PSB Alpha T20 Speaker System Review Page 2

The SubSeries 250 comes well-equipped for a basic subwoofer. In addition to a standard RCA LFE input, you get a stereo RCA line-level input with an 80-Hz filtered pass-through output plus speaker-level inputs with an unfiltered pass-through output. An infinitely variable phase control is another nice high-end feature that can be helpful when integrating the sub with the rest of the system.

By using a sealed enclosure for the SubSeries 250, PSB has gone for agility and tunefulness over ultimate output capability, shifting the focus to music rather than booming movie sound effects.

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Setup
Over the years, the ideal positions for a basic 5.1 surround rig in my room have been pretty well-established, and I found that the Alphas worked best when using the normal placement. The T20 towers were installed about 18 inches out from the front wall, seven feet apart, and pointed straight ahead with no toe-in. The C10 center sat between them on a tall stand that set its drivers at around the same height as the tweeters on the T20s. The P3 surrounds were set up near the side walls slightly behind the listening seat and raised about a foot above my ears. The P3 uses an inverted layout with the tweeter positioned below the woofer, an arrangement that PSB says helps to maintain phase coherence for a standing listener. I was concerned that this may have the opposite effect in my setup where the listener is seated well below the speaker, so I experimented with turning them upside down. Ultimately, I found that they performed best when used as designed.

The SubSeries 250 subwoofer was placed in the front left corner of the room and turned so that its driver faced directly at the listening position. It was fed an LFE signal from the Onkyo TX-NR787 receiver I used for my evaluation, with the crossover duties performed by the Onkyo. (I also tried out the T20 towers with a number of high-end stereo amps.) Finding the ideal crossover point for the T20s proved tricky, as setting it too high created a dip in output around the crossover region. Normally a phase control helps here, but I found the better solution was to set the receiver's crossover at 60 Hz and take advantage of the speaker's impressive bass extension.

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Performance
After breaking the system in by using it to watch TV for a few days, I began my critical listening with two-channel music played full-range through the T20s without a sub. Right out of the gate, familiar PSB hallmarks such as an articulate and detailed midrange and powerful, dynamic bass were easy to hear. With its punchy, articulate bass line and a soundstage depth that placed the drum kit well behind, yet tightly focused between, the speakers, "Last Plane Out" by Toy Matinee showed me what was possible with the PSB towers. Lower-cost speakers are often be voiced in a way that attempts to make them sound bigger than they are, but the neutrality of the T20's response let me savor the midrange detail in the music. To be honest, switching between the T20s used straight-up by themselves and a 2.1 setup supplemented by the subwoofer didn't bring much benefit with most recordings, and I often found myself preferring the sonic coherency of the un-augmented T20s. Comparing them with my eight-times-as-expensive Synchrony One tower speakers might sound pretty unfair, but doing so served to highlight the T20's similarities rather than its deficiencies. Sure, the T20 tower can't go as deep in the bass, nor does it have the same level of clarity and articulation in the midrange and highs that its bigger brother provides, but it was clear to me that both speakers come from the same gene pool.

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Does anyone still listen to surround music? With the current growth of streamed music, along with fading interest in SACD and DVD- Audio, it seems that surround music is on the downswing. I still find it to be an essential part of any surround speaker system test, however, so I slipped a DVD-Audio disc of the final Talking Heads album Naked into my Oppo player and listened to "(Nothing But) Flowers." This is a great, immersive mix, with drums and vocals locked to the front stage and lots of percussion spread throughout. Johnny Marr from The Smiths makes a guest appearance on this song, and his instantly recognizable guitar is mixed mostly into the surround channels. This track provided an opportunity to hear how well the various Alpha models tonally matched with each other—a benefit derived from all that blind testing.

Of course, the primary reason people buy a surround sound system is to enhance their movie-watching experience. The opening scene of the old James Bond favorite GoldenEye offers a good mix of explosive action as 007 attempts to escape from a chemical weapons facility. The Alphas did a fine job of keeping dialogue clear and understandable as chaos broke out all around in this scene, although the system didn't quite deliver the sledgehammer dynamics that some speaker systems I've reviewed manage to extract from it. The SubSeries 250 subwoofer unleashed plenty of deep bass energy as Bond managed to pull a plane up just before crashing, the engine's low throb making my floor vibrate and teacup rattle.

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Conclusion
The budget loudspeaker space has become crowded in recent years, with various flavor-of- the-month designs coming along and disappearing just as quickly. Through it all, PSB has steadily sold its Alpha Series speakers. Like the preceding generation, these new Alphas are not the flashiest, biggest, or loudest speakers around, but they have a neutral sound and do pretty much everything well at a down-to-earth price. Just as no kid has a Toyota Corolla picture pinned up on their bedroom wall, these aren't the kind of speakers that an audiophile will put on a dream-gear list. That said, speakers like the Alphas are the ones that people actually buy, and happily listen with over time.

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