I used to be a large-speaker kind of guy. Early in my audiophile life, I figured going bigger would be more satisfying in the long term, not necessarily because size on its own makes a difference, but because speakers tended to get larger as you progressed from the bottom to the top model of any given company’s lineup. Come to think of it, I can’t come up with a single example of a company whose speakers actually get smaller as you move up the line. As a result, I equated bigger with better because, well, that’s what I was told was the case by almost everyone who made speakers.
And in many cases, bigger was better. The best drivers, the most lavish crossover networks, and the fewest compromises were all characteristic of the largest speaker models. Although I can recall some exceptions, I’ve been very satisfied with mammoth loudspeakers in an appropriately sized listening room.
The largest PSB
The T800 is the largest speaker in the Synchrony lineup, and Synchrony is the top series in PSB’s stable of products. When the boxes showed up at my home—both speakers were strapped to a single pallet—I was taken aback by just how massive the boxes were. I hefted them upstairs to my listening room with a hand truck and the help of a buddy and laid them out across the floor with nary an issue—the boxes weren’t quite as heavy as they looked. When I opened one container and unsheathed the first T800, I realized that the space inside the box hadn’t been occupied largely with air. At 14 7/8″W × 47 3/4″H × 15 5/8″D and 100 pounds, this is one big speaker.
The Synchrony T800 costs $11,999 per pair (all prices in USD). The model is in every way PSB’s flagship product. As the PSB website proclaims:
Synchrony T800 Towers represent the most advanced application of True to Nature sound principles in PSB’s 50-year history. With the largest and most accurate performance envelope of any PSB loudspeaker, the T800 delivers a caliber of micro-detail and realism that has never been heard before.
I’m not sure whether the copy writer chose not to include “from a PSB speaker” at the end of that last sentence or if the PSB marketing department is full of super-confident folk. Either way, PSB thinks highly of its flagship.
The assessment above is even more impressive when you realize that the T800 was designed by Paul Barton, a legend in the Canadian loudspeaker industry and one of the most successful speaker designers of all time. As of 2022, Barton had been designing PSB speakers for a full 50 years—a milestone that’s fairly hard to replicate these days (I know very few people who have spent 50 years at any one job). Suffice it to say, given the size of the speaker, together with the price—considering it’s made by PSB, a company known almost exclusively for sub-$10k products—and PSB’s claims, I was chomping at the bit to get this review underway.
What makes a T800?
The foundation of the T800 is a trio of 8″ woofers arrayed vertically on the front baffle. Each 8″ driver features a cast basket—as opposed to one made of stamped steel—and a carbon-fiber cone terminating in a rubber surround. Each woofer is loaded into its own sub-enclosure. The bass section breathes through the rear of the cabinet via three large ports. The midrange—mounted above the tweeter in typical PSB fashion—is a 5 1/4″ unit that also features a carbon-fiber cone and cast basket. The highs are handled by a 1″ titanium-dome tweeter cooled by ferrofluid. That’s a total of five drivers, all PSB originals.
The drivers are housed in a rectilinear cabinet of braced MDF with a thin sheet of aluminum applied to the front baffle sandwiching the drivers. Although the T800 is not a particularly narrow loudspeaker, it does have an outrigger system at its base to further expand its stance and ensure rock-solid stability. The included feet are some of the nicest I’ve ever encountered: IsoAcoustics Gaia speaker isolators. You can read more about what these devices do on the IsoAcoustics website. Once a Gaia is screwed into the bottom of each corner of an outrigger, a chromed cap screws down over the top of each to give the T800 a finished look.
PSB isn’t shy about praising the quality of the T800’s crossover network either, describing it as “the most advanced amplitude-perfect Linkwitz-Riley 4th order crossover that any PSB speaker has ever utilized, featuring high-voltage poly film capacitors and oxygen-free interconnect wire for complete driver control.” The crossover topology is described as a “transitional three-way” design, which Paul Barton explained to me as follows in an email:
This is where we are crossing over the woofers in the [T800] tower speaker at different frequency points using low-pass filters. In this case we have three woofers, a midrange, and a tweeter. We only have the one woofer crossing over to the midrange, as the other two woofers have been rolled off by that point already. It is only at the lower frequencies that all three woofers are all working and outputting the same level.
The T800’s on-axis frequency response is rated as 21Hz to 23,000Hz, +/-3dB. With room gain, this means it has the potential to play flat to 20Hz or below, which most consider full range. Anechoic sensitivity is pegged at 89dB (2.83V/1m) and the nominal impedance is said to be 4 ohms. The big Synchrony is reportedly able to handle up to 300W of power. The T800 is also said to be a very-low-distortion design that can play startlingly loud in even the largest of rooms.
There are three sets of binding posts at the bottom rear of the T800, and a PSB jumper is included for single wiring. The plastic-shrouded posts have fairly narrow openings and therefore won’t accommodate all audiophile-approved spade lugs. Banana plugs are a better option. Two port plugs per speaker are included to tame unruly bass due to room interactions, and magnetic grilles are included in case you want a driverless appearance.
