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Product Review - PSB Alpha Intro LR and CLR Speakers, and SubZero Subwoofer - April, 2002


Stacey Spears


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Specifications:

CLR
Frequency Response:  90 Hz - 21 kHz (
± 3 dB)
Recommended Power:  15-120 watts
Drivers: 
One 3/4" Aluminum Dome with Ferrofluid Tweeter,
             two 3 1/2" Poly Woofers w/ rubber surround
Nominal Impedance:  8 ohms
Dimensions: 
4 1/4" x 9 3/4" x 6 1/4"
Weight:  4.8 Pounds
MSRP:  $169 each.

LR
Frequency Response:  100 Hz - 21 kHz (
± 3 dB)
Recommended Power:  15-80 watts

Drivers:  One 3/4" Aluminum Dome with Ferrofluid Tweeter,
             One 3 1/2" Poly Woofer w/ rubber surround
Nominal Impedance:  6 ohms
Dimensions:  4 1/4"
x 6 3/4" x 6 1/4"
Weight: 3.3 Pounds

MSRP: $199/pair.

SubZero
Frequency Response:  40 Hz - 150 Hz
Amplifier Power:  50 watts continuous
Driver:  One 8" Poly-coated Woofer w/ rubber surround
Crossover Frequency:  50 Hz-150 Hz (variable)
Dimensions: 9 5/8
" x 13 1/4" x 13 7/8"
Weight: 21.3 Pounds

MSRP:  $299 each.

 

PSB Speakers International, 633 Granite Court, Pickering, Ontario, Canada L1W 3K1; Web  http://http://www.psbspeakers.com; Phone 905.831.6555;  Fax 905.837.6357

Introduction

Every once in awhile, we A/V reviewers need a dose of reality. It was early last year when my brother called asking me for advice on a home theater system for his family enjoyment. I recommended that he purchase the Toshiba 40X81 16:9 rear projection TV. He had managed to talk our parents into swapping his Sony interlaced DVD player for their Toshiba progressive scan player. (Their display can’t handle 480p.) Now that he was experiencing the glory of 480p, he wanted to go to the next level and add the full 5.1 sound.

Budget and size had priority over everything else. I started suggesting many, what I had considered, low priced speaker packages. It turned that what I have come to consider low priced was not really low priced at all. He wanted to spend less than $1,000 US for all speakers, including the subwoofer. He also wanted to find the smallest speakers possible. In the end, he settled on a small speaker system from Sony. He and his family have been happy ever since.

This experience has led me to seek out a high performance low priced speaker package. Not to knock his Sony system, but I knew better performance could be obtained in the same price range with a little grunt work.

While having dinner with one of the home theater industry PR veterans, I was informed that PSB had a new line of low priced speakers called the Alpha Intro series, which is a smaller version of what our Editor-in-Chief, JJ,  reviewed a few years back.. This set the ball in motion.

The Arrival, or “Big Things Come in Small Packages”

Shortly before I left for the holidays, the FedEx lady arrived to deliver the Alpha Intros, bearing four relatively small boxes. I had thought either FedEx lost a box, or something was back ordered. Much to my surprise, the container actually held the front pair, surround pair, and center channel all in a single box.

I was thrown for a loop with these teeny weenie speakers. The heaviest items in the bunch were the speaker stands for the front and back pair. Each pair of stands came in their own box with the remaining one being the subwoofer.

The Alpha Intro LR are available in black or white with a textured finish. I received one pair in each color. I am a bachelor, so I can get away with stuff like that. The Alpha Intro CLR (center speaker), also available in black or white, arrived in black as did the SubZero (the subwoofer, not the fridge).

The LRs (photo at left) have a small threaded hole located in the back above the binding posts that mate with their speaker stands. They also have a small keyhole-shaped opening where you can mount them directly on the wall, like a picture frame. They come with little attachable rubber feet, which should be used when mounted on the wall or when they are sitting on another stand or shelf.

The LR has one woofer with the tweeter mounted above it. The LR is also shielded so it can be placed near a TV. I kept the LR about 1 foot away from my TV on both sides, so shielding is generally not an issue with the left and right speakers.

The CLR also has a small threaded hole in the back located off to the side of the binding posts (photo at right), and it has two keyhole shaped mounting holes so it can be mounted either horizontally or vertically.

The CLR has two woofers with the tweeter placed in between. The CLR, like the LR, is also shielded. Unlike the left and right, the center channel is almost always sitting on top of a TV. Shielding is most important when the speaker is placed on a direct view set. A RPTV contains no electronics near the top of the cabinet. The shielding worked as advertised.

The SubZero has a volume knob, crossover knob from 50 to 150 Hz, and a phase switch for 0 and 180 degrees. It is also equipped with both line and speaker level inputs for left and right channels. Along with the speaker level inputs are a pair of high-pass filtered speaker level outputs.

