Just turning 50, PSB Speakers has their sights set on the future with the Alpha iQ, the manufacturer’s first powered speakers with built-in high-definition network streaming and a host of other connectivity options. It all comes in a compact, rugged-sounding form factor that’s easy to set up and use, and according to product manager Joe de Jesus, “doesn’t require a four-year college degree in physics to work.”
Unveiled to the press this week in New York and officially unveiled next week at CEDIA Expo in Dallas, TX, the Alpha iQ speakers ($1,499 per pair) will be available in stores at the end of November and represent “a full-fledged press from Lenbrook International,” the Ontario, Canada-based parent company of PSB, PSB’s down-the-hall sister brands NAD Electronics and Bluesound, and the music platform BluOS that powers this show. BluOS now enables multi-room audio on interoperable devices from Lenbrook brands Bluesound, DALI, NAD and now PSB speakers.
The Alpha iQ comes two years after PSB’s well-received powered speakers AM5 and AM3 (with no internet connection on board) and uses drivers similar in size to those in the AM3, but with much more (and now forked) gain: each side of the Stereo pair features a 4″ polypropylene woofer driven by a 60 watt class D amplifier and a 0.75″ aluminum dome tweeter driven by a 30 watt class D D amplifier is driven.
All of this is housed in thoughtfully braced enclosures with well-matched connectors, aided by a little DSP magic and the golden ears of company founder and chief designer Paul Barton. “Paul still does most of the speaker voice,” said de Jesus (pictured above during our demo), “but [he] now has a crew of engineers to help him.”
According to PSB, the Alpha iQ’s audiophile-grade DAC supports resolutions up to 24-bit/192Hz and has full MQA decoding and rendering capabilities. The BluOS platform supports high definition music services such as Amazon Music Ultra HD, Deezer, Qobuz and Tidal. BluOS users can also access hundreds of Internet radio stations, including – exclusive among the streaming platforms – four content channels of MQA encoded high-definition music from Radio Paradise.
Don’t miss TechHive’s in-depth coverage of internet radio stations and reviews of the best music streaming services.
De Jesus said PSB spent three years developing the low-latency communication technology that wirelessly connects the Alpha iQ’s left and right speakers without sacrificing audio resolution. Of course, each individually amplified loudspeaker requires a power cable.
Buyers also get refined connectivity options. The set offers bi-directional Bluetooth with support for the aptX HD codec. Users can also listen privately by streaming music from the speaker set to Bluetooth headphones.
Apple AirPlay2 compatibility lets you stream CD-quality music from apps on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect are supported to queue music to the respective apps of these services. Need a TV sound upgrade? The Alpha iQ can handle that too via its HDMI eARC input, with the ability to control volume with the TV remote.
The dedicated BluOS controller app runs the show on a smartphone, tablet or PC. A touch panel on the main speaker also allows for pause/play and volume control. Limited voice control can also be barked, but only on an external device running on Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple Siri (via AirPlay 2).
Vinyl lovers will appreciate the rare (among streaming speakers, at least) inclusion of a moving magnet phono input so they can hook up their favorite turntables. This eliminates the need for a turntable with a built-in preamp or an expensive external preamp for listening to LPs. Rounding out the connections on the rear panel of the main speaker: optical and analog aux inputs, a LAN/USB port for either hardwired Ethernet or mass storage, and a subwoofer output.
I don’t think there will be much need for that last link. During an admittedly brief listening test of HD tracks by Johnny Cash, Steely Dan and Aimee Mann, I noticed very lively, balanced musical performances with excellent detail and good bass extension – even at low listening levels.
We’ll have an in-depth PSB Speakers Alpha iQ review as soon as we get our hands on a review unit.