The T800 is available in Satin Walnut Veneer or High Gloss Black. The Synchrony T800 is solidly built, and I could find nary a flaw in its finish. Having said that, this speaker is not by any means audio jewelry—there’s nothing fancy to see here. Plus the packaging and owner’s manual are about as far from Apple-esque as you’re likely to find—they’re about what you could expect with a new clothes washer. Still, the packaging was robust and quite protective of the large cabinets.
My room is 20′ wide with a slight bump-out to the right side of the right speaker. The room depth is 18′ 3.5″ and the ceiling height is 9′. I have polycylindrical diffusers on the front wall and absorptive panels on the side walls, and the floor is carpeted.
The T800s were situated with a tweeter-to-tweeter distance of 9′ 1″ and a distance of 10′ 6″ from front baffles to the listening position. The tweeter-to-side-wall distance was 29″ and the outside rear edge of each speaker was 37″ from the wall behind it. I toed the speakers in so that their tweeter axes crossed about two feet behind my head when seated in the listening position.
The review system consisted of an Apple MacBook Pro laptop feeding signal to an MSB Technology Discrete DAC via a Shunyata Research Sigma USB link. The MSB was connected to a Vitus Audio SIA-030 integrated amplifier with Shunyata Research Sigma v2 XLR interconnects. Shunyata Sigma v2 speaker cables tethered the Vitus to the PSBs. Lastly, electronics were plugged into a Shunyata Denali 6000/S v2 power conditioner. All components sat on an SGR Audio Model III Symphony equipment rack.
The PSB Synchrony T800s didn’t thrill me with whiz-bang sound when I first fired them up. In fact, I would call the sound a bit laid back overall. I listened to a few cuts from Qobuz right off the bat, just skipping around to get a general feel for what the T800s were capable of in my room. I listened to some Pink Floyd, Hillary Hahn, and a recent discovery, Sandrayati’s Safe Ground (24-bit/96kHz FLAC, Decca Records / Qobuz). These three artists represent a diverse collection of musical styles. Sandrayati’s music includes delicate vocals, piano, cello, zither, bass guitar, and guitar in hauntingly beautiful arrangements, and all of it was reproduced ably by the PSBs. Sandrayati’s vocals imaged beautifully right in the center of the soundstage, and the nuanced inflections contained within her vocal performance were delivered smoothly and with complete sonic coherence between the T800s’ drive units. Still, I can’t say that I heard anything unexpected or anything that stood out as a defining sonic attribute.
But the next cut I played proved that there were surprises to be found in the T800s’ sound. I played a track I know all too well: London Grammar’s “Rooting for You” from 2017’s Truth is a Beautiful Thing (24/96 FLAC, Metal & Dust / Ministry of Sound / Qobuz). As expected, Hannah Reid’s vocals filled the soundstage with a much larger, more expansive image size than the Sandrayati cuts. I detected no tonal anomalies, though there wasn’t quite the sparkle in the highs that I’ve heard from the best beryllium- and diamond-dome tweeters—though to be fair, you won’t hear that attribute from any speakers at this price point, at least in my experience. I was still in for a bit of a shock, however: from 4:10 into the song to about 4:20, the bass foundation on “Rooting for You” swells and swells. The PSB T800s reproduced this better than almost any speakers I’ve had in my listening room. The PSBs completely energized my room with low bass. The air molecules in the entire space were excited with a massive wave of low frequencies. These speakers are capable of solid 20Hz lows—no subwoofer needed with the T800s.
I decided to keep testing the low-frequency capabilities of the T800s. Bass on Bruno Coulais’s “Norbu,” from the soundtrack for the film Himalaya (16/44.1 FLAC, Virgin Records / Qobuz), was deep and linear, with the drum strikes in the opening seconds of the track producing waves of bass that moved from the front of my room and through the wall behind me. The T800s loaded my room with bass that was tight and remarkably free of room modes. I did not have to use the port plugs and never felt the need for low-frequency equalization. This was some of the best, most neutral bass I’ve heard in my current room.
Jerry Junkin and the Dallas Wind Symphony’s Crown Imperial (24/176.4 WAV, Reference Recordings HRx-112) is one of the best recordings I know of for assessing diverse, delicate high-frequency sounds. The tinkly bells at 0:43 in Sir William Walton’s march can easily mush together with the other high-frequency sounds over some speakers, but the PSBs did a great job here. Each bell strike was clean and crisp and easily picked out of the mix. If you want to know how your speakers are handling delicate highs, listen at 2:25—there are several repeated bell strikes in quick succession. Each strike has a slightly different tonality, and the T800s let me hear these distinctions clearly.
