Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Note: measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceGoing into a product review knowing exactly what you’re in for can be simultaneously comforting and a bit boring. Going into a review feeling confident that you know exactly what you’re in for and being thrown for a bit of a loop, on the other hand, can be thrilling and embarrassing in equal measure. That’s exactly what happened to me during my time with PSB’s new Imagine B50 loudspeakers ($699/pair, all prices USD).

Let’s unpack that. If you have much experience with PSB’s work at all, you see any new speaker from the company and assume a few things: delightfully neutral midrange response, well-controlled directivity, a very nice response curve across the listening window, a thoughtfully designed crossover, and well-behaved bass. Mind you, with a speaker like the Imagine B50, you take one look at the size of the cabinet and midrange-woofer—6.75″W × 11.8″H × 9.8″D and 5.25″, respectively—and any reasonable person is also going to assume an overall lack of impactful low-bass energy, even with the inclusion of a rear-firing slotted port. And yes, even with reported bass extension down to 45Hz (±3dB).


And any reasonable person would be completely fine with that. On paper, at least, the Imagine B50 looks like a wonderful and affordable cornerstone of the sort of 2.1-channel audio system I frequently advocate for. So, whence the surprise? We’ll get there.

But first, a bit more about the crossover between the aforementioned 5.25″ woven-carbon-fiber midrange-woofer and 1″ titanium-dome tweeter, as well as the orientation of the two drivers. The couple of normies who visited while I was reviewing the Imagine B50s assumed I had the speakers placed upside-down and asked why. On the one hand, I was shocked they could even see the speakers at all, given how dark I keep my room. On the other hand, it gave me a chance to talk about Paul Barton’s approach to crossover design and driver positioning, which only resulted in mildly glazed-over eyes.


The Imagine B50 employs a fourth-order Linkwitz–Riley crossover at a relatively low but wholly logical frequency of 2200Hz. And as Barton explained to me recently, during a recording session for the SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast, that, combined with the woofer-above-tweeter design, tilts the in-phase lobe of the two drivers together upward, whereas if the tweeter were above the midrange-woofer, the in-phase lobe would point below the speaker.

Installing and configuring the PSB Imagine B50

That, of course, has consequences for the setup and positioning of the B50. Barton told me he designs for a 24″ stand and assumes an ideal ear height of 36″ to 39″. As I said in my unboxing, though, my only speaker stands are 32″ tall, so I also requested a loaner of PSB’s SST-24 stands ($599/pair). And with those assembled and the speakers plopped atop them, the top of the cabinet is still less than 36″ above the floor, with the tweeter sitting at more like 27″ off the ground.

It frankly looks wrong, and I kept my beanbag chair close at hand in case I felt the need to get nearer to Mother Earth, but I decided to spend a few days sitting in my Steelcase Amia chair just to see how it sounded—despite the fact that it made me feel like Grape Ape hanging out with Beegle Beagle. Seriously. I’ve never felt more like a lumbering oaf than I do perched in front of these speakers, even from six feet away.


I also kept my SVS PB-1000 Pro subwoofer on hand and ready to connect once I’d found the limitations of the Imagine B50 on its own. Driving the speakers throughout this review was my new NAD C 3050 integrated amp, with Elac Sensible Speaker Cables and a custom RCA cable serving as tethers.

Overall, I have to say that the Imagine B50 pair proved to be ridiculously easy to position. In fact, I don’t think I’ve spent this little time futzing with speaker placement since my time with Monitor Audio’s Silver 300 7G. Plop a pair of B50s any-old-where in terms of lateral placement and toe-in, and they just work. Experimenting with toe-in didn’t seem to do too much except at the ridiculous extremes, and as long as the left/right spread of the speakers resulted in anything resembling an equilateral-ish triangle with my head, soundstaging and imaging were bang-on. The only real tweaking that needed to be done was with regard to front/back placement, in that to sound their absolute best, the speakers needed an extra inch or two behind them as compared with my Paradigm towers.

How does the PSB Imagine B50 sound?

I am, as I’ve said before, a huge fan of two-way standmount speakers, especially when paired with a good sub or four. And that last point is crucial—or at least it normally is—because a lot of the music I adore has meaningful bass extension below the capabilities of most small two-ways. So when I sit down with a pair of speakers like the Imagine B50s for the first time, I’m listening for two things: firstly, obviously, where the bass runs out of steam, but perhaps more importantly, how loudly I can play the speakers without a sub before woofer compression becomes audible.

