PSB Alpha B loudspeaker Page 2
Strangely enough, this anomaly of brass reproduction didn't extend to strings, even those with significant high-frequency content. John Atkinson's recording of Kohjiba's Transmigration of the Soul, from Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH0007-2), is not sweet and mellow—the music is dissonant, and the acoustic of Santa Fe's St. Francis Auditorium is anything but warm and plush. That said, the more aggressive violin passages were appropriately biting and searing, but never harsh. In fact, the strings on this recording, including the cellos, sounded more natural than through any other speaker under $1000 I've heard.
I've already mentioned the Alpha B's superior transient articulation, and sure enough, it was a superb reproducer of percussion recordings. On John Cage's Third Construction, from Pulse (LP, New World/Classic NW 519), I could follow each subtle articulation of each percussion instrument suspended in realistically three-dimensional space on the deep, wide stage. For such an inexpensive speaker, the Alpha B's detail resolution and low-level dynamic resolution were excellent.
The PSB's only real shortcoming was its limitations in high-level dynamics on passages that had considerably complex, highly modulated content, significant bass energy, or both. This is not an atypical shortcoming of small box speakers, and the Alpha B didn't distort or irritate when compressed in this fashion. Rather, on bombastic rock recordings such as Janis Ian's "Walking on Sacred Ground," from Breaking Silence (LP, Analogue Productions CAPP 027), or on full-throated orchestral blockbusters such as Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony (LP, EMI SLS 5117) and Stravinsky's The Firebird (LP, Mercury/Classic SR 90226), it sounded as if the final mix had been passed through a recording-studio limiter—beyond a certain point, the record refused to get louder.
I don't wish to imply that the Alpha B's constraints in high-level dynamics limited its desirability as a rock speaker—quite the contrary. During a high-volume spin of Aimee Mann's Bachelor #2 or The Last Remains of the Dodo (Super Ego SE002), the music had a realistic sense of dynamic swing, and it was easy to follow the intricate transients of the guitar and bass articulations behind the forwardly mixed vocals.
If one recording capitalized on the Alpha B's strengths while avoiding its shortcomings, it was George Crumb's Quest (Bridge 9069). This sparsely orchestrated work for soprano saxophone, guitar, double bass, and percussion makes considerable use of space and silence—rarely are more than two instruments heard playing concurrently. The saxophone's low-level dynamic articulation and phrasing and the subtle transient nuances of the vibraphone, guitar, and bass revealed a level of realism I normally associate with much more expensive speakers.
What was most surprising about PSB's Alpha B was its outstanding performance as a home-theater speaker. Its smooth and detailed tonal presentation made for an involving and unfatiguing reproduction of film soundtracks, and I found its slightly forward midrange presentation made the dialog and Foley tracks highly intelligible. The midbass reproduction was such that, watching DVDs, I never longed for a subwoofer. What this means to me is that a true cheapskate could create a wonderful entry-level home-theater system with a single pair of Alpha Bs and, say, an entry-level NAD or Creek integrated amp.
Although I felt the PSB was detailed and transparent, the Polk was still a step better in these areas, sounding more open and transparent, as if an additional veil had been removed. The RT25i also revealed more detail and high-frequency extension, but with no harshness in this region. Although its midrange was not as forward as the PSB's, I could hear more into the music with the Polk. And although the RT25i shared the Alpha B's overall high-level dynamic constriction, I felt the Polk was still a hair better than the PSB in this regard. However, the PSB had a warmer, richer, more inviting midbass reproduction; in comparison, the Polk sounded rather thin in this region.
The JMlab Chorus 706 was more warm, rich, and silky, with a riper midbass, sweeter midrange, and more open, delicate, and relaxed high frequencies than the PSB. Although the JMlab was more colored overall, its overall sound was more detailed and sophisticated, and its high-level dynamic performance was only slightly better than the PSB's or the Polk's.
The Alón Petite revealed more detail, delicacy, and articulation when compared with all of the aforementioned speakers, without a trace of coloration. Bass extension and high-level dynamics, however, were also rather limited.
Paul Barton should be congratulated for not leaving well enough alone and continuing to try to improve an already successful product. The PSB Alpha B is an excellent speaker for music and home-theater applications, and is a classic example of the benefits of trickle-down technology in a serious high-end speaker design. Wrapping up this review, I had go to back to PSB's literature and specs several times to remind myself that this speaker doesn't cost $250 apiece but $250 per pair. Even now, considering again the quality of construction and sound of these remarkable little boxes and checking the price yet again, I'm still shaking my head.