PSB Alpha P5 Loudspeaker

A Classic Reimagined

Equipment report
PSB Alpha P5 Loudspeaker

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.