A couple months ago a press announcement was circulated that sent a collective shudder through the loudspeaker segment of the high-end industry. Flop sweat began beading up on the brows of audio engineers and acousticians. Marketing personnel reached for the Extra Strength Tylenol. What could possibly have implications of such seismic proportions? PSB was introducing an all-new line of speakers. Uh, oh.
PSB, named for its founder and chief engineer Paul Barton and his wife Sue, has over the years become known to rivals and allies alike by its underground alias Preposterous Speaker Bargains. But the newly announced seven-model series known as Synchrony is a bit of a change-up for PSB. Because while flattening the competition in the budget realm has been standard operating procedure for PSB, Synchrony is significantly more uptown—although not by some highend standards—with stereo pairs punching in at $1500 and stretching northward to an oh-my-god $4500.
The look of Synchrony is sleek and refined, as if every element came together organically. And clean—there are no sharp corners or exposed screws or bolts to mar a first impression. Even the perforated metal grille covers are pressure-fitted into narrow channels along the edges of the baffle. The double-walled, extruded aluminum of the front baffle and curvilinear rear panel seamlessly locks into the seven-layer MDF arched side panels. PSB’s goal has been to ensure enclosures that are as non-resonant and coloration-free as possible. Cabinet rigidity is an area where the entire industry has been undergoing a renaissance. Led by companies like Wilson Audio, Magico, and Thiel, computer analysis has ushered in a new era in resonance-control. Synchrony reflects this trend, and it only takes the classic knuckle-rap test to make the case. Enclosures built to a lower standard are often capable of playing a tune, indicating substantial variability in rigidity at different points. Tapping along the sides of the Synchrony Two and Two B produced the same, dull, high-pitched pop.
As for drivers, Synchrony incorporates PSB’s latest generation of extended- response titanium dome tweeters. They are lighter, with stiffer voicecoil components and enhanced mechanical systems geared to improving high-output linearity. Advancements in linearity and dynamic headroom have also been extended to the cone woofers that use a newly developed sandwich diaphragm of woven fiberglass and compressed felted-fiber laminate, and ultrarigid, cast-aluminum baskets. Crossovers are fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley type. At the rear, the dual binding posts are vertically inset and angled with wing-nut style fasteners to secure terminations.
The Synchrony Two is the smaller floorstander of the line. It’s similar in its overall design to the five-driver Synchrony One flagship, but with smaller 5.25" mid/woofers and no separate midrange transducer. In strictly technical terms the S2 is a two-way but it’s actually much, much more than that. Each mid/bass driver operates in its own isolated, independently ported sub-enclosure. The mid/woofs are spread evenly along the length of the baffle. They integrate via a crossover design that PSB terms a “transitional array”: All three drivers do the same work in the bass octaves, but while the uppermost woofer comes in conventionally to meet the tweeter, the bottom two drivers electrically transition at different high-pass frequencies. When dual midbass drivers are configured this way it is sometimes called a two-and-a-halfway design. The Synchrony Two takes this model and furthers it with the additional driver. It’s a technique Barton has found not only smooths response both on- and off-axis but achieves the additional benefit of moderating floor cancellations.
In terms of tonality, Barton clearly has no intention of upsetting the sonic applecart. The Synchrony Two remains a model of PSB balance and consistency. Actually you don’t just begin playing the S2 in the conventional sense. More accurately you ignite it!—the starter’s flag falls and it roars towards the first turn and doesn’t look back. The speaker is an extrovert laced with bonerattling dynamic excitement, with a dark voluptuous tonal balance that reaches deep into the lower midrange and bottom octaves. The triple array of midbass drivers throws a broad soundstage with superior coherence. There are no holes in the fabric of the S2’s bass response. This is sheer linearity that spells nothing less than “let’s get ready to rumble.” Integration with the tweeter is nearly seamless. Port and cabinet colorations are vanishingly low. However, there’s also an overall warmth to the S2 that makes it extremely easy to listen to. Inner details are laid out cleanly, yet without the kind of hyper-minutiae that borders on sounding twitchy.
Essentially the S2 conveys a character that appeals more to the heart than the head—the artist versus the engineer. When the orchestra wells up during Bruch’s Kol Nidre [Wispelwey, Channel Classics], the rush of upper bass energy draws you in and tugs at your emotions. The S2 almost dares you to keep an intellectual distance. Dynamic shadings are also a key strength. Few loudspeakers I’ve had in my room at any price convey the rhythmic thrust of Bobby Columby’s colorfully manic drumming during “More and More” [Blood Sweat & Tears, Columbia] like the S2.
