Most subs' crossover and volume controls are hidden on their back panels, but the SubSeries 5i's controls are conveniently located near the bottom of its front baffle. We were especially grateful for the easy access, as the volume control required a deft touch to get the bass balance with the satellite speakers just so. It took a while to find the magic spot--we went back and forth over the first few days--and anything over the 10 o'clock position on the sub's volume control resulted in too much bass. But if you really want to rattle your windows, this little sub can rock out without distorting. Oh, and we'd like to praise PSB for its owner's manuals. In these days of skimpy pamphlets that are mostly filled with legal warnings intended to minimize potential lawsuits, PSB's literature offers truly useful setup info.
We hooked up the Alpha Studio Theater System to our A/V receiver and immediately recognized PSB's signature sound. The Studio Theater's sound is clear and vividly transparent; the "see through" quality stands in contrast to the muddled or overly bright sound of many similarly priced and sized competitors. The subwoofer's home-theater bass was comparably clear and true.
The Underworld: Evolution DVD is loaded with squishy, blood-spewing scenes, and the Studio Theater revealed every last drop. When the occasional head gets lopped off, we could feel the impact of the thud and sense it rolling across the floor. The omnipresent background of thunder and rain sounded especially vivid and wet. The Alphas are conventional box speakers, but they came close to developing the sort of three-dimensional, holographic imaging we heard from the omnidirectional Mirage Nanosat 5.1 system. The five Alphas put us inside the steamy jungle scenes of the King Kong DVD--the sense of home-theater envelopment was total. Kong's bellowing roars emerged from the C1 center speaker with the ferocious scale we associate with larger speakers.
CD sound was no less impressive. The blend between the satellites and the sub was truly excellent; the middle bass region--always tricky to get right--was evident in the way the system reproduced the sound of stand-up bass on Holly Cole's Temptation CD. Every plucked note was present and accounted for. Vocals had just the right balance of full-bodied chestiness and articulation. Treble detail on brass instruments, cymbals, and drums was beautifully natural, without any harshness.
Just remember the Alphas are small speakers, so they can't play as loud or fill large rooms as a full-size speaker system would, but in moderately sized rooms, the speakers will satisfy most folks' needs. Then again, if you want to rock out, consider something along the lines of PSB's larger Image speakers or Aperion's System D--both of which will cost you considerably more money. That said, the PSB Alpha Studio Theater System is a great deal for anyone looking for modestly sized speakers that can deliver excellent audiophile-friendly sound at a relatively affordable price.