Founded in 1972 by their chief designer Paul Barton, PSB speakers international are a market-leader in consumer audio speakers. It all started in the late 1960s – in Paul’s father’s workshop, where his father built Paul’s first hand-crafted violin. Recognising that the loudspeakers of the day didn’t have “true-to-nature performance”, Paul and his father began constructing their own loudspeakers.
During high school, Paul sold the speakers that he’d built – and constructed speaker kits for the students at the university of waterloo where he was living.
Today, PSB (an acronym for ‘Paul and Sue Barton’) produce a wide range of loudspeakers for both hi-fi and home cinema applications. Their aim is to produce speakers that are “true to nature” – with nothing added or taken away from the music.
“that's what a speaker should be – it should be a window to what you see or hear – just like a glass is what you see through the window without any tint, or any coloration; which are sometimes spectacular, sometimes bigger than life, but they're not natural. We like to think that our speakers are true to nature. And that is the goal. That is the objective of PSB” – Paul Barton.
The Imagine Minis
A truly tiny bookshelf speaker, the Imagine Minis are part of the Imagine range – a range of speakers designed to integrate into any home cinema or hi-fi system. Available in a range of finishes including Dark Cherry, Black Ash or Walnut Wood Veneer, Gloss Black or Gloss White, they’re sure to fit into any modern living environment.
The range comprises 2 towers (more commonly referred to as floorstanders), 2 bookshelves, and 2 centres – so there are speakers to fit any setup, from a fully-fledged home cinema setup to the simplest, smallest stereo system.
Packed into the Minis tiny, 143 x 234 x 212mm specially tuned cabinets, you’ll find a 1” (25mm) Titanium Dome with Ferrofluid tweeter, positioned above a 4” (102mm) Clay/Ceramic reinforced Polypropylene Cone woofer. The woofer cone is chosen for both its performance and looks, and the NBR damped surround chosen for best performance and compatibility with the cone.
The Imagine Minis benefit from PSBs extensive research into psychoacoustics, sound reproduction and perception at one of the worlds most sophisticated acoustical laboratories – the NRC (national research council) in Canada. PSB were the first company to use these facilities for loudspeaker development – and remain one of the most active users of the NRC’s advanced resources and wealth of knowledge and research.
The advanced, hand-assembled cabinets are laminated with 7 layers of MDF and pressed into shape, using high tech curved panel processing technology. A custom-developed belt sanding shaper ensures perfect matching of all parts that attached to the cabinets – which are then hand-finished in your choice of colour.
Packaged in a small strong box with substantial blocks of polystyrene keeping things in place, the Imagine Minis are well-protected from the bumps and scrapes they’ll inevitably suffer on their journey to your system.
Wrapped in plastic bags, with further cloth bags protecting the finish, the Imagine Minis packaging lends to their luxurious, high-quality feel. The individually wrapped, cloth-covered metal grilles sit in designated slots in front of the speakers.
Finally; a small bag contains an instruction manual (not that you’ll need it).
Lifting the Imagine Minis out of their packaging, I was surprised by their weight. While they’re certainly far from heavy, they have a decent weight to them – especially considering their size. Rubber trims and a thick rubber bass adorn the otherwise solid MDF cabinet – with small rubber plugs in the front to keep the included grilles in place. The base has tiny rubber feet, designed to stop the Imagine Minis sliding around on their stands or a bookshelf.
The included grilles are cloth-covered mesh-style grids of tiny round holes. While solid, they colour the sound due to their grid of holes, rather than the usual large openings for the drivers. I left them off for the entirety of this review – and would recommend you do too.
The fronts retain the clean, uncluttered appearance that is common with modern speakers, with no fixings in site. The 4” mid/bass unit sits below the 1” tweeter – which has a plastic guard over it to protect the cone from damage. Both drivers are surrounded by rubber trims, hiding fixings and providing further dampening.
The rear contains a single wooden bass port, rather than the usual plastic ports that are commonly found in speaker designs.
The terminals are, rather awkwardly, situated at the bottom. There are 2 holes on the rear, allowing you to feed bare wire cables through the back directly into the terminals below. If you’re using banana plugs, though, you’ll need stands or wall brackets that allow you to access the bottom of the speakers.
The terminals are all-metal and solid – there’s no flex what-so-ever, even when inserting tight plugs. The holes are large, and will accommodate thick, heavy-gauge cables if you choose to go down that route.
The bass also features 2 screw fixings, for securing the speakers to wall brackets or stands. PSB offer custom-designed stands and brackets – or you use your own, providing the spacing is the same.
The Imagine minis are indeed ‘mini’ – but they don’t sound it. They present a broad sound stage that spreads evenly in every direction – up, down, side to side – and even front to back. They’re crisp, clean sounding speakers – though they’re neither harsh, nor bright.
In fact, they’re very neutral – the overall tone of the speakers will depend heavily on the recordings you present them. Play Led Zeppelin’s ‘stairway to heaven’, for example, and the Imagine Minis present a warm, almost tube-like sound – complete with tape hiss, and the distortion that is, unfortunately, present on this track due to miss-judged levels.
Play The intro to ‘Bet You Wish You Had Me Back’ from Halestorm’s ‘Live In Philly 2010’, and the Imagine minis impress with their huge, bold soundstage, and excellent bass. Bass that, in fact, completely defies their small size; you certainly won’t be needing a sub with these unless you like your bass truly chest-pounding. Sure the bass isn’t as deep as a large floorstander – but it’s rhythmic, perfectly in time and a joy to listen too.
The entire Live In Philly album sounds stunning on these speakers – even though it’s not particularly well recorded. ‘I’m Not An Angel’, an expressive, emotional acoustic ballad is full to bursting with emotion – Lzzy Hale’s powerful, slightly over compressed vocal engulfing the listener, while the left-panned acoustic guitar is delivered with precision while remaining airy and natural, just as an acoustic guitar should.
These speakers can certainly deliver the goods when it comes to sheer power and forcefulness, but what about subtlety? No details are left to the listeners imagination – from that subtle backing vocal in a track that often slips under the radar, to the sliding finger on the guitar, to the scream of a member in the audience. The Imagine Minis drag it all from your amplifier – creating a very well-rounded performance.
‘Love Of My Life’ from Queen’s Live At Wembley Stadium (1986) – a track that has all this and more – is playing as I write this. It’s hard to prevent the beautiful tones of Brian May’s guitar and Freddie’s voice. Not to mention that huge audience, washing over me… I know I’ll have to surrender to the lure of the Minis… and, as we lead into ‘is this the world we created’… I’m gone
Looking at the Imagine Minis tiny, curvy cabinets, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little underwhelmed. With their little 4” woofer and miniature profile, you certainly don’t expect that big, bold sound – but that’s exactly what you get. Just as you should never judge a book by its cover; don’t judge the Imagine Minis by their understated appearance. Sit down, listen, and let them tell their story.
In short; Don’t let their small size fool you – these are tiny speakers with a huge heart and sound to match.