Review: Pioneer SP-SB23W sound bar

Wood construction Pioneer sound bar impresses (February 5th, 2014)

Electronista Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Pioneer

Price: $300

The Good

  • Wood build for resonance
    - Good, even volume
    - High accuracy sound reproduction

The Bad

  • Large speaker bar
    - Problematic installation
    - Known (fixable) Bluetooth issues

Pioneer has been heavily invested in home audio for decades. Couple that expertise with the predilection for flat screen televisions to have equally flat-sounding speakers, and the fit seems obvious. Couple a television-oriented sound bar with wireless audio streaming from a smart device, and the value equation just gets better, assuming the product is of sufficient quality. Recently, Electronista has been given the chance to try out the Pioneer SP-SB23W sound bar, with Bluetooth audio streaming capability.

The box with the product showed up, and we were initially wowed by the sheer size of it all. Measuring nearly four feet long, transportation of this monster isn't for those with a compact car. Unpacking the device found wood composite construction throughout, which was an unexpected bonus for a system clocking in at $300.

Unfortunately, while the wood is a good choice from an acoustical standpoint, little if any thought was given to the attractiveness of the cabinet. Flat screens have been a room designer's boon, allowing space to be reclaimed for the inhabitant, in a relatively attractive package. The very plain black finish on the wood recalls the faux-grain prevalent in the '70s and '80s, which is unfortunate.

Setup is not hard, but there are geometric concerns. At over four inches tall and just less than five inches deep, the rather large main speaker just won't fit on the front of most very narrow television stands. Additionally, on five of the six televisions we installed the unit on, the placement of the speaker blocked the infrared receiver on the television when placed on the same stand as the television.

We tested the SP-SB23W's performance with a variety of musical styles and compositions including classical, modern rock, classic rock, adult contemporary, rap, heavy metal, and dubstep. All tracks were ripped from an original CD, at four different bit rates: 128kbit MP3 encoded using iTunes 10.6.3, average 256kbit AAC VBR with Max 0.9.1, 256kbit AAC with iTunes 11, and Apple lossless with iTunes 11. Following this reviewer's personal assessment of the device, we used our five-person testing panel, as we did with previous pieces of gear, and comparatively listened to nearly eight hours of music.

The speaker bar packs four midrange drivers and two tweeters. Input to the speaker bar is provided by Bluetooth, RCA, and optical TOSLink. As with our review of the Geneva Model M sound system, the device delivers amazingly high-quality reproduction, but we almost missed a "dirty" sound for live recordings.

Technically, the subwoofer is ported, with a single 6.5-inch driver and 50W amplifier. We found that given the low crossover to the soundbar, we could place the wireless subwoofer anywhere in the testing facility with no degradation in quality.

Additionally, a wide variety of action films were played through the speaker bar both from an optical connection from the television itself, as well as the same optical cable used connecting to a Sony STR-DH540 surround sound receiver. The playback was expectedly better from the dedicated receiver, with good punchy bass during action sequences and a clear, even sound even during dialogue and other less dramatic audio portions of the program. In short, we had no surprises with audio mixes accompanying audio in comparison to the music samples we tried.

While our review unit wasn't affected, Pioneer acknowledges that some of the SP-SB23W units shipped have an issue with Bluetooth streaming. We asked (without disclosing our affiliation with a review outlet) Pioneer service about the issue, and they are replacing the affected units, which we were told that only affected "a small percentage of the first-run speakers." There is a decent chance that store stock may still contain the affected units, so should you purchase one with the issue, test the Bluetooth functionality early.

For the dollar, the acoustical fidelity we got from the set was outstanding, rivaling more expensive devices. Neither bass nor treble was boosted artificially, and little distortion was realized even at 80 percent of maximum. We're not thrilled with the design, but we'd also rather not pay double the price from competitors for a more stylish enclosure that may not perform as well. If design is paramount for you, then subtract a full star from our rating.

by Mike Wuerthele


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