The 50-year-old PSB speakers set their sights on the future with the Alpha iQ, the manufacturer’s first powered speakers with onboard HD network broadcasting, as well as a host of other connectivity options. It all comes in a compact, powerful sound that’s easy to set up and use, a factor that “doesn’t require a four-year college physics degree to run,” according to product manager Joe De Jesus.
Previewed to the press this week in New York and making its official debut at the CEDIA Show in Dallas, Texas next week, with retail availability in late November, the Alpha iQ Speakers ($1499 a pair) represents “Full Press by Lenbrook International,” PSB’s Ontario Canada-based parent, PSB “down-the-hall” sister brands NAD Electronics and Bluesound, and the BluOS music platform driving this show. BluOS now plays multi-room audio on interoperable equipment from Lenbrook Bluesound, DALI, NAD and now PSB Speakers.
Jonathan Takeff / Foundry
Two years after the arrival of PSB’s AM5 and AM3 amplifiers (which lack on-board internet), the Alpha iQ uses drivers of a similar size to those of the AM3, but with more powerful (and now manifolded) amplification: the stereo pair has an audio player 4-inch polypropylene bass powered by a 60-watt Class D woofer, and one 0.75-inch aluminum dome woofer powered by a 30-watt Class D amp.
All this inside carefully thought-out cabinets with well-tuned niches, aided by a little DSP magic and the golden-eared mentality of company founder and chief designer Paul Barton. De Jesus (who is pictured during the demo) said: “Paul still does most of the speaker voices, but [he] Now he has a crew of engineers to help him.”
PSB says the Alpha iQ Audio DAC supports resolutions up to 24bit/192Hz, and it’s full MQA Unwinding and Rendering possibility. The BluOS platform supports high-resolution music services including Amazon Music Ultra HDAnd the DeezerAnd the kissingAnd the Tides. BluOS users can also access hundreds of online radio stations, including – exclusively among streaming platforms – four content channels with MQA-encoded HD music from Radio Paradise.
De Jesus said PSB has spent three years developing low-latency communications technology that connects the Alpha iQ’s left and right speakers to each other wirelessly without compromising audio fidelity. Each individual speaker requires, of course, an AC power cord.
Buyers will also get improved communication options. The kit offers bi-directional Bluetooth technology with aptX HD codec support. Users can also listen privately by streaming music from the tuned speaker to the Bluetooth headphones.
Jonathan Takeff / Foundry
Apple AirPlay2 compatibility enables music streaming at the CD level from apps on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect are supported to put music in the app queue of those services. Do you need to upgrade your TV sound? The Alpha iQ can handle that too with the HDMI eARC input, with the ability to control volume levels using the TV’s remote control.
A dedicated BluOS console application plays the display on a smartphone, tablet or PC. The touchpad on top of the main speaker also allows for pause/play and volume adjustment. Limited voice controls can also bark, but only on an external device running Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple Siri (via AirPlay 2.)
Vinyl fans will appreciate the rarity (among streaming speakers, at least) for a moving magnetic phono insert, so they can plug in their favorite turntables. This eliminates the need for a turntable with an onboard preamplifier, or an expensive external amplifier for listening to LPs. Round out the ports on the rear panel of the primary speaker: optical and analog aux inputs, a LAN/USB port for either wired Ethernet or mass storage, and a subwoofer output.
I think there wouldn’t be much need for that last contact. During an admittedly short listening test with HD tracks from Johnny Cash, Steely Dan, and Aimee Mann, I noticed a lively, well-balanced musical performance with excellent detail and a good amount of bass extension – even at low listening levels.
We’ll have an in-depth review of PSB Speakers Alpha iQ once we get a rating unit.