Set-Up

It has been a long time since I have installed and listened to a sub/sat system. For the past several years I have used many different full range systems from Meridian, Mirage, Monitor Audio, and Von Schweikert Research. I think the last sub/sat system was an Altec Lansing THX speaker package. I have even had the Bose AM7 system 10 years ago. Hey, it was a Christmas present!

Because the Intros are extra small, they must be crossed over fairly high. I found that I had to crossover around 100 Hz. The SubZero has inputs for one pair so I used the crossover built into my surround processor.

I tried the package in two different rooms. First was my new listening lab, which is 2500 ft3 and still under development, and the second was my office lab, which is 720 ft3. The office lab was the main room for my evaluation. This room is equipped with a small receiver and television.

The most difficult part I had was integrating the sub/sat. Many feel that corner loading the sub is the only way to go because you are exciting all of the room modes and you get sound reinforcement from the three corners. When I tried to place the SubZero in the corner, I found that I could localize the low frequency information due to the sub reproducing frequencies up to 100+ Hz. So, I relocated the sub close to the center channel speaker to get the best integration. I lost out on the bass reinforcement, but it was worth it.

I had the left and right speaker 4’ apart and pointed straight forward, with the center directly in between. I raised the left and right speakers so that they were at the same height as the center channel speaker.

I had the surrounds located directly at my sides, and I had them up as high as the stands would allow.

Playback

When I had the PSB Alpha Intro set up in the reference lab, I had to play them at pretty high volumes as the room is large. When I had them set up in the office lab, which is over 3 times smaller, I had the volume set much lower to get the same perceived loudness. I feel that my reference lab is just a little to large for the Intros. They were much more at home in the smaller office lab. Because the office lab is probably smaller than most living rooms where the HT is found, I tried them out in the master bedroom, which is around 1200 ft3 just to see how they did in a somewhat larger room. The Intros also worked well in this larger space. So I feel confident that in 1200 ft3 and below, the Intros can provide enough output to satisfy.

The single SubZero did not have enough low frequency impact in the reference lab. There was a great deal more bottom end in the office lab. PSB is clear about this in their literature too. A couple of SubZeros might have done the trick, but my reference lab is a rather large space. This made sense due to the drastic difference in size. A single SubZero is really just enough to make up the bottom half of the Alpha Intros. If you want the extra bass needed for that LFE channel, I believe a second SubZero is required. The THX trailer located at the opening of "Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace" contains some serious energy at 18 Hz and was not really reproduced by the SubZero. To be fair, few subs can actually reproduce this low frequency energy.

With the Alpha Intros all the way around, I was properly set up to listen to some DVD-A content. I started out with the "Foreigner "4 DVD-A and my old favorite Juke Box Hero. The pan of the synthesizer around me maintained perfect timbre as it panned in a complete 360 degree circle. The CLR was a nice match for the LR and sounded very transparent when Jennifer Warrens sings Somewhere Somebody on the new AIX "Nitty Gritty" DVD-A.

While the picture quality on Phantom Menace left much to be desired (THX may know audio, but they have much to learn when it comes to video), the sound track is phenomenal. The subtle nuances buried under the roaring pods came through with aplomb during the pod race scene. There are many many layers, and it is a shame that "The Matrix" beat out Episode I for the Oscar. The dual of the fates score (Darth Maul fight finale) by Williams was very evolving through the Intros. I was sucked in and frozen until the music stopped.

PSB also makes a pair of dipole surround speakers in the Alpha line. While I do love direct surround speakers for music, I think dipoles offer more envelopment for film soundtracks. You might consider the dipoles if you plan to do more film watching than listening to music.

Conclusion (Speaker Mecca?)

Why is it that so many speakers that come from the great white north sound so good and cost so little? I believe part of it is that many Canadian speaker manufactures take advantage of the exceptional testing facility at the National Research Council, which is located in Ottawa. They seem to take a different, more objective, approach to speaker design vs. many other speaker manufactures around the world. In the high end, few speakers are actually designed to be flat. Instead, the designer of those speakers builds them to his/her subjective listening tastes. PSB takes a more traditional straightforward approach, by following a different set of rules.

Being located in the US and so close to the Canadian border, speakers from Canada are a real bargain. I can simply hop up north, buy a set of speakers with an exchange rate in my favor, and even collect back taxes paid when coming back across to Seattle.

In general, speakers from Canadian manufacturers offer a tremendous bang for the buck, and I recommend you try to audition the PSB Alpha Intros if you are looking for a great performing affordable set of speakers.

 

- Stacey Spears -

Equipment used for comparison and reference:

Meridian DSP5500 Speakers

Meridian DSP5000 Speakers

SVS CS_Ultra Subwoofers

Sunfire Cinema Grand 5 channel amplifier

Panasonic RP56 Progressive Scan DVD Player

Meridian 800 DVD Machine

Meridian 861 Surround Sound Processor

Better Cables Silver Serpent video cables

Equi=Tech Balanced Power Transformer

PS Audio Power Plant P600

PS Audio Power Director

PS Audio Ultimate Outlets

NEC LT150z DLP

Stewart FireHawk 16x9 Screen

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© Copyright 2002 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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