PSB Alpha Intro Home Theater Speaker System

      Date posted: November 24, 2000

PSB Alpha Intro Home Theater Speaker System

PSB Alpha Intro LR
Size: 6 34″H x 4 1/8″W x 5 7/8″D
Sugg. Retail: $199 pr US, $250 pr CA

PSB Alpha Intro CLR
Size: 9 3/4″H x 4 1/4″W x 5 7/8″
Sugg. Retail: $169 US, $200 CA ea

PSB Alpha SubZero
Size: 15 1/2″H x 9 3/4″W x 14″D
Sugg. Retail: $349 US, $400 CA

PSB Speakers International,
633 Granite Court, Pickering, Ontario
L1W 3K1
(905) 831-6555 FAX 837-6357

(Reprinted from the Almanac 2001 Audio Ideas Guide)

     In the deep budget speaker category it has become a common practice to design them here (Canada, eh!), including drivers, but have all manufacturing done in the Orient in order to meet price points. These new Intro models from PSB are made in China, with drivers personally designed by Paul Barton. It’s still not often that you find an aluminum dome tweeter at this price, and here it’s mated with either one (LR) or two (CLR) 3 1/2″ poly-coned woofer/midrange(s).

     The enclosures are MDF, with injection moulded front and back panels and a stylish perforated aluminum grille. They’re available in either black or white, and mounting options are several: they can be screwed onto brackets, hung from screws or nails with slots provided on the rear panel, or mounted on PSB’s matching telescoping stands, allowing optimum height adjustment. This is clearly a very thoroughly thought out system, especially when we appreciate its performance.

      Available matching subs are the Alpha SubSonic 5, or the Alpha SubZero provided for review here. The SubZero is a bandpass design compact subwoofer with a 50-watt amplifier driving a 8″ “poly-coated fiber cone” with foam surround. Its crossover is adjustable from 50-150 Hz.

      And how does this extremely compact system perform? Well, I still look at the Intro measurements, weeks after making them, with some amazement. One might expect such linear results in an expensive compact system like the Energy Encore, but on paper the Intro system is notably superior, with the exception of the subwoofer, which is, in fact, only rated to 40 Hz.

Intro Frequency Response     Let’s look at the LR’s PNS (Pink Noise Sweep) and SAR Summed Axial Response), which almost perfectly overlay except at the highest frequencies, and even that’s a good thing because it indicates in the SAR well controlled high frequency dispersion. But looking across the range we see an under-$300 speaker that is +/-1.5 dB from150 Hz to 10,000 Hz in the PNS. That’s phenomenal at any price, let alone in a Chinese-made ultra-budget model!

     Even the unsmoothed quasi-anechoic measurement below is exceptionally linear, while the axial curves beneath it show a little lobing off axis, but very good response through the midrange. At bottom are Pink Noise Sweeps at 0, 15 and 30o off axis for the CLR, which show it to be very smooth on all axes, and impressively free of the midrange dip that troubles most centre channels that flank the tweeter with the bass/mid drivers. In other words, this is a centre channel that promises clear articulation of dialogue at both ends of the couch. The CLR is also a speaker that is plausible by 5s, just as the LR could easily be used as a centre channel in addition to all around. In the former case, you’ll get better power handling with the additional drivers, while in the latter you achieve perfect timbre matching, though the match of the two sibling speakers is near perfect, anyway.

      And on to the SubZero subwoofer: looking at left we see measurements of it at highest, middle, and lowest crossover settings. At the highest (top), it tends to have strongest output between 50 and 60 Hz, while being flatter and a little more extended at the middle of the crossover control range, +/-1.5 dB from 40 to 100 Hz; that’s pretty much how I’d set it up with the Intros. At lowest crossover point, the SubZero has a fairly restricted range, and it can be seen when looking at its upper end in relation to the rolloff of the Intros in the axial curves that it’s too low a point for this system. Overall, it’s a pretty good sub, but given the excellence of the rest of the system, I think I’d take some of the savings and invest them in a more powerful sub with better deep bass.

   The impedance and phase curves for both Intro models are quite benign, with values generally above 8 ohms and below 30; midrange phase angles are also quite mild, making this system quite easy to drive. The small enclosures and front baffles should also contribute to very coherent sound from point sources, which translates into good imaging.

     With spectacular measurements like these, you’d expect good sound, though the Intro system did not exhibit quite the resolution of some more expensive systems like our Newform ribbons. But the well controlled directivity resulted in excellent imaging all around, with just a bit of midrange emphasis, and excellent clarity on dialogue from the centre channel. The system also had good depth from its point source imaging.

      I guess I’m being conservative in saying these things, because we’re comparing this inexpensive system to much more costly competition. The bottom line is that the PSB Alpha Intro system pretty much kills the competition in its price range and above. Both the LR and CLR could be the cornerstones (literally) of a really good home theatre system, the latter offering greater dynamics all around, while both, in 5s, provide near perfect timbral matching. They’re both handsome, able to hide in shelves or hang on walls, and, finally, they are that audiophile oxymoron, compact home theatre speakers that deliver true high fidelity sound quality. And they do it for $1100, including the SubZero sub! And the B-brand is still in business?

Andrew Marshall

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