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Positive Feedback ISSUE 63
september/october 2012


Audio Ramblings - The Liberty Loudspeakers from PBN
by Dave Clark



This summer I made it my goal to review a decent number of loudspeakers in the $10k to $20k range. Now, it was not my intent to do a survey of competing loudspeakers, but to bring whatever piqued my interest within that price range. Why $10k to $20K? Well, as an educator I see the need for limiting expenses, and personally find this range to offer the biggest bang—that is I feel that this is where the manufacturer can get serious about cabinet construction, speaker material, crossover parts, etc… they can design and build to a higher level without going hog wild. Sure, that range is not really affordable for the masses, but then it is not ape crazy "what the heck did you spend" either… perhaps more a "doable price" that a decent number can strive for… and yeah, as I said, it opens the book for many a designer. Plus, I was interested in loudspeakers that might 'compete' with my older Reimer Tetons sonically. That is, can they go bass deep with control and slam, pressurize the room, disappear within the wide, deep and tall soundstage, be nimble and quick, airy and open, warm and involving, yadda, yadda… you know, all the things I think that I am hearing here! Well, actually I do many and to a great degree—the Tetons do make music here and do it very well - but we are, aren't we, looking for the next better thing, and so why not see what is out there!

As an aside, I have found that products tend to reflect the designer's personality. Not always, but enough to make it rather interesting when approaching a product for review—much like anything in life you got the range of guys who either have little if any personality to those who are the hit of the party… and then everything in-between! So will this be intensely serious or comically cool? Radically dull or whimsically right? Droll and laid-back, or in your face with a fine layering of spittle?

So first off, in comes the Liberty's from BN Audio. PBN was founded by Peter Noerbaek and has been around since the early 1980s. PBN offers not only loudspeakers, but a full line of electronics as well… all very good stuff too. The Liberty comes in at roughly $15k and features the following:

  • Two 8" anodized aluminum cone woofers

  • One 6" reed-fiber mid-range driver

  • Proprietary foam surrounds, coated on opposing sides

  • One 1" gold-plated titanium tweeter with diffraction felt on faceplate. In the high-frequency section of crossover, special care has been taken to eliminate the 25kHz resonance found in all titanium tweeters.

  • They come complete with PBN's proprietary 24db per octave acoustical Linkwitz-Riley crossover slopes. Plus, there are seven precision hand-wound inductors, and five high-grade polypropylene film capacitors in the high-frequency section of the crossover.

  • An "innerchoic" design where the sound baffles become an integral part of the interior walls. This multilayered egg-crate construction naturally absorbs unwanted reflective sound waves.

  • Dimensions (H X W X D): 43" x 14" x 17"

  • Weight: 180lbs

So what does this all get you physically? The Liberty's are well finished (the demo pair was finished in piano black) and offer a 'not-so-imposing' nicely curved column-like loudspeaker that is as solid as all get out. Without a doubt, the multilayered egg-crate construction is doing its thing as rapping the cabinets with anything short of a sledge hammer results in a non-resonating 'knack'. These are dead solid and at 180lbs. not a speaker that is going anywhere—unless of course it were to topple over whereupon you would be trapped under its weight and die a lonely death… assuming of course you are not married or have a significant other, of which would probably just masochistically ignore you for a few hours. So yeah, Peter did his research and the Liberty's are very well built! As to placement, I spotted them where the Tetons work as that is where any other loudspeaker has worked as well.

pbn liberty loudspeakers

But what does all this get you musically? And can we know more about Peter….? Well, I have only spoken to Peter a few times (though he did deliver the loudspeakers to me—we live a short 90 min drive apart—his time here was short and to the point… here are the speakers, you know your room best, have fun, and off I go…) I find him to be quite likable, to the point, not one to BS, and quite knowledgeable about electronics and loudspeaker design. But, Peter's sense of humor appears to be more on the European-side of dry (he is after all from Denmark, and while I only know a few Danes, their sense of humor does tend to fall to the side of dry-ness with a strong dash of ironic sarcasm), he is to the point serious, and does not represent himself as one to make fart jokes. More deadpan then whimsically comical. This is only based on his responses to my irreverent (or should that be irrelevant?) comments about audio… for all I know Peter could be the next Richard Pryor or Robin Williams!

