Earlier this year, I was introduced through a friend to the Andrew Jones-designed Pioneer SP-BS21-LR, which proved most enlightening. As it turns out, the $99 per pair Pioneer SP-BS21-LR turned out to be very good - okay, great - little bookshelf loudspeakers. Unfortunately, when I returned to check out their floor-standing brethren, they were no longer in stock, so my introduction to the mighty Pioneer line stopped at the bookshelf speaker. Well, good things come to those who wait, for Andrew Jones is back with a new line of affordable Pioneer loudspeakers, anchored by the SP-FS52 floor-standing model reviewed here.
• Read more floorstanding speaker reviews by the writers at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Explore pairing options in our Subwoofer Review section.
• See amplifiers in our Amplifier Review section.
For those of you who may not be familiar with his work, Andrew Jones is the lead designer for TAD (Technical Audio Devices Labratories), a truly high-end brand aimed at discerning two-channel enthusiasts with a line of loudspeakers, amplifiers, preamps and source components. Jones' TAD-branded loudspeakers have garnered numerous awards and praise from the audiophile press, though it's his lesser, or should I say less expensive, designs that intrigue me - they even intrigue Jones. In a recent interview, Jones commented that the challenge of taking all that is gleamed from his TAD designs and bringing it to the masses a la his Pioneer designs is one that excites him. He went on to say that anyone can build a good loudspeaker if given infinite funds to do so; it's designing a quality loudspeaker on a budget that's hard.
I would agree with Jones, though I believe as time passes and technology and understanding grow, we're beginning to see that, more and more, so-called entry-level products are evolving more rapidly than their high-end counterparts. As a result, what once cost tens of thousands can now be had for a fraction of the cost, allowing more and more would-be enthusiasts access to this great hobby. Access is what the Pioneer SP-FS52 is all about.
Retailing for $129.99 each (that is not a typo), the SP-FS52 is a three-way, four-driver floor-standing speaker that is available virtually everywhere, including Pioneer's own website. The speakers themselves are compact, measuring a little over 35 inches tall by nearly nine inches wide and 11 inches deep. The RF molded wood cabinet gives each speaker a weight of roughly 25 pounds. As you can imagine, a speaker at this price point and wide distribution is limited in its number of available finishes, which is a nice way of saying it only comes in Ash Black veneer. The push pin grilles cover a single one-inch soft dome tweeter mated to three five-and-one-quarter-inch woofers. Around back, you'll find two ports, as well as a single pair of binding posts capable of accepting bare spade or banana-terminated speaker cables. A note regarding banana terminations: you must first remove the plastic plugs from the gold-plated posts before inserting any banana-terminated speaker cable.
Despite having only two types of drivers, the SP-FS52 is a true three-way speaker, capable of a reported frequency response of 40Hz to 20kHz. The listed impedance is six ohms, with a stated sensitivity of 87dB. The crossover frequencies are 250Hz and 3kHz. Pioneer states that the SP-FS52 can handle up to 130 watts maximum which, when viewed through the scope of the rest of the SP-FS52's specs, makes it a prime candidate for pairing with today's modern AV receivers. However, due to their somewhat limited low-frequency capabilities, a subwoofer or two will also be required for full-range music or movie playback.
Which brings me to the rest of the SP lineup of loudspeakers, which includes a $129.99 per pair bookshelf (SP-BS22-LR), a $99 center channel (SP-C22) and $159.99 eight-inch powered subwoofer. All of the aforementioned loudspeakers use the same drivers, so you can mix and match them to create your ideal 5.1 or even 7.1 channel system, or you can purchase one of the two ready-made 5.1 systems from Pioneer that start at $499.99. For more on these speakers and/or their multi-channel package options, please visit Pioneer's website.
