Several months back the A/V rumor mill started churning as word got out that PSB was releasing a new top-tier family of speakers called the Synchrony Series. PSB is known for packing loads of performance into its low- and mid-priced designs, so listeners were excited to see what company founder and chief designer Paul Barton could do when setting out to build speakers where performance took precedence over pricing. When I met with Barton at CEDIA 2007, he was reluctant to toot his own horn but did quietly allow himself to say that his new flagships produce less distortion than most other speakers, regardless of cost. Most of all, though, I think Barton takes real delight in blowing listeners’ minds with speakers that deliver unexpected levels of performance for the money. As you’ll see in a moment, the Synchrony line fits that profile.
Our PSB Synchrony surround system consisted of two Synchrony Two floorstanders, a Synchrony Two C center channel, a pair of Synchrony S surround speakers, and an HD10 powered subwoofer—collectively selling for $7799. Rather than giving a model-by-model run-down, let me simply summarize the key technologies in play throughout the line.
Synchrony models feature rigid and well-damped enclosures that incorporate front and rear panels made of double-walled aluminum, with curved 21mm-thick sidewalls made of laminated MDF. The objective is to have a structure that minimizes unwanted resonance and is stiff enough to let you hear the pure sound of PSB’s drivers without contributing bad vibes of its own. For example, each of the three mid-bass drivers in the Synchrony Two floorstanders has its own internally isolated, ducted mounting chamber.
Next, Synchrony speakers provide the finest drive units PSB has ever made. All models feature light, responsive, ferrofluid-cooled 1-inch titanium dome tweeters with mid/bass drivers whose cones are made of an usual laminate of fine-weave fiberglass and natural fiber—a combination said to offer an ideal mix of stiffness and internal damping.
Finally, the HD10 subwoofer combines a powerful 750-watt “class H” amplifier with a “severe duty” 10-inch woofer and dual opposing 10-inch passive radiators. PSB isn’t kidding with its severe duty terminology since the HD10 has been put through a brutal “15-hour test of being driven continuously to maximum output.” Do not attempt this at home (unless you want to scare the bejibbers out of your kids or neighbors).
Barton says the Synchrony designs are less revolutionary than evolutionary—the result of “refinement, refinement, and more refinement,” but if that is the case, then refinement certainly has a distinctive charm of its own.
If I had to sum up the PSB Synchrony system in just a few words, they would be purity, focus, dynamics and, most importantly, emotional content—qualities that play out beautifully in movies and music.
Perhaps a small example will illustrate my point. If you watch the opening minutes of Open Range on DVD, you’ll notice the film’s primary musical theme is introduced through a sweet, melancholy trumpet solo, even as distant thunder is heard in the background. I’ve probably watched/ heard that passage a zillion times, yet the Synchrony system made it sound fresh and new in ways that really snapped me to attention.
First, the PSBs simply nailed the soulful, burnished glow of the trumpet solo in a pure, natural, and lifelike way, making the opening theme sound breathtakingly beautiful. Much like one of those zoomed-in, micro-molecular scenes from CSI, the PSBs let you explore the interior richness of sounds so you can’t help but be fascinated by what you hear. Second, the PSBs made the deep, sharply focused crack and rumble of the opening peal of thunder sound so real, and so precisely positioned on a distant hillside, that for a split-second I wondered if a real storm was approaching. One of the Synchrony system’s greatest strengths is its ability to create the illusion that sounds are emanating from pinpoint locations within a 3D soundstage, and not from the speakers themselves.
Next, I cued up the Spider-Man 3 DVD, playing the terrifying scene in which the murderer Flint Marko gets atomized (and turned into the Sandman) through a high-energy particle physics experiment gone horribly wrong. As the “de-molecularizer” gets moving, it emits powerful, throbbing noises that the Synchrony system reproduced with the greatest of ease (though the sheetrock was taking a royal beating from all the bass energy turned loose in the room). At the same time, the arms of the de-molecularizer begin to swirl around Marko, sounding louder and louder as they pick up speed—an effect perfectly mimicked by the Synchrony rig. The scene is both visually and sonically unnerving; as Marko is gradually reduced to grains of sand, listeners have the eerie sense of heavy, pulsating mechanical arms whipping in a circle from the front of the room to sweep just behind their heads (a sound that makes even the most unflappable movie watchers flinch). The point is that the Synchrony system draws and then holds your attention—especially on an emotional level—as few others can.
Much like the Definitive Mythos ST system I reviewed in Playback issue 2, the PSB Synchrony system does a fine job with movie soundtracks, but really comes into its element when reproducing music. And, to an even greater degree than was true of the Definitives, the PSBs are dependent upon being used with appropriate, high-quality system components in order to sound their best.
My colleague Neil Gader from The Absolute Sound recently reviewed the Synchrony Two as a stereo speaker and, though finding it to offer many positive attributes, reported it also had “a dark, voluptuous tonal balance,” a “very light subtraction of energy in the presence range,” and a tendency to miss “elusive micro-dynamics.” Frankly, my own findings were substantially different, which I think is an indication that the Synchrony system is a bit of a sonic chameleon that mirrors the sound of the components with which it is used.
Neil tested the PSBs using “purist” stereo electronics that provided no room-correction EQ functions, while I mostly listened to the PSBs through a good A/V receiver equipped with the superb Audyssey MultEQ XT automated speaker set-up/room EQ system. My conclusion is that a good room EQ system can help take the PSB system’s performance to the next level.
In my test system the PSBs conveyed a generally neutral tonal balance, with taut, punchy bass. Treble detailing, though perhaps not “state-of-the-art” in the strict sense of the term, was as good if not better than anything I’ve heard in this price range. In the Playback system the speaker tended, if anything, to show a very slight degree of forwardness in the presence range—a quality that effortlessly exposed even small sonic details and dynamic shifts in emphasis. In fact, if this system was any more detailed than it already is, I suspect it would be painfully finicky about associated source and amplification components. As things stand, however, the Synchrony system has hit a sweet spot of sorts, where it works well when driven by modest A/V receivers, yet still holds enough headroom in reserve to show the benefits of high-performance electronics.
But one point on which Neil and I are in complete agreement is that this system is an emotional charmer extraordinaire. This is not a system you can (or should) listen to in a casual way, because it will continually pull at your ears and heartstrings—almost forcing you to care about musical performances. I put on “Children’s Song” from Chick Corea and Return to Forever’s Light As A Feather [Verve/Polydor], and within seconds found myself savoring the otherworldly, chime-like sound of Corea’s electric piano, the taut, almost astringent commentary provided by Stanley Clarke’s acoustic bass, and the luxurious sound of Airto Moreira and Flora Purim’s delicate percussion highlights floating above the ensemble. In short, the PSBs show you so much about how music is being made (again, letting you hear each note as if from within) that you can’t help but become emotionally involved; indifference is just not an option. And isn’t that the greatest musical gift that any speaker can give?