PSB’s New Passif 50 Loudspeaker Is A Culmination Of 50 Years Of Work By Founder Paul Barton
It’s been half a century since the hi-fi industry took off on a mass level. New manufacturing techniques and a post-war economic boom came together to create a whole new market for people who were eager to hear some of the amazing music of the 1960s and 1970s in glorious stereo offered by the LP records of the time.
Right there at the beginning of this movement was Paul Barton. A young and rather brilliant Canadian who could have been a musical genius. At the age of 11, Barton’s father made him a violin because the more affordable instruments on sale at the time simply weren’t good enough, in Barton Senior’s opinion, for his son.
Young Barton took to the violin like the proverbial duck to water, winning music competitions and even receiving an invitation to join Canada’s prestigious National Youth Orchestra. However, he decided not to follow his music inclinations and turned to his other passion of audio. Taking up a weekend job in one of the new hi-fi shops that were opening across Canada, Barton learned quickly and by the time he was ready to graduate high school, his mind was made up to take an engineering degree. There’s a brilliant video documentary exploring Paul Barton’s life on YouTube.
It was at the University of Waterloo where Barton really got into his audio stride. Using his knowledge gleaned from all that time working in the audio store, Barton paid his way through college by making and selling loudspeaker kits to his fellow students. And the rest is, as they say, history. PSB Speakers was born and the brand has never looked back. It’s all down to the tenacity and brilliance of one man who decided to take a step that turned a home business into a global byword for loudspeaker excellence that’s now celebrating 50 years in business.
Barton decided that to improve his already popular speaker kits, he should delve into the science of what makes a great speaker. The young Barton approached Professor Floyd Toole at Canada’s National Research Council and was taken under the wing of some of Canada’s brightest and best physicists and engineers. He also gained access to the NRC’s anechoic chamber where he was able to test out his new speaker designs and measure their performance using precision instruments.
Perhaps the key to the success of PSB was how Barton managed to correlate the measurements he had taken in the NRC’s anechoic chamber which he then cross-checked with blind listening tests of his speaker designs. These pioneering experiments enabled Barton to see which measurements the listeners enjoyed listening to most. This enabled Barton to blend subjective and objective tests to produce speakers that ended up flying off the shelves.
Way back in 1974, Barton launched his Passif II speakers, a design with a 7-inch woofer, 8-inch passive radiator and a 1-inch tweeter. The public loved the design and they became a firm favorite with audiophiles. Sound-wise, the Passif II sat between the lean and clean sound of British-designed loudspeakers of the time and the fuller-sounding and more bass-heavy USA speakers produced by the likes of Klipsch and Polk. There, in the middle, was the Canadian or Barton way with the beautifully balanced PSB signature sound which soon found favor with audiophiles the world over.
To celebrate 50 years since the founding of PSB, the company has announced the launch of the Passif 50 loudspeakers. The company is now in the hands of Lenbrook Corp, the company behind NAD and Bluesound, but Paul Barton is still very much in the chief designer’s chair and the new Passif 50 is the culmination of his life’s work and experience. The Passif 50 speakers are rooted in the original design of the Passif II but with the benefit of innovative technology and new materials.
The Passif II speakers were the first in the PSB range to feature the brand’s signature “True to Nature” sound. Now the new Passif 50 represents that PSB legacy with the same tonal accuracy, spatial realism and freedom from distortion that Barton first created 50 years ago.
The Passif 50 speakers share some of the same elements as the Passif II, including an open-grained walnut veneer cabinet, magnetically attached woven cloth grilles and dedicated stands. The new design has a fabulous sense of nostalgia about it thanks to the retro details. However, the speakers are constructed using modern materials that suit current tastes. Other embellishments include a pull tab on the front grille, sporting the retro PSB logo. This logo was originally hand-drawn by Barton in his high school geography class. The rear-panel plaque is adorned with a maple leaf and an inscription that reads, “Passif 50 – 1972-2022.”
The design of the Passif 50 may mirror its forebear physically but it incorporates some of the same flagship-level components of the latest PSB speakers and the culmination of half a century of acoustic research. The result is a loudspeaker with a classic 1970’s look but with the kind of audio performance that listeners in 1974 could only have dreamed of.
The Passif II speakers use a titanium dome tweeter with a powerful neodymium magnet and ferrofluid damping, for higher output and improved power handling, as well as reduced distortion. A phase plug in front of the tweeter’s dome directs its output to ensure a wide and consistent dispersion that’s well beyond the usual listening window. Barton claims that the result is a speaker with a wide and deep soundstage and acute imaging which doesn’t rely on a precise listening position. A felt pad surrounding the tweeter minimizes edge diffraction for improved transparency and more stable imaging.
The woofer and passive radiator in the Passif 50 have cast aluminum baskets that resist flexing. They also have filleted rubber surrounds that dampen cone resonances, resulting in smoother response and reduced distortion. A lot of engineering effort was invested in refining the interaction between the woofer and the passive radiator. The result, claims Barton, is a perfect balance of their opposing forces. All joints in the heavily braced cabinet are mitered for an improved fit and finish and reduced cabinet vibration. Featuring dual five-way binding posts, the Passif 50 can be bi-wired or bi-amped.
I for one can’t wait to hear what the Passif 50 speakers sound like as it’s not often you get to hear a product that’s been perfected over 50 years by the original designer; that’s unique in my book. I asked Barton how much the original Passif II sold for at the time of their launch. He reckoned the figure was around $400. I typed that amount into an inflation calculator and the answer came back as $2,371, which is within a whisker of the price of the new PSB Passif 50 are selling for today. Not only has Barton improved on the original design of the Passif II, but he’s held onto the craftsmanship and the price tag. That’s not bad going for 50 years.
Pricing & Availability: The PSB Passif 50 loudspeakers will be available to pre-order online on August 1 and will ship in September. The price is $2,499 / £2,499 / €2,999 / $3,299 CAN. As a show of gratitude for the brand’s devoted fanbase, the first 500 units sold of the Passif 50 will contain a handwritten letter from Paul Barton and includes a QR code with an offer to receive a gift pack that includes a cotton canvas backpack, double-walled water bottle, and commemorative keychain.
More info: psbspeakers.com
- 1″ titanium dome tweeter with ferrofluid damping and neodymium magnet.
- 6.5″ woofer and 8″ passive radiator with cast aluminum baskets, paper cones, and filleted rubber surround.
- Retro-styled open-grained walnut veneer enclosure and dedicated speaker stands
- Magnetically attached woven cloth grilles.
- 50th-anniversary design touches, including the original PSB logo and pull tab on the grille and rear-panel plaque that reads “Passif 50 – 1972-2022,” adorned by a maple leaf.
- Felt surrounding the tweeter minimizes edge diffraction.
- Bi-wirable/bi-ampable five-way gold-plated binding posts.
- Speaker alone dimensions: 660mm H x 280mm W x 2,540mm D (26” x 11” x 10”).
- Speaker with stand dimensions: 870mm H × 280mm W × 254mm D (34” x 11” x 10”).