate the epic scale of War Dance, seemed to sound only better. If you like to play your music loud, a pair of X2Ts will not leave you disappointed.
One way in which the Imagine X2T deviated from neutrality was in its reproduction of the midrange, which was clean and detailed but a touch forward. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing -- it gave music an extra dose of presence that helped bring performances more into the room. Listening to “Take It with Me,” from Tom Waits’s Mule Variations (CD, Epitaph/Anti- 86547-2), offered a good example of this. The recording of this relatively simple composition features only an upright piano and Waits’s trademark hoarse baritone. Hearing it through the X2Ts, I was drawn to Waits’s voice -- he seemed to be sitting a touch closer to me. With a track as well recorded as this one is, with a sound so detailed and intimate, I didn’t mind that the X2Ts spotlit his voice a bit. However, that mightn’t be to everyone’s taste, so you should know it’s there.
I’d set up the Imagine X2Ts alongside my longtime reference speakers, Amphion’s Argon3Ls. At $4500/pair, the Finnish-made Amphions cost more than three times as much as the PSBs. While the Amphions also have cabinets with straight edges and no curves, they look decidedly more modern than the PSBs, which I attribute to the Amphions’ smaller size, less busy-looking front baffles, and overall cleaner appearance, the latter only helped by placement of the two ports on the rear panel. Whereas the X2T has four drivers, the Argon3L has just two: a 1” titanium tweeter and a 6.5” aluminum midrange-woofer.
Wanting to put the PSBs and Amphions through their paces with some punishing beats, I put Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City (CD, Aftermath/Interscope B001753602) in the CD tray and hit Play. Although my initial intention was simply to turn up the volume and hear how the speakers responded, I fixated on Lamar’s voice in the first tune, “Sherane aka Master Splinter’s Daughter” -- it sounded bigger and fuller through the X2Ts than through the Argon3Ls, and was positioned noticeably closer to where I sat, as if it had been moved to the front of the mix. By contrast, this track sounded more reserved through the Argon3Ls, with a slightly thinner sound that didn’t jump out at me. The Amphions lacked the PSBs’ “wow” factor, the latter due in no small part to their midrange forwardness. The X2Ts seemed to bring the music closer to me, which made it pretty easy for me to get pulled in.
The PSBs were also more powerful in the bass, delivering a more visceral experience than the Amphions. In the past I’ve noted that the Argon3Ls can get a bit fat in the deepest bass, but always in a way that remains composed. The X2Ts sounded fatter still. I don’t mean to suggest that their bass was woolly or sloppy, but it carried some weight. The bass in Lamar’s “Good Kid” was more voluminous through the PSBs.
The Imagine X2T was highly resolving and offered plenty of detail, but as clean as it sounded, Amphion’s Argon3L sounded cleaner still, letting me hear even deeper into the music. With “Ishmael,” from Shabazz Palaces’ Lese Majesty (CD, Sub Pop SP1044), the PSBs created a broad, full wall of sound that effortlessly filled my room. The Argon3Ls could also fill the room, and while they lacked the X2Ts’ bass output, they were better at carving out more precise sonic images, which made them sound cleaner than the PSBs. For this reason alone, these two speakers will appeal to different tastes. I can only say that what each speaker does, it does well. What’s so interesting is that the X2Ts are able to do so much for so much lower a price.
The heyday of big, black speaker boxes may have come and gone, but PSB’s Imagine X2T makes a good argument for a renaissance. It possesses enormous strengths, not least of which is a full, clean sound anchored by powerful, solid bass. The X2T’s midrange-forward sound might not be to everyone’s taste, but I think most listeners will appreciate the increased sense of presence it brings to the music. At $1300/pair, the X2T is well within the reach of those looking to invest in good speakers for the long term. PSB might not be the only company out there making speakers at this price point, but with the Imagine X2T they’ve again staked their claim to being one of the best manufacturers of affordable speakers.
. . . Philip Beaudette
PSB Imagine X2T Loudspeakers
Price: $1300 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
PSB Speakers International
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
Phone: (888) 772-0000
Fax: (905) 837-6357