Canadian speaker company PSB is well known among the audiophile crowd, and the company’s affordable Alpha series — designed in 1991 by founder Paul Barton — have been especially popular. While PSB also sells more expensive speakers, the Alpha series offered a combination of performance and affordability that struck a cord with music and home audio enthusiasts. The Alpha series was so popular it remained essentially unchanged for nearly two decades, so it was big news when the company released all-new Alpha speakers for 2019. I had the opportunity to test the new Alpha P5 bookshelf speakers.
Unboxing: Bookshelf Speakers that Actually Fit on a Bookshelf
Out of the box these are unassuming speakers, but that’s by design. PSB says they are intended to “seamlessly disappear into any decor.” My review units were finished in a black ash vinyl wrap, and carried no flashy design flourishes — no brightly colored cones, no metallic accents and no big curves. The backs are plain except for the binding posts, bass reflex port and a threaded insert for wall-mounting. Information such as power handling — and the Canadian flag — are discretely printed on the bottom of the speaker cabinets. The only bit of swag is the PSB logo mounted on the front of the magnetic, black mesh speaker grill.
Closer examination shows the Alpha P5s are nicely put together. At 10.2 pounds each, they were noticeably heavier than four similarly-sized bookshelf speaker models I have tried recently — that’s likely due to cabinet construction using MDF varying from 1/2 to 1-inch in thickness, internal damping material borrowed from PSB’s flagship speakers and internal bracing. The speaker grilles fit perfectly and edges are smooth. There were no visible seams in the cabinet covering material.
Unlike many bookshelf speakers, PSB has gone with an inverted tweeter design, so the woofer is on top, the tweeter below. Also unlike many so-called “bookshelf” speakers, the Alpha P5s will actually fit on a bookshelf. They may stick out a little, but at 11-3/8 inches tall and 9-1/2 inches deep they fit nicely on the bookshelves in my office. If you need something even smaller, the company has an even more compact option in the new Alpha P3.
Key Technological Advances
PSB didn’t just go for a visual overhaul. The Alpha P5 bookshelf speakers incorporate cutting-edge technology, backed by research conducted at the Canadian National Research Council (NRC) by PSB founder Paul Barton. In particular the company talks about the custom drivers, and a new crossover design (you can read the technical details about these components here).
The result of all this? PSB says the new speakers “outperform the originals in every measurement.” And based on the reception to the originals over the years, this is a very big deal.
I don’t have a pair of the original Alpha bookshelf speakers to compare these to, so I can’t tell you whether they offer the claimed all-round performance improvement.
I can tell you that they sound fantastic. I have a turntable testing system set up in my office, with an 80s vintage Pioneer SX-6 receiver. I swapped out my bookshelf speakers for the PSB Alpha P5s, gave them a few weeks to wear in, then started seriously listening.
The first impression I had was of a much more solid low end presence than I’m accustomed to hearing from bookshelf speakers. Up until a few months ago, I had a subwoofer wired into my system to provide the low end punch that the smaller speakers just couldn’t deliver. Unfortunately, it died an untimely death, and I’ve been reminded of what’s missing in a compact bookshelf speaker ever since. The Alpha P5s with their 5-1/4-inch high efficiency woofers were a dramatic improvement over my existing setup.
While the low end frequency response stood out, the mid-range and treble were also excellent. The soundstage was also an upgrade compared to my previous speakers. I ran through a wide range range of records (and digital tracks streaming via Apple Music), with bands ranging from Pink Floyd to Ultravox and Cream. The listening experience was thoroughly enjoyable no matter what genre or input source I tried.
PSB’s parent company (Lenbrook Industries) had sent a new NAD D 3045 hybrid digital amplifier for a separate review. I hooked up the Alpha P5s to the NAD amp and a turntable and the results were almost as good — despite the fact that I tested that setup in the much larger space of my living room. The PSB speakers were capable of more than enough volume to fill that space, but in the open area the bass wasn’t as authoritative as in my office.
With the Alpha P5s, for the first time since my office subwoofer self-destructed, I am not feeling bass envy when listening to music. It’s not at the same rumble level as having a subwoofer or using a pair of full range towers obviously, but these bookshelf speakers are outstanding as part of compact and high performance audio system.
PSB Alpha P5 Key Specs
- 3/4” black anodized aluminium dome tweeter with ferrofluid and neodymium magnet
- 5 1/4” textured polypropylene cone woofer with dual layer voice coils and rubber surround
- Crossover design features Linkwitz-Riley acoustic filter
- Tuned, rear ported bass reflex cabinet
- Frequency response 55-21,000Hz
- Impedance 4 Ohms to 8 Ohms
- 10-90 Watts power handling
- 5-way gold-plated binding posts
- Acoustically-transparent detachable black steel micro-perforated magnetic grilles
- Offered in Back Ash or Walnut woodgrain vinyl finish
- 6-3/4 x 11-3/8 x 9-1-2 inches, weighs 10.2 pounds each
- MSRP $349/pair
This is an easy one. If you are looking for a great sounding pair of bookshelf speakers that won’t break the bank, then the $349 PSB Alpha P5 speakers are a great choice. In fact, I liked these so much that for the first time since 2010 (when I reviewed the iconic Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin speaker for Wired), I purchased the review units after testing wrapped up. Considering I just bought a pair of Polk bookshelf speakers to upgrade my office sound system earlier this year — now banished to a closet — a reviewer recommendation doesn’t get any more solid.
Disclosure: PSB provided speakers for evaluation but had no input into this review.