From the first moments after loading up the RioBlu-ray, I loved this little system. Rio, the animated tale of a pet exotic bird returning to his homeland, is packed with rich arrangements of Brazilian music, a wide variety of voice talents, and occasional flashes of near-bombast. One of the best set pieces involves two chained-together birds trying to fly off a cliff. It’s a great scene (especially in 3D), set to the bossa nova classic “Mas Que Nada” in 5.1 surround and punctuated by occasional collisions with hang gliders and beach umbrellas.
The enveloping sound and natural tonal balance of the Imagine Minis made this scene completely captivating. Having tested thousands of speakers, I tend to fixate on their flaws the way you’d be drawn to the first tiny scratch on a new car, but with this system I was able to relax and forget I was reviewing speakers. The dance scene a few minutes later, in which the main characters confront partying birds banging on improvised drums, had all the power and impact I’d hoped for. The tonal balance of the system, and of the Minis in particular, was ever so slightly on the soft side, with just a small reduction in treble yielding a subtly mellow sound that I thoroughly enjoyed.
All of Rio’s many and varied voice talents — including Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, and Jemaine Clement — sounded close to perfect through the Imagine C. I noted what seemed like a very slight emphasis somewhere in the midrange, which made the voices a little easier to understand without making them sound unnatural or bright. I played many DVDs and Blu-rays in the following days, and couldn’t find a single actor or actress whose voice the Imagine C didn’t get right.
The SubSonic 1 proved a perfect match — sonically, not visually — with the Imagine Minis. It has loads of punch in the upper-bass octave, so most of the impacts and explosions in action movies have the power and drama I crave. There’s nothing going on in the deep-bass region, though, so don’t expect any floor-shaking with this little sub.
How does the Imagine Mini fare when used without a subwoofer? Not well, in my opinion. When I played my vinyl copy of The Bears (1987), from the power-pop band co-led by King Crimson frontman Adrian Belew, the opening track, “None of the Above,” displayed a huge, wraparound ambience and the vocals sounded absolutely natural — yet what little bass there was felt a bit bloated and slightly distorted. Even Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett (1970), a jazz record so light it makes Diana Krall sound like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, felt groove-less when played full-range through the Imagine Mini. But add a subwoofer and everything falls right into place. Maybe you could use the Mini without a subwoofer for a desktop system, but anything more demands a sub.
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