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PSI Audio A21-M

4.5 4.5 (2 Reviews)
The highly impressive dark horse of the high end monitoring world.
PSI Audio A21-M

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Published by Arksun on 29th January 2012
User Review
Sound Quality
4 out of 5
4
Ease of use
5 out of 5
5
Features
4 out of 5
4
Bang for buck
5 out of 5
5
Overall: 4.5 4.5
PSI Audio A21-M

PSI is still a relatively unknown brand in the world of studio monitors but has a strong pedigree behind it, being made in Switzerland by Relec SA who've been making monitors and other studio equipment for some time now.

As a Dynaudio BM6A MK1 user for 5 years I felt it was time for an upgrade and a friend of mine had heard from a dutch dealer about this brand called PSI. After auditioning them herself and raving about them I decided to check them out in the UK too.

This is primarily a nearfield monitor but can also be used as a midfield, with an unusual but rather attractive (imho) metallic burgandy colour scheme that really makes them stand out. Trust me when I say they look far far better in person than they do in photographs. The waveguide is also rather unique looking, having the tweeter recessed quite deep. This has a nice advantage of minimising the chance of accidental damage, as well as reducing buildup of dust.

But looks are one thing, sound is another, and these monitors deliver some seriously impressive sound. I found jumping from the Dynaudios to the PSI was a very significant leap up in sound quality in all areas.
The soundstage on the PSI is very precise and linear between the speakers (which disappear as point sources) thanks to its analog all-pass filter compensated phase correction and one of the tightest time aligned step-response between woofer and tweeter of any 2-way monitor in the world. Some people may find the soundstage a little too between the speakers and prefer more outer oval width and depth, but I actually feel that what the A21-M's offer here is a soundstage that'll translate better to more systems. Whereas some monitors have a huge soundstage but panning feels like jumping from a larger central area suddenly to the sides, with the A21-M I can hear better panning placement in between the center and edges. As for the sweet spot, its huge. Moving my head around I don't notice any significant shifts in response.

The overall dynamic response, freq response and tone is quite frankly glorious. Great extension to the lows and smooth and precise all the way up to the highest frequencies. My ears tend to be overly sensitive to metal tweeters finding them rather harsh, but these soft domes on the A21-M are wonderfully airy and detailed giving lots of information but without ever being fatiguing. Transient edges in particular really sparkle. There is no HF eq adjustment on these monitors, but frankly they just don't need it.

Don't think for one second this means it flatters the top end though,for one of the strongest assets of the A21-M is how ruthless they are at revealing distortion issues. Any kind of mp3 compression,nasty clipping or hard limiting in particular really sticks out at you. Be warned, some tracks you enjoyed before you may struggle to enjoy again listening on these, but thats kind of the whole point of monitors like these, to reveal the source warts & all and force you to work harder in creating a good mix.

Only the very finest mixes will sound good here and when you put on a track like say Dave Matthews Band - Let You Down or Massive Attack - Angel, it'll put a huge smile on your face.

Bass detail is surprisingly good for a front bass reflex port design, with no noticeable port chuffing issues of any kind at all!. Seperation of the different bass instruments that'll give sealed cabinets a run for their money. The power handling is also truly excellent, you can crank the volume up on these and everything stays relatively intact, with no compression artifacts or boxiness occuring. Your ears will mostly likely give out before the limiter lights come on.

Crossover-wise, what crossover?. I can't get any audible sense of one being there, again thanks to the superb time alignment of the tweeter and woofer and some clever realtime adaptive slope technology. In fact the upper midrange around the crossover point and above is probably the most distortion free part of the A21-M's frequency response.

Another thing thats very impressive is the amp design. Mounted on suspended pins (apparently to reduce microphonics), the Class-G amps in these offer Class-AB quality of sound, but with Class-D efficiency. It's quite extraordinary, you can crank them up super loud for some time, put your hand on the metal backplate and its barely luke warm. Very VERY efficient amps.

If I had to be picky and think of things that could be improved, I'd say that perhaps the 3rd harmonic distortion on frequencies between 900-1.7K could be a tad lower (not that they're unusually high by any means). Also the general background hiss from the tweeters is audible @1m listening distance in a treated room. If you like your monitors dead silent at close range then this might possibly bother you, but I personally sit @1m distance away and its acceptable for me.

For its price point though its hard to find equivalent rivals that sound as good, especially for their relatively compact size in terms of depth. These clearly highlight the strong colourations and veil over details of lesser monitors, whilst snapping at the heals of the likes of ATC and Barefoot.

In short, fantastic precision sounding monitors, brutally honest in many respects. Well worth the money and highly recommended.
  #1  
By AngeFragile on 2nd February 2012
User review
Sound Quality
4 out of 5
4
Ease of use
5 out of 5
5
Features
4 out of 5
4
Bang for buck
5 out of 5
5
Overall: 4.5 4.5
The outsider everyone needs to know about

Where do I begin describing my babies...

I had been searching and saving for 3 years to buy my first studio monitors. I had always been charmed by the sound of the Dynaudio BM6A, Mk1 that is, but when I had saved enough those became increasingly difficult/impossible to source. So I decided to go out and listen to as many monitors as I possibly could to find the right pair.
At one of the stores I visited the sales guy suggested I go to his competitor and check out a brand called PSI. By the time I made the appointment I had convinced myself I wanted Dyns and I wouldn't be convinced otherwise.

The sales guy didn't need to say anything, the sound coming from the PSI monitors said it all! They sound very detailed, open, balanced across the frequency spectrum and have a wide sound stage with quite a large sweet spot.

Another feature which turned out to be quite important for me on my search was the tweeter character. I found out I prefer the silkiness of a soft dome tweeter rather than beryllium ones for example.

I thought I knew the songs on my reference CD pretty well, but I heard things I never heard before for example:
- Gladiator OST, the Battle: there was a certain brass sound in the low end I never heard before
- Fellowship of the Ring OST, The bridge of Khazad Dum: the strings, choir/solo and horns are so much more defined truly revealing the detail in each part
- BT's Flaming June: Precise separation in the low end without sounding too surgical, well balanced low end response, not hyped

I could go on forever with examples, but I suggest you try them for yourself.

These monitors makes listening to your music collection a challenge though. They reveal lots of detail, in some cases that's really nice, but (unfortunately) a large part of your collection will have you frowning. They sure don't hide any 'mistakes'.
These are helping me develop my mixing skills a great deal. If it sounds good on these monitors it tends to translate well on other systems.

I own the v2 of these monitors. And even though they won't go as loud as the revised v3, I haven't been able to push them even close to the point of clipping. My ears truly do not agree with those kind of volumes.

These are not the most elegant, prettiest looking monitors imho. The color is a lot less bright than the pictures suggest however and you do have the option to go for an all black version if you wish (at a surcharge).
The woofer is quite large and the tweeter is set back into the case a little as if to offer it a bit more protection.

These are in a category of their own really. They stand apart from other brands like Dynaudio for example but still hold (more than) their own compared to the next step up brands like ATC for example.

I'm still rediscovering my music collection 8 months later and have not regretted one second investing in a not so well known brand. My enthusiasm regarding their sound quality has rubbed off onto other people who I've mentioned it to. Some of whom ended up buying a pair or whom are now very curious to audition them. Highly recommended!
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