07 August, 2012

Review: Pioneer SP-21BS-LR loudspeakers and SW-8 subwoofer

Review: Pioneer SP-21BS-LR loudspeakers and SW-8 subwoofer, Part I

Please read my follow up report on the SP-21BS-LR, Part II and Part III

Pioneer and TAD Many people don't know the relationship between Pioneer and TAD. Pioneer has always made loudspeakers but this is little known in the West. On the other hand, Pioneer-owned TAD is well known to the sound industry professionals, and its consumer forays recently have been formidable under respected loudspeaker designer Andrew Jones (not to be confused for Phil Jones, of AE-1 fame). Here is an informative interview. I have heard some of these recent consumer TAD loudspeakers at shows, and they have always sounded impressive, deserving of all the accolades heaped upon them, though their prices are certainly prohibitively expensive.

Before I move on, a bit of my little bit of experience with the brand:

TAD TSM-300 Many years ago, the TAD TSM-300 (good description here) and its twin Pioneer S-LH3 was a great hit in Asia. I owned a pair of the former and greatly enjoyed its highly resolving and uncolored sound when matched with SET amps. IMHO, it is best heard when placed horizontal, like in the studio. It has long been discontinued but is much sought after in the second-hand market. A poor man's TAD!

Pioneer by Andrew Jones!
I first heard about our subject's bigger brother SP-41BS-LR in a rave review in Stereophile and the associated HT package (using 4 of these) was reviewed in Stereophile's sister publication hometheater.com. I wanted to buy a pair but found that it was sold out. I waited for quite a while and when no new stock was forthcoming my attention turned to its little brother. I managed to buy a pair for half the list price with a coupon. I also bought the subwoofer at good discount.

SP-21BS-LR This is a somewhat scaled down version of the SP-41BS-LR. Importantly, the same tweeter is used but It has a 4" woofer (instead of 5.25") and the frequency response is 65-20kHz (the bigger brother goes 10 Hz lower). Like its brother, it is 6 ohm, 84db (Pioneer Product Sheet).

The SP-21BS-LR did not get much attention from the same press, but a good write-up of a similar associated package using 4 of these can be found at cnet.

The SP21BS-LR is reasonably well built. There is a internal front-to-back partial partition/brace between the tweeter and woofer. The design shows thoughtful features unusual at the price. The tweeter has a flared baffle, albeit plastic. The woofer unusually is not mounted directly on the cabinet, but on a circular bed. Crossover components are of reasonable quality. It is certainly worth every penny of its price. Compared to other much more expensive small speakers it is rather light, and that Pioneer "label" is just an awful piece of tape!!!! No matter, beauty lies within.

As you can see from the top pic, the protective mesh on both drivers can be removed. Use a small jewelry screwdriver to gently pry those out,  but be careful! They are held in place with a little adhesive applied here and there in the circular groove. 

SW-8 The subwoofer is not big and has an 8" woofer and there is not much in the spec's. However, this set of measurement, -3db at 31Hz, is impressive to say the least!

Sound - Round 1 NYC
At that time, I was listening to the Sf Electa Amator, so I simply swapped in the Pioneer's and put them on the Sf stands. For details of placement and rest of system, click here.

I was impressed from the word go. The Pioneer's threw a wide soundstage and was clean and composed. It was everything the reviews said: midband clarity, smooth high frequency and surprisingly useable bass. For classical music I thought it did nearly as well as other mini monitors I have heard.

To put it in perspective: No, they were not as good as the Sf's, which is best-of-the-best. The resolution is lower, there is less sheen on the massed strings, and it certainly did not go as loud. While I could play a good symphony, there was something a little restrained about the Pioneer.

Adding the SW-8 solidifies the sound a notch and helped the overall dynamics a bit, but the basic characters of the SP-21BS-LR remained. But I can say the subwoofer is very musical, with good speed and clarity, although I feel it did not go as deep as the measurements indicated.

Then I brought the SP-21BS-LR back to HK. I left the SW-8 behind in NYC.

Sound - Round 2 HK
Here, I did not have them on stands. As per my usual practice, I put them high up (similar to this). Equipment:

Digital: YBA WD202
Preamp: Leben RS28CX
Amp 1: Rotel RB870BX (review here)
Amp 2: Western Electric 124B (briefly, here)
Integrated Amp: McIntosh MC-1700 (last blog entry; here)

Just as in NYC, the Pioneer produced a controlled and refined sound whether I used a solid state or tube amp. As the placement was high up, the soundstage was also commensurately high. In this repect, its vertical dispersion is not among the best I have heard. Even so-positioned, the bass remained quite serviceable when I listened to big symphonic music. As before, the sound became a bit restrained when I cranked up the volume. But it was never embarrassed by partnership with much more exalted gear! The more you give it, the better it performs.

Conclusion A superbly controlled loudspeaker with no significant weakness. Nothing comes remotely close at this price.

Now, don't you think the humble little Pioneer bears more than a little resemblance to its professional bigger brother, the currently hot TSM-2201-LR? Watch this space for report on that!

1 comment:

  1. For what its worth, I bought both the sp-21bs and the bigger sp-41 and love the sound of both with one set in the bedroom and the bigger ones singing in the living room. The tape over the pioneer logo is just there to protect it, peel it off. I have been thinking of a third pair, now the sp-bs22, for my computer desktop hooked up to a nuforce icon dac/amplifier. The 21s sound great with it and the 22s have improved power sensitivity and bass, which will be perfect for the desktop system!