Pioneer SP-BS22-LR_main2

Pioneer SP-BS22-LR standmount loudspeaker review

That home-theatre-channeled name: SP-BS22-LR. It’s dreadful. Thankfully, these budget standmounts from Pioneer are anything but. In fact, they’re a bit of a revelation. Here are ten reasons why*:

1. Price. US$130** from Best Buy stateside or AU$200 direct-delivered from Pioneer Australia.

2. Designed by Andrew Jones. Yes, the Andrew Jones of TAD (“Technical Audio Devices”) whose floor standers start at around $30k. Jones knows a thing or two about loudspeaker design. Armed with Pioneer’s buying muscle, unit costs were driven waaay down for a surprisingly accomplished design, especially that crossover.

3. Under the direction of Jones, Pioneer haven’t simply slapped two drivers in a box with padding and called it a day. The curved side walls are designed to minimise internal standing waves and there’s some internal bracing to keep cabinet resonance on a tight leash. Aside from the rear-port, the Pioneers are a dead ringer for Wharfedale’s 9.1, which are more squat of appearance. Interestingly, Wharfedale cited cost concerns as the driving force behind recently ditching the curved cabinetry for their much-admired Diamond range.

3. Pioneer imaging is a short swim downstream from the best in class. It’s not ProAc good but neither is it poor. Criticisms of boxiness refuse to stick.

Pioneer SP-BS22-LR_3

4. Spatial cues emanate from wide reaching uppermost mids and lower treble. We can probably thank the wave-guided soft-dome tweeter for that. The illusion – or lack thereof – of front-to-back spatial depth is the Pioneers’ weakest suit. Instead, a rather two-dimensional wall of sound. You can’t have it all – not at this price.

5. The SP-BS22-LR are brighter sounding than a lot of budget-class standmounts, especially the Brits. Again, I’m thinking Wharefdale Diamond 9.1. The lower treble in the Pioneers can get a become a little insistent with edgier sources. A cheap NOS DAC with some treble roll-off will see you right. Or maybe a turntable with a warmish cart.

6. The 4 inch woofer ensures the Pioneer could never be described as sluggish. Bass and treble don’t crowd out the midrange so whilst there isn’t the overall propulsion and drive of the Usher S520, there’s better openness with voices and percussion. I regularly enthuse about those budget Ushers – at $300ish they pack the biggest price/performance wallop in their class – but these Pioneers present a serious challenge to the crown.

7. Don’t mistake a lack of heft for a lack of bass. The BS22 can reach some of those lower bass notes just fine – they’re officially rated down to 55Hz – they just won’t hit punch you in the chest is all.

8. There’s scant aural evidence of a mid-bass hump. I can’t stand mid-bass humps as an illusion of bass presence.

pioneer_SP-BS22-LR_7

9.  Thankfully, you won’t find these loudspeakers neutering tone and timbre established by upstream components. I took delivery of a re-plinthed Lenco L75 turntable (w/ Zu DL-103r cart) and easily and immediately picked its superiority to the outgoing Pro-ject Debut Carbon (/w Ortofon OM 10). It wasn’t even close. These two-hundred dollar speakers from the brain of TAD provided more than sufficient insight. Hell, the NAD D 3020 was even digitising the analogue feed of the iFi iPhono unit before making good with the gain; and still the dense tonal coloursof the modded Lenco ‘table stood firm.

10. Zooming out. These are loudspeakers to keep you grounded. For audiophiles, a chance to get back to basics, to take that overseas vacation over the next upgrade. For bedroom systems. For garages. For gifting. They’re for young’uns fleeing the nest who don’t want to live in sound bar hell or with all-in-one iPod dock mediocrity. They’re for YOUR friends who’ve yet to be infected by the ‘sound matters’ bug – I’m confident few(er) will scoff at the RRP. You’re likely see a pricking up of ears.

Pioneer SP-BS22-LR_5

With speakers so inexpensive, users will – perhaps unrealistically – lower their corresponding budgets for cables and stands. The Atacama Nexus stands on which the review pair were placed cost more. Ditto the Zu Event speaker cables that connected ‘em to the amplifier. Ratcheted frugality might  extend to amplification.

With a sensitivity rating of 88db and nominal 6 ohm impedance the BS22 aren’t that hard to get going. You won’t need a muscle amp. I had great success with the Wadia 151PowerDACMini, which I expected to be a tad (geddit?) bright when combined with the lively tweeter. What I heard was a detailed dialled into focus thrust forth with a relaxed disposition. Similarly convincing results were achieved when the aforementioned NAD D 3020 was called into bat.

Unsurprisingly, best results came from Red Wine Audio’s Signature 57 integrated. At US$4k it’s an unlikely real-world match for the Pioneers. You probably wouldn’t tip over $1k when it comes to amplifier choices but don’t skimp. Don’t think US$130 speakers necessarily implies <US$130 amp. The Pioneers are cheaper than you might expect, allowing you to spend a little larger on driving power. Richer, thicker integrateds would be a terrific match. Think: push-pull EL34 tubers.

Or how about this:  Pioneer SP-BS22-LR + Rega Brio-R (w/ in-built MM phono stage) + Project Debut Carbon + HRT microStreamer?  That’s vinyl and digital both amplified for under $2k.

