Last month, we added to our list of Recommended Reference Components Focal’s Chora 806 loudspeaker ($990/pair). This month, we add a speaker that costs less than half as much: PSB’s Alpha P5 ($399/pair, all prices USD). Hans Wetzel reviewed the Alpha P5 for SoundStage! Access in March 2019, when it cost even less ($349/pair).
Created by well-known Canadian speaker designer Paul Barton, the Alpha P5 is a minimonitor measuring only 11.4”H x 6.8”W x 9.5”D and weighing just 10.2 pounds. It has a 0.75” aluminum-dome tweeter, anodized black and mounted below a 5.25” midrange-woofer with a textured-polypropylene cone. The drivers are crossed over to each other at 2.5kHz. A metal grille is magnetically attached to the baffle.
The lower-than-usual positioning of the tweeter might lead some to assume that the Alpha P5 must be placed on higher-than-normal stands, but Hans found that not to be necessary, as he explained after speaking with Barton: “Due to the fourth-order (24dB/octave) Linkwitz-Riley crossover network used in these models, the tweeter’s in-phase lobe naturally tilts up toward the woofer by about 15°, allowing the drive-units to remain in phase with each other from the height of the listener’s ears above the floor when seated (about 36”) to when that listener is standing, thus maximizing the speaker’s vertical sweet spot and overall stereo imaging.” This meant that Hans could set up the P5s with their bottom panels just 24” above the floor -- a typical height for speaker stands. When we measured the Alpha P5 in the anechoic chamber at Canada’s National Research Council, per Barton’s instructions we lined up the measurement microphone with the top edge of the front baffle, to better illustrate the response for the listener.
Hans described the Alpha P5s as “anything but fussy to set up.” He placed them 8’ apart and 8.5’ from his listening chair, their rear panels 16” from the front wall, and toed them in until he “could just see the inside of each speaker’s cabinet, and didn’t feel compelled to mess with them again.” That last was because the resulting sound “was nothing short of astonishing,” defined by “its incredibly balanced linearity.” He explained: “‘Neutral’ speakers are often accused of sounding boring, and that makes sense, doesn’t it? A ruler-flat frequency response means that the speaker is not over- or underemphasizing anything. To my ears, Paul Barton has managed to pull off quite a trick with the P5: a speaker that is engaging to listen to and whose sound remains perfectly balanced.”
How that balanced sound served Hans’s music was revealed when he played “Hello,” from Adele’s 25 (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, XL/Tidal): “When I hit Play and cranked the volume, Adele’s voice emerged from the center of the soundstage with startling clarity, specificity, and texture. I marveled at the fact that the P5s got everything right. Stereo imaging was excellent for this price and beyond, with zero ambiguity, and a stable central image even when I leaned to left or right of the speaker’s sweet spot, suggesting strong off-axis performance.”
What also surprised Hans with this track was “the sheer amount of detail reproduced” by the P5s. Compared to Paradigm’s Monitor SE Atom ($299/pair), another overachieving budget speaker that Hans had reviewed for Access, the PSBs reproduced “more microdetail, more body, more urgency, and, most important for this singer, more power. The P5s’ reproduction of ‘Hello’ left me wanting nothing other than to play the song again and again; the Atoms left me a bit cold.”
“The Alpha P5s could rock out, too,” Hans found:
With “Behold a Lady,” from OutKast’s terrific Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (16/44.1 FLAC, LaFace/Qobuz), the P5’s handling of the kick drum was seriously impressive. Midbass punch is hugely important in hip-hop, and while I was impressed with the P5’s reach -- well below 50Hz -- I was shocked by its control. . . . I would be impressed with the PSB’s impact and slam for twice its price of $349/pair -- it seemed capable of almost all the extension of Definitive Technology’s Demand D9 minimonitor ($749/pair), which I reviewed [in 2018] (another Reviewers’ Choice).
In a challenging comparison, Hans pitted the Alpha P5 against KEF’s LS50 ($1500/pair), a pair of which he owns, and which he described in his review “as a benchmark for just how good a well-executed two-way speaker can sound.” (The LS50 is also a Recommended Reference Component.) The differences, he wrote, were “beyond surprising. In terms of overall tonal balance, the two speakers sounded remarkably similar.” Playing “Younger (Acoustic Version),” from Seinabo Sey’s Pretend (24/44.1 MQA, Universal/Tidal), Hans noticed that her “lovely voice sounded almost identical through both speakers,” though he gave the nod to the KEFs: through the LS50s, Sey’s voice was “slightly fuller, with a richer tonal density,” and there was “a subtle improvement in the reproduction of space.”
Playing “Without Help,” from Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (16/44.1 FLAC, Epic/Tidal), Hans again preferred the KEFs’ “greater soundstage depth” and their reproduction of the brasses, which he thought “a bit more refined. The margin of difference, however, was narrow.” But when he compared these models’ reproduction of bass, the P5 won: “What was quickly apparent was that the PSBs were able to match the KEFs’ control of this track’s bleating tuba and foundational bass drum, while offering a solid 5-10Hz more extension into the low bass -- the KEFs’ lack of relative impact and slam was noticeable.”
Hans concluded that PSB’s Alpha P5 deserved a Reviewers’ Choice award, which it received when his review was published. He also felt the speaker was “a frontrunner for Product of the Year for 2019.” His prediction turned out to be accurate: At year’s end, the Alpha P5 was named a 2019 Product of the Year for “Exceptional Value, Bookshelf Loudspeakers.” This month, the acclaim continues with this recognition of the Alpha P5 as our latest Recommended Reference Component -- the lowest-priced loudspeaker ever to appear on this list.
Manufacturer contact information:
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
Phone: (905) 831-6555
Fax: (905) 831-6936