Part of the brilliance of The Hurt Locker lies in its ability to use sounds both as illustrative and as symbolic devices at the same time—qualities that really come alive thanks to the effortless, natural clarity of the Image T6 system.
I have always thought that music poses the toughest test of all for any sound system, and to give the Image system one of the most difficult challenges imaginable I put on the Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 8 [San Francisco, multichannel SACD]. Part II of the symphony contains many unforgettable motifs, but two that have always fascinated me are the “Blicket auf” (“Look up”) section and the closing “Alles Vergängliche” (“All that is impermanent”) passage.
The “Blicket auf” section begins as Doctor Marianus sings those very words, only to be answered by the Chorus Mysticus singing, in response, “Komm” (“Come”). The passage tests any speaker system’s ability to capture solo voices and choruses in a natural way—a test the Image system passed quite successfully, though with perhaps just a hint of an edge on Doctor Marianus’ voice. Bt the passage also probes deeper, because it should have an overarching, almost transcendent quality, where you can both hear and feel the size of the orchestra, choirs, and the hall, and where the voices seem to ascend through the roof of the hall, heading heavenward. Now I would be misleading you if I said the Image system (or any other audio system I’ve ever heard) could capture this passage with absolute realism, but I will say that the system did a very good job of placing vocalists and orchestra sections on a wide and deep stage, of conveying a sense of the hall, and of at least partially nailing down the transcendent and ascendant quality of the voices. The Image system didn’t sound “perfect” on this material (no hi-fi system ever does), but it certainly did its designer proud, getting more elements of this section right than it had any right to given its modest price
But the final “Alles Vergängliche” section poses even tougher challenges, partly because it vigorously calls into play the Chorus Mysticus as well as varied orchestra sections and even an organ in ways that can humble even the best audio systems. The passage opens with the Chorus Mysticus softly singing (indeed almost praying aloud) the following lines: “All that is impermanent/is merely a symbol/Here, the unattainable/becomes real” (the actual passage is sung in German, but I am quoting the Larry Roche translation to English, as supplied with the record). As the “Alles Vergängliche” theme unfolds, the chorus is joined by commentary from the string section, later augmented by a harp and the brass section. Later, the theme is repeated with substantially more vigor from the chorus, and with support from the organ, both high and low brass, and eventually the entire orchestra. It is, I think, one of the most powerful and densely orchestrated passages in orchestral music so that, as you can imagine, it can be difficult (if not impossible) for speaker systems to delineate the interlocking, multilayered musical lines. To my surprise, though, the Image system hung right in there with this material as it nicely separated and clarified the individual musical threads that made up the larger tapestry, doing a particularly good job of keeping the complicated choral lines and the dynamically powerful brass themes straight. Again, full-on realism is too much to expect of this or any speaker system on Mahler’s largest-scale work, but even so the Image system did an unexpectedly good job of preserving a 3D sense of the chorus, orchestra and hall—even as the music reached its thunderous climax.
PSB designer Paul Barton has always loved to build speakers that offer great value for money, but I think that with the new Image system he has really outdone himself. This system isn’t perfect, of course, but it does more things right—both with music and with movie soundtracks—than any other system I’ve heard in its price range.
PSB Image T6 3-way, five-driver, bass reflex floorstanding speaker with sealed midrange chamber
Driver complement: One 1-inch titanium dome tweeter with ferrofluid damping and neodymium magnet, one 5 ¼-inch clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene midrange driver, two 6 ½-inch clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene bass drivers
Frequency response: 32Hz – 23 kHz
Impedance: 6 ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 40.625” x 9.125” x 15”
Weight: 58.5 lbs. each
Warranty: 5 years, parts and labor