Dan Worth takes a listen to the PSB Passif 50, a R60 000 loudspeaker that has more than a hint of nostalgia in its design.
Passif 50 is Canadian-based PSB’s 50th Anniversary speaker, made to embrace and celebrate the company’s first Passif speaker back in 1972. Incorporating retro styling with current production materials and components to offer a nostalgic take on what is achievable 50 years on.
The Passif 50 is a tall stand mount speaker with included short stands. It’s as deep as an iPad in landscape orientation and just a little wider, coming in at 870mm H × 280mm W × 254mm D, and is a closed box design, making it theoretically less fussy in terms of placement.
The styling of the Passif 50 is retro and reminiscent of PSB’s Passive I/II loudspeakers. The woven cloth grills look and feel beautiful and have the original PSB logo stitched onto a pull tab at the bottom of the grill – which is magnetically attached. Another nice touch to commemorate PSB’s anniversary is the rear plaque, adorned with the Canadian maple leaf which reads “Passif 50 – 1972-2022”. The finish on the Passif 50 is a real walnut open-grain veneer with a matt finish to it.
The included stands have either spikes or threaded domed rubber pad inserts included to be installed depending on floor type.
The Passif 50’s drivers are a 1” Titanium domed tweeter, which is off centre and with a felt pad surrounding it to aid in diffraction (there’s actually a left and a right speaker in the pair, with orientation being that each tweeter sits on the inside of the soundstage to aid imaging), A 6.5” paper mid/bass, and an 8” paper coned passive radiator with a frequency range of 50-20,000hz at 6ohms with a sensitivity of 89db, making them rather easy to drive. There are bi-wire/bi-ampable binding posts with gold-plated links to the rear.
SOUND QUALITY OF THE PSB PASSIF 50
In all honesty, for somebody who never has any preconceived ideas regarding equipment I accept for review, I must admit that in this instance seeing the Passif 50s in photographs and then in the flesh (and knowing PSB wanted to honour the first Passif design) I immediately thought Passif I/II – or for us in the UK, more so Spendor BC-1 vintage. In short I thought that these are going to be a little on the thick-sounding side… oh, how wrong I was!
There is nothing fluffy or overly coloured when listening to the Passif 50.
My obvious choice for the review amplifier was my Gato DIA-250S NPM, a Class D design with an onboard streamer. NAD are complimenting the Passif 50 with a matching 3050LE Class D model amplifier with built-in Bluesound BluOS streaming capabilities, which has the same walnut veneer to its chassis and complimentary vintage sytyling, only 1972 units will be manufactured and is a clear reference with the company’s first year of trading. The use of the Gato made absolute sense in terms of listening to how the 50s’ intended design sounded.
Firstly their resolution is insanely competent, with high notes which extend and sparkle fantastically well, a midrange that is generously proportioned and balanced so much so that it doesn’t even reside on a single plane be it a forward one or a more recessed presentation – in fact, midrange presentation is very three dimensional and has great scope and shape.
Vocals are placed so convincingly well that it’s a little spooky and highly unexpected, to say the least. Bass notes are big and solid, dig deep and most of all flexible to the genre being played (read unfussy), really doing a sterling job in keeping everything flowing and bouncing along with elasticity and rhythm.
The soundstage is nothing short of magnificent for a speaker of this price. There was no warm up period or even break-in before my focus was drawn to how complex an image these display.
Centre focus is again solid, vocal placement is absolutely on the money and independent of genre, artist gender. With regards to placement of the instruments, the Passif 50 conveys a most lifelike depiction of the recorded material. The layering within the midrange is the cornerstone of what makes this speaker so engaging and everything else around it just compliments these abilities so well – a trait of paper cones that is often overlooked in modern-day speakers in my opinion.
Width and height of the stage are quite stunning compared with the height the tweeters sit and the overall soundstage spread is huge. The speakers do disappear to an extent within the soundstage, even in smaller spaces and without critical positioning or much room from the front wall. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had the pleasure of coming across a more modestly priced set of speakers which can achieve this – even at lower volume levels the Passif 50 is connecting and informative.