Sweetness with substance is the best way to describe the uppermids and treble. Vocals are fullbodied yet never strident. When a singer like Bruce Springsteen takes a deep breath during “Lost in the Flood” [Hammersmith Odeon, London 1975, Columbia], the sense of his physical exertion is palpable. Likewise when violinist Anne- Sophie Mutter ascends into the upper octaves during Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto [LSO, Previn, DG], there’s a dynamic/harmonic ease that’s all too easy to take for granted. The S2’s treble is not so transparent and spacious that it challenges the MBL’s legendary radial tweeter or a DALI ribbon, but this is the best high-frequency performance I’ve heard yet from PSB.
By any measure low-frequency response in my room was impressive with extension plummeting like a stone into the mid-30Hz range, and a tanker full of usable response into the low 30s. During Nickelcreek’s “Smoothie Song” [This Side, Sugar Hill], which features a pair of standup basses, the S2’s linear extension and precision imaging caught me completely off guard. And on a track like “Wrapped Around Your Finger” [Synchronicity, A&M], the S2 doesn’t just dip a toe into the lowest octave; it sends waves jackhammering into the floor. Cello and bass viol reproduction were absolute standouts—soulful and darkly resonant, striking that delicate balance between the transient bite of the bow and the slow decay of reverberant information from the instrument’s body.
However, as much as I was enjoying the visceral bass kick of the S2, I felt that its response was at times overly bloomy and lagging slightly in speed. I suspected that room gain had become an issue. During a quick conversation Barton suggested placing the custom rubber Synchrony port plugs that PSB offers in the uppermost port where it would reduce output roughly 2dB in the 80–100Hz range. I cued up “Wrapped Around Your Finger” once more, and in fact the bass was more articulate and no longer verged on overpowering the rest of the track. Still, I was never quite able to overcome a slight heaviness in the bass, in my listening room.
Another issue of less consequence is a very light subtraction of energy in the presence range that can mellow out the rough edges of a sub-par recording, but can also soften dynamic impact and reduce the resolution of a heavily layered recording. I found myself leaning in just a little more in order to follow Roy Bittan’s hard-panned piano during “Lost in the Flood,” and I also found I was missing some of the more penetrating and elusive micro-dynamic details in the upper register of Mutter’s violin. Finally height cues could also improved—an area where the taller Synchrony One has a slight advantage.
The Synchrony Two is flat-out the best PSB speaker I’ve reviewed. How good? Even if you’ve allotted up to ten grand on a pair of speakers, you’d be making a serious mistake if you didn’t audition this exceptional product— that’s how good.
Synchrony Two B, or PSB Alphas Gone Wild?
If you can picture the Synchrony Two with only one woofer and about two feet of enclosure missing then you’ve got a good bead on what the Synchrony Two B is all about. A pure two-way bass-reflex compact, it uses the same tweeter from the Synchrony One and Two and the 5.25" mid/bass driver from the S2. The superb construction quality, details, and fittings are also identical. When I previewed it in Los Angeles a few months ago, the Two B impressed me as an unflappable performer with tonal qualities remarkably similar to the Synchrony One flagship. If anything the S2B performed even better in my listening room. In Issue 170 I flipped over the performance of the PSB Alpha B2 (at a mere $279 a pair), but while they share design philosophies, the S2B is far more than just “Alphas Gone Wild.” It takes the basic two-way compact framework, and explodes the level of refinement, frequency extension, and dynamic excitement.
The amazing thing about this speaker is that except for the lack of deep bass, it sonically mirrors the S1 flagship. PSB hasn’t just paid a lot of lip service to the subject of timbre matching; they’ve achieved it. Except for the region below 60Hz and the obvious limitation of output and dynamics, the S2B is the Mini-Me to the larger S2. The result is that it’s more of a classic “voice” speaker. There’s less of the natural masking that occurs with full-range speakers, so it becomes a bit more detail oriented—a windfall for chorale listeners and singer/songwriter fans. But it still manages to maintain the warm midrange balance of its larger siblings, and its tweeter never sounds etched, or becomes discontinuous with the woofer. Obviously it doesn’t scale an orchestra as accurately or layer images as concisely as the S2. Also near its limits the S2B reveals a bit of port “push.” The same tight bass line and insistent kick drumming from the Police’s “Murder By Numbers” that the S2 produces so effortlessly loses some extension, and pitch precision gets a little wobbly.
Overall the Synchrony Two B is like a decathlete, and few competitors will be able to match its well-honed balance. Two B or Not Two B? Only you can answer that question. I know what my answer is.