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PSB Alpha VS21 VisionSound review: Big base price for small sound base

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The Good The PSB Alpha VS21 is an unusually compact sound base speaker with stereo 1-inch dome tweeters, 2-inch midranges, and 4-inch woofers; there's a dedicated RCA subwoofer output; the stereo analog, optical digital and Bluetooth connectivity options should satisfy most buyers.

The Bad The PSB Alpha VS21 lacks bass or treble controls, the sound is on the overly warm side of neutral. The unit could transfer bass energy (vibration) to your TV, if it fits on top in the first place. No controls on the unit itself and the display isn't fully decipherable without the manual.

The Bottom Line The PSB Alpha VS21's skimpy feature lineup and so-so movie sound quality don't live up to expectations considering its hefty $600 list price.

6.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Sound 7
  • Value 7

While squat, rectangular sound bases have existed for just as long as long, rectangular sound bars, bases have taken a lot longer to gain popularity. Yet in the last 12 months we've seen the category expand significantly, with established speaker brands like PSB now getting into the act.

The PSB VS21 is a handsome sound base that has the single aim of making your TV sound better. It certainly does -- making TVs sound better isn't difficult for any decent external speaker -- and it's certainly well-made.

However, there there are two main issues with this speaker: cost and size. The PSB is outperformed by models half its price, and the unit's small size means it can't be paired with expensive TVs. The Pioneer SP-SB03 and Yamaha SRT-1000 , for example, cost hundreds less, offer better performance, and are able to hold much larger televisions.

Design

The PSB VS21 is part of a new breed of TV speaker that goes a step beyond the "dinky" plastic speakers of old and veers into "proper" hi-fi territory. The PSB looks similar to the well-established Pioneer SP-SB03 , which is also made of MDF and covered with a black-ash wrap.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike most of the models available at the price, or less, the PSB is unusually small at only 21.5 inches across, 3.5 inches tall and 13 inches deep. PSB initially said the speaker would support TVs with screen sizes up to 60 inches, but the company has now changed its recommendation to "up to 88 pounds."

We tried four different TVs of different sizes, and even the 40-inch Samsung UN40F5000 poked out over the sides (bad). If you have a Vizio of recent vintage -- such as the E550i we tried -- you're on safer ground but definitely measure your stand first: you want at least an inch around each edge of the base.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The front of the unit boasts a large glossy display, but despite the massive amount of real estate, it sports only a series of colored LEDs whose color schemes might require a look at the manual to decipher. No informative alpha-numeric characters here!

Sarah Tew/CNET

Unusually and frustratingly, the PSB offers no controls of any kind -- not even a power switch. If you lose the remote control, you are out of luck. The remote itself is basic though attractive. You may need to check the manual to work out how to use some of its functions -- for instance, the Setup button doesn't work unless you hold it down for five seconds. Why? Who knows?

Features

The PSB V21 is a stereo sound base that offers a three-way speaker configuration: 1-inch soft dome tweeters, 2-inch midrange drivers and 4-inch bass units mounted underneath. The company claims it's capable of a 55Hz to 23kHz response, and if you want more bass than that, it offers a subwoofer output.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The PSB comes with a number of different modes such as Stereo (Normal), Dialogue (Enhanced Dialogue Clarity), WideSound (Expanded Soundstage), and WideSound Plus. There's also no tone controls to speak of. Some equalization is involved with the sound modes -- especially with the crisper-sounding wide modes -- but the unit does have an on/off switch for the subwoofer output.

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