Many people state quite confidently that they are not “soundstage freaks”. For me, however, the soundstage is absolutely key in enjoying music realistically, otherwise, I’d simply be happy with background music and a non-fussy listening position. It’s the realism and believability of a performance that draws us into the music, combined with additional aspects such as good texture and tonality, dynamics, and resolution that refine the experience.
Lower-end detail is engaging in the Passif 50 and there’s an abundance of well-tuned information on hand, and although the 50’s don’t go really low they have a beautiful roll-off, unlike say an ATC SCM19 which has a much steeper slope at 50Hz. Listening to live performances from the likes of Fink, Fleetwood Mac, and Genesis conveyed many additional drum beats that I have found to be far more muted and blurred on many other designs around this price point, leading me to conclude that the crossovers must be minimalistic, of high quality and components selected by somebody with an incredibly good ear, as everything is just so transparent and tuneful.
It’s been many years since I’ve heard PSB speakers and those of you that have also heard them will no doubt have a soft spot for their skills in being a consistently musical speaker brand. PSB speakers have a wonderful ability to convey a fun and engrossing sonic signature that gets a little closer to what only larger drivers can do naturally. Yes, there are still limitations in comparison to multi-driver designs trying to emulate a substantially larger and lightweight cone, but they capture that essence very well indeed and present it in a way that makes me smile. The Passif 50’s 6.5” mid/bass and passive 8” radiator make light work of dealing with larger robust bass notes, don’t get confused when speeded up, and also retain, space and air – never clouding the midland and allow for layered depth that usually only comes with higher spec designs.
I tried the Passif 50’s in two rooms – one a really quite damped squarer room with very thick carpets and plenty of soft furnishings and another with wooden floors and leather sofas, which sounds far cleaner than the latter. In both rooms the speakers performed very similarly, with slight differences in top-end presentation – with the more heavily damped room sounding a little thicker up top and the starker room a little more tuneful in the lower bass. No matter how I positioned them in either space they imaged exceptionally well.
Once in a while, a speaker comes along that doesn’t cost an awful lot in comparison to a lot of HiFi and that doesn’t have amazing specs on paper, doesn’t look flamboyant, or boast exotic component selections, but does make you sit up and say wow! The PSB Passif 50 is one of those speakers – unassuming, nostalgic visually, and modestly sized – the 50s make a big impression.
They are one of the most toe-tapping and engrossing speakers I’ve had the opportunity to listen to in recent times.
If you want a non-fussy placement, a non-genre-specific speaker that is fun, lively, and detailed then you need look no further. The Passif 50 soundstages like it’s on steroids and has fantastic midrange tone and depth.
Vintage meets modern with the Passif 50 and as they sound just so right with modern-day Class D amplification.
AT A GLANCE
PSB has created a speaker which has a vibrant, detailed, and highly musical presentation with a significantly appealing soundstage and overall room filling presence, which contradicts its traditional styling, giving hours of listening pleasure without fatigue
Build quality is great, with beautiful material grills which I’d love to see on more speakers in the future
Little touches such as the embroidered logos, rear model plaques, and real wood open grain walnut bender all add together to give a good pride of ownership feel
Value For Money:
For a performance this strong I would say the Passif 50 represents great value
- The unexpected sound vs traditional styling
- Beautiful woven speaker grills
- The obvious careful voicing of the crossover components
- Having a paper cone-based design
- Real wood veneer
- Magnetic grills with embroidered pull tabs
- Addictive, toe-tapping musicality at a realistic price
We Didn’t Love So Much:
Binding posts could be a little nicer
Bi-wiring is not really necessary at this price
Potential for other finishes to really confuse the vintage/modernness of the design over sound, even if they were just wood finishes, walnut is very specific
Price: R59 990 available here https://cinemaarchitects.co.za/collections/psb-speakers/products/psb-passif-50-speakers
Elevator Pitch Review: With a combination of retro looks and modern sound, the PSB Passif 50s are a beautifully made and wonderful-sounding speaker which excels in sound staging and musicality. Regardless of what level you are at with your HiFi journey, one would need to be deaf not to appreciate what they do. At this price point, there are very few speakers that sound so engaging without sounding too HiFi and these speakers keep the music true in their heart.
Thank you to Dan Worth for this review, the original review can be seen here: