TPV - Super Sound - Alpha

December 28, 2007

The PSB Alpha Mini Home Theatre speaker system is a great example of the saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Underneath the plain exterior beats the heart of a superhero. Despite its low price and small size, these speakers impress with a precise midrange that would embarrass systems that cost far more.

Features The cornerstone of the Alpha Mini subwoofer/satellite system is the two-way Alpha LR1, the smallest speaker PSB makes. You get for of ‘em plus the Alpha CLR1 center speaker. To ensure a coherent front soundstage, the same tweeter and woofer are used in both models, except the CLR1 has two woofers – one on either side of the tweeter – in a horizontal enclosure meant to go above or below your TV.

Alpha Mini home theater systemBoth models have a keyhole for wall mounting and are available finished in black ash or white vinyl veneer. Despite their conservative appearance, these speakers have a few stylish touches, like the gentle curves in their cabinets and aluminum grilles.

Bass duties are handled by the SubSeries 1 subwoofer, which is fairly compact and has a forward firing 8-inch driver and a 110-watt amplifier. The volume and crossover controls are conveniently located o the front panel so you won’t have to grope around back before settling in to watch a movie.

Performance To put the Alpha mini system through its paces, I watched the DVD Superman Returns, a great special-effects movie with really deep bass thrown into the mix. I was in awe that this little system could perform so admirably given the complex sound effects throughout this film.

The LR1 demonstrated its imaging prowess in Chapter 15, where a bummed out Superman flies high above Earth and hears a myriad of sounds all around him.

You’d think the sound of a woman in distress would trigger his response mechanism, but no, it’s the sound of an alarm bell that gets him to take action. Most aggressive to me was the sound of a baby crying that swept almost seamlessly across the back of my room, even though the surround speakers were mounted far apart on the side walls of my room.

When Lex Luthor visits the Fortress of Solitude with its crystals and ice walls in Chapter 4, echoes in the cavernous space sounded remarkably realistic. I tend to prefer the more diffuse sound of dipole surround speakers, but I could easily live with the Alpha LR1s as surrounds – especially considering the system’s a bargain basement price.

Tonally, the PSB system is slightly dark sounding, so dialog was never fatiguing over the course of watching several movies and was always easy to follow – a credit to the CLR1. The sound dulled a bit as I moved from the middle of the couch to the sides, but this is a common trait among center speakers that have a woofer-tweeter-woofer configuration.

Superman Returns has tons of deep bass, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the subwoofer was sweating at the end of it.

Scenes such as the shuttle launch and the subsequent airliner crash provided plenty of deep, rumbling bass throughout my room, though was not the pun-in-your-gut bass you get from larger subwoofers.

When the bass was really deep – like when the electromagnetic pulse hits in Chapter 9 – I heard the subs bottoms out, something I didn’t hear on comparably priced subwoofers I had on hand. If you have a decent-sized room, I suggest spending an extra $200 and getting the larger SubSeries 5i subwoofer ($549).

PSB’s SubSeries 1 subwoofer was certainly adequate for home theater, but it excelled with music. On Holly Cole’s “Jersey Girl” [Temptation, Alert Records] the bass can sound overly ripe and boomy with some speakers – bad enough that I get a headache just thinking about it. The SubSeries 1 conveyed an ideal blend of bass extension and tightness, mating very well with the front speakers (I used a 100Hz crossover setting). The midrange blend was smooth and natural sounding – in particular, the piano was free of colorations and Cole’s vocals sounded warm and inviting.

Because of their tiny proportions, the Alpha LR1s project a wide and deep soundstage that extends way beyond their boundaries. In “Take Me Home,” Cole’s sultry voice was focused front and center with the piano layered in behind and on the left and the acoustic bass on the right. Although the highs didn’t have that airy quality associated with much more expensive speakers, the system never sounded harsh or screechy, even when played loud. These speakers would be easy to live with day in and day out.

Bottom Line If you only have a grand or so to spend on speakers, PSB’s Alpha Mini Home Theater package is not to be missed. It has a level of refinement rarely found in this price class. You’ll be impressed by how big a sound you can get from such small speakers and, at just over $900 for the whole shebang, it’s a genuine bargain.

Vince Hanada
The Perfect Vision

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