The PSB Imagine Mini is the latest addition to the firm’s Imagine loudspeaker line, which sits just below PSB’s flagship Synchrony series, and above the Image and Alpha lines. The two-way Mini, which stands just a bit over nine inches tall, is the smallest model in the Imagine family, though it is slightly taller and about two inches deeper than the conceptually similar PSB Image B4, which I reviewed in Playback 37. The Minis are priced at $760/pair (in dark cherry, walnut, or black ash veneers) or $830/pair (in white or high gloss black), which makes them reasonably priced, though still quite a bit more than some small speakers—including those from PSB. As was the case when we reviewed the Image B4’s, PSB’s head honcho Paul Barton recommended that we listen to the Imagine Mini’s on their own, but then also try them with PSB’s matching SubSeries 1 powered subwoofer ($450), which is fitted with an 8-inch woofer and a 110-watt amplifier.
Like all PSB speakers, the new Imagine Mini benefits from research work the firm has done at the acoustical test facilities of Canada’s National Research Council. 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 a development project for the firm’s critically acclaimed flagship Synchrony-series speakers, and insights from that project have, of course, had significant impact on the design of the Imagine Series. Paul also told us that the Minis benefit from learnings gained during the design of other Imagine series models. Engineering, being based on tradeoffs, often allows for serious learning in the course of designing a full product line, so that the Imagine Mini benefits from being the last Imagine model completed.
The Mini incorporates custom-designed drivers and a special low crossover point. PSB’s goal has been to create a smooth, natural sound with surprising bass for such a small speaker. Some very careful work went into the Mini's enclosure design, which feature five-layer construction and has no visible seams whatsoever. The bottom section of the enclosure features a cleverly design plinth, which provides a recessed pocket for speaker binding posts and sleek, concealed attachment points for optional PSB wall-mount brackets or speaker stands. As you can see from the photos that accompany this review, the sidewalls of the Mini cabinets are curved along the sides, top panel, and front baffle, for what designer Paul Barton often describes as an "organic" shape.
The SubSeries 1, in turn, 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, and it can be driven by line level, LFE or high-level (speaker) connections.
A non-trivial point is that PSB’s instruction manual for the SubSeries 1 is really well done. It 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, and having a systemic approach really helps even experienced users get optimal performance from the sub.
For obvious reasons, we admire PSB’s stated objectives and intentions for the Imagine Mini, but we do these tests to characterize the real-world results that designs achieve. Is the Imagine Mini an improvement over excellent products like the Image B4, and if so is the Mini enough better to justify a price tag hundreds of dollars higher? We’ll tackle those very questions in this review.
Consider this speaker/subwoofer system if: You’ve been looking for a balanced, open sounding, compact speaker system that gets the midrange and treble right, and that also can provide solid bass performance (especially if you’re willing to spend time dialing-in the speaker/subwoofer interface to tweak bass performance). Consider the Imagine Mini, too, if you prize a speaker that does a good job of minimizing artificial-sounding “hi-fi” artifacts.
Look further if: You insist on a speaker system that offers maximum dynamic range, superb mid-bass articulation or that produces large soundstages—qualities that, in our experience, can generally only be provided by much larger speakers.