To Paul Barton, the greatest challenge for a loudspeaker is to approximate the dynamics of a live performance. This doesn’t have to involve an orchestra of Mahlerian proportions; a well-recorded solo violin will do the trick as a test. Jennifer Koh’s latest release for Cedille, Bach and Beyond, Part 2 (recorded by the dependable Adam Abeshouse) programs pieces by J.S. Bach, Béla Bartók, and the contemporary Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. The T3s allow one to detect changes to Koh’s bow pressure that subtly alter the overtone structure of the string sound, as well as the volume of that sound. There are slight variations in the way in which a violin string “speaks,” as with the final sustained note at the end of the opening Adagio of Bach’s G minor Sonata. And when the soloist plays on two or three strings at once, the increase in the amount of sound produced by a small instrument experienced close up is utterly believable. You could call this “dynamic life” in a recording or component, and the T3s have loads of it.
The T3’s rendering of instrumental detail is stunning. An excellent test of this sonic parameter is another recent Cedille release, Illuminations, which has the Chicago-based Avalon String Quartet playing works by Debussy, Britten, Garrop, and Golijov. What all these compositions demonstrate is the range of color and texture possible with a string quartet—possibilities that really were not exploited until the twentieth century. Stacy Garrop’s Quartet No. 4, inspired by “illuminated” pages from a medieval Book of Hours, involves highly inventive writing for the ensemble, a compendium of string-playing techniques beyond regular bowing. Pizzicatos, harmonics, sul ponticello, tremolos, glissandos—all these chamber music “special effects” register with gratifying clarity to produce, as they most certainly do in life, a magical evocation of the ancient illustrations that are reproduced in the CD’s liner notes.
Speed and transparency? A good piano recording will tell you what you need to know about a loudspeaker’s capabilities in these departments. A new reference piano recording of mine is Shen Lu’s Watercolor, on the Steinway & Sons label (enthusiastically reviewed in TAS). The pianist’s debut recording includes Ravel’s Miroirs, a work that demands the fleetest, gentlest, most even touch—and for the soloist to make it sound effortless. With “Une barque sur l’océan,” despite the velocity of the runs and arpeggios, each note still registers as having mass and dimensionality. Lesser speakers can fall short when faced with material like this.
As for soundstage creation and imaging, again, these PSBs get it right. I was convinced of this listening to a pair of favorite recordings of a favorite work—Eiji Oue’s and David Zinman’s versions of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, as recorded by Reference Recordings and Telarc, respectively. With Zinman/Baltimore, the recorded perspective is fairly close and, as a result, layered depth in the presentation of the orchestra is apparent. In Minneapolis, Prof. Johnson made his recording with a mid-hall perspective, providing much more of a sense of the room but less image specificity. The twinkling bells, flute, pianos, and harp near the end of the first movement produce a much more subtle effect on the RR disc. You wouldn’t want these two performances to sound the same interpretively or sonically, and the T3s see to it that they don’t.
The Imagine T3s are great rock speakers. They excel in the mid-to-upper bass range, 40Hz to 250Hz, where electric bass, kickdrum, and the “fat” part of the snare sound live, reproducing that part of the frequency spectrum with power and tonal evenness. (Plus the speakers have a treble range that doesn’t accentuate the top-end peakiness of too many pop recordings.) I generated a playlist on the Baetis of favorite well-recorded tracks, old and new. From (among others) Little Feat, Steely Dan, Bonnie Raitt, Dire Straits, and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Beck, El Ten Eleven, Daft Punk, and Florence & The Machine, it was soul-satisfying to listen to my impromptu “mix tape” at enthusiastic levels through the PSBs. The most recent selection on the playlist was nominally jazz, a new recording from trumpeter Terence Blanchard entitled Breathless. This funk-saturated album leads off with a blazing version of “Compared to What,” which was first recorded by Roberta Flack in 1969; here PJ Morton of Maroon 5 handles the lead vocal. Bass and drums roar out of the T3s to anchor a remarkably kinetic arrangement that had me clicking “repeat” several times.
It should be noted that the T3’s deepest bass, unnecessary for good rock n’ roll playback, isn’t as commanding as what you’ll get with a subwoofer or full-range speaker system in a bigger and heavier enclosure (and generally costing a good deal more than $7500 a pair). PSB recommends an input power range of 20 to 300Wpc; the Pass amps I use put out sixty, and I wasn’t disappointed. I did drive the T3s briefly with the 200Wpc Parasound and was surprised at how little difference the more robustly rated amp made in bass power and dynamic coherence at high volume. Of course, there’s a lot more to amplifiers than their power rating, and I’d not complain if someone left a pair of XA160.8s at my door…but the bottom line is that the Imagine T3s are a fairly easy load for moderately powered, real-world amplifiers.
So the PSB Imagine T3 really is a game changer. Let’s say you’re looking to replace the respectable “entry-level” floorstanders with which you started your high-end journey. Your financial circumstances have changed, but you’re not sure you can spend—or want to spend—the coin for…well, you know the brands I’m thinking of. I suggest that you visit a dealer that sells one or more of those expensive high-performance speakers as well as the T3s. Audition the PSBs first, with a range of familiar and sonically challenging source material, and then the high-priced spread. Listening with your heart and brain, the latter will likely sound better. They probably are better. But how much better? An assumption exists that there’s a steady continuum of improvement as one progresses from a loudspeaker like the Imagine T3 incrementally towards the state-of-the-art, cost-is-no-object designs that we must report on in The Absolute Sound. That assumption may be wrong. And that’s the game changer. The clock is running: I can’t use the term again for just under five years. Damn.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Transitional five-way triple-port bass-reflex
Driver complement: 1" titanium-dome tweeter, 5.25" compressed felt/fiberglass cone midrange, three 7.25" compressed felt/fiberglass cone woofers
Frequency response: 24Hz–23kHz (+/-3dB, on-axis, anechoic chamber)
Impedance: 8 ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 20–300 watts
Dimensions: 11.5" x 47.625" x 15.125"
Weight: 71 lbs.
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1