Adele’s “Easy on Me,” from 30 (24/44.1 FLAC, Columbia Records / Qobuz), was launched into my room with grace and grandeur, sounding big and bold and beautiful, with Adele’s powerful vocal delivery intact and the piano sounding dense and full of tonal color. The T800s revealed their neutral nature on this recording, but they also showed they could maintain their sonic character at any volume level I chose to listen at. The big PSBs could play loud and without strain, so don’t be afraid to push them a bit. The only place the PSBs fell a little flat was in the soundstage, which was, well, a little flat: This track lacked the depth I’ve experienced through some speakers.
Lastly, the audible breath of the late Jeff Buckley at the beginning of “Hallelujah,” from his album Grace (24/192 FLAC, Columbia Records / Qobuz), was in-the-room real. The rest of the track was equally dramatic, with Buckley’s vocals floating mysteriously just to the right of center on the soundstage. I could not have asked for a more satisfying presentation of this track.
I reviewed the Alta Audio Alec in January 2022. Retailing for $10,000 per pair, the Alec is a two-way ported floorstander that’s 40.5″ high with a footprint of 15″W × 12.5″D. It may seem like I’m picking low-hanging fruit here, but the PSB Synchrony T800 is a superior loudspeaker in every way. In a side-by-side comparison, the main difference in the sounds of the two models was in the tonal balance. The PSBs did sound a touch warm due to their fullness in the lower end, but the midrange was as clear as a bell and music came through them without any coloration of male vocals. The midbass produced by the T800s was punchy and crisp, the way it should sound. By comparison, the Alecs were muddy and indistinct in the midbass, and this led to gross coloration in the lower midrange, which negatively impacted male vocals. One area of similarity between the T800s and the Alecs was in the high frequencies: neither speaker sounded offensive in the highs, even at somewhat boisterous volume levels. Finally, I prefer the build quality of the PSB speaker. It may not be fancy, but that’s the result of its design. It is a finished product in every regard.
The more interesting comparison was with the Sonus Faber Maxima Amator, which retails for $15,000 per pair. I haven’t formally reviewed the MA because I bought a pair for my personal use in 2021, but I did write about their sound in November 2021. To start with, the PSBs play lower in the bass and with greater output capability than the SFs. The Maxima Amator is a two-driver floorstander of slim proportions whereas the T800 is a large five-driver juggernaut—so no surprise there. More drivers, more internal air volume, and more cone surface area in the bass led to a clear advantage for the T800 in reproducing the low frequencies. This gave music more weight and underpinned the soundstage in the most satisfying of ways. In short, the PSBs gave me that big-speaker sound many audiophiles—including me, on occasion—crave. The SFs did produce exceptional bass quality and played down to about 35Hz in-room, which is more than you would imagine based on their size, but they couldn’t shake the walls like the PSBs.
Moving into the midrange, things got a lot closer. The Sonus Fabers and PSBs both produced an essentially neutral midrange that did not color voices. Both models created good width and, when the music allowed, produced a soundstage that was both expansive laterally and precise. Vocalists that should appear dead center did exactly that. The one difference was that the Sonus Fabers had a slightly more dimensional midband whereas the PSBs could sound a touch flat by comparison. The SFs produced a soundstage that was deeper and more three-dimensional as a result. The upper frequencies were a bit surprising: I actually heard slightly more air and sparkle through the Sonus Fabers than through the PSBs. This may come as a surprise, as the SF contains a soft-dome tweeter and the PSB is equipped with a metal dome.
As for build quality, the Sonus Faber is in a different league altogether. From its solid-walnut enclosure to its marble base and its leather-clad front baffle, it is crafted to an exceptionally high level. I’d also give the Amator the nod on initial presentation: even the accessories and the manual scream luxury; the PSB’s presentation whispers competent.
When I was younger, I recall my elders lamenting “they just don’t make things like they used to,” “you can’t get your money’s worth anymore,” and other similar generalizations that implied modern products somehow offered less than those from decades past. The PSB T800 counters that notion: It’s a good old-fashioned value.
The PSB Synchrony T800 is an honest-to-goodness big speaker that’s solid in all the ways it should be. It will give you largely neutral sound quality, play loud and scale with the dynamics of your music with ease, and deliver low bass the way only a big speaker can. It is coherent and obviously designed by someone—in this case Paul Barton—who knows a thing or two about loudspeaker design. As long as you don’t go into the purchase expecting super-fancy, high-end luxury, I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed by the Synchrony T800. It checks many boxes that I know audio consumers value—all for a fair price.
. . . Jeff Fritz
- Integrated amplifier: Vitus Audio SIA-030.
- Speaker cables: Shunyata Research Sigma v2.
- Interconnects: Shunyata Research Sigma v2.
- Digital-to-analog converter: MSB Technology Discrete DAC.
- USB link: Shunyata Research Sigma USB.
- Music server: Apple MacBook Air (2022).
- Power conditioner: Shunyata Research Denali 6000/S v2.
- Power cords: Shunyata Research Venom NR-V10.
- Equipment rack: SGR Audio Model III Symphony.
PSB Synchrony T800 Loudspeaker
Price: $11,999 per pair.
Warranty: Three years, parts and labor.
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
Phone: (905) 831-6555
Fax: (905) 831-6936