If the audio industry handed out awards like sports leagues, Paul Barton would be a perennial contender for MVP (or perhaps MVPD — most valuable product designer). The PSB Speakers founder just keeps turning out superb products, be they floorstanding tower speakers, headphones, desktop speakers and more.
I dug into my digital music collection while connected to the Alpha PS1s, whose performance — especially factoring in size and value — still has me shaking my head in disbelief. Finding a better-sounding pair of speakers for $299 would be quite a challenge.
The two-way powered speakers incorporate a 3.5-inch polypropylene cone woofer and ¾-inch aluminum dome tweeter, fueled by a 2x20W amplifier. They have a high-gloss finish and a tuned port that is said to extend bass response. And while sound is huge, the speakers are not — they are desktop models at just 7 7/8 inches tall.
Setup is not complicated, but my one word of caution is that there are a bunch of wires to keep tidy, especially if you add the complementary SubSeries 100 subwoofer. A good piece of furniture with cable management would be ideal Connections and controls are on the rear of the left speaker: stereo RCA inputs, subwoofer output, 3.5-mm aux input, power supply port and 5V USB power port. There’s also the output to link the right speaker, as well as a volume knob with minimum/maximum at about 8 and 4 o’clock positions. (Click here to view more images of the products.)
My listening was split between an old Sony Vaio desktop PC and a newer Lenovo laptop as sources, with the signal sent through Meridian’s fine Explorer USB DAC to the RCA inputs. Playback was predominantly through iTunes or Media Monkey software, ranging from 128kbps and 320kbps MP3 files up to 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution FLAC files.
PSB says the Alpha PS1s borrow from the company’s original Alpha Series and are marked by “smooth and refined sound,” “solid tuneful bass” and response that makes the speakers “acoustically ‘disappear.’” I can’t argue with any of that; from initial listen, song after song, I was astonished at the punchy, vibrant, full-bodied sounds and lifelike vocals produced by such tiny speakers. The volume barely needed to cross 9 o’clock to deliver impact — and I didn’t quite employ a true desktop scenario in which the speakers tightly flanked my computers, instead placing them on my theater’s speaker stands about five feet from my listening position.
You don’t necessarily need the subwoofer, but I found it did add a layer of warmth that simply enhanced the overall soundscape. Despite its small footprint and 5.25-inch driver, the sub could be turned up quite a bit and still present definition — kickdrums and bass lines offered more oomph without sounding hazy and amorphous. Like the speakers, the subwoofer hardly necessitated much movement on the volume knob to produce pleasing results.
I was impressed by nuances the speakers made more revealing: examples included the thick steely twang of one of the acoustic guitars in Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain” (off Blood on the Tracks) as if it were being plucked right in front of me; a high-res version of Paul Simon’s “Dazzling Blue” (So Beautiful or So What) that showed how well the song cohesively blends traditional and non-traditional instruments so none are lost in the background; the recording quality differences that can be heard comparing the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 box set — and its slight hiss from those old master tapes — with the super-quiet, pristine Spring 1990 recordings; or the precisely-imaged guitar triptych that emerges from the center, left and right soundstage during the outro of Phish’s “Wingsuit” (Fuego; also the speakers did a great job resolving the multilayered chorus vocals of the title track). Vocals sounded very true-to-form, smooth and with more perceptible “air” around them.
If you have clients whose computers (or attached storage drives) contain vast quantities of digital music, or like to stream from popular services straight from their PCs and Macs, the Alpha PS1s will give them newfound vigor to flat low-quality MP3 files as well as serve up all the dynamic richness of high-resolution audio tracks.
Meanwhile, when I used the PS1s while watching movies or concerts on my projection system, despite their nearfield setup the speakers really disappeared as they created sound that seemed to emanate from the screen several feet back. During one streaming concert broadcast, with my laptop connected to the projector, I couldn’t have asked for a bigger soundstage and perfect instrument placement from a set of desktop speakers. They might not create a surround-sound-like atmosphere, but the stereo imaging is dead on and with the SubSeries 100, the 2.1-channel configuration provides plenty of room-thumping audio for such applications.
PSB proves it doesn’t take a rack of components to deliver great sound these days — add a decent DAC, and the Alpha PS1/SubSeries 100 combo can turn any client’s computer into a great stereo system that sounds like it costs five times the price. This vaunted desktop audio solution should be a no-brainer attachment sale for dealers and will be a treat for customers, considering the amount of home and office computer systems out there needing upgraded audio.