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PSB’s iconic affordable Alpha Series speakers come in for a makeover


The PSB Alpha P5 speakers.


PSB

PSB’s original entry level Alpha Series speakers were so good they remained in production without any changes for 19 years. They introduced lots of new speakers over that time, but the Alpha remained perennial until now. 

PSB refreshed the entire Alpha line with the all new P3 ($199 a pair) and P5 bookshelf ($349 a pair), C10 center channel ($299 each) and T20 tower speakers ($599 a pair). To get acquainted with the line I spent some time with the Alpha P5 bookshelf speakers.

The speakers are available in your choice of Black Ash or Walnut vinyl finishes, with magnetically attached perforated black metal grilles. Around back there’s a bass port positioned directly over the sturdy binding posts. The P5s medium density fiberboard cabinet measures a tidy 6.75 by 11.3 by 9.5 inches, and it weighs 10.3 pounds.

As you may have noticed, the speaker’s front baffle layout is unusual in that the textured black 5.25 inch polypropylene woofer is on top, the .75 inch black anodized aluminum tweeter just below it. The woofer and tweeter work in harmony thanks to the new forth order crossover network. Impedance is rated at 8 ohms. The P5’s interior felt damping material is placed in the middle of the cabinet to better absorb reflections, most speakers have their interior walls lined with soft material.

Listening to the Alpha P5

Male vocals make their presence known big time, take Bill Callahan, wowza, his formidable pipes on his Have Fun With God album are given free reign. There’s something so satisfying about the way the P5s unleash Callahan’s growling voice. His sprawling acoustic meets woozy ambient dub collection filled my living room with sound. The P5’s surprising brawn was evident from the get go, and it’s the sort of speaker that sounds like it enjoys being played pretty loud.

The P5 had a special affinity for piano recordings like Rachmaninoff Plays Rachmaninoff. The piano tone is deliciously ripe, and the sheer vibrancy of the performance is riveting.

Arcade Fire’s densely mixed Reflektor album is well sorted out by the P5s so it was easy to follow the bass, drums, keyboards and guitars, and the soundstage extended beyond the locations of the speakers.

Auditioning the P5 in my two channel home theater with the speakers hooked up to my NAD C 316BEE stereo integrated amplifier is a treat. The Mad Max Fury Road Blu-ray’s hell bent action sequences pack a wallop, and dialogue is clear, even when the road raging antics are going full tilt.

Kraftwerk’s 3D Blu-ray is loaded with dense textures and detail, though it’s obvious the P5s can’t fully convey the synthesizers deep bass passages. Even so, bass definition is well played, but if deep room shaking bass is what you crave add a sub, but that’s true with most small stand mount speakers.

The P5’s treble is fine, but switching over to a set of Emotiva Airmotiv B1 bookshelf speakers the highs are airier and smoother. The B1’s soundstage is also more three-dimensional and transient details from drums as well as percussion outpace the P5. Yet the P5 has a more fully developed midrange.

Too bad I don’t have a pair of Elac Debut B6.2 speakers on hand for direct comparison, but I know that speaker well enough to say it’s a more transparent and more dynamically alive design. The P5 is more laid-back, but they’re both very capable efforts.

The new Alpha P5 has a lot going for it, but it faces strong competition. The Elac Debut B6.2 is the one to beat, and the Q Acoustics 3020i is also a worthy competitor.


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