It wasn't that long ago that desktop "computer" audio was synonymous with awful-sounding, cheap 'n' cheerful plastic speakers, but over the last few years Audioengine, Emotiva, Adam Audio, and many others started making seriously good high-quality monitors, with prices starting around $200 a pair.
I mostly focus on desktop speakers a la carte, but this time out I'm checking out PSB Speakers' ultracompact Alpha PS1 monitors paired with the almost-as-small SubSeries 100 sub. This three-piece system reaches lower into the bass than any of the aforementioned monitors without breaking the bank. Alpha PS1s run $299 per pair and the SubSeries 100 is $249.
The Alpha PS1 features a 3.5-inch metallized polypropylene woofer and a 0.75-inch aluminum tweeter, each driver powered by its own built-in 20-watt power amp (80 watts total). The sturdy cabinet stands just under 8 inches high, and it has a rear-mounted bass port, volume control, stereo RCA and 3.5mm inputs, an RCA subwoofer output jack, and a 5-volt USB power charging port. A separate power supply and all of the necessary cables and wires to hook up the system are included. I wish the Alpha PS1 speakers had front-mounted volume controls, but the workaround is simple enough, just control the volume from your computer, game console, tablet, TV, and so on...
The SubSeries 100 features a 5.25-inch woofer, powered by a built-in 50-watt amp. I initially plopped the 6.4x6.4x7.8-inch, 6-pound sub on the floor, to the left of my desk. It gets connected to the left PS1 speaker's subwoofer output jack. The PS1 and SubSeries 100 are beautifully finished in high-gloss black.
It's been a while since I played Norah Jones' breakout "Come Away With Me" album, but it sure sounded sweet over the PSB system. Jones' vocals in particular grabbed my attention; she sounded so comfortable and at ease, and the music just flowed. Jazz harmonica player Howard Levy's "The Old Country" audiophile CD projected a broad and deep soundstage on my desktop so the little PS1s sounded like much bigger speakers. My favorite electric bass torture test, SMV's "Thunder" CD, yielded decent bass, but definition was only so-so. Low-end oomph was strong, and the blend between PSB sub and sats was smooth as can be, but the bass was a tad soggy. Ah, but then I moved the sub up onto a table near my desk, so the sub was about the same height as the Alpha PS1s, and bass definition and snap radically improved. Right, it always pays to experiment with sub and speaker placement to get the best possible sound. The sub will really come in handy if you watch a lot of movies on your desktop.
The three-piece system certainly delivers the goods: the sub's low-end bass power goes beyond what's available from most desktop speakers, and it's nice to have the ability to goose the sub's volume up when you want extra kick, and ease it down for late-night listening. That ability to fine-tune bass volume on the fly makes a big difference in how you experience sound. As for the Alpha PS1s, they offer good detailing and clarity, but not up to the standards set by the Emotiva Airmotiv 4 ($299 a pair) or the ($499 a pair) desktop speakers. Unfortunately, those two speakers don't have subwoofer outputs, so I didn't audition them with the SubSeries 100.
The Alpha PS1 and SubSeries 100 are sold separately, so if you don't crave deep bass save some money and go for the PS1s on their own.