PSB Alpha P5 Bookshelf Speaker
- Two-way bookshelf design
- 5.25-inch polypropylene woofer paired with a single .75-inch black anodized aluminum ferrofluid- cooled tweeter
- Solidly braced cabinetry for low resonance
- Magnetic metal grilles
- Solid, dynamic sound with excellent imaging in a small footprint
It consists of the Alpha T20 towers, P5 and P3 bookshelf speakers, and the C10 center channel. The PSB Alpha P5s are the heir apparent to the famous Alpha B1s that have been around for nearly two decades.
Frequency response in-room:
37Hz – 21,000Hz
nominal 8 Ohms, minimal 4 Ohms
0.75” Black Anodized Aluminum Dome with Ferrofluid & Neodymium Magnet
5.25” textured Polypropylene Woofer with Rubber Surround
Bass Reflex 1.5” Rear Port
0.5” MDF with 1” thick front baffle
6.75 x 11.4 x 9.5”
Walnut or Black Ash
PSB, Alpha P5, Speakers, Bookshelf speakers, PSB Alpha Series, Bookshelf Speaker Reviews 2019
Replacing a classic speaker like the B1 is a tall order, but Paul Barton decided it was time to update an old favorite with something new and exciting that is designed from the ground up. After all, he has refreshed many of his higher-end speakers a few times over and the PSB Alpha series has been waiting for the right time for an upgrade… and that time is now.
The PSB Alpha P5s are a compact two-way bass reflex speaker with newly designed, hand-built drivers consisting of a dual-layered voice coil 5.25-inch polypropylene woofer paired with a single .75-inch black anodized aluminum ferrofluid-cooled tweeter. The tweeter has a wave guide that helps smooth the transitional frequency hand-off to the mid-woofer. You may notice that the tweeter on the Alpha P5 is placed below the woofer which allows it to work with the newly designed crossover network to create an even sound field whether you are listening to them while standing or seated. A fourth-order Acoustic Linkwitz-Riley filter (usually found in high priced speaker designs) is used to get a perfect blend between drivers and reduce distortion.
The removable magnetic grilles are made of micro-perforated sheet metal. A 1.5-inch port is located on the back along with five-way binding posts that accept any type of speaker cable connection including bare wires. The outside edges of the cabinet are rounded, and the vinyl veneer comes in black ash (my review samples) or walnut. The veneer is seamless and looks very nice and clean. There is internal bracing and a special filler material to help reduce internal reflections and minimize speaker cabinet resonance.
The filler consists of fibers that are like furniture stuffing with lots of cloth fibers and not just fluffy pink insulation. That material is also placed inside of the empty spaces where it can absorb internal standing waves and not just around the outside edges of the wall. A one-inch thick front baffle secures the drivers in place. My overall impression was that these speakers are very solidly built, and a lot of thought has gone into their design.
The PSB Alpha P5s are rated for amplification in the 10-90-watt range and paired well with my Emotiva UPA-1, 200-watt monoblocks. Their in-room sensitivity is 89dB, so they can sing loudly with little power. They perform best on speaker stands but may need some added upward tilt to accommodate the inverted tweeter which should be aimed at the listener’s ear level.
If placed on a bookshelf, be sure to leave some breathing room for the port on the back (at least a foot and a half). The Alpha P5 frequency response is rated at 55Hz to 21kHz but will play down to 37Hz in-room. I’ll talk more about the overall sound quality a bit further into my review. Paul Barton told me that the grilles are acoustically transparent and for my listening, I kept them on. Removing them made no sonic difference and they look nice without grilles, so its dealer’s choice on your part.
The nice thing about bookshelf speakers, in general, is how flexible their placement is. It is much easier to tweak their positions than the effort required to shift heavy tower speakers around. I was able to place the Alpha P5s on a set of Sanus speakers stands that are approximately 30 inches high, and also on my computer desktop. With the stands, I had the speakers about three feet from the side walls and two-and-a-half feet away from the front wall. Bass becomes more pronounced as you move them closer to a wall. Too close and it will sound a bit bloated and boomy. Pulling the Alphas out was easy and allowed for some experimentation with the bass (and to some extent, the midrange) until it sounded just right to my ears.
My initial thought about the treble was that it sounded a bit hard at first. Over time, I felt it smoothed out, but it took a few weeks to get to where it sounded less fatiguing over long listening sessions. It certainly did not sound like an Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter which I usually prefer over an aluminum dome, but it did soften up after some extended break-in time.
The bass was interesting in that it could play most of my classical organ music well, but it did not punch me in the solar plexus or shake me with vibrations like a full range speaker could.
