Ratings (compared to similarly-priced speakers)
• Tonal Balance: 9.5
• Frequency Extremes: 8.5/9.0 (with sub)
• Clarity: 9.0
• Dynamics: 8.0
• Value: 9.0
Truth to tell, I’ve often thought that some very large percentage of people would get more enjoyment out of mini-monitors than larger speakers. I say this because compact speakers like the Imagine Mini are often easier to place in rooms and tend to give more consistent results than larger speakers do. In addition, well-designed small speakers often prioritize accurate mid-range, which is a long-term virtue that continues to satisfy well after the “boom/sizzle” appeal of bigger speakers has faded. Of course, the Imagine Minis (and other small monitors) tend not to look very impressive—at least not in the eyes of those who equate the size and bulk of a loudspeaker with expectations for “good sound.” But if you listen with your ears and not your eyes, the Imagine Minis can deliver a pretty “maxi”-sized sound.
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, there are aspects of the Imagine Mini that are really appealingly musical and that enable the Minis to compete with some very good speakers at much higher prices. On the other hand, there are some things the Minis won’t do that bigger and more expensive speaker can (which is, of course, precisely why PSB offers larger and more expensive Imagine and Synchrony-series speakers). Let’s look at both parts of the Imagine Mini equation.
My sense is that many listeners want speakers that offer neutral frequency balance as a first step toward natural, engaging, and non-annoying sound. If your speakers produce boomy bass or screechy highs, you’ll be distracted—not involved in the music, and that’s bad. The Minis deliver on this score, big time. By that I mean first that the bass, midrange and treble are present in the right overall amounts, and that there aren’t obvious dips or peaks within any of those frequency ranges. Surprisingly for mini-monitors, I found the Imagine Minis to have a pleasant degree of mid and upper bass warmth. As a result, the Minis sound like bigger speakers and reveal good presence in cellos, guitars and vocals. In contrast, far too many small speakers offer weak lower range response and as a result sound threadbare.
Low bass is another matter, as the 4-inch mid-bass driver of the Minis can only do so much. Because low frequencies are diminished in volume, you will notice that the sense of punch and drive on some cuts is lacking. On other material, however, you won’t feel anything is missing at all.
Fortunately, you can easily remedy this lack of low bass with the addition of the SubSeries 1 woofer. I found the SubSeries 1 easy to balance (there is a volume knob on the front panel and one of its larger markings was quickly revealed as the “just right” level for the Playback listening room). With the crossover set to 60 Hz, the subwoofer added a nice foundation to the music, without mucking up the upper bass at all. With a single small subwoofer you won’t have the most powerful bass possible, especially in a large room, but in smaller environments the balance will be quite competitive with larger speakers. And as space and/or budgets allow, you can always add a second sub, which can help not only help increase low-frequency dynamic capabilities, but can also foster more evenly balanced in-room bass response.
At the other end of the spectrum, I found the smoothness and overall level of the Mini’s treble was close to accurate, though perhaps a touch less extended than I’ve heard in vastly more expensive speakers. In any event, you certainly wouldn’t characterize the Mini as sound overly “bright.” On the contrary, the Minis reproduce upper frequency instruments with a sound that is well detailed, yet smooth, suggesting accurate treble balance with low distortion.
The blend between the midrange and treble is fine in terms of the relative balance of the midrange region to the treble region, though on some recordings I had the sense that the upper midrange output was slightly diminished. There are tradeoffs in how crossovers are engineered, and to me the Mini uses a wise approach when compared with the slightly harsher or sharper sounding transition that many speakers aim for. The design of the Mini keeps the focus on the music—not on pyrotechnic enhancements.