The PSB Alpha P5 is the junior sibling of the Canadian firm’s Alpha T20 floorstander, which I favorably reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed in Issue 302. It’s a two-way design, in a bass-reflex configuration, and like the T20 is part of PSB’s revamped, entry-level Alpha series. An even smaller compact, the P3 ($219/pr.), is also available in that series, with the C10 center-channel speaker ($349 per) for home-theater enthusiasts rounding out the collection.
Priced at a bargain basement $399 per pair, the P5 represents a clean-slate, top-to-bottom redesign. Little has been carried over from its Alpha predecessors. A new 5.25″ midbass cone now sports a dual-layer voice coil, neodymium magnets, and rubber surrounds made from a textured polypropylene compound that’s capable of further extending frequency response while minimizing cone breakup. The ferrofluid-cooled 0.75″ (19mm) tweeter is also new and is outfitted with a neodymium magnet for high sensitivity and improved power handling. The tweeter is mounted in a shallow waveguide to better match the tweeter’s dispersion with that of the midrange driver at the crossover point. Of note, the P5 tweeter is placed below the woofer which, in concert with the fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley crossover network, yields a uniform sound field, opening up the listening position somewhat. A pair of P5s tips the scales at about ten pounds.
The dated Alpha look of the past is now a memory. Today’s Alpha line is contemporary, bordering on minimalist, with clean crisp edges and understated detailing. The P5 is a mini-monitor for our time. Internally, the speaker cabinets use combinations of wall thicknesses and bracing to control resonances; damping material is plucked from more expensive PSB models and located for prime effectiveness. The ultra-thin, magnetically attached grilles are said to be acoustically transparent. The range also includes gold-plated five-way binding posts. The speaker is offered in simulated black ash and walnut finishes.
In sonic performance, the Alpha P5 is pure PSB, exemplifying why in many critical circles it has come to be known as a go-to budget compact. That’s to say, with its nicely weighted midrange and non-fatiguing treble, it possesses a naturalism that is very engaging. It offers commendably neutral frequency response with no obvious or disqualifying flaws and with little evidence of the tonal peaks and bumps associated with lesser mini-monitors in this class.
Midrange presence and dynamic energy are lively, capturing many of the strengths of the T20 floorstander. Vocals, in particular, retain a nice mixture of warmth and solidity with hints of airiness in the upper octaves. Transient attack and micro-dynamics, although not matching the crystalline transparency and raw speed of pricier speakers (including PSB’s own), are also very good. This was exemplified during the Sonny Rollins track “I’m an Old Cowhand” [Way Out West], with drummer Shelly Manne’s tickety-tickety percussive opening leading into the broad bell attack and bloom of Rollins’ tenor sax. During Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” [Time Out], piano dynamics and keyboard touch were lively and playfully tuneful. At times heavy-handed chord clusters were conveyed with hints of smearing, but instances of this were of minor consequence. The action off Joe Morello’s drum kit was tactile, the snap of the snare lively and colorful, although ultimately lacking in ripeness. The micro-dynamic colors of cymbal splashes were nicely rendered although their bloom and trailing decay were slightly subdued.
Can the P5 capture the full spectrum of contrast and complexity of Linda Ronstadt’s soaring vocal during “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” and “Lose Again”? The sense of air emerging from her lips, the tonal complexities and vocal modulations? Not completely, but this mini comes pretty darn close I’d say.
Ideally suited for the small den or bedroom, the P5 will play plenty loud, but it shouldn’t be forced to compete with a larger floorstander. When reasonable (even slightly unreasonable) volume limits were observed, it brimmed with musicality. Otherwise, when pushed outside its comfort zone, some congestion engulfed the soundstage—images grew a little wobbly, brass and strings a little peaky. Interestingly, at lower volumes the P5 sounded fairly low octane, a bit plain. But like a thoroughbred given some room to run, it came alive at moderate volumes. It seemed to re-energize and animate, as if emerging from a snooze.
The tweeter was quite smooth overall and open in the harmonic range, not tinny or cold. About as good as I’ve experienced in this range. A funny story about this. My wife is a pretty good whistler, and I often hear her as she moves about the house. Coincidentally, I was listening to James Taylor’s “My Romance” [That’s Why I’m Here]. Unexpectedly, I heard whistling to the music nearby and assumed it was my wife. Turns out she wasn’t whistling at all—the whistling was in the recording, an element I’d completely forgotten about. My point is that it takes a pretty good tweeter to fool me, and this is a $399 speaker.
Imaging was also fairly precise with good edge boundaries. When you add the fact that the drivers integrate well enough to prevent localization, you get a speaker that effectively disappears from view. The dearth of image smearing was also testimony to the absence of overhang and turbulence—evidence of the solid engineering of the port and of superior cabinet damping.
Bass response was tunefully balanced and weighted for a subcompact, especially one that barely reaches a height of twelve inches. Extension much below fifty cycles was beyond the purview of the P5, but it still provided enough low bass to allow my brain to begin filling what was missing. The port picks up where the five-inch transducer leaves off, adding weight and power. As touched upon earlier, the port responds quickly, with minimal coloration or overhang, and cabinet resonances have been reduced to near imperceptibility.
While midbass performance was solid in the 60–70Hz range, pitch precision dropped off somewhat further down. However, within its comfort zone in the mid- to upper-bass ranges, the P5 was pacey, often sounding fairly unstoppable in the way it locked onto rhythm tracks with drums and bass.
As with virtually every small monitor—that is, every two-way restricted to a single four- or five-inch woofer—spatiality and orchestral soundstaging were strictly small-scale affairs. The ability to define the full contours of an auditorium or to reach upstage to the furthest corner of an acoustic venue are beyond this segment’s purview. Nonetheless, within its limitations, P5 conveyed string section layering, orchestral depth cues, and image focus that outclassed much of the competition.
All things considered P5 really does nothing wrong-headed. What makes it so winning is that it unpretentiously stays in its lane, steers clear of broad frequency dips and peaks, and maintains its balance, thus honoring the ethos of the two-way rather than pretending to be something it’s not. And this honesty makes P5 a prime candidate for partnering with a subwoofer down the road. To that end PSB recently released a pair of DSP-controlled, powered subwoofers designed to optimize the Alpha series L/C/Rs. They are the Alpha S10 ($549) and the Alpha S8 ($449).
As a company, PSB has been so sonically consistent in its annual model offerings that the PSB name itself has become synonymous with high-performance affordably priced loudspeakers. And now we have the Alpha P5—a rock-solid effort proudly upholding the reputation of its predecessors.
A highly commendable updating of one of the most musical and affordable mini-monitors available, the Alpha P5 represents the essence of what it means to be a budget compact in 2020.
Specs & Pricing
Design: Two-way, bass reflex
Drivers: 0.75″ aluminum dome-type, 5.25″ polypropylene woofer
Frequency response: 55Hz–21kHz
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms (4 ohms min)
Dimensions: 6.75″ x 11.4″ x 9.5″
Weight: 10.15 lbs.
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
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