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Product Review - PSB Alpha Home Theater Speakers and Powered Subwoofer - August, 1998

John E. Johnson, Jr.

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 PSB Alpha A/V Compact Monitor, Rear Ported (One 1 3/4")

One 1/2" Polymer Dome Tweeter

One 6 1/2" Polymer-Coated Fiber Woofer

Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms

Sensitivity: 90 dB/w/m

Manufacturer's FR Specs: 68 Hz - 21 kHz ± 3 dB

Size: 12 3/4"H x 7 3/4"W x 9 3/4"D

Magnetically Shielded

Weight: 11 Pounds Each

MSRP: $249/Pair - Black or Cherry

 PSB Alpha Mini Compact Monitor and Alpha Midi Center Channel Speaker, Rear Ported (One 1 3/4")

One 1/2" Polymer Dome Tweeter

One 5 1/4" Polymer-Coated Fiber Woofer

Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms

Sensitivity: 89 dB/w/m

Manufacturer's FR Specs: 68 Hz - 21 kHz ± 3 dB

Size: 10 1/2"H x 6 1/2"W x 9 3/4"D

Magnetically Shielded

Weight: 9 Pounds Each

MSRP: $199/Pair - Black or Cherry (Mini); $119/Each - Black (Midi)

PSB Alpha SubSonic 1 Powered Subwoofer, Ported Design (Two 2")

One 10" Polymer-Coated Fiber Driver, Forward Firing

65 Watt rms Amplifier

Manufacturer's FR Specs: 28 Hz - 150 Hz ± 3 dB

Size: 11 1/2" H x 14 1/2" W x 14 1/4" D

Weight: 26 Pounds

MSRP: $439 USA

PSB International, 633 Granite Court, Pickering, Ontario, CANADA L1W 3K1; Phone 905-831-6555; Fax 905-837-6357; E-Mail psb@mcn.org; Web http://www.psbspeakers.com.

At one of the Las Vegas Consumer Electronic Shows (CES) several years ago, I walked into a room that had great sound with nice tight bass, but I could not see any speakers looming anywhere. I turned to see a very small bookshelf speaker sitting on a stand next to a curtain. The curtain was shaking with all the air that was being moved. I marvelled at the sound quality, and was shocked to find that they were only $199/pair. These were the PSB Alpha speakers, designed by Paul Barton, in Canada, and they were an immediate, and smashing, success.

Since that time, PSB has expanded to include additional models in the Alpha line, as well as the popular Stratus series, and several powered subwoofers. We have received numerous requests to review PSB speakers, and do so here, not only willingly, but with great enthusiasm. PSB kindly shipped us a complete set of Alpha A/V Compact (I will call it the Standard Monitor here to prevent confusion in my discussion), Alpha Mini, and Alpha Midi Center Channel Speakers, as well as the Alpha SubSonic 1 Powered Subwoofer. Total system price for a surround sound package would be slightly over $1,000, if the top models (of the speakers that were sent to us) are used. That is what I call affordable!

Paul Barton designed all of these speakers, including the drivers, from the ground up, with the assistance of a marvelous testing facility that the Canadian PSB Subsonic 1 Rear PanelGovernment makes available. PSB Speaker TerminalsThis is the National Research Council Facility in Ottawa. Following many months of testing and listening, with measurements in the anechoic chamber, Paul settled on the now legendary Alpha design. Further testing resulted in the numerous products now available from PSB. All of the speakers are ported (rear ported on monitors, front ported on subwoofer), giving a Q of about 0.7 (the ratio of energy stored to the energy released). The monitors are nicely constructed, with wood grained vinyl finish (get the cherry finish . . . it's really attractive). The speaker terminals are of the spring clip variety (see photo at right), but they will accept banana plugs and seem to work just fine. The subwoofer control panel (see photo on left) has rotary controls for volume and low-pass crossover frequency (50 Hz - 150 Hz), push button phase switch (00 or 1800), RCA input jacks for line-level left/right, one set of left/right speaker-level input binding posts, and one set of high-pass left/right speaker level output binding posts. The subwoofer has no on/off switch.

