PSB Synchrony Two B
I think its fair to
say that the evolution of speaker design has lately been directed as much by advances in
materials science and improvements in manufacturing processes as by any advances in the
science of acoustics. For example, we know that for a dome tweeter to produce clear,
undistorted high frequencies, it must move like a piston, such that no part of the dome
moves more or less forward or back than any other part. Deviation from this behavior
produces distortion. Fortunately, improvements in the use of lightweight, rigid metals
such as aluminum, titanium -- and, more recently, beryllium and magnesium -- have helped
ensure that distortion artifacts caused by tweeter breakup take place far beyond the
audioband (i.e., the audible range).
This illustrates an area in which performance limitations
are not rooted in a failure to understand how something works, but in finding a means of
making it work that way. In the case of the subject of this review, the PSB Synchrony Two
B loudspeaker, changes in how the cabinets and drivers are made and what they are made of
are key aspects of the continually evolving line of speakers coming out of company founder
Paul Bartons workshop.
+30 years in the making
Ive met Paul Barton several times, and have heard him
discuss acoustics and his goals in speaker design. Speaking with Barton, Ive gotten
a clear sense that not only does he hold those goals firmly in mind, he knows exactly how
to achieve them -- no doubt the result of his more than 30 years of experience in
designing speakers. One determinant of achieving those goals is the retail price set for
each speaker model: the higher the price, the better the parts and materials Barton can
use in their design.
The Synchrony series of loudspeakers is PSBs
second-most-expensive and thus one of their most technically ambitious. (The top of the
line is the Platinum series, introduced about five years ago; although PSB hasnt
formally said so, the Synchronys seem destined to replace the Platinums. I own a pair of
Platinum M2s.) The Two B bookshelf model ($1500 USD per pair) is the least expensive
speaker of the seven Synchronys; the most expensive is the floorstanding One ($4500/pair).
In between are another bookshelf model, the One B, and another floorstander, the Two. The
Synchrony line is rounded out by a surround and two center-channel models.
The Two B is a two-way
bass-reflex design. Its 1" ferrofluid-cooled, titanium-dome tweeter hands off to a
5.25" mid-woofer at 2.2kHz via fourth-order crossover slopes. Each cabinet measures
13.5"H x 7.5"W x 10.75"D and weighs 16 pounds. As Barton has done with
every statement bookshelf speaker since the Stratus Mini, over a decade ago, the
midrange/woofer is mounted above the tweeter. Combined with the appropriate crossover
design, this ensures that the appropriately summed overall response is at driver height
and above, and that any cancellations are directed toward the floor.
The Two Bs mid-woofer is made of fine-weave
fiberglass and compressed-felted fibers to form a rigid cone thats not only
lightweight but self-damping. This, in combination with an oversize voice-coil, is said to
maintain magnetic linearity when the speaker is pushed hard, all in an effort to achieve
The Synchrony cabinets are another example of Bartons
ever-evolving approach to speaker design. When he introduced the Platinum series five
years ago, all of the models had cast aluminum tops and bottoms, as well as aluminum
faceplates secured by an adhesive to the front baffle to increase rigidity. With the
Synchrony series, one could argue that Barton has upped the ante: the front and rear
panels are made entirely of extruded aluminum, the curved side panels of seven-ply MDF
topped off with a real-wood veneer of dark cherry or black ash.
Although you cant see it, the aluminum front panel
actually has two layers: the drivers are mounted to the back layer, with an elastomeric
material between the layers. The purpose of this is to thoroughly damp vibrations caused
by the drivers. Surrounding the drivers and binding to the front panel is a rubbery
material that blends nicely with the baffle for a smooth "acoustical"
transition, and also hides the driver mounting bolts. Furthermore, the aluminum edges of
the front and back baffles are double-locking -- no screws are used to bind the rest of
the enclosure to the side panels. Instead, everything more or less slots together,
resulting in a supersolid cabinet that feels very dense.
Around back, set into the
rear panel, are two sets of big binding posts in a vertical alignment. These accept any
type of connector, including spade lugs, banana plugs, pins, or bare wire. Although I
never needed them -- my speaker cables terminate in banana plugs -- the posts have
"wings" that can be hand-tightened to cinch down on the cable for a really solid
connection. The inset and vertical alignment also help keep the rear panel narrow, giving
the Two B a more graceful, flowing form.
And the Two B really does look graceful. With its
perforated aluminum grille covering the drivers, it has an understated elegance that
should look good in most rooms. I left the grilles on for most of my listening, partly
because I preferred their appearance with the grilles in place, and partly because the
grilles fit so snugly into the front aluminum corners that it wasnt easy to pry them
off with my fingers, indicating to me that Paul Barton designed them to be left on, even
for critical listening.
