The PSB Image B4 is a new addition to the re-engineered Image line. The B4 is the smallest model in the lineup at only 5.25 x 9.25 x 6.6 inches, and as such seems to be an ideal candidate for small rooms or for nearfield listening (e.g., desktop settings). The B4’s are priced at $299/pair, which makes them a reasonable step up from tiny self-powered desktop speakers. Some time ago we released a First Listen blog article on the B4’s, in which we discovered some real strengths in the small monitors, but also found them bass deficient, even in a small room, which led us to wonder how they would work with a subwoofer. Clever lads that we are, we asked Paul Barton, the head honcho of PSB, to recommend and send a matching subwoofer, which he graciously did. Paul recommended the SubSeries 1 ($399), a powered sub with an 8” driver in a medium sized (9.6 x 14.1 x 15.6 inches) cabinet.
Like all PSB speakers, the new Image designs benefit from the acoustical test facilities of Canada’s National Research Council (ever wonder why so many good and reasonably priced speakers come from Canada?). PSB uses NRC to conduct fundamental studies of loudspeakers and room acoustics in its anechoic chamber as well as doing observational evaluations in its listening-studio facilities. PSB’s research at the NRC included an extensive three-year development project for the firm’s critically acclaimed flagship Synchrony-series speakers, whose technology Paul Barton is now “trickling down” in the design of the Image Series.
The core of this work has been on driver design. All the Image models share long-excursion, very high-output woofers resulting in compact designs with output capabilities claimed to be as high as much larger systems. A highly accurate, one-inch titanium dome tweeter with ferrofluid and a very efficient neodymium magnet structure, borrowed from the Synchrony series, is said to extend output at the frequency extremes.
The SubSeries 1 is designed to offer significant output down to the deep bass range. PSB has created a driver and cabinet combination with a -3 db point of 36 Hz, which is actually pretty low if your room will support it. The SubSeries 1 provides level, low pass filter cutoff and phase controls. It can be powered by a line level, LFE or high-level (speaker) connection.
A non-trivial point is that PSB’s instruction manual for the SubSeries 1 is really well done. It is easy to read and, importantly, offers many good suggestions for placement of the sub to get good results. This is critical because bass is very dependent on room dimensions and subwoofer location within the room.
For this test, I used our small test room, which is 16 x 12 x 9 feet. The Image B4s were stand mounted and placed well out into the room using positions initially suggested by the RPG room analysis software included in The Absolute Sound Golden Ear Club System Setup and Evaluation Kit. I used the NAD 3020BEE integrated amp, with Audioquest speaker cables. Sources were the Esoteric DV-60 SACD and the Musical Fidelity A5 CD players, which were connected via Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects.
Consider this speaker/subwoofer system if: you’ve been looking for a clear and articulate compact speaker system that gets the midrange right and delivers clean treble, and that also can provide solid bass performance (provided you’re willing to spend time dialing-in the speaker/subwoofer interface to tweak bass performance).
Look further if: you feel upper bass warmth is essential (the PSB system’s upper bass sounds taut, but not particularly warm). Also look further if you prefer a speaker system whose midrange and lower treble presentation emphasizes a “liquid” sound, rather than a sharply defined sound (potentially, the PSBs could be a bit too vivid for liquidity fans).
Ratings (compared to similarly-priced speakers)
• Tonal Balance: 9.0
• Frequency Extremes: 9.0
• Clarity: 9.5
• Dynamics: 8.5
• Value: 9.5
There’s a lot to like about the Image B4s if you value a natural midrange with excellent instrumental separation. As I’ve noted before, you have to be careful with really small speakers not to say they are “great,” when what you really mean is that, “I was surprised how good they were for their size.” In this case I’m tending to think the former, because the midrange is just so inviting with the B4s. They remind you that a lot of speakers have wobbly frequency response and/or subtle levels of distortion that make you think, “Something isn’t quite right.” The B4s dispense with most of that and make many instruments sound realistic, rather than plasticky.