Published on June 19th, 2013 | by Greg0
PSB Alpha PS1 Speakers: Sound Like A Diamond
When we’re testing out speaker systems, there are a few rules that we try to follow. The first is variety- we attempt to play a wide range of audio types, from TV and movies to audiobooks and, of course, a wide selection of music. We also try a system with as many sources as possible, both laptop and desktop computers, tablets and smartphones. And we make sure to vary our listening angle, positioning, and also burn in the gear for a while since sound can really change after the first 20-40 hours or so of use.
Today’s review is a powered 2.0 set of speakers aimed at use on your desktop with a computer- the PSB Alpha PS1s. Since audio gear can be so bewildering, even for professionals, we’ll sum our feelings up simply by saying: this is sharp pair of speakers that, in many conditions, sound incredibly impressive for their size. Despite what you may want, and what some companies promise, you can’t quite have it all. Top-of-the-line speakers typically require a lot of space, a fair bit of power, and will hit your wallet hard. For your computer, you don’t need to fill a concert hall with sound, and you probably don’t care quite so much about satisfying a big group of people. Given a smaller room, a more limited listening angle, and the requirement to fit on an average desktop, it’d be hard to top the Alpha PS1 speakers from PSB.
For good measure, we tested them with and without an external subwoofer and against both typical computer speaker sets (Logitech) and audiophile ones (like the Audioengine A2 or A5). Setup is simple- the usual mini-jack cable connects directly to your source, and of course you’ll need to have an open outlet nearby. Unlike some computer speakers, you don’t get a volume control “pod” or power controls, nor do you have access to a headphone jack output. But you do get one really cool feature that we alluded to above- the ability to plug in an external subwoofer. We tried it, and definitely suggest one- the only major complaint that we have about the sound is the slightly limited lower range and somewhat restrained bass response, as we’ll discuss further. There is also a rear volume control knob, and a rear 5V USB power port so you can charge your iPod while connecting it.
With 40 watts of power, these aren’t the best choice for a living room, but could work as a bookshelf or library system. We’ve been using them over the past few weeks in conjunction with our iTunes MP3 and FLAC library, as well as with Hulu, Netflix, and other videos. When possible, we connected via a dedicated DAC, like the Audioengine D1 or the trio of newer ones that we are in the process of reviewing. Though not strictly necessary, a DAC helps every speaker system sound a little better thanks to better circuitry, fewer compression issues and greatly reduced power-related noise. The PSB Alpha PS1s struck us at first as being a little too bright, but toned down over testing. The overall impression is one of crispness, more punchy than many competitors, with a lot of snap to the highs. While gaming, sounds from the upcoming Company of Heroes 2 sounded mighty impressive, thanks to rich orchestral tones, gunfire that sounded ultra-realistic, and great vocal tones. PSB mentioned that these sort of disappear when in use, and we agree- they sound both larger than they are, and when positioned properly, offer a great soundstage. We suggest using the stands for a bit of a better angle; available separately for $30, it would have been nice to have them included (the recently-reviewed Monitor Airstreams offered the best example for stands).
The only other things missing are speaker grills- these come basically uncovered. Though we didn’t mind, and even liked their sleek organic looks and curved sides, some may wish for a more matte or flat surface. Available now online and in stores for around $300, the PSB Alpha PS1 speakers are well worth the price and perform strongly against even our favorites in this category (the classy Bowers and Wilkins MM-1s for instance).