As such, I started my serious evaluation of the B50 with a test that isn’t what you’d consider the most strenuous, but it’s certainly far from the easiest: “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire on the Mountain” from my ALAC rip of Grateful Dead’s Dave’s Picks Volume 1: The Mosque, Richmond, VA 5/25/77 (Rhino Records R2-529201).


Great as it is, and much as I love it, this isn’t my all-time favorite performance of “Scar>Fire,” nor is it the single best-recorded of the Dead from that era. But what makes it a great test for circumstances such as this is that Billy and Mickey’s drumming and percussion are constant enough and loud enough in the mix—and the tempo of this rendition is sufficiently high—that they don’t give a woofer’s voice coil a lot of time to catch its breath and cool off.

What’s more, Phil’s bass is really hot in the mix—perhaps the most prominent element after Jerry’s vocals. And this is the element I was really focusing my attention on as my earnest evaluation began. Much of the bass line bobs around in the 60–80Hz region, below the point where I would normally set the crossover in a sub/sat setup. As I twisted the volume knob of my C 3050 to the right, I was listening for the point at which Phil’s bass got less dynamic or prominent. Or, worse still, distorted.

And to my mind, before I listened, it wasn’t really a question of “if,” but rather “when.” Joke’s on me, though. Even with the volume pushed to the point of delivering 101dB peaks at my seat, the bass was chest-slammingly strong and deliciously dynamic, with nothing that sounded like compression to my ears. I couldn’t tolerate this much sound pressure for long, so I stepped out of the room for a bit with “Scarlet Begonias” looping, and when I came back half an hour later, it still sounded every bit as full, punchy, and deep.

With the volume turned down to sane listening levels, I sat down for some pure-enjoyment listening, as it’s been ages since I dug into this show. I was really drawn in by the delightful soundstage rendered by the Imagine B50s, not to mention the wonderful image specificity. Every member of the band had their place in the mix, and there was a really nice sense of vertical scale, as well.


At this point, I was a bit flummoxed. A $699/pair speaker is going to have shortcomings or tradeoffs. How could it not? But I wasn’t finding them in any of the areas I listen for first. Sometime closer to the transition from “Scarlet Begonias” to “Fire on the Mountain,” I finally found it: occasionally, when the stars aligned and Phil, Billy, and Micky all hit hard at the same time, I could hear a bit of what sounded like cabinet resonance sneaking through the mix when I was listening at a level such that peaks were hitting above 95dB.

I had a similar experience with “I Miss You” from Björk’s Post (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, 143–Lava–Atlantic / Qobuz), a song that couldn’t be more different from anything the Dead ever did, but that nonetheless represents the sort of near-constant percussive onslaught that’s wonderful for finding woofer compression. With the C 3050 cranked to the high heavens (again, ~101dB peaks), I could hear the bass line modulating Björk’s vocals a tiny bit, but not at sustainable listening levels. And oddly, it was the higher bass notes that seemed to trigger a slight, slight, slight amount of cabinet resonance when I pushed the volume knob a little too hard.

But again, I was too distracted by the exceptionally even-keeled midrange performance, the delightful imaging, and the wraparound soundstage to really hear it unless I was listening for it.

It was at this point that I decided to plug in my SVS PB-1000 Pro and set an 80Hz crossover, and despite my experiences above, I expected to hear some improvements in terms of dynamics and such above and below that point. But I didn’t. The main things that changed were that the bass extended a little bit deeper, and that tiny bit of cabinet resonance I was hearing went away pretty much entirely.


With that settled, I disconnected the sub again, purely because I was determined to find something else the Imagine B50 sucked at when left to its own devices. There’s also the fact that, aside from my hip-hop collection and Fatboy Slim records, I couldn’t find much music in my collection that required deeper or stronger bass than the PSB is more than capable of delivering on its own.

I spent a lot of time with the Baldur’s Gate 3 Original Soundtrack (16/44.1 FLAC, Borislav Slavov / Qobuz), especially the track “The Colors of Underdark,” which time and again fooled me into thinking I’d reconnected my sub and forgotten. The bass for this one is sparse but impactful, and the tones and the textures of the music (which I’ve heard ad infinitum in my media room as I play through Act 2 of the game) were utterly gripping.

