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A sweet-sounding, budget-priced audiophile stereo system

The Audiophiliac auditions an awesome little hi-fi, priced from little as $880!

PSB's Imagine XB bookshelf speakers PSB

I recently promised to put together a few affordable, but great sounding systems, so when PSB's new Imagine XB bookshelf speakers ($500/pair) showed up for review they seemed like an obvious place to start. I hooked the speakers up to a NAD C 316BEE integrated stereo amplifier ($380), and the sound really kicked butt. The amp is rated at 40 watts per channel, it has seven inputs and bass and treble controls. The speakers and amp together have a retail price of $880.

The Imagine XB speaker is 12 inches high, and comes outfitted with a 5.25-inch clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene woofer and a 1-inch titanium dome tweeter. The speakers are nicely finished in black ash, and the curved front baffles add a touch of class to the design. The speaker has a rear bass port and all-metal speaker binding posts.

In this type of system I usually recommend going for the best speakers you afford, so the single most expensive element should be the speakers, the next priority is the amplifier or receiver. The CD player, turntable, etc. come last. Upgrades down the road for the turntable, such as a better cartridge, or a digital converter might be worth considering.

NAD C 316BEE integrated stereo amplifier NAD

I didn't have an inexpensive CD player that made sense in the context of this system, and the NAD doesn't have any digital inputs, so I used a $99 Schiit Modi converter connected to my Mac Mini computer for my digital tunes and movies. Alternatively, you could ditch the Modi converter and just hookup your phone or MP3 player's headphone jack with a cable to the C 316BEE, and save $99.

If you spin LPs, an Audio Technica AT-LP60 turntable ($120) would make sense in this system, I'll separately review the AT-LP60 very soon. I recommend using inexpensive hardware store "lamp cord" for speaker wire, and interconnect cables from Amazon or MonoPrice will get the job done.

The Imagine XB speakers/C 316BEE amp combo is a perfect match; they sounded relaxed at soft, background volume and potent cranked up to party levels. The Imagine XB's tweeter deserves extra praise, the treble is unusually delicate and pure, which makes the Imagine XB sound like a much more expensive speaker. There's no harshness or grit added to the sound of cymbals or other percussion instruments. That level of transparency should make the Imagine XBs easy to live with over the long haul.

I found the speakers' low bass fully satisfying, and felt no need to add a subwoofer for music or movies. The terrifying plane crash scene on the "Flight" DVD had the hair on the back of my neck standing straight up, I could definitely live happily ever after with this system without a sub. If you later decide to go for a full 5.1 channel home theater, PSB will soon offer a full line of matching Imagine X Series speakers.

This little Dream System will serve as a terrific introduction to quality audio in small to mid-size rooms up to 500 or so square feet. I will report on another, somewhat more expensive Dream System in a few weeks.