And the loudspeakers? To the point, quite serious, no BS, somewhat dry-er sonically, and also one not to make fart jokes. More of a 'here it is'… as opposed to 'here is what you want it is'… here, while being very clean. Which is how Peter had described them. Clean? As opposed to dirty?

pbn liberty loudspeakers

Yeah, the Liberty's are on the clean side of musicality meaning that they offer less color or colorization… less harmonic richness… less warmth… all less than the Tetons. But then the Tetons could be colored or marred by cabinet issues, driver issues, and crossover issues… whatever. But they are my reference and I like what they do…. I like my music served as such and so I did find the Liberty's to be more of the yang to the Teton's yin. Not a bad thing, just a different thing.

pbn liberty loudspeakers

This cleanliness also extends up to the gold tweeter. I will admit that I have always preferred soft-dome or ribbon tweeters to those of the malleable and shiny variety simply because they tend to sound like metal: harder than softer, more apt to ring or zing, brighter than darker… you get the drift. On the other hand, I have also heard many metal tweeters to not be of that nature—it is all a matter of execution. What the Liberty's presented here was way less of what I do not like, and way more of what I do. Okay, I never mistook the tweeter for anything other than a gold-plated titanium tweeter, but then I was never driven out of the house either. Well… almost. That was when I tried the Bybee Golden Goddess 'Super Effect' Speaker Bullets at the business end of the Liberty's jacks. Uh, no… please stop. Any music with extended harmonics or whatever simply caused a very annoying ringing zinging. Not a good match in every sense of the word… danger! Yeah, they work very well with the Tetons and have done their magic with other loudspeakers, but with the Liberty's… ouch-ville. Leave their extended tweeter to do its job… as it does it quite well with plenty of air and extension. It rarely draws attention to itself and when doing so is never fatiguing… perhaps more metal than cloth, but then that is more of a preference of wants and likes as well as something that can either augment your choice in music or… well, or not.

Meaning that I loved… loved these speakers with electronic music. Make that electronic music played really loud. True concert material these are! Tossing anything from dub-step to ambient to electronica to whatever and wow… the Liberty's could really shake the house and do so in a quite a beguiling way. Not your taste? No worries. The Liberty's did quite well with acoustic music as well… it is just that when the lights went down and on went something from say Milanese… damn these things were sick. Fast, dynamic, transients at the speed of light… decay, ambient clues, dimensional…  it was all there in spades.

Fart jokes?! Wait… what? Oh yeah.... well they are ported, but I never heard any 'farts' in any sense of the word… yes, they can push air, meaning they will pressurize the room. The bass is mighty impressive and goes deep with slam and bam… BAM! Tight, tight… and with no comical turns. Nice… and clean too. Loved the bass with anything I tossed their way—from James Blake to Bill Laswell to Jamie XX to Ben Frost to Hecq… very nice. I really do not think anyone will be disappointed or find fault here… very, very good for any speaker. Wonderful articulation, speed… you get it all, well at least all that two 8" woofers can produce (or four if you want to count both sides). Of course they are not able to do quite what the Tetons can with four 8.75" woofers per side (dual isobaric) or eight 8.75" woofers total… but then I did not expect that nor would I fault them as what they did do, was rather enjoyable.

pbn liberty loudspeakers

So to sum it up, the PBN Liberty's offer the end user quite a lot for the asking price of $15k. You get killer bass with an open and clean presentation that has nary a hint of coloration; all with an extended and pristine treble. Rock solid and well built, the Liberty's will offer anyone with the requisite cash more than a glimpse of what WAY more expensive loudspeakers can offer.