The Two Bs claimed frequency response is 50Hz-20kHz,
±1.5dB, with a low-frequency cutoff (-10dB) of 40Hz. If accurate, thats impressive
extension from a 5.25" driver and a cabinet that could hardly be called large. But
part of this must also be due to the Two Bs average sensitivity: 86dB under anechoic
conditions. Combined with its nominal impedance of 4 ohms, the Two B will require a few
watts to wake it up, though I think any amplifier capable of supplying 50Wpc or
thereabouts should be more than enough to play it pretty loud.
I set up the Synchrony Two Bs in the system that normally
includes my reference speakers of the last two years, PSBs own Platinum M2s. This
system also comprises a Bryston B100-SST integrated amplifier with onboard moving-magnet
phono stage and DAC, and an NAD C542 CD player used as a transport. Speaker cables were
AudioQuest Type 4s. Connecting the NAD to the Brystons onboard DAC was an AMX
Optimum AVC-31 coaxial digital cable. I also have a Thorens TD160HD turntable with TP250
tonearm (a modified Rega RB250) and a Dynavector 10x5 high-output moving-coil cartridge.
AMX cables connected the Thorens to the Bryston.
The Two Bs took up residence close to the spots normally
inhabited by the M2s: about 30" from the front wall and 25" from the sidewalls.
This left the speakers 6 apart and 8 from my listening chair. I toed each
speaker in slightly so that the drivers crossed just behind my head. In this position, the
Two Bs created a wide soundstage with excellent center fill.
Paul Bartons newest, smallest bookshelf speaker
sounded big enough to fill my room. In fact, my admiration of the Synchrony Two B was due
in no small part to its amazing ability to sound huge despite its relatively small size.
If you dont require chest-thumping bass -- even if its not ultradeep bass but,
rather, tunefully tight and moderately deep bass, as youll find out -- you should
have no problem with these in even a medium-size room; the Two B was capable of quite high
Not only did the Two B produce plenty of bass for a
smallish speaker with a 5.25" woofer, that bass was tight. I first noted the
Two Bs surprising solidity down low while listening to Elliott Smiths From
a Basement on the Hill [LP, Anti- 86741-1]. Although the bass didnt plumb the lowest
depths, it was tight, controlled, and clear, with weight I could easily feel. During
"Videotape," from Radioheads In Rainbows [CD, TBD TBD0001], the
superb impact in the lowest registers of Thom Yorkes piano gave the instrument
wonderful presence in the room, and really brought the performance to life.
Toward the end of "2:45am," from Elliott
Smiths Either/Or [LP, Kill Rock Stars KRS 269], when the kick drum enters,
its thump was rendered with impressive punch, sounding as clean and controlled as
Ive heard it through any speaker. Granted, it didnt have the same fullness as
through my reference, the Platinum M2, which has a 6.5" mid-woofer and a much larger
cabinet, but the quality was every bit as good, and I never found myself missing anything.
The same was true when I listened to Nirvana perform with the Meat Puppets on Unplugged
in New York City [LP, Geffen 424 727-1]. Cris Kirkwoods bass guitar never went
as deep as Ive heard it do through bigger speakers, but it was so clear and so
surprisingly full that, instead of focusing on those few missing hertz at the bottom, I
found myself admiring the quality of what I was hearing. I never expected a speaker
as small as the Two B to sound so full in the lower registers.
But delivering tight, relatively deep bass wasnt the
only thing the Two Bs did well. As mentioned above, they sounded bigger than their size
had led me to expect. There were times when, if I closed my eyes, I could have sworn I was
listening to large floorstanding speakers -- such as the Axiom M60 v2s, which I reviewed a
couple of months ago. This was definitely the case when I listened to "The Biggest
Lie," from Elliot Smith [LP, Kill Rock Stars KRS 246]: the Two Bs created an
enormous wall of sound in front of me that was nothing less than astonishing.
The clarity I noted in the bass was just as noticeable
through the midrange and into the highs. No doubt about it: The Two B was an exceptionally
clean-sounding speaker. Voices were outstanding -- the openness and transparency of the
midrange helped provide a sense of space around singers, making it extremely easy to hear
the subtlest nuances of their vocalizing. This clarity also revealed a greater degree of
expression in sung lyrics that was highly involving, and caused me on several occasions to
stop scribbling listening notes and focus on music.
