PSB Alpha PS1 Powered Speaker

Device Type: Powered Speaker
Input: 3.5mm mini-jack, 1 pair RCA, 5V USB Power Port (for power only)
Output: Subwoofer Output, PowerLink (connects right and left speaker)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 7 7/8 x 4 1/2 x 6 7/8”
Weight: 8.3lb/pair
Availability: online and through authorized dealers
Price: $299.00/pair

It's A Clean (Musical) Machine
The PSB Alpha PS1 powered desktop speakers are some of the cleanest, clearest-sounding speakers to have graced my desktop. Even using my iMac's 3.5mm analog output, the music taking up residence on and around my desk is remarkably free from any sort of sound other than the music itself. There's no boom in the bass, no tipped up treble, just clean, clear, music. For $300/pair that should make a lot of music lovers very happy.

PSB stands for Paul and Sue Barton, and Paul founded the company in 1972. PSB is now part of Lenbrook Industries Limited (along with NAD) and Paul Barton is still the company's Chief Designer and Canada's National Research Council (NRC) lab and anechoic chamber play an important part in his design process (you should read about Stephen Mejias' visit inside the chamber on Stereophile as well as John Atkinson's interview with Paul Barton). PSB was actually the first company to use the NRC for loudspeaker development back in 1974. PSB Speakers have garnered many awards including one of my favorites, Stereophile's 2007 Budget Product of the Year, for their Alpha B1 which Stephen Mejias uses as his reference. The Alpha Series is PSBs budget line but keep in mind that only refers to their price not their performance.

Each PSB Alpha PS1 houses a 3/4” aluminium dome tweeter and a 3 1/2” woofer with a polypropylene cone and rubber surround in a bass reflex cabinet with a rear slotted tuned port. Power is provided by a Class D 2 x 20W power amplifier that lives in the left speaker along with the speaker's on/off switch. The right speaker's power and music gets there through the included 2m PowerLink cable. The left speaker also houses all of the other inputs and outputs acting as master to the right speaker's slave. The PS1s are on the small side, standing just a hair under 8" tall and the ABS thermoplastic cabinet is finished in high gloss black (think smudge) with nicely curved features. If I had to pick one word to describe their appearance, I'd pick classy (and very hard to photograph).

The left speaker also has a 5V USB Power Port for charging your portable device or powering your Wi-Fi dongle while playing its music through the 3.5mm Aux input. There are also a pair of RCA inputs if you decide to use your own DAC in between your computer and the PS1s or for any other line level source as well as a volume control which I left alone for the majority of the review preferring to use my DAC's analog volume control instead. Setting up the PS1s is simply a matter of connecting them to each other with the included cable, then to your computer using the included 3.5mm cable or to your DAC, plugging them in and powering them on. I sat the PS1s on top of my stacked plywood blocks which raises them about 3 3/4" off my desktop.

Neutral is Nice
As I mentioned in the opening salvo, the PS1s sound exceptionally clean, clear and crisp. You get the sense that you are getting just what your recording has to give. Nothing more, nothing less. And you may think this could be a problematic proposition when using your computer's analog output but I found that listening to the PS1s through my iMac's 3.5mm analog out and my iPad or iPhone's headphone jack to actually sound surprisingly fun and involving. And the PS1s, even when connected to a noise-generating computer, are whisper quiet. All that said, I mainly listened to them with the AudioQuest Dragonfly USB DAC (see review) because I have one and it sounds much better than my iMac on its own.

Another remarkable thing about the PS1s is their off-axis response in both dimensions. They throw out a huge and stable sound image both horizontally and vertically so that my minor movements around my desktop (which helps explain my paunch) do not disturb the music's solid presentation. This aspect of their performance stands in marked contrast to most of the other desktop speakers that have come through here that mostly threw out a more limited soundfield, especially in the vertical plane. I actually first heard the PS1s at this year's RMAF and they sat on a small side table while we stood in front of them and I remember thinking, "Wow, these little speakers sound really good even from up here." And I'll point out that up here is not as up here as some taller peoples but nonetheless I was and remain impressed by the PS1s ability to sound good without requiring the listener to sit pegged to one position. I also preferred the PS1s with very little toe-in which helps account for that wide presentation.

