If you were to look up the phrase “modest to a fault” in an imaginary Almanac of Popular Expressions, I’m fairly certain you’d find a photo of Paul Barton, founder of and chief designer for the Canadian firm PSB Speakers. It’s just not in Paul’s nature to brag, not even when showing off a family of speakers destined for critical acclaim. But over the years I’ve learned that he does sometimes show an heightened spark of enthusiasm when demonstrating a design he thinks is extra special. And so it was that Paul “telegraphed” the specialness of the Imagine speakers when he first revealed the pre-production prototypes at CES 2008. In fact, Paul positively beamed as he gave me a grin and said “Come on back to the demo room; I’ve got something I want to show you.”
What greeted my eyes and ears was an affordable speaker system that combined sophisticated good looks and refined sound. Many speaker systems in this performance class are quite large, but the Imagines are surprisingly compact (even the Imagine T towers stand little more than 37-inches tall), meaning they can fit comfortably in smaller rooms while delivering a big, full-bodied sound that can easily fill larger spaces. Sporting sleek, curved-wall enclosures finished in beautiful “Cathedral-matched” wood veneers, the Imagines simply look and feel like far more expensive speakers (they’re likely to impress even the most jaded of significant others).
The only question in my mind, then, was whether the production versions of the Imagines would retain the qualities I found so appealing in the prototypes. To find out, I put together a surround system consisting of two Imagine T towers (used as main speakers), an Imagine C center channel, two Imagine S surround speakers, and PSB’s tried-and-true SubSeries 6i subwoofer. The total price of this Imagine system is a very reasonable $4,749, and as you’ll see in a moment it delivers impressive value for money.
Consider this speaker system if: you want a beautifully balanced system that’s well suited for music or movie playback. There’s real value here, too, because this system that can compete with many $7,000 systems we’ve heard, but for roughly two-thirds the price. The Imagines will especially appeal to listeners who prize holographic, 3D soundstaging—one of the system’s strongest points. They look great, too.
Look elsewhere if: you favor forward-sounding speakers that shine a “sonic spotlight” on small textural and transient details. Though very revealing, the Imagines always sound smooth, natural, and “organic”—never excessively flashy.
Ratings (compared to sub-$5k surround speaker systems):