Pioneer’s performance here knocks out price expectation. That can only mean one thing: DAR-KO award. Ka-bam!

darko_award_2013

*My self-imposed brief for this review was to discuss the essence of these speakers in the context of their retail price and other budget-class leaders: Wharfedale Diamond and Usher S-520.

**Some online stores in the USA were reportedly selling the SP-BS22-LR for a little as US$69 in early 2013.

 

Associated Equipment

  • MacMini w/ Audirvana+
  • Pro-ject Debut Carbon
  • iFi iPhono
  • NAD D 3020
  • Wadia 151PowerDACMini
  • REDGUM RGi60
  • Red Wine Audio Signature 57

 

Audition Music

  • Television – Television (1992)
  • Depeche Mode – Violator (1989)
  • Tom Waits – Mule Variations (1999)
  • Vitamin String Quartet tribute to David Bowie (2002)

 

Further information

 

Want to see the complete list of DAR-KO award winners? Go here.


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Comments
  1. Alex

    Hey John, great review of an overachieving speaker. I recently coherced a friend into creating a 5.1 system made up of the previous generation pioneers, with these BS22’s in the rear. Was surprised how much more clarity and extension up top that the new version had to offer. They still blend well with the older models but they are clearly superior.

    Also, a random question for you. I’m having a tough time finding some speaker stands for a secondary budget 2.0 system. Do you have any recommendations that can fit a smaller bookshelf?

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Speakers stands are super tricky source in Australia and I’m not really across who sells what these days. I think you’ll have some luck with the bigger stores in Melbourne and Sydney but be prepared for $$$.

  2. Philippe

    It would be nice to test them with a T-amp. I drive my B&W CM1 (86db) with a little while Trends Ta10.1.

  3. Ken

    Reviewers can’t resist dropping a bombshell or two into the middle of a review (kinda like inviting your friends over for a backward BBQ without picking up after the dog – whoa!) – makes reviews more interesting, the reader more attentive and leads us searching madly on the web for more info. I’m talking about your move from Pro-ject to Rega to Lenco – is it the PTPAudio?. I have done well by your advice re Dacs, etc and for minimal cost have transformed my top system to listening nirvana from digital sources but my turntable is the elephant in the room – how to replace it for under $2,000 (under $1,000 even better). Surely you want some of your vinyl on the A&K. Fremmer used an ADC from HRT – OK I can afford that but a new turntable, am at my wits end – rationale for your turntable path would be useful? Play it from the ‘let’s digitize some vinyl for portability’ and you are not outside your mandate. PS. my Pioneer SP-BS22-LR driven by a NAD 3020e is at the cottage – terrific combo, can’t wait for your take on the D3020.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Ha – well spotted Ken. Still tweaking the Lenco at the moment but ultimately will be doing vinyl rips to 24/96, 24/192 and DSD with the just arrived PS Audio NuWave Phono converter!

      Not a PTP though, got a custom plinth from an eBay seller in Moldova. $350ish.

  4. David

    John,

    Throughout this review, you reference the Wharfedale 9.1, but you link to your review of the Wharfedale 10.1. The Wharfedale 9.1 and 10.1 are two different models with different characteristics such as front ports vs. rear, so this is a bit confusing.

    Also, I agree with Philippe’s comment. I think something like this is a much more realistic choice for an amplifier to combine with speakers in this price range:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-2012-Indeed-Class-T-Amp-Tripath-TA2021-25WX2-Stereo-Amplifier-12V5A-Power-/290661295439?pt=US_Home_Audio_Amplifiers_Preamps&hash=item43acc3654f

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Yes, I know they are different speakers. That’s why the link text didn’t mention “9.1”.

  5. BradleyP

    Funny, stands worthy of these speakers will cost at least twice as much as the speakers themselves. There’s a certain hurdle to get past with hugely over-performing gear. You have to match it with disproportionately “good stuff” to get the most out of it. Maggie MMG comes to mind. I say, “Bring it on!”

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Agreed – that is the flipside isn’t it? You often hear (of) people complaining about how Maggies are hooked up to “super $$$” amps at shows. It’s not the amps that are necessarily expensive, it’s the Maggies that are so (relatively) inexpensive!

  6. BIll

    Hi John

    I believe Point 6 is wrong. The woofer is 5.25″, not 4″

  7. Trigger

    My experience with these couldn’t have been more different. Extremely rolled off treble past 10K and less than transparent. Some of the stereophile testing matched this experience which makes me wonder if tweeter or cross-over have been updated since May when I purchased them. They did do many things right for me but it was hard to look past the lack of treble.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I didn’t/don’t find them rolled off at all. Neither did an audiophile buddy who popped over for a listen. Faulty batch perhaps?

      • Trigger

        A. Jones stated in an interview that he had spent a good chunk of his design budget on the cross-over for this model. Small value changes there could have them opening up/extending more which would be all good news. I took it as a conscious decision to limit them before things go sideways as they are likely to be paired with low quality equipment upstream and whatever was left of his design budget was not being spent on stellar tweeters. Dammit John, now you’ll make me go listen to a current pair. :D

  8. art

    Do you think it’s ok to place these on a 36″ tall speaker stand? Not mounted but just with double sided stick on that comes with the speaker stand.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Double-sided tape? Blutak not available?