PSB has been a company that I first discovered back in the 1990s. The company under the leadership of its founder Paul Barton were designing and developing some of the worlds best sounding speakers designed and built at that time in Canada.
The legendary Alpha monitors, which I still have, are remarkable monitors that sound fantastic and were affordable. The $2000 PSB Stratus Gold’s were the flagship of the company and competed with speakers costing many times more money and became my reference speakers. The full range speaker had exceptional bass and the midrange was exciting and a pristine treble made them enjoyable and a fantastic speaker remarkably built to last a lifetime.
Paul Barton grew up playing violin and aspired to build speakers. After receiving his education in Engineering, Paul started designing speakers and products based on listening, as well as tests made in the anechoic chamber at the Canadian Research Center. Using a measurement system designed by Paul, his design’s kept evolving and the performance was off the charts and achieved excellent musicality combined with masterful tonality.
Back in 2016, I was invited with other publications which included Jude Mansilla and Joe Cwik from Headfi.org, one of the world’s leading audio forums dedicated to personal audio, to participate in experiments in room feel technology. We spent three days with Paul at the NRC in Ottawa and experienced first hand the anechoic chamber.
The experience for me was an awakening. Listening to the sound of speakers in an anechoic chamber was a life-altering experience. The room is suspended and dead silent, so much so, you could hear your heartbeat in the silent room. Paul split us into 5 pairs and we all had the opportunity to listen to music inside the chamber played on the flagship PSB speakers with different measurements. We were then asked to work together and come up with the correct measurements associated with the tunes by our listening experience.
After an exhausting day, we headed out to dinner and we discussed the day and Paul told us we did well and nailed it on picking the correct measurements for each tune. He started to discuss the next headphone project and his goal to incorporate the new Room Feel technology into personal headphones and what he was trying to bring to headphones,
So we are now two years later and the PSB M4U8 is the results of some of the work we contributed to in Ottawa, Room Feel incorporated into a real live working full production masterpiece the PSB M4U8
The M4U8 is a closed-back design that is wireless and amplified. The connection is automatic with Bluetooth devices. Incorporated into the active-noise-cancelling mode is the new Room Feel technology. The Qualcomm CSR8675 Bluetooth chip is used to deliver Bluetooth connectivity for wireless playback and the PSB designed Noise cancelling system is equipped with a total of six microphones.
Three-mode operation includes passive, active and noise cancelling modes. Incorporated in the design are 24-96 digital converters with a separate amp. The headphone also has a volume control, which will control volume from any portable device, as well as a phone switch which allows the user to answer incoming calls when listening on a phone to music.
Listening and Watching Movies
The M4U8 sounded real nice out of the box and improved with playback at around 50 hours. The sound had the familiar PSB house sound that I had been accustomed to over the years.
My session began with the legendary Gerry Mulligan meets Ben Webster classic recording. Listening to “What a Thing Called Love” the soundstage had excellent depth from front to back and had the musicians placed in their own defined space. The saxes were lifelike and sounded big with exceptional tonality. I could hear the sound of the room it was recorded in and at times with my eyes closed, I thought I was in the room listening.
The inner detail was amazing but more so was the involvement; sound appeared to be out of my head and the M4U8 disappeared. I was startled at times with how lifelike the music sounded especially for any transducer at this price.
Switching to Holly Coles new CD, simply titled Holly Cole, which has exceptional acoustic bass on “I’m Beginning to see the light”, Holly’s vocal is front and center and the acoustic bass is deep and had excellent texture. The vocals were pristine and articulate and in typical Holly fashion the sound was seductive and the M4U8 captured everything in the recording. Wycliffe Gordon’s trombone solo had excellent space and air and the piano playing was exceptional and lifelike. Once again I could hear the space of the room and feel the chemistry of the musicians on this exciting new album.
Switching to my iPhone 8 plus in wireless active mode and sitting on the beach for 4 hours I was able to hear how good the digital conversion was using the Active Noise-cancelling mode, which activates the Room Feel. The sound was as good as I had heard back home using Tidal and also CDs on a reference system.
The delivery of songs was musical. Listening to Springsteen with Tidal streaming “Born to Run”brought back memories to the days when I discovered Bruce’s music back in the ’70s and I listening on the beach, out in the Hamptons in NY. The sound was musical and the M4U8 delivered exceptional sound with the E Street band’s rockabilly coming to life. I heard no outside noise on the beach and the crowded Cape May Beach was packed with people. The M4u8 was able to take me to the party and a time that was amazing in my life.
When I closed my eyes on the opening track of “Thunder Road” it brought me to the Record Plant where it was recorded and the M4U8 got out of the way and left me with the experience of being lost in the performance and the band and the Boss.
The sound of this House is Not for Sale by Bon Jovi was another rocker that had my complete attention. Seeing Bon Jovi live in Philly I knew how the band sounded live doing this track. We were sitting close to the stage and the M4U8 on this Tidal album streaming, brought us back to the Wells Fargo Center and the sound was reminiscent of what I had experienced with Bon Jovi that night live. Once again the M4U8 did not disappoint and delivered an exceptional performance.
Watching movies on an Ipad is becoming popular with our subscriptions to Netflix and Amazon Prime. Back at both my home and summer shore retreat in our 33 ft. trailer, I was able to enjoy movies with the M4U8. Using the Passive mode and also wired, the sound was similar but better while using Active mode.
The Last Jedihas excellent sonics and requires a transducer that is fast and explosive. Once again theM4U8 rose to the material we were watching with explosive dynamics coupled with speed and articulation and delivered another outstanding performance and hooked me with its performance so much so that movie watching with the M4U8 is a must for me down the shore or while traveling.
Knowing Paul Barton personally, I admit I am a little bit biased and have been a fan of PSB for over 25 years. The M4U8 became a personal experience for me as I had been in Ottawa with other great reviewers and was treated to a life-changing experience at the NRA in the chamber and heard the technology in development.
Room Feel technology is amazing and another example of the genius mind of a truly passionate engineer who is a music lover and musician first and knows what music should sound like and has realized his dream of bringing Room Feel to a portable transducer. Paul Barton, you truly are dedicated to perfection!
The M4U8 had a few minor issues that could be improved on. Many listeners will not appreciate the small ear openings which at times I felt constricted a little of the soundstage. The tight fit of the plastic structure fit snuggly on my ears and could at times become uncomfortable on my oversized head. Many listeners will not encounter this issue(smaller heads) but I still was able to overcome the pads and snug fit with the pristine sound the M4U8 delivered.
Paul still continues to amaze me with his products, which for the money deliver much more performance than you would expect. Included is a carrying case, cables, Bluetooth, amplification, DAC and noise cancelling active technology with Room Feel for the amazing affordable price if $399.
Whether you are watching a movie or streaming your favorite music, the M4U8 will deliver exceptional performance and keep you smiling. Highly recommended for anyone who loves watching movies or listening to music anywhere and any time the M4U8 is a winner and deserves your consideration. PSB continues to hit home runs and I look forward to their next project. Superbly engineered and designed the M4U8 is an exceptional product.
Frank started his journey in high-end audio in 1978 and was quickly hooked. Frank’s passion for music and great sound reproduction is stronger than ever. His main focus is with high-end headphones and portable related gear. He is a regular Head-Fi.org contributor and is a co-founder of Headphone.Guru.