As with its midrange performance, I found very little to
criticize about the Two Bs treble. The highs were extended and smooth and very
detailed, though not to the point of being over analytical. Like every other PSB speaker
Ive heard (and Ive heard quite a few now), the Two B sounded neutral: If a
recording was inherently bright, thats how it sounded through the Two Bs. Case in
point: Velvet Undergrounds first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico [CD,
Verve 823 290-2]. I wouldnt say this disc is horribly recorded, but its a
mixed bag. On a few tracks, the electric guitars sound bright enough that I have to turn
down the volume to remove some of their harsh edge. On "Heroin," Lou Reeds
voice is so far down in the mix at one point that its almost drowned out by the
guitars and drums. The Two Bs didnt tame the screech of the guitars or make
Reeds lyrics any easier to discern; they just played back exactly whats on the
disc. You cant ask for more than that from a pair of high-quality bookshelf
Finally, as already mentioned, another of the Two Bs
strengths was its ability to play impressively loud. This shouldnt be overlooked --
some people like to play their music quite loud, and/or use their music-system speakers
for home theater as well. So I played some hip-hop. Through the Two Bs, Talib Kweli and DJ
Hi-Teks "This Means You," from Reflection Eternal/Train of Thought
[CD, Rawkus/UMVD 112923], only sounded better as I turned up the volume. Most speakers
will start to sound hard or distorted once youve passed their level of maximum
output -- any further cranking of the volume knob makes thing only messier, not louder.
The Two Bs maintained remarkable composure and poise, remaining unflappable at the highest
decibel levels I could tolerate. This also served classical music well; after all,
reproducing huge dynamic shifts without strain is imperative if you want to re-create the
power of a full symphony orchestra. I can imagine the Two Bs would do quite well as the
main speakers of a small-to-medium-size home-theater system, provided theyre
augmented with a subwoofer.
I compared the Two Bs with my Platinum M2 bookshelf
speakers, which retail for $2000/pair. The M2 is stockier, tipping the scales at 30 pounds
-- almost twice the weight of the Two B. The M2 has a larger cabinet, and a 6.5"
mid-woofer instead of the Two Bs 5.25" cone.
In terms of appearance, the M2 is far more conventional,
with flat side and rear panels and sharp edges. In contrast, all of the Two Bs edges
are rounded, and the curvature of its cabinet gives it a very chic look. Also, whereas the
M2s top and bottom aluminum plates extend slightly over the cabinet, the Two
Bs front and rear panels of extruded aluminum are perfectly flush with the wood side
panels. Overall, while the M2 is handsome, the Two B has a (smooth) edge in appearance --
especially as its sleek profile helped it to disappear into my room a bit better.
Both speakers are well made. However, when I rapped my
knuckles on the cabinet sides, the Two B sounded deader, which suggests to me that
its more solidly built. It seems as if Paul Bartons new cabinet design has
elevated the quality of the Synchrony series beyond that of his Platinum models.
In terms of sound, the Two B was similar to the M2 in its
ability to unveil subtle musical details. And while both models are what I consider to be
exceptionally clean-sounding, after going back and forth between them several times, I
give the nod to the Two B in this regard -- I could hear plenty of detail through both
pairs of speakers, but through the Two Bs, these details were a touch easier to decipher.
A more noticeable difference between the Synchrony and
Platinum bookshelf models was in the sense of scale they brought to music. Ive
lavished a lot of praise on the Two Bs for their remarkable ability to sound big, and they
deserve every bit of it. But there was no denying that the M2s brought an even greater
sense of space and fullness to music. This was definitely the case with
"Hunter," from Portisheads Third [LP, Island 1764104]: the
reverberation of Beth Gibbons voice made the song sound even more cavernous through
the M2s than it had through the Two Bs, and produced a denser envelope of sound. In this
regard, the M2 was significantly better. On the other hand, this was hardly unexpected:
The Platinum M2 has a bigger mid-woofer and a bigger cabinet, which usually mean greater
bass extension and higher output. Probably a better comparison would have been with the
Synchrony One B ($2000/pair), which has a bigger cabinet than the Two B, a 6.5"
mid-woofer, and costs the same as the M2s.
Its been over three decades since Paul Barton began
building loudspeakers, and he shows no sign of running out of new ideas. With the
Synchrony series, he has again raised the performance bar by implementing several key
changes in cabinet design and driver mounting, as well as the materials used to build
those drivers. From what Ive heard of the Two B, the Synchrony series comprises his
best work yet.
While not inexpensive, the Synchrony Two B exhibits levels
of build and finish quality that put them several steps above lower-priced, entry-level
speakers, and it has sound quality to match. When you consider that the Two B is built
even more solidly than the companys Platinum M2 (which costs $500 more per pair),
and in some ways sounds as good as or better than the M2, theres no question that
the Two B should be considered something of a bargain in the upper end of two-way,
stand-mounted speaker designs. If youre in the market for a super-high-quality,
stand-mounted speaker, I think youll be as impressed as I was by the sound that
emerges from the stunning little Synchrony Two Bs.
. . . Philip Beaudette
Price of equipment reviewed