|PSB Alpha 5.1 System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Friday, 01 March 2002|
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Music and Movies
The first movie I played was "Dead Pool" (Warner Brothers) from the "Dirty Harry" boxed set. I was impressed with the system’s ability to accurately reproduce the actors’ voices. The center channel’s dispersion was fairly wide, with the tonal characteristics changing only slightly as I moved around to various seating positions. The changes were so minor as to be unnoticeable unless I was listening closely for them. The soundstage generally extended past the speakers laterally, depth-wise, generally seeming to be limited in depth, beginning behind the physical plane of the speakers.
Next I watched a sequence from the movie "Saving Private Ryan" (DreamWorks - DTS). Towards the end of the movie, there is a battle at a bridge. I watched the scene at a moderately loud volume. The Alpha S’s provided good, enveloping surround effects. The sonic cues from the surrounds indicated a large sound field, but also provided specific, localized cues as needed. As before, the Alpha system provided good tonal accuracy. I was able to distinguish between the myriad number of voices and weaponry, while the sound of an empty clip being expelled from one soldier’s M1 Garand was immediately identifiable. The subwoofer provided tight and detailed low-end information for the explosions. The low-end extension of the subwoofer, rated to 30 Hz, was not particularly low, but remained detailed and did not bottom out at moderately loud listening levels.
Music proved to be a good match for the PSB’s. The Alpha C performed admirably on both male and female vocals. Sheryl Crow’s DVD, "Rockin’ the Globe – Live" (DTS), immediately demonstrated the Alpha’s musical abilities. The track "Am I Getting Through" features Crow on vocals and bass, accompanied by her full band. Through the PSB system, she had a great deal of presence and her voice was accurately portrayed with no annoying sibilance. The bass was fairly extended and very well defined. Being impressed with the Alpha’s 5.1 ability I quickly put on some stereo tracks utilizing only the Alpha B’s. I listened to a variety of tracks and easily concluded that the Alpha B’s greatly benefit from having the SubSonic 5 in the system. The Alpha B’s and C match one another sonically, making for a good continuous soundstage in 5.1, but both, especially the B’s, are limited in the low end and greatly benefit from the extension of a subwoofer.
The Eagles’ "Hell Freezes Over" DVD (DTS) was used to check the Alpha’s out on male vocals. As with the female vocals, the Alpha’s performed well, accurately portraying the voices without any chestiness. The soundstage for "Hotel California" was enveloping and completely surrounded me. The famous drum track was detailed but missing some of the ooomph it has on a larger system.
The PSB’s hew to the traditional, laid-back Canadian sound, which is very smooth, never harsh or brittle. The newest Alpha’s have noticeably more high-end energy than their previous iteration and more life to them.
The Alpha system reviewed is by far the smallest 5.1 system I have had in my house. It replaced a system 10 times its price and many times its size. The Alpha’s small size mandates certain choices. The designers can choose reduced extension and dynamics in favor of accuracy, or can forego attempts at accuracy and go for extension and dynamics. The Alpha's give up some range and dynamics in their quest for accuracy -- a good call, I think. The Alpha’s cannot play at extreme volumes, nor can they provide earthshaking bass, and they probably should not be used in larger rooms. Accordingly, I would not recommend this system to someone whose main goal is to watch action movies at loud volumes. The Alphas’ restrained character is much more suited to more moderate dynamics.
The PSB Alpha system is a great value in both dollars and space. Using either criteria as a basis for judgment, there is great performance given the costs. I cannot help but to compare the PSB system to the similarly priced Paradigm Phantom ($1,400 approx) system. The Paradigm system utilizes larger tower front speakers and plays much louder with more dynamic range and extension. The trade-off is a lack of accuracy. The Paradigm system is more boomy whereas the PSB is more resolute. Both share a polite Canadian sound.
The PSB Alpha's make for a great bedroom or apartment system where accuracy is favored over volume. The PSB’s are accurate, slightly laid back and provide outstanding performance for their size. As Snoop often says, "If you have your mind on your money and your money on your mind," you should take a trip to hear the PSB Alpha speakers. They are a value worthy of your attention.