PSB Alpha System Listening Tests
Despite some of the physical shortcomings of these speakers I was quite impressed with their sound. While you read my subjective comments please keep in mind that these are entry level speakers. I compared them to much higher end speakers and I never expected the PSBs to perform to the same level.
As always I do a two-channel audition of the main speakers prior to evaluating the entire speaker system as a whole. If the main speakers perform well with two-channel music then the other speakers will most likely follow. I listened to the T1s at first without the sub and with the processor configured for "Large" speakers just to get an idea about their bass extension. Of course I did not expect much from this test from only 5.25 inch drivers. Even though they play down to 55 Hz there was no authority; the subs were definitely a must. I listened to quite a few songs without any sub and then listened to them again with one sub. Obviously there was a lot more bass extension but it was just added bass and not as seamless as I would like. Later when I received the second sub I could definitely hear the bass even out which I would describe as a fuller bass sound which was much more seamless. My listening comments to follow are based on the final position of the speakers with good off axis absorption.
Involvement is probably the most important aspect of music listening. After all, what is the point of listening to music if the listener can't get involved? Yes The Ladder is an excellent CD for these qualities. I noticed right off that the Alpha T1s were fairly involving. The beginning of this CD was so upbeat and moving that it made me want to keep listening. I noticed how smooth the midrange was from Jon Anderson's voice and also how forward it sounded. On "Be a Good Day" which had more bass I felt the cabinets to see how much vibration there was and it was very minimal. Again, those 5.25" drivers are not going to rattle too much. When I got to "Lightening Strikes" I turned up the volume and, as I got to a level comfortable for my room, the 5.25" drivers started to compress but not too much. They did not have the clarity that my reference speakers have but again these are entry level speakers and they were sounding pretty good. When I got to the song "Face to Face" the involving character seemed to diminish compared to the previous songs. It would be very interesting to see if some diffusion panels placed on the side could help change the involving character of these speakers. My guess is that it would. I never used to be a big fan of metal dome tweeters because they tended to sound harsh. Metal domes have come a long way over the years and the designers have learned to deal with their harshness (typically through resonance dampening). These tweeters did not sound harsh at low to moderate volumes.
Enya: Shepherd Moons
Next up in my audition was Enya's Shepherd Moons CD. With all of the layers of Enya's voice in tracks like the popular "Marble Halls" it created a light wispy airiness that should come out of the speakers as if they had become completely transparent. As I listened, the PSB T1s made her voice sound forward and open.
They also portrayed the sibilance from her voice although they were not quite as airy as I am used to with my reference speakers and each word sung was not very succinct.
Detail and dynamics go hand in hand. When the playing levels of the recording are soft the same details should be heard as when the playing levels are loud. The Heart Throb track from the Flim and the BB's "Big Notes" CD does a good job of dynamics and detail. The sax sounded smooth and the keyboards sounded full. The T1s definitely had the full sound that this track exhibits. I had the volume at a moderate level and the dynamics were okay. "Funhouse" is totally synthesized but gives some awesome details with its pseudo instrument sounds. The kick drum sounded tight but the PSBs did not portray the detail that I normally hear in this track; the sounds were merged together. The highs were a little harsh and the low frequencies did not play nearly low enough though they stayed within the parameters of the system.
"Malcolm Makes Haaj" is all instrumental and it exemplifies the sound stage and imaging. It starts with a sax solo just to the right of the center and then goes into a drum solo to the back of the stage. After the drum solo finishes the trumpet player starts his solo playing to the front left of the stage and finally the track finishes with a piano solo just behind the trumpet player. Good reproduction places these elements properly from side to side and front to back. The PSBs did an excellent job of placing these instruments on stage. They had enough realistic presence that I could imagine the sax player standing on stage. When I turned up the volume, the T1s suffered from compression as I expected from smaller drivers.
Patrick O'Hearn's "Trust" CD is what I use for the subwoofer tests. It was sufficiently loud and with 2 subs it was very smooth but as I mentioned it just did not play low enough for my tastes. With the volume turned up I could also hear chuffing through the port. In a smaller room with room gain you probably wouldn't have the subwoofers up this high.
For some vocal tests I put on "Into the West" by Annie Lennox. Her voice sounded a little boxy and not as open as I wanted, but then I put on Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner." I was very surprised at this point to hear a lot of clarity here. I also got a good sense of realism as if she were in the room. I completed my two-channel audition with Steely Dan's "Two Against Nature." I liked the bass guitar performance through the PSBs and aside from the snare drums lacking some snappiness Fagan's voice was plenty forward. The overall sound was full with fairly authoritative bass.
I have a few SACDs and my favorite for auditioning is Tchaikovsky's "Overture of 1812." The resolution of this music is beyond anything else I own. The digitally recorded cannons will go beyond the testing of any subwoofer if indeed it can survive. The multi-channel recording is superb, only the recording hall's ambiance is put into the side channels. The PSB Alpha system did a fair job with this performance. With a moderate volume the softer passages were clear and fairly distinct but as the passage became louder the sound began to blur. The part with the digitally recorded cannons has the cannons firing from each side of the room to sound like two sides of the war. I could clearly hear that in the PSBs but there was no impact from those cannons. So while the upper harmonic frequencies were clear the lower harmonic frequencies were not there, eliminating the impact of this passage. The good thing was that there were no ill sounds or damage to the subwoofers. I guessed at this point that there was a high pass filter in the sub to prevent damage. I much prefer this method to the sound of the voice coil/former slamming into the magnet and I've done that quite a few times with various subwoofers which have put some out of commission.
Upon completion of my music audition, I perused through a couple movie tracks. The main things I look for in movie playing are: Could I understand the dialogue? Was the music in the movie involving? Are the low frequency effects impactful? and Is the sound panning believable (i.e. images and sound moving left to right and front to back)? One really great movie for testing an AV system is Finding Nemo . Not only is the video quality excellent, but so is the sound. The mine explosion scene has some of the most taxing effects on a subwoofer I've heard. Again, the SubSonic 5i's did not have the impact that this scene demands but there was no distortion either.
For dialogue, the C1 as a center speaker did a nice job. I could understand the dialogue clearly on most scenes though there seemed to be some times where it was a little harsh. Another movie I like to use for reviews is Lord of the Rings: Return of the King . One of the added scenes carries great dialogue and special effects. It starts off with Treebeard's voice panning from the right to the center and the Alpha's did a good job. The tonality was consistent and the volume was consistent which is exactly how it should be. The dialogue was clear and well understood in this scene. There was something missing though in the envelopment of the special effects. I think it was a combination of the low impact subs and my room.