The Imagine B50s delivered every ounce of the odd, otherworldly textures of the music, not to mention the dynamics and deep bass of its percussion, with utter aplomb, and for all the things I said about my experiences with the Dead and Björk above, it’s this album that convinced me I’d be 100% happy with a pair of these standmount speakers on their own, even if I didn’t have the budget or room for a sub.


In fact, of everything I listened to during my time with the speakers—whether during my evaluation or simply when listening for fun—the one song I stumbled upon that made me long for a subwoofer was “3-Minute Rule” from Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique: 20th Anniversary Remastered Edition (16/44.1 FLAC, Capitol Records / Qobuz).

What other speakers in this price class should you consider?

Unfortunately, my experience with similarly sized and comparably priced two-way standmount speakers is somewhat limited, at least if you also insist that they still be in production. But there are a couple of alternatives you might want to consider.

The Monitor Audio Bronze 50 6G is, at $595/pair, a little cheaper, but in many respects remarkably similar. I don’t remember the Bronze 50’s bass being as deep, nor as hard-hitting, but that’s hardly a thing to hold against a speaker this size. I will say, though—and I have no insider information to back this up—I strongly suspect the 6G is going to be replaced by a seventh-generation version soon. And I say that because the seventh generation of the Silver series was released not long ago (I reviewed the Silver 300 7G in March of 2022), combined with the fact that most North American retailers seem to have limited stock of the Bronze 50 6G.

If you’re willing to spend a bit more, I also very much like the Paradigm Premier 100B ($798/pair). I remember the horizontal dispersion of it being very much on par with that of the PSB Imagine B50, but nothing about the speaker’s vertical dispersion sticks out in my memory, so I’d want to listen for that in head-to-head comparisons. I also don’t remember the Premier 100B reaching quite so deep as the B50, but I do recall it being similarly unfussy in terms of placement.

TL;DR: Should you buy the PSB Imagine B50?

As I write this, it’s late January 2024, although I don’t quite remember when the review is going to be published. It hardly matters. By the time we start discussing our picks for the 2024 SoundStage! Network Product of the Year awards, I can already tell you that I’ll be lobbying hard for the Imagine B50 as my incomparable value of the year. Thing is, it’s also a stunning little performer, regardless of price.

If you’re on board with my belief that most people would be best served by a 2.1- or 2.2-channel stereo system and you want to try one on for size in your own room, starting with the Imagine B50 and building from there wouldn’t be the worst idea you’ve ever had. The crazy thing is, you might find that—depending on the size of your room and your taste in music—you might not need a sub after all. This little overachiever combines the bass extension of a good three-way tower with the integration and cohesion you’d expect from a well-designed two-way bookshelf speaker.


And as an added bonus, you can get up and dance to it without losing much if anything at all in terms of fidelity. Mind you, there are caveats. The room in which I reviewed the Imagine B50s measures just over 10′ × 12′. I think you’d be fine in a room perhaps 25% larger, but not much more so, if you plan on using a pair with no sub in a dedicated stereo system. So factor that into your overall system price.

Still, the fact that I’m advocating using a $699/pair bookshelf speaker without a sub in a hi-fi setup at all is astonishing in its own right. The B50 isn’t perfect (and how could it be for this price?), but it does all of the things that matter most—good dispersion, good sound power across the listening window, neutral midrange—incredibly well. The fact that it has a surprising amount of truly meaningful bass extension is as welcomed as it is surprising. If for some reason I were forced to use the B50s as my only stereo speakers for the rest of my life, sans sub, I would legitimately be hard-pressed to find much to grumble about or pine for.

. . . Dennis Burger

Associated Equipment

  • Streaming integrated amplifier: NAD C 3050 BluOS-D.
  • Speaker-level connections: Elac Sensible Speaker Cables.
  • Sources: Maingear Vybe PC; iPhone 12 Pro Max.
  • Power protection: SurgeX XR115 Surge Eliminator/Power Conditioner.

PSB Imagine B50 Loudspeakers
Price: $699 (sold only as a pair).
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.

PSB Speakers
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
Telephone: (905) 831-6555