Pioneer SP-BS22-LR loudspeaker
I often receive letters from Stereophile readers. I've even gotten a few letters from female readers, one an attractive young lover of tube gear who sent me a picture of herself and [sigh] her boyfriend. But most are from people who are either thanking me for a specific review that resulted in a purchase and a satisfied buyer, or are suggesting products they'd like me to review. I frequently take the advice of writers of this second category; in fact, two of the inexpensive speakers I'll review in the next year were recommended by readers.
Only twice have I gotten a series of negative letters. The first was from readers complaining that, instead of comparing the Spendor S3/5R2 loudspeaker to other modern designs, as I did in my March 2013 review, I should have compared it to John Atkinson's pair of the Spendor's ancestor, the original BBC LS3/5A. Point taken, but I think a review is more useful when it compares a component with similarly priced products that are still available, and that the reviewer has listened to extensively in his own reference system.
The other batch of negative letters came from readers who'd tried to buy a pair of Pioneer SP-BS41-LR speakers ($149.99/pair), a bookshelf model I'd raved about in the September 2011 Stereophile. They couldn't find them. One was even from a friend, a wealthy investment banker. I suggested he consider a number of other speakers at slightly higher prices. "No," he said, "I want to spend under $200." (This guy could afford any loudspeaker ever reviewed in Stereophile.) I did some digging at Pioneer USA, and found out that the SP-BS41-LR was being discontinued; designer Andrew Jones was working on an entire new line of affordable models.
For the record: Before reviewing any component for Stereophile, I verify that 1) the manufacturer has at least five US dealers, 2) the model is currently in production, and 3) the company does not plan to discontinue it in the near future. Typically, if a model change is afoot, the manufacturer gives me a heads upsomething like, "in six to nine months the product is being replaced with a new model. I suggest you hold off and wait for the new one." In this case, however, it seems that Jones's design team was a step ahead of Pioneer's marketing arm. Pioneer told me that they'd let me know when the new models were available. So, when they informed me of the launch of their new SP-BS22-LR bookshelf model ($159.99/pair, street price of $129.99/pair), I asked for review samples.
Though very close in price to the SP-BS41-LR speaker I reviewed two years ago, the SP-BS22-LR doesn't actually replace it. Rather, it replaces the SP-BS41-LR's little brother, the SP-BS21-LR ($129.99/pair), which had a smaller woofer (4") and cabinet than the 'BS41. Like its predecessor, the SP-B22-LR is a bass-reflex speaker with a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a 4" woofer, neither magnetically shieldedbut both drivers are new. The new woofer's cone is made of textured polypropylene, to strengthen it for better bass dynamics while smoothing the frequency response. It also has a rigid dustcap to stiffen the voice coil, and a vented pole-piece to release the air pressure that builds up under the cap. The tweeter has a dome made of a new proprietary material, a new custom waveguide, and a larger magnet, for improved high-frequency response, better off-axis response, and higher efficiency. The SP-BS22-LR uses a sophisticated, six-element crossover network comprising a single film capacitor and an air-core inductor in the tweeter feed, and a laminated steel-core inductor and an electrolytic capacitor in the woofer feed.
The Pioneer's enclosure has gently curved sidewalls. While the 'B21 and the 'B44 had unremovable metal grilles, the SP-B22-LR's grilles are removable. Andrew Jones says that he wanted buyers to see the drivers and that customer response to the earlier speakers indicated that not everyone liked the fixed grilles. However, I found the original metal grilles rather distinctive. The SP-B22-LR looks much more ordinary, a bit like a cross between Mission and Wharfedale bookshelf models. I slightly preferred the sound with the grilles onwith the SP-BS22-LRs sitting on my Celestion Si stands, the grilles provided better integration of the midrange and high frequencies.
The SP-BS22-LR's rich midrange made it an excellent match for well-recorded voices. In "Ordinary Love," from Sade's Love Deluxe (CD, Epic EK 53178), the singer's melodic lines were mellifluous and dimensional. Through the Pioneer there was plenty of detail and subtle vocal inflections, but no trace of coloration. There was a subtle bit of chestiness in the speaker's lower midrange, but I'd call that more of a character than a coloration, and it never interfered with male voices or woodwinds in that frequency range. In fact, the male vocal ensemble in "Chan Chan," from Buena Vista Social Club (CD, World Circuit/Elektra Nonesuch 79478-2), was clean, clear, and coherent, with a great sense of bloom. Even the lower range of dramatic baritone Patrick Mason in Spanish Songbook 1: The Ghosts of Alhambra, from George Crumb's The Complete Crumb Edition, Vol.15 (CD, Bridge 9335), was forceful, vibrant, and dynamic, with no hint of coloration throughout the singer's wide range.
I found the Pioneer's reproduction of the highs quite interesting. It didn't have the most extended highs, as inexpensive bookshelf speakers go, but its integration of the lower and upper highs was so perfect, and its rolloff of the extreme highs so gradual, that never did any high-frequency instrument lose any sense of realism. Even in the most demanding passages of Tom Chiu's performance of David Chesky's Violin Concerto, with Anthony Aibel conducting Area 31 (SACD/CD, Chesky SACD288), I could pick out the extended harmonics of his violin; the SP-BS22-LR captured all of the dynamics in Chiu's unique phrasing.