It’s hard to believe that Paul Barton, founder of PSB, launched his Alpha range speakers all the way back in 1991. Unpretentious in style but heavy on performance, Alphas have had a remarkable run—perennial crowd-pleasers for the budget-minded, and the blue-plate backbone of the company’s loudspeaker lines since their introduction. But thirty years is thirty years—advancements in speaker engineering, materials, and production made an update of the venerable Alpha too big a target to pass up.
Rather than releasing a mere facelift, PSB embarked on a serious ground-up re-design. Here’s what the company’s been up to: New woofer cones are equipped with rubber surrounds made from a textured polypropylene compound for extended frequency response and minimal cone breakup; Alpha’s ferrofluid-cooled 0.75" (19mm) tweeter is also new, equipped with a neodymium magnet for high sensitivity and greater power handling. The tweeter is mounted in a shallow waveguide to smooth the transition between the tweeter and mid/woofer at the crossover point. Of note, the tweeter is placed below the woofer on some models, which, in concert with the fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley crossover, yields a uniform soundfield that is very forgiving of listening position.
The precision-machined cabinets have also been revamped with new combinations of wall thicknesses and bracing to better control resonances. The internal damping material employed is derived from more expensive PSB models and positioned for optimum effectiveness. Ultra-thin magnetically attached grilles have been designed to be more acoustically transparent. Threaded spikes are provided for the footers. Available in simulated black ash and walnut finishes, the range also includes five-way, gold-plated binding posts.
The latest family of Alphas includes a pair of two-way compacts, the P3 and P5 ($219 and $399 the pair, respectively). For multichannel or home-theater aficionados there is also the C10 center-channel speaker ($349 each) More recently a pair of DSP-controlled powered subwoofers has also been introduced—the Alpha S10 ($549) and the Alpha S8 ($449), both bass-reflex designs. The sole floorstander and the subject of this review is the 32"-tall T20—a small footprint, two-way in a bass-reflex configuration priced at $649 per pair. The T20 incorporates a pair of the newly developed 5.25" mid/bass drivers that are outfitted with dual-layer voice coils and neodymium magnets. The T20 tips the scale at about 26 pounds.
Like its predecessors, the T20 targets musicality first and foremost. Everything else pretty much falls tunefully into place. Like nearly all PSB efforts I’ve heard, the T20 is a very approachable loudspeaker sonically. Like a golden retriever it’s hard not to like. Its overall character restates a familiar and welcome theme—classic PSB balance, meaning neutrality with warmer tonal currents that take listeners on a wide-ranging journey that always resolves back to the midrange. But don’t get the impression that T20 is somehow sedate. Its transient speed, dynamics, and output put that idea to rest in a hurry. Classical, chamber, jazz, or rock, the Alpha T20 has no preferences and reveals few weaknesses. Which reminds me, PSB notes that final voicing was done by Paul Barton himself—an avuncular gentleman to all who know him, but a stone-cold crack-shot when he takes aim at this segment.
Soundstaging is neither laid-back nor overly forward, although image dimensionality is a bit less impressive. Compared with its forebears, however, midrange integrity has improved, as have dynamic output and low-level detail. Driver coherence is excellent as per PSB tradition, the tweeter blending relatively smoothly with the mid/bass drivers.
This coherence was underlined in my mind when I listened to recordings of piano and cello. Both instruments are wide-ranging and can reveal the changing character of transducers as they ascend and descend the octaves. The T20 was impressively consistent on this score. Upper frequency response was also very good and as extended as I’ve heard in this range of small two-way towers. At only 32" tall, the T20 didn’t exhibit any serious sense of height restriction.