In fairness, the Alpha P5s are not designed to replicate the sound of a full range speaker. When paired with an 8 or 10-inch subwoofer, that gut punch was restored. The Alpha P5s will not massage your innards with deep ultrasonic intensity, but they can reach low enough to satisfy your bass needs unless you really need to feel it during your music sessions. I would assume that most people that buy a bookshelf speaker are, more likely than not, pairing them with a sub. I used my Earthquake CP-8 and found the combination to be quite satisfying with the cutoff frequency set to 60Hz.
My system for this review consists of the Emotiva UMC-200 pre/pro, Emotiva UPA-1 monoblocks, Zu Audio Julian 8-foot speaker cables, Kimber Kable BPJ interconnects, OPPO UDP-203 Universal Disc Player, and an Earthquake CP-8 subwoofer.
After about a week of playing music on the Alpha P5s, I got down to some serious listening. I found that they projected a fairly wide “sweet spot” and turning my head to either side did not affect the treble much at all. The sound stage was wide, but not a deep as my reference Revel F-36 towers. The upper mid-range was clear, without sounding too chesty. Vocals sounded natural. The bass notes were there, but they did not have the impact and punch that true woofer or subwoofer can produce. For a smaller bookshelf speaker, this is expected performance and not a fault.
My music testing began with Simon & Garfunkel: The Complete Recordings. Besides being perhaps the greatest folk duo recording artists, they have the best complimentary vocals this side of the Everly Brothers. Their early albums consist mostly of vocals and acoustic instruments, all of which the Alpha P5s reproduced wonderfully.
As the albums progressed, Simon added in more rhythm sections of brass, electric guitars and drums. My impressions of the P5s’ performance was that they sounded natural and open. Human voices were not constricted or pinched, while Artie’s voice had sweet angelic overtones and the bass was satisfyingly punchy. Overall, the Alpha P5s sounded very good with this type of music.
The Moody Blues: In Search of the Lost Chord offered some more vocal blending with an eclectic ensemble of instruments from India and England (ala late 60’s Beatles). The recording mix has some hard-mixed left and right stereo sounds which the P5s managed to project into the room. The sound was lively with nice imaging, but the stage depth was not as great as I have heard from other bookshelf speakers (such as the Emotiva B1s).
That’s not to say the P5s did not sound engaging, they certainly did. On Legend of a Mind, there is a sound like Sputnik that slow circles the room which the Alphas managed to trick me into thinking the sound was disembodied from the speakers and the beeping was encircling me as it made its way around the four corners of my room. It made me feel really groovy!
I recently acquired the 50th anniversary The Beatles (White Album). I always liked this album from my youth, though it lacks the thematic cohesiveness of Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road. The parts are greater than the sum of the whole. From lovely acoustic ballads to the full metal jacket sound of Helter Skelter, the Alpha P5s showed me that they can really rock.
One of the things I noticed quickly on these new mixes was a better reinforced bass line and Ringo’s drums are also mixed a little more prominently, which makes the whole album sound fresh and new again. The P5s had no problem with classical Beatles. They also had no problem playing loudly without strain or noticeable distortion.
So if most bass guitars can only get down to 45-40Hz, what was I still missing? John Longhurst plays The Mormon Tabernacle Organ presents some serious sub bass in an extremely spacious environment. I don’t expect a bookshelf speaker to compete with a full range tower, but the Alphas played organ music well enough on their own.
The real sub-sonic pedal notes were there, just not with authority. This is where a subwoofer can fill in and make the bass more palpable. With the P5s, you could hear the notes, but with a sub you can actually feel them. Perhaps my favorite piece from this album is the first one, Gigout’s Grand choeur dialogue in which the trumpet stops play off the pedal board with back and forth antiphonal flourishes.
The Tabernacle’s acoustics are some of the best in the world, with as much as four second reverb time. The sense of space is nicely captured on the recording, but in this case, you’d only notice it with the subwoofer engaged. Ultimately, if you plan to use the Alpha P5s as your main listening speakers, pairing with a sub will give you all the sound you’d need, with the advantage of saving a lot of floor space.
Adjusted for inflation, the ALPHA P5s are better than their predecessor in almost every way for about the same price. They’re a great way to step up to PSB performance on a budget.
- Excellent build quality
- Big sound, small footprint
- Acoustically transparent magnetic metal grilles
- PSB trickle down technology inside
- Dual binding post for bi-wiring or bi-amping
The Alpha series represents a great audiophile value in the speaker market. The popular B1s have finally been “modernized’ and a lot of the technology from PSB’s higher end speakers has made its way into the P5s. If you own a pair of B1s, you might well consider the P5s as a worthwhile upgrade. If you are in the market for a quality set of bookshelf speakers, the Alpha P5s should be on your short list. When paired with a good subwoofer, you can have sound that rivals many tower speakers and save lots of floor space. Paired with a nice DAC and computer, you could have a killer mini system. Either way, the Alpha P5s are a great way to get introduced to PSB sound quality if you are in the market for a small speaker with big sound.