What is the PSB Imagine Mini?
As luck would have it, the speakers I wound up getting my hands on also appeal to another interest of mine. The Imagine Mini is - as the name gives rather a strong hint to - extremely compact at just 23cm high. In times past, small speakers were generally inexpensive ones. They were compact starter options and if you spent more money, you not only got improvements in the technology but you also got bigger speakers. Now, with space at a premium, the idea that a small speaker has to be a cheap one is starting to change. The fabulous Neat Iota has set a very high benchmark for small speakers and it is time to see if these Canadian charmers can be equally impressive.
PSB Imagine Mini Design
At 23 centimetres tall, the PSB is small but the design is conventional within these compact dimensions. A 1 inch titanium tweeter shared with the rest of the range handles the high frequencies and this is partnered with a 4 inch mid bass driver. This is made of what PSB describes as polypropylene reinforced with a clay ceramic which is something I’ve not encountered before and does genuinely give the driver a vaguely pottery like feel. Importantly for a relatively small driver, it has a fairly hefty surround and a long throw which should help it generate some low end extension.
I appreciate that spade connectors won’t have this issue and you can poke 4mm plugs into the space you’d normally use bare wires but the result is neither slick nor solid. In fairness this is really the only black mark against the design of the PSB as the rest of the speaker is aesthetically pleasing and well thought out. Curved cabinets generally look smart as well as helping the behaviour of the cabinet itself and the Mini uses a clever take on a curve, in that it doesn’t really have much effect on the internal volume of the cabinet and ensures that the Mini isn’t robbed of precious cubic centimetres in the pursuit of aesthetics.
One characteristic that the PSB shares with other small speakers is that although the speaker is small, it works best driven by an amplifier with a reasonable power output. This need not be a shrunken PA system but with a sensitivity in the mid 80’s, the Imagine Mini is going to most effective with a few watts and some reasonable current delivery behind them. At £500, the PSB should work well enough with stereo amps at the price but won’t be a quick fix to a less expensive amp as a bolt on. Equally, the large rear port is effective at giving the PSB a bit of low end heft but won’t take too kindly to being shoved right up against a wall as this will ensure it becomes audible. Like most speakers described as ‘bookshelf’ the PSB is really at its happiest when placed on a study set of speaker stands.
PSB Imagine Mini Setup
PSB Imagine Mini Sound Quality
In a wider sense, the PSB conveys an air of size and scale that can initially seem to be at odds with such a small cabinet. As well as the impressive low end, the PSB has a dispersion that means that is manages to fill rooms - even ones that are far from compact - with a well-defined and believable soundstage. This is aided by putting a bit of toe-in on the speakers and with this in place, the PSB manages to knit performers and the space where they are performing into something that sounds believable. Even with a large scale orchestral piece, they never come across as sounding small or thin and this really does represent a real achievement.
In fact by many standards, the PSB is able to take the fight to the more expensive (and arguably less pretty) Neat IOTA which is now £200 more expensive. I would judge the Imagine Mini to actually be superior in bass extension and possibly edges the contest in terms of soundstage too. Where the Neat hits back and shows at least some weakness in the PSB is in terms of the tonality on offer. With Tori Amos’s Me and a gun, the entire recording is literally Amos’s voice. There is nowhere for a speaker to hide in terms of establishing whether it sounds real or not. The PSB does a fine job with the piece and once again, constructs a real sense of the space the recording was made in, it has to give ground to the incredible presence that the ribbon tweeter of the Neat has with voices and instruments.
The counter to this is that going right back to the beginning and returning to Leftfield, this very slight coolness gives the PSB an advantage with electronic music that is subtle but effective. The performance stays clean and spacious and the PSB follows this with commendable agility and power behind the performance. As you might imagine, the inertia behind a four inch driver is not going to be too significant but if a speaker is generating a lot of the low end energy from the bass port, it can still sound a little slow or constrained. The PSB’s bass port is almost imperceptible in operation- it simply augments the low end and leaves nothing of itself in the wider performance and this makes for a fast and entertaining speaker. It would be wrong to write the PSB off as a ‘dance’ speaker but it does show huge ability in this area.
- Potent and lively sound
- Excellent soundstage
- Handsome design and good build
- Can sound very slightly sterile
- Odd terminal placement
- No shortage of competition
PSB Imagine Mini Review
The second question - is the Imagine Mini good enough to be on a shortlist of £500 speakers, even if you have the space for something bigger? The answer is still yes. If you have a larger cabinet, you might get a little more bass and there are speakers that can be a little tonally sweeter but the PSB is still a class act. It has the performance, build and aesthetics to be competitive with most rivals and provided you have the amplifier power to make them sing, they are unlikely to disappoint. It might not be quite the same demolition job as the M4U headphones but this is still a class act.
Value For Money
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