Paul Barton, the soft-spoken speaker designer from the Great White North
The Audiophiliac gets a preview of PSB Speakers' new Synchrony line.
Paul Barton, founder and chief designer of PSB Speakers loves his job. He'd have to--over the last the last three decades he's probably logged more hours at the Canadian National Research Council's facilities in Ottawa, Ontario than any other speaker designer. There he dotes on his prototype designs in the acoustically neutral environment of an anechoic chamber, measuring and evaluating every aspect of their performance. Barton typically spends two to three years designing a new line of speakers.
I met with him in NYC a few weeks ago to check out his latest, Synchrony. After discussing the technical highlights of his new babies he handed me a Synchrony One B ($1,999/pair) bookshelf speaker to look over. PSB speakers have always sounded great, but they weren't the most gorgeous looking things. The new ones are altogether sleeker, slimmed down, and really pretty in an understated sort of way. Their heavyweight extruded aluminum front and rear baffles; and curved, seven-layer composite wood side panels display a new, more sophisticated level of fit and finish. The speakers are available in snazzy real cherry wood or black ash veneers.
The sound, especially the top of the line Synchrony One tower speaker ($4,499/pair) was spectacularly vivid. Bass was not only subwoofer deep, it was also taut, so it rendered pitches of bass with rare precision. Listen to Paul McCartney's bass on the Beatles' Sgt Pepper CD and you'll know what I'm talking about. Rock drummers came off particularly well; the sense of hearing sticks beating skins was remarkably clear and clean. Barton's new tweeter was equally astonishing when reproducing the cymbals' brassy shimmer. Livingston Taylor's folk vocals from his Ink CD had just the right combination of body and soul. That's exactly what separates "good enough" mainstream speakers from high-end models; the best ones make you feel like you're in the presence of live musicians. Ah yes, that's the point after all.
The Synchrony line also includes home theater oriented models, including the clever Synchrony S ($1,999/pair) surround speaker. This wedge-shaped, compact beauty actually contains two complete speakers, so a single pair of Synchrony S speakers can handle a 7.1 channel A/V receiver's side and rear surround channels. Or a single pair of Synchrony Ss can be used as more conventional "bipole" speakers to create a spacious and room-filling surround sound.
The new models were entirely designed by Barton, but unlike previous generations of PSBs that were made in Canada, the new ones are manufactured in China. Barton had just returned from China to oversee production details and was pleased by the worker's dedication and professionalism. Funny, we never did discuss any nasty toxins, but Barton was looking a little pale. Just kidding, but the man spends entirely too much time in the lab.
The Synchrony models are clearly Barton's best ever designs, but my experiences with even his most affordable Alpha Series speakers have been never less than impressive (the Alpha B speakers run $249/pair). The Synchrony Series will be released later this month.