Electrocompaniet PSB-1 Bookshelf Loudspeaker (TAS 209)

Equipment report
Electrocompaniet PBS-1 Bookshelf Loudspeaker
Electrocompaniet PSB-1 Bookshelf Loudspeaker (TAS 209)

Since the early 1980s the Norwegian manufacturer Electrocompaniet has been well respected—if not always well represented—in the North American marketplace. Importers came and went, and the brand went through stretches when it was entirely absent from these shores. Which is too bad, considering that Electrocompaniet was a pioneer in identifying and solving the Transient Intermodulation distortion (TIM) that plagued early solid-state amplifier designs, and has consistently built some of the most musically compelling transistor gear out there.

The company’s North American presence changed for the better in early 2008, with the founding of Electrocompaniet Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Electrocompaniet of Norway. The firm’s offices are in a beautiful old brick building in Oakland, California, where neighbors include a micro-brewery, an architectural firm started by two women, and Kool Kat Jazz Records, which specializes in rare jazz, soul, pop, and classical labels.

Perhaps most importantly, industry veteran Peder Beckman is in charge of Electrocompaniet’s U.S. branch. Although his may not be a well-known name, Beckman has a most impressive résumé. During his twenty-plus years in audio he has been the General Manager for Wilson Home Theater Systems, the National Sales Manager for Ultralink/XLO, the National Sales Manager for Goldmund USA, the Sales & Marketing Director for Elite A/V Distribution, and the Sales Manager for Musical Surroundings.

Given our mutual time in the high-end trenches, it’s strange that Beckman and I hadn’t met before. But at the end of July we did finally meet at the Bay Area’s fledgling California Audio Show, which is also where I first encountered Electrocompaniet’s PSB-1 loudspeaker.

Although Electrocompaniet is best known for its electronics, the company introduced the $29,500 Nordic Tone Model 1 loudspeaker at last year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. The Prelude Series of speakers, which, in addition to the PSB-1 includes the floorstanding PSF-1, descends from that flagship effort.

Although Electrocompaniet calls the $1450, two-way PSB-1 a bass-reflex “bookshelf” model, and indeed it can work in that environment—in which case I recommend installing the optional foam port-plugs—the design is serious enough to be dubbed a “monitor” in the original sense of that word, i.e., an actual studio or in-field recording monitor.

The PSB-1’s MDF enclosure is fabricated using 24mm double-sandwich side panels, 18mm front and rear sections, and four internal braces to minimize cabinet resonance. The drivers are custom-made to Electrocompaniet’s specifications. They comprise a 6.5” long-throw coated-paper woofer with a solid magnet structure, and 1” silk-dome tweeter featuring a ventilated magnet assembly, and a damped rear chamber to minimize compression. The 2.5kHz crossover point was selected to maximize phase coherence between the drivers.

And coherence—a seamless top-to-bottom frequency response and ability to “speak” with a seemingly single voice—is one of the PSB-1’s strengths. One of my favorite ways to gauge this is with a good recording of a singer accompanied by nothing more than an acoustic guitar—say, Captain Luke’s “Rainy Night in Georgia,” from Music Maker’s Came So Far sampler, which can be tricky given Luke’s tendency to dip into his voice’s bass region—or Janis Joplin’s riveting demo cut of “Me and Bobby McGee,” from Pearl [Columbia/Legacy Edition]. The latter features a charming and amusing exchange between Joplin and her producer before she accompanies herself on this remarkably intimate, beautiful, and moving version of one of her best known (cover) tunes. Her voice moves from serious to playfully girlish while speaking, and then to her familiar bluesy rasp while singing. The PSB-1’s tonal balance sounded near ideal, and the speaker’s coherence, combined with its very good transparency, makes it seem as if she’s singing directly to us—with a vulnerability and emotional impact beyond that of the final released track.

Switching to the “Four Sea Interludes” and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes (Britten’s Orchestra [Reference Recordings]), this Electrocompaniet speaker showed that, though small in size, it was absolutely capable of handling large orchestral forces. The presentation was immediate, open, and airy, with a wide if naturally smaller-scale soundstage. I also liked the PSB-1’s combination of tonal sweetness and instrumental texture during higher-pitched string passages, and the brass sections had the kind of weight and power we hear in the concert hall. Imaging and focus were also impressive, though, at least in my room, I didn’t get quite the sense of layered depth with the PSB-1 that I have with certain other designs (but then, I have been listening to Magnepan 1.7s for the past few months).

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise came with PSB 1’s dynamic scaling. Although one would expect a small monitor-type speaker to do well with the microdynamic shading of a solo violin, cello, or the acoustic pop mentioned above, the speaker delivered impressive dynamic force during Britten’s “Storm” passage, as well as a nice sense of wallop with the bass drum. Not the kind, of course, you’ll hear with large multi-way towers, but satisfying nevertheless.

Fast dynamic response and transient speed are interlinked, and in this area the PSB-1 was downright startling at times, as in the opening of the Martha Argerich/Stephen Bishop Kovacevich recording of Bartók’s Sonata For Two Pianos and Percussion [Philips LP], the dynamics of which swung so wide so quickly that I about jumped out of my chair.

If you audition and like the PSB-1 but hard rock is your thing, you may want to consider stepping up to the dual-woofered PSF-1 ($3000). I say this because, even though I found the PSB-1 to be satisfying with orchestral fare, it lacked the weight and power to really rock with something like the Who’s Live at Leeds [Classic/Track LP]. Sure, Roger Daltrey’s vocals had excellent clarity, and Pete Townshend’s power chords plenty of drive and grinding texture, but John Entwistle’s chugging bass lines —he wasn’t called “The Ox” for nothing—and Keith Moon’s manic drumming beg for a speaker with a bit more firepower. But, frankly, that’s the case with all small monitors. And I suggest that one shouldn’t cast Jason Schwartzman in roles better suited to the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s good to see Electrocompaniet again making an impact in the North American market, and especially so under the company’s own highly capable guidance. This, my first review encounter with this Norwegian firm’s loudspeaker designs, has left me eager to hear a complete system, such as the one Jim Hannon awarded a Golden Ear Award to in Issue 203. Luckily, Oakland is only a quick jaunt over the Bay Bridge.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Two-way, rear-vented loudspeaker
Driver complement: 1” silk dome tweeter; 6.5” coated paper bass/midrange
Frequency response: 55Hz–20kHz
Sensitivity: 87dB
Impedance: 4 ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 70–110Wpc
Dimensions: 5.6” x 11.5” x 10.2”
Weight: 11.2 lbs.
Price: $1450

97 Linden Street
Oakland, California 94607
(510) 291-122

TW-Acustic Raven One turntable; Tri-Planar Ultimate VII arm; Benz Gullwing and Transfiguration Phoenix moving-coil cartridges; Simaudio CD-1 compact disc player; Artemis Labs PL-1 phonostage; Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum integrated amplifier; Cary Audio SLP 05 Linestage Preamplifier and CAD-211 FE Monoblock Amplifiers; Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and BP-10B Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks