PSB Alpha iQ Streaming Powered Speakers Review

Posted on 23rd June, 2023

PSB Alpha iQ Streaming Powered Speakers Review

Mark Gusew listens in to this streaming powered loudspeaker system…

PSB Speakers

Alpha iQ Powered Speakers with BluOS

£1,299 RRP

Home audio doesn't need to be cumbersome and complicated. PSB has released the relatively affordable Alpha iQ for folk who may have limited space, and prefer a simple all-in-one solution without compromising on sound quality. Two small wireless bookshelf speakers are all you need to start streaming your favourite tunes, greatly simplifying things by eliminating clutter. The devil is in the detail, and this package has a ton of flexibility and connectivity, providing depth and future-proofing. 

The Alpha iQ has BlueOS at its core, the popular control app from Bluesound, which shares a common parent company Lenbrook International – which owns Bluesound, NAD and PSB. So it makes sense to integrate a Bluesound Node with an Alpha AM3-powered bookshelf speaker to produce the Alpha iQ. Of course, that is an oversimplification as the IQ is physically larger, with more rated power than the AM3 and has a wireless connection between the two speakers, but you get the idea. All that's needed to function is power to each box and a wireless internet connection – simple.

UP CLOSE

Each cabinet is 145mm wide by 246mm high by 192mm deep, small enough to be placed almost anywhere without drawing attention to itself – it can be easily partnered with a computer or television, for example. Being wireless, either box can be anywhere in a room without the need for an umbilical cord. The cabinet construction is MDF with an aluminium rear baffle, while the front is constructed with MDF on aluminium for strength and heat dissipation. There is a choice of high-quality painted satin white or satin black finishes that look modern and feel silky smooth to the touch. No grilles are supplied, so the drivers are on full display all of the time, which is no bad thing for sound quality.

Each speaker has a custom two-way configuration, consisting of a 100mm steel basket framed polypropylene woofer with a dimpled texture to the cone, and a 19mm aluminium ferrofluid-cooled tweeter mounted underneath the woofer. The tweeter has an integrated front waveguide with a PSB emblem on it, and is set into a slightly concave recess in the front panel. It's a clean front with no visible fasteners showing. The bass reflex port is at the rear of the cabinet. 

Each woofer has its own 60W (claimed) Class D amplifier, while each tweeter has its own 30W Class D amp for a total system output of 180W, so it's reasonably powerful for its size. DSP takes care of the crossover and extends the low-frequency output. On-axis frequency response is quoted as 64Hz to 20kHz (±3dB), with the low-frequency cut-off being -10dB is 35Hz – impressive stuff for a speaker of this size.

The Alpha iQ has range of inputs, including one 3.5mm line, phono MM, optical digital S/PDIF, USB for external storage devices, and an HDMI eARC port for connecting your TV. Apple AirPlay 2 is offered, plus Bluetooth streaming using the Qualcomm aptX HD codec. A 24-bit/192kHz capable DAC with MQA decoding is fitted, so you can stream hi-res tracks from Tidal, as well as a raft of other providers including Spotify and Qobuz. There is also a subwoofer output with DSP-enabled low- and high-pass filters.

On the front edge of one of the speakers is a touch control panel with a central play/pause button and volume up/down buttons on the sides to change the levels in 1dB increments. I'm typically no fan of touch controls, but these operated faultlessly. The speaker with the controls is the 'primary', containing the input/output connections. A thoughtful touch is that it can be positioned on either the left or right side and is set via the BluOS app.

The Alpha iQ is equipped with both an RJ45 Ethernet wired connection and the ability to go completely wireless via Wi-Fi. You will need to download and install the corresponding BluOS Controller app for your device, which is available for Android, iOS, Kindle, Windows and macOS. Once both speakers are powered up, and after they have a solid green colour LED, you follow the prompts on the app, which acknowledge that it “Needs Setup”. So you add the player, set up the network, pair the speakers, and you're done. 

PSB recommends that the speakers are given at least 75mm of clearance around the back with good air circulation for heat dissipation and to ensure the proper performance of the rear-firing ports. Connecting two speakers wirelessly without a cable between them can cause synchronisation problems or degrade the sound, which is why many manufacturers still do it this way. However, I experienced no such issues with this PSB system. There's no hint of latency or delay, and the Alpha iQ worked consistently over the entire review period.

The Alpha iQ does not ship with a remote control, instead relying heavily on the BlueOS app and the physical front panel control, which is a shame at this price, as there are times when a physical remote control would be handy and preferred. Fortunately, the Bluesound RC1 IR remote that I use with my Node worked perfectly and should be considered when purchasing.

THE LISTENING

Streaming hi-res tracks from both Qobuz and Tidal, I was surprised by the clean, balanced and detailed sound emanating from this little active speaker package. The saxophone at the opening of Buddy's Rendezvous by Lana Del Ray sounded full, rich, relaxed, and realistic, as did her vocals. The midrange proved clean and open, with a natural tonality that blended effortlessly with the delicate and extended treble. Cymbals and strings sounded lovely. Bass sounds bigger via this speaker system than you might expect, almost as if it's out of proportion to the size of the cabinets – not exactly live concert levels, but impressive nonetheless. 

Providing that you don't over-drive this little speaker system, you get a satisfying sense of openness and transparency to the music. On This Love by Craig Armstrong, strings sounded graceful and smooth, and the synth piano and vocals came together nicely with lots of texture and atmosphere. Both male and female vocals were well represented, with good definition and clarity. 

One of the advantages of using small drive units in loudspeakers is the speed and directness that comes from being physically small and agile, and this certainly worked to the system's advantage when listening to Use Me by Grace Jones. There was a satisfying coherence to the way the bass notes played cleanly, with no added bloat and with great speed. 

Internally powered speakers are often way better dynamically than conventional passive systems, and the PSB proved this point. It was able to play louder and stronger than you may expect, making it versatile enough for boisterous dinner parties and home cinema applications.

I plugged a USB thumb drive into the rear of the primary speaker, and used the BluOS app to play Concerto for Two Guitars & Orchestra by David Chesky & Angel Romero. There is so much going on in this recording, and I got a lovely sense of three-dimensional space, with strings and percussion filling the room with sound well beyond the actual speaker boxes. This disappearing act helped when watching movies on TV, as the Alpha iQ did a great job immersing the viewer in the programme.

The phono input is also up to the task. Listening to Dire Straits' Tunnel of Love via an inexpensive Audio-technica moving magnet cartridge produced a rhythmically engaging sound that had most of the focus on a clean midrange, so guitars and vocals were easily followed. Kraftwerk's Musique Non Stop sounded larger, filling out the soundstage impressively well and displaying more treble energy, with a balanced midband and punchy bass. Overall, this is a useful feature to have, and impressively not just a placeholder.

THE VERDICT

Good sound in your home can't get any simpler than using two wireless self-powered speakers with all the electronics built under the hood, in one complete and compact package. In this respect, PSB's Alpha iQ is the leader of the pack. With its ability to connect to all the important inputs – like television, Bluetooth, streaming and turntables – it makes a strong case for itself where space is limited without compromising on quality. It's ideal for apartments, bedrooms, home offices and caravans, for example.

The depth of the BluOS app and the whole ecosystem of support for multi-room and home automation systems only further enhances the usefulness of this little system. You can even control things via your voice with built-in support for Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri, making it wireless. So do audition PSB's slinky little Alpha iQ, as you'll likely be as impressed as I was.

For more information visit PSB Speakers

    Mark Gusew's avatar

    Mark Gusew

    Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early 80’s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now manages a boutique audio manufacturer.

    Posted in:Hi-Fi Loudspeakers Active Bookshelf / Standmount Applause Awards 2023
    Tags: psb  psb speakers  sevenoaks 

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