Like Bogie and Bacall, Batman and Robin or gin and tonic, PSB and NAD have been together for a long time. Both companies are now owned by the Canada-based Lenbrook Group, and many dealers carry both brands and show them together.
The speaker-maker and electronics firm continued their affair at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Denver-based national retailer ListenUp brought the pair to the show, along with Bluesound, another Lenbrook holding.
ListenUp chose models from near the entry-level of those brands to assemble one of the most affordable systems in the Marriott Denver Tech Centre. The simple rig used a pair of stand-mounted PSB Imagine XB speakers ($499 USD), a NAD C368 integrated amplifier ($899), a Bluesound Vault 2 streaming music player ($1,200 USD) and a NAD C558 turntable ($499 USD). Cables were by AudioQuest.
The XB is a two-way design with a 5¼-inch clay/ceramic-reinforced polypropylene cone woofer and a 1-inch titanium-dome tweeter on the front baffle, and a port on the rear. Frequency response is 65Hz-20kHz for the middle of three on-axis readings, and sensitivity is 89db.
The C368 integrated offers more than just a preamp and an 80 watt-per-channel amp. Just a few of its other features include a DAC, MM phono stage and Bluetooth connectivity. In an unusual move in this price range, NAD also equipped the C368 with two MDC slots for upgrade modules, such as 4K video-capable HDMI switching.
The Bluesound Vault 2 offers 2 TB of space for ripping a CD collection, the ability to stream music to multiple Bluetooth receivers, access to Internet radio or cloud music services, and wireless control.
The C558 turntable has belt drive, a glass platter with a felt mat, and an Ortofon OM10 cartridge.
Several digital test tracks proved the system to be an overachiever for its modest price. The XB’s slightly forward midrange accentuated Ella Fitzgerald’s voice on “You Can’t Take That Away From Me,” while pacing on this track also was excellent. Bjork’s “Virus,” meanwhile, displayed a focused vocal, as well as well-rendered percussion.
Overall, the upper frequencies lacked the refinement heard in systems costing much more, and the bass – understandably – was deficient in the lowest notes. Even so, at this price, the level of clarity and balance was a minor miracle. PSB founder Paul Barton is known for using the acoustic testing facilities of Canada’s National Research Council to fine-tune his designs, so perhaps that is part of how he wrings so much performance out of a $500/pair speaker.
PSB does recommend the addition of a subwoofer for larger rooms, and, indeed, it might be a good idea here for any room. My experience is that adding a powered bass unit such as PSB’s SubSeries 100 ($250 USD) would not only extend the bottom end, but probably cause the XBs themselves to have a slightly more relaxed presentation.
For not much over $3k, audiophiles on a budget can assemble a collection of components that literally were made for each other. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that relationship?