PSB Alpha A/V loudspeaker Page 2

The Alpha A/V's lows were not unmusical, the piano-toned bass guitar on Mary Chapin Carpenter's live "Stones in the Road" (from Party Doll, Columbia CK 68751) acquiring a pleasing thrum. And on well-recorded classical orchestral music---the Walter Legge-produced 1956 Kingsway Hall recording of Brahms's Symphony 1 with Klemperer has been spending much time in the Levinson '31.5 (EMI Classics CDM 5 67029 2, a 24-bit remastering)---the Alpha's slight bass overhang usefully warmed up the low end of the orchestra. But it appears that Paul Barton has loosened the low-frequency alignment of the Alpha's woofer to compensate for its limited extension. Amplifiers that are themselves on the tight, dry side in the lows would probably be a better match than, say, a flabby-assed tube design.

The Alpha's upper mids were balanced to be somewhat forward, which enhanced the palpability of female vocals without making the speaker sound "shouty." Mary Chapin Carpenter's country sob, for example, was vividly reproduced. The extreme highs were generally clean, if perhaps a tad exaggerated in level on-axis. As JE found, this could be fine-tuned by experimenting with the exact angle of toe-in, though the best image focus was definitely obtained with the speakers aimed at the listening chair.

There was tolerably low coloration. A slight hint of nasality was audible, as well as some higher-frequency "cone cry," which occasionally added a slight edge to voice. Considering the Alpha's low price, this is excellent performance.

In my office, the plain-Jane, all-black Alphas looked distinctly dowdy sitting on the ends of my desk after having replaced the terminally cute Evett & Shaw Elans (reviewed in March). But the Elan costs 10 times as much, sounds less neutral, and is much harder to drive than the PSB. Playing 24-bit, 88.2kHz-sampled WAV files of some of my masters, the combination of the CardDeluxe soundcard, Musical Fidelity DAC, Yamaha receiver, and PSB speakers gave desktop sound that would be hard to beat without spending a lot more money.

Surprisingly---given the abundance of early reflections from the surface of my desk, plus a computer monitor between the speakers---the Alphas' imaging was quite well defined. Some master-tape hard-disk dubs I had made of Canadian pianist Robert Silverman performing Beethoven had excellent presence. Yes, the piano is a large, diffuse acoustic source, so you can hardly talk about a "well-defined" image. But there was a solidity to the Alpha's presentation of Bob Bosendorfer that was both realistic and satisfying. The Alpha is definitely a musically informative little speaker.

The last inexpensive speaker I spent time with was the B&W DM302, now priced at $300/pair. With its stylish plastic molding, the English speaker definitely makes the little PSB look utilitarian. But the sound's the thing, right? While the B&W remains a favorite of mine, the PSB Alpha A/V joins it in sounding astonishingly better than it has any right to at the price. Paul Barton has carefully managed the design compromises inherent at this price level to produce a speaker that faithfully serves the music it plays. Highly recommended, the Alpha now deserves a Class-D rating in "Recommended Components."

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Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1, Canada
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