Despite supposedly being introduced at CEDIA this year, the Andrew Jones-designed speakers were available at my local Best Buy just prior to their official unveiling. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, this time I went ahead and purchased a pair of SP-FS52 floor-standing speakers, as well as the matching center. Total price on the ol' credit card? Try less than $360. Had I thrown in a pair of bookshelf speakers for rear channels, the cost still would have been below $500. Hell, I could've picked up two pairs of SP-FS52 floor-standing speakers (fronts and rears) and a matching center for around $600. Toss in another pair of SP-FS52s and you've got seven-speaker surround for well under $1,000. I did not purchase the matching sub for two reasons: first, my in-store demo left a lot of room for improvement and second, my room is a bit too big for a mere 100-watt, eight-inch anything. Insert inappropriate joke here.
Since I was so enamored of Jones' previous Pioneer efforts, I went ahead and set up the SP-FS52s and matching center in my reference system, rather than relegating them to my bedroom system, where affordable loudspeakers tend to flourish. This meant putting my reference Tekton Pendragon aside for the time being, which I wasn't keen to do, but then again, who said the SP-FS52s weren't special, either? I went ahead and connected the left and right SP-FS52s to one of my Crown XLS 2000 DriveCore amplifiers running in stereo/bypass mode, which dishes out a solid 375 watts per its two channels into eight ohms and 650 watts per into four. More than enough juice for the SP-FS52s, if I'm honest. I connected the matching center to another of my XLS 2000 amplifiers, again in stereo/bypass mode. The rear speakers in this setup defaulted to Noble Fidelity's L-85 LCRS in-ceiling loudspeakers.
Since I didn't like the sub Pioneer offered to go along with the Jones' lineup of loudspeakers, I used my JL Audio Fathom f110 in its place. Admittedly, using a JL subwoofer with speakers such as the SP-FS52 is overkill, for you could easily get away with a more affordable sub from the likes of SVS, Outlaw, Aperion or even Definitive, but since I had none of those subwoofers on hand, I went with what I knew and that was JL. My JL subs were also already EQ'd for my room using a combination of tools: the free program Room EQ Wizard and a professional parametric EQ in the form of Behringer's BFD ($109 retail).
The rest of my system consisted of my Integra DHC 80.2 AV preamp, my trusty HTPC running J River for music and movies and a Sony BDP-S580 acting as a transport. All cabling came by way of Binary bulk cables from SnapAV or Monoprice.
The speakers were placed roughly in the same positions where my reference Pendragons had been, putting them approximately two feet off my front wall with three feet to either side of their outermost edges with regards to my side walls. This put them approximately eight feet apart (inside edge to inside edge) and eleven-and-a-half feet from my primary listening position. I don't put a lot of emphasis on break-in, but I did let them loosen up for a few hours before sitting down for a listen.
I kicked things off with 3 Doors Down's Acoustic EP (Universal Records) album and the track "Landing in London." Right away, what struck me most was the strength of the SP-FS52's center image indicating strong dispersion, at least inward, between the left and right speakers. I applied zero toe-in during setup and discovered it wouldn't be needed later. The vocal presence was good, far more weighted and dimensional that I believe I was prepared to accept, though the height was constrained, thanks in part to the SP-FS52's diminutive stature. I wouldn't go so far as to say the vocals were trapped, but the vocals definitely seemed to be coming from a seated or kneeling position, if I had to describe the effect. The next thing I noticed was just how smooth and sort of seductive the whole sound was. It wasn't overly warm or rolled-off - though high frequencies were definitely being rolled off at the extreme - but the whole performance seemed to take a step or two back from the speakers' front baffles. This again wasn't a terrible trait, just one that stood out to me. In context, many affordable loudspeakers have the opposite problem, in that they're too forward or excitable, two things the SP-FS52s definitely are not. I was able to breathe a bit more life into the SP-FS52s by increasing the volume to the point where the average decibel level was solidly in the mid 80s, although even then, the dynamics sounded a little constrained. When the music kicked up in complexity, I did note that the lower registers became a touch woolly and at times even a bit congested, even though the speaker's faults were more of omission rather than commission, if you catch my drift. Soundstage depth was presented in a more lifelike and natural way than was width; in fact, I found it difficult to get the SP-FS52 to venture much beyond its outer edges.
Read more about the performance of the SP-FS52 on Page 2.