All frequencies sound very evenly handled, with no parts of the sonic spectrum sticking out or poking in to disturb their clean, clear, and crisp sound picture. The PS1s on axis response is rated at 80-22kHz ± 3dB (off axis at 30° is rated at 90-12kHz ± 3dB according to PSB and I believe it) and if I had one wish I'd wish for a bit more heft. A tad more weight to the lower and upper-lower frequencies but this may very well fall into the "be careful what you wish for" category since the PS1s also strike me as nicely musically balanced and they do not sound like a small speaker. Taking them for exactly what they are, I found the PS1s to be eminently musical and involving to listen to for any kind of music I cared to throw at them no matter how large-scale or complex. Actually, the PS1s really shine with acoustic music and something like Jean Barraqué's exquisite Le Temps Restitué sounded exquisite.

The other word that kept coming up over and over again in my listening notes was—delicate. And I'd attribute this aspect of their presentation to that self-amplfied 3/4” aluminium dome tweeter and perhaps also to the fact that bass is in no way bloated. Again, the PS1s seemed very well balanced and nimble and they do a very good job of presenting music's varied tone colors. The PS1s respond very well to the quality of your source but they are also surprisingly generous on less well recorded music. And I'll again go back to that tweeter and suggest it is in no way harsh-sounding or overly etched. Think smooth. The PS1s can also play plenty loud (think really loud) for a desktop speaker, louder than anyone should listen, and they deliver gobs of dynamic slam that belies their size.

Color Me Impressed
The PSB Alpha PS1s impressed me when I first heard them at RMAF 2012 and they continue to do so at home. They are capable of delivering a musically satisfying sound even when using your computer's less-than-stellar analog output, an iPad or iPhone (in my case) and they only get better when you feed them with a better signal. Unless you crave deep bass, and don't forget about the PS1s subwoofer output, the PS1s are positively delightful desktop speakers and when coupled with their price come very highly recommended.

Associated Equipment

misterbill17's picture

Glad to hear about PSB joining the ever growing players in the "desktop" powered-speaker brigade.  Since you have done several reviews of small, powered speakers, it might help to hear from your perspective, how these compare to the others, e.g., Audioengine, Paradigm, Emotiva, etc., etc.  I enjoy your commentary. Thanks.

johndarko's picture

"And I'll point out that up here is not as up here as some taller peoples".  Haha.  I was even *more* up THERE and they did indeed sound terrific with head close to ceiling.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I didn't want to work that joke twice but yes, you were much further up THERE than I.

mdonohue's picture

I recently received a pair of Behringer MS16 speakers. I really like their sound and they were less than $80. Plus, as with most speakers, their sound should improve with break-in.

jmcgowan's picture

I have always loved PSB speakers, and notr just because I am Canadian. They deliver great bang for the buck. Sounds like they have done it again. I will be adding these to me Christmas list.

rdiggity1's picture

Looking at that photo of the distance btw speakers I would say that you are too far back or your monitor is not big enough

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Listening within that photo, the setup is just fine.

Cadfael's picture

Just a footnote to the PSBs - I've been running them on my desktop for several months now and they do sound lovely even without an outboard DAC. To flesh out the lower end of the spectrum I added the little SoundMatters FoxLO mini subwoofer, and it made a REAL difference. It took a little bit of tinkering to get the level matched but once I did it basically blended in, enriched the low end noticeably, and otherwise did what it is supposed to do and disappeared.

However, there are a couple of caveats. One is that the subwoofer output on the PSBs is an RCA jack and the input on the FoxLO is a 3.5 mm mini jack. No one makes an off the shelf cable with that configuration (that I could find). The happy ending is that I ordered a custom cable from Bluejeans Cable for about $30 and was in business.

It doesn't do convincing low organ pedal tones and if you have the level set wrong it can sound a bit bloated. However, most subwoofers under a couple grand do not fare that well with organ pedal tones either. The low end of the opening to "Also Sprach Zarathusthra" is noticeably anemic compared to a more potent subwoofer, but then a more potent 12" subwoofer would be a little conspicuous on a desktop.

Within the limitations of a desktop environment it takes up very little space (next to the wall behind my 27" monitor - thus taking advantage of the room boundary effect) and just does its job. The only time I notice it is when it is turned off. For somone who was on a tight budget I personally find it very satisfying.