I tested the speakers with our reference stereo system (Audio Alchemy CD Transport and DAC, White Audio B-80 Monoblocks, and Nordost SPM Reference Cables). I placed them on the Century Alpha SP-25 Speaker Stands, which are 24" high.

The Alpha standard monitors and Minis both sounded very transparent, with a slightly laid back high end. Naturally, the Minis had slightly less bass than the standard monitors. The Alpha SubSonic 1 was a perfect match for the monitors, and I finally decided on a crossover setting (low pass) of 60 Hz. Otherwise, the subwoofer became boomy as the crossover setting approached 90 Hz. The 60 Hz setting allowed for the overlap between the rolloff of speakers and subwoofer to balance just right. The standard monitors were capable of modest volume, with the Minis having slightly less.

I also tested the speakers in our home theater lab, using a Yamaha DVD-S700 DVD Player, Yamaha DSP-A1 Processor/Amplifier, and Nordost Cables.

I was quite surprised at how good these speakers sound, even with tough material like "Terminator 2" which has spectacular sound effects. The Midi Center Channel Speaker was clear, and did not have chestiness. At this price ($119), the Midi is one of the best center channel speakers I have heard. The SP-25 Speaker Stands (new product from PSB) worked very well with these speakers, and I would recommend them ($89/pair) if you get this package. They are made entirely of wood, and are very easy to assemble. They have a small front profile, which keeps reflection from the monitors low. I tried the standard monitors in front and rear, and a set of standards in front with the Minis in the rear. I preferred the matched standard monitors all the way around, although the Midi is the same size as the Mini. As with the stereo tests, the standard monitors were capable of more SPL than the minis. Yet, both had a natural sound with no chestiness. Again, the SubSonic 1 was a perfect match for either of these monitors.

Room Response - PSB Alpha SubSonic 1 Subwoofer Signature -- Set to 90 dB at 25 Hz -- Grille Removed -- (This is not maximum output, but rather just the response in an "average" room with the volume set to 90 dB at 25 Hz.) For the 13 foot measurment, the subwoofer was set to 85 dB at 25 Hz since this was the maximum volume that could be obtained at that distance.
1 meter 13 feet
10 Hz 57.4 dB 10 Hz 60.0 dB
12.5 Hz 63.2 dB 12.5 Hz 65.1 dB
16 Hz 69.4 dB 16 Hz 72.7 dB
20 Hz 80.1 dB 20 Hz 78.0 dB
25 Hz 90.2 dB 25 Hz 84.8 dB
31.5 Hz 96.0 dB 31.5 Hz 90.5 dB
40 Hz 96.5 dB 40 Hz 90.6 dB
50 Hz 95.5 dB 50 Hz 95.8 dB
63 Hz 105.1 dB 63 Hz 87.5 dB
80 Hz 104.7 dB 80 Hz 93.0 dB
100 Hz 101.6 dB 100 Hz 95.6 dB
125 Hz 102.2 dB 125 Hz 80.1 dB
160 Hz 95.5 dB 160 Hz 78.6 dB

The maximum excursion for the subwoofer at 25 Hz and 1 meter was 3/4" peak-to-peak. That is really quite a bit, and I could not hear much harmonic distortion until the amp went into obvious clipping. All in all, the SubSonic 1 has an extremely respectable performance for a < $500 subwoofer. Although the amplifier is rated at only 65 watts into the 4 Ohm load, it sounded like a lot more. Must be the 300 watt peak capability!

In summary, the PSB Alpha Series is still one of the best values in sound for small system stereo and home theater. A set of Minis and the SubSonic 1 would be perfect for college dormitories, while the standard monitors plus a Midi and SubSonic 1 would be be a great little system for just about anyone who wants to get into home theater, but does not wish to break their bank account.

John E. Johnson, Jr.


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