Today UPS dropped off the PSB Alpha P3s so i let them "break in" over dinner and listened to them for the next three or so hours. Time for another comparison!
PSB Alpha P3s vs Vanatoo Transparent Zeros
I still don't have the parts for my speaker selector switch and with the T0s being active and thus rendering a speaker switch moot, i decided to do this test. It's also interesting that they're both smaller speakers with 4" "woofers". I sat them about 5ft apart and sat about 6ft back. I'm running the T0s in Flat mode with the compressors disabled. They're on their stands so vertical like a bookshelf speaker.
I started with the T0s earlier in the evening after i moved them to the basement from my office. My first impression is that they sounded a little small. Yep, im in a big basement, I should have known. They didn't sound bad, they have a good range and sound pretty flat, if not a little bright, but they definitely didn't have the extension of the 5.25" bookshelves i've been listening to for the past week. Fair enough.
Then the UPS guy showed up with the Alpha P3s so i quickly set them up and started some music to play while we ate dinner so they could "break in". I played Beyonce's Hold Up as its pretty bassy and i thought that'd get 'em working. I hit play and was like wow, noootttt bad. These go a lot deeper than the Vanatoos. I immediately liked what i was hearing. Then i ran upstairs to eat.
After an hour i came back down to do some A/B testing. It's a bit of pain as for each test i had to get up and swap the USB cable between the NAD amp for the P3s and the Vanatoos. I was again using my iPhone with USB camera connection kit and Tidal Hifi/Masters as the source. Note that the Vanatoo's USB DAC only supports 16/48. (the optical and coax support 24/96), fwiw.
First up was Fleetwood Mac's Dreams which i'm really liking as a first test song. I started with the PSBs and noted that the bass was surprisingly deep and tight. Pretty punchy. (checking my notes here) i also wrote that they sounded quite smooth, maybe laid back. And warm. They were immediately comfortable to listen to. Then i swapped to the Vanatoos and wrote that they sound brighter and crisper, cool as opposed to warm. The snare drum snapped more, but lacked a little substance. It's an odd thing to notice, but the backup vocals sounded thinner. And they definitely didn't play as deep.
Then i decided to throw some modern energy at them so i played The Weeknd's "Blinding Light", this time the T0s first. I noted the snare sound thin and the synths crisp, but also sort of metallic. Swapping to the P3s, immediately found the deep bass under the main synth pads. His voice also sounded a bit warmer.
An interesting test that i found during my ongoing Q150 vs Elac Debut testing. This new Death Cab for Cutie song "To the Ground" has a real deep sub bass note that plays every couple bars. With the Q150s i though i heard it distorting the vocals a bit. So i decided to try it here. The P3s were first this time and i think i could hear it distort the vocals a bit. It's subtle and if i focus on it i'm not sure i hear it, but if its an effect that prompts me to think about it, then something must be there. On that note, the P3s did play that deep note quite well. This song may not recorded all that well, or maybe its just the amount of bass plus other stuff, but the low end got a bit sloppy here. On the other hand, the Vanatoos didn't play that note at all. It simply wasn't there. I wonder if the DSP in their amp high passes at some point to avoid the flub. And to its credit, the vocal were certainly clear and not distorted.
At this point i was getting the picture. The PSBs are warm and smooth while the T0s were a little thinner and a little brighter. At the same time I don't think the PSB are as laid back as the RC-10s. They sound pretty dang on to me. I was excited about this quality so i picked a few vocal centric tracks to test out. "The Barrel" by Aldous Harding, "Piano Joint" by Michael Kiwanuka, and "Every Single Night" by Fiona Apple. Then i picked up the energy a notch with "Heads Will Roll" by Jenny Lewis. All sounded really nice and wam and full on the PSBs and all just a little thin with the Vanatoos.
Then i decided that i was being biased against the T0s so i sought out some fuller range higher energy stuff. I compared Beyonce "Hold Up", and there's just no contest. The PSBs play so much deeper and punchier. The T0s sucked the guts out of Beyonce's voice. Then I went down a rabbit hole of '90s rock music and played Alice in Chains. In a couple songs i liked the crispness of distorted guitars with the Vanatoos, but on others i felt it thinned them out. Probably depends on the amp tuning and recording. Then i played some Rage Against the Machine and again, i like the oomph of the vocals and overall energy with the PSBs.
At this point i got the picture and spent the next hour rocking out Rage Against the Machine and other random '90s playlist songs on the PSBs just for fun.
It's interesting. The Vanatoos are known to measure very well. They have a DSP ensuring things are pretty flat. I think my room was pretty good and shouldn't be distorting the response too bad. Maybe I don't like flat? It's all subjective i guess, but to put it simple, the Vantoos were accurate and clear and I didn't notice any obvious peaks or valleys. But also bright and thin to my ears. They sounded like 4" speakers. On the other hand the PSB had pretty amazing depth. Going on my memory of the Elac's i've been listening to since Saturday, these might even go deeper. The PSBs sound big and full and punchy. I wouldn't feel bad comparing these to the 5" speakers in the test whereas with the Vanatoos i'd feel like i was putting them a bit out of their depth. The PSBs have this really nice comfortable sound. Sometimes a tension builds up in my ears, like bracing for too much volume or treble. With theses i felt like that melted away. It was just very very pleasant. So perhaps they're laid back, but certainly not as much as the RC-10s which stood out to me as being laid back. The PSBs sound correct to me. They're impressive, so much so that if they continue to do well in this test i might spring for the 5" P5 version. But then again, if these work, what's the point? Interesting!
It should also be said that the Vanatoos are active speakers that even include a USB input so they're a great value. Their size and form factor is also second to none for desktop use. I wasn't quite "near field" for this test, so maybe this wasn't quite fair. These have been my every day computer speakers for the past few weeks and i've consistently enjoyed them in that setting. Interestingly they sounded a lot beefier than the Cambridge Audio S30s i was playing with in my office as well. Maybe tomorrow i'll compare the P3s with them in my office on my desk.. hrmm
I should also mention that the build quality of the T0s is pretty nice. They are heavy and solid, finished nicely, and have magnetic grills. Much nicer than the look on their website. The PSBs are actually a little cheap looking. The binding posts are cheap and they're in this tiny little cup i could barely get my fingers in to tighten the posts down. From the front, the PSBs look decent enough, though. The drivers look nice and the grills are also magnetic.
Part II: In the office.
I kept thinking that i didn't like the T0s nearly as much in this test as i did in my office so i decided to move both pairs of speakers back up to my office and do a short comparison. Partly, it's a second point of view, and partly, it'll help see how testing in the basement might translate to my office.
I listened to several of the same songs as before and here's my conclusion. Both speakers gained some oomph in the smaller office. The T0s picked up some low end and became more balanced. The P3s also gained some low end, maybe a tiny bit too much. Simpler song's like Dreams with a kick over a bassline remained nice and pretty tight. But some songs like Radiohead's Paranoid Android got a little mushy in the low end. Just too much going on in this room. The speakers are only about 10" from the wall so maybe port plugs would help. The acoustics in this room suck so maybe less bass is more.
However, the character of the mids and highs didn't change much. With the T0s playing Dreams, the snare is a little thin and the splash cymbols a little surprising at times. I preferred both on the Alpha P3. And voices just a little more natural as well.
In summary, i'd say the two got closer in the office. The T0s became more balanced. They're crisp and clear, but a little thin. Some cons to the P3s showed up with the amount of bass they produce in this room. However, their overall tone is still preferable to my ears so they still win.