If there’s an overused term in the frequently hyperbolic, what-am-I-going-to-say-this-time endeavor of audio-equipment evaluation, it could be game changer. Maybe there should be a rule: A reviewer can trot out that descriptor, say, only once every five years. I’ve not used game changer myself up to this point but—spoiler alert—I’m about to do so.
Paul Barton—the P and B of PSB; the S is for Sue, his wife of 42 years—was the first audio manufacturer to utilize the research facilities developed by Dr. Floyd Toole at the Canadian National Research Council. Barton was, in fact, the only manufacturer to design speakers in the NRC’s famous anechoic chamber for eight years, the time frame during which Toole performed much of his most influential research on the correlation between loudspeaker measurements and the subjective judgments of non-expert listeners, as explored in rigorously controlled double-blind experiments. Given Barton’s adherence to the design philosophy he acquired in those early years, it’s not surprising that changes to PSB speakers over time have been evolutionary rather than radical shifts in approach. But PSB’s marketing department, and Barton himself, maintains that the new flagship Imagine T3 model, at $7498 per pair, is the company’s best and most innovative effort in more than four decades of making speakers. “I suppose everyone’s going to say that about their latest,” Paul Barton said to me by phone, “but I’ve really been able to do things in this product that set it apart from anything we’ve done before.”
The Imagine T3’s immediate forbear is the now discontinued Synchrony One, introduced in 2007. All the drivers have been redesigned by Paul Barton and manufactured to his specifications in China. The midrange and woofer are produced by Wavecor, which Barton describes as “a Danish engineering group that has set up manufacturing in China.” (The general manager and chairman, Allan Isakson, began his career at Vifa.) These new drivers incorporate a number of distortion-reducing features, most importantly a uniquely constructed magnetic yolk that generates improved symmetry within the magnetic field: “Now the voice coil sees exactly the name magnetic field whether it is moving out or in,” according to PSB’s technical description. The 1" titanium-dome tweeter is made for PSB by another Chinese source—it’s a design that employs a phase plug said to result in better dispersion above 10kHz. Barton has long designed his speakers with crossovers with steep slopes; the T3 has fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley crossovers, and a B3 low-pass filter is utilized as well.
A key innovation of the Synchrony One was the Transitional Woofer Array, which substituted three smaller drivers, each in its own rear-ported sub-enclosure, for a single 12" or 15" woofer. In the T3, the size of the woofers has been increased from 6.5" to 7.25" (The midrange went from 4.5" to 5.25".) The new speaker goes about half an octave deeper in the bass and is 1.5dB higher in sensitivity than its predecessor. A very important advantage of the PSB’s woofer system is that it provides listeners with a way to deal with the uneven or excessive bass response of their rooms (see sidebar). On the T3, any or all of the three woofer ports can be plugged to attenuate output; PSB supplies the plugs as standard equipment with the T3. Additionally, and this is new to the T3, the bottom woofer has its own inputs and can be completely disconnected by removing a jumper. This results in a reduction in woofer output of around 3dB. “In some rooms, that dip below 100Hz is very welcome,” Barton notes. The feature also allows for potentially enhanced low-frequency output, as bi-amplification is possible with this design.
The cabinet is built in the same Chinese factory that produces the T3’s tweeter. The exterior panels are fabricated from seven layers of 3mm MDF. Each layer of MDF has a higher density “skin” on either side of a less dense internal material. “When you laminate seven pieces of MDF, you have 14 skins. It’s much stronger than a single layer of the same thickness,” Barton explained. In addition, the panels of the T3 are curved, which further increases the rigidity of the enclosure compared to what would be achieved with a rectangular box. The enclosure sits on a machined aluminum plinth with a user-friendly system of four adjustable spikes to level the speakers and to mechanically ground the 71-pound T3 to the floor. Each T3 sports three sets of binding posts, connected by jumpers. To connect speaker cable terminated in banana plugs you must remove the tiny plastic plugs inside each one. My review sample had a gorgeous high-gloss cherry finish; a high-gloss black is the alternative.
Setup of the T3s was pretty straightforward but, the tweeters’ dispersion pattern notwithstanding, getting these drivers symmetrically aimed at the prime listening position was critical to achieving the maximum degree of transparency, image specificity, and air. Careful adjustments of the spikes to level the speakers and minute changes to toe-in were well worth the effort. In my 15' by 15' room (the ceiling is 11' in some places, 13' in others), I ended up with the T3s placed 20" from the front wall, with the speakers forming an equilateral triangle with the listening position—each was 8' from the sweet spot and 8' from the other, center-to-center. The speakers sounded better with their grilles off and Paul Barton told me that he’d voiced the T3s grille-less. I certainly had no aesthetic objections—I got to see more of that beautiful high-gloss finish. As to how your significant other will feel about the T3s without grilles, as they say on that darned Internet, YMMV.
Mostly, I drove the T3s with my usual amplification, a pair of Pass XA60.8 monoblocks, though a 200Wpc Parasound HCA-2200 II was tried as well. The pre/pro was the Anthem D2v, with DSP room correction run with the T3s in the system. CDs, SACDs, and Pure Audio Blu-rays were handled by an Oppo-93 sending digital data to the Anthem. Likewise, the Anthem’s DACs converted files read on a Baetis Reference music computer.
The Imagine T3s acquitted themselves gloriously with pretty much everything I sent their way. Large-scale or small, vocal or instrumental, synthetic studio job or the most minimally miked acoustic recording—every musical style and engineering approach was well served.