Pioneer SP-BS22-LR loudspeaker Page 2
I expected a bookshelf speaker this small to sound a bit bass shy in my larger (15' by 35' by 11') listening room, but I never felt it did. Charlie Haden's double bass, on his and Denny Zeitlin's Time Remembers One Time Once (CD, ECM 1239), was woody and airy, with excellent senses of weight and drama and no trace of coloration. Electronic bass, too, fared well. The bass synthesizers in Björk's Homogenic (CD, Elektra 62061-2) and the Sade recording were round, deep, and dynamic, and their interaction with the electronic percussion was crisp and clean. However, don't expect miracles of bass extension. In Antal Dor†ti and the London Symphony's recording of Stravinsky's The Firebird (CD, Mercury Living Presence 432-012 2), the bass drum in fortissimo passages didn't come close to shaking the room. I've heard greater depth and drama in these passages from other, larger bookshelf speakers.
With all recordings, there was a seductive sense of purity and clarity. I attribute this to the Pioneer's low distortion and, for a speaker this inexpensive, its unusually good resolution of detail and transient articulation. The electronic organ figures in Philip Glass's seminal early work North Star (LP, Virgin International 2085) were perfectly clean and uniformand their accurate reproduction is critical to make this piece work. The Pioneer's resolution of detail let me enjoy every subtle cymbal and drum texture from Paul Motian's brushes in his :rarum XVI: Selected Recordings (CD, ECM 8016).
The SP-BS22-LR's excellent reproduction of ambience turned out to be a two-edged sword. I'm a fan of pianist Marilyn Crispell's Dead Circles (CD, Victo CD012), but I didn't enjoy it much through the Pioneers. Although Crispell's piano was reproduced quite naturally, giving an excellent sense of her dynamic phrasing, the overall recording sounded dead. I longed for the ambience of the Motian and Zeitlin/Haden recordings on ECM. The Pioneer was able to quite clearly delineate the subtle differences between the sounds of these recordings.
I also enjoyed the speaker's superb reproduction of transients. The airy sound of Don Fiorino's flattop Seagull acoustic guitar in his solo introduction to "The Deer and Buffalo God Churches," from my jazz quartet Attention Screen's Takes Flight at Yamaha (CD, Stereophile STPH021-2), was reproduced with shimmering, delicate transients. I was able to easily to follow Ringo's drum phrasing in George Harrison's "It's Only a Northern Song," from The Beatles in Mono (CD, Apple B002BSHXJA). And I was transfixed by every subtle percussive texture Jacob Druckman brought to bear on the aforementioned Crumb work.
The album that really integrated the SP-BS22-LR's abilities to articulate transients and dynamics was my favorite John Atkinson recording, of Tomiko Kohjiba's The Transmigration of the Soul, as performed by an ensemble at the 1995 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival on Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2). The thunks of the marimba passages were reproduced with just the right amount of attack and definition, with no trace of smearing or blurring; overall, this recording was reproduced with all its dynamic bloom intact, in both high-level and subtle low-level passages. The Pioneer's dynamic capabilities were most easily heard with piano recordings. Pianist Matthew Shipp has a unique piano style; the Pioneers perfectly captured Shipp's intense, chiming, pounding phrasing on his Nu Bop (CD, Thirsty Ear THI 57114-2).
When I first hooked up the Pioneer, I was concerned that such a small bookshelf speaker wouldn't be able to reproduce large orchestral drama in my large room. My reservations were quickly scotched when I cued up Louis Andriessen's Hout, from Bang on a Can's Industry (CD, Sony Classical SK 66483). The Pioneers realistically captured the sense of space and drama on this recording's wide, deep soundstage. And in the first two segments, Knee Play 1 and Train 1, of Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach, with Michael Riesman leading the Philip Glass Ensemble (CD, Nonesuch 79323-2), the integration of the vocal ensemble, electronic keyboards, and woodwinds presented a dynamic, detailed, and dramatic reproduction of this powerful opening.
I no longer had the SP-BS41-LRs in house, but Pioneer provided me with samples of the SP-BS22-LR's predecessor, the SP-BS21-LR ($129.99/pair), so that I could compare Andrew Jones's design approaches. I also listened to the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 ($350/pair) and the Epos ELS3 ($350/pair when last offered).
The older Pioneer had a very similar tonal balance to the SP-BS22-LR, but was somewhat mellower, with a bit less detail. The SP-BS21-LR's bass was just as clean, but the SP-BS22-LR went a little deeper. The newer speaker also had more refined highs, superior high-level dynamics, and a greater sense of decay.
The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 was more warm, rich, and airy than the SP-BS22-LR, with more delicate and detailed mids and highs, but the new Pioneer bettered it in the low bass. The two speakers' dynamics were equally good.
The Epos ELS3 was a level beyond the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR in refined, delicate, and sophisticated inner detail, but its bass extension and high-level dynamics were inferior to the Pioneer's.
It's impressive when a talented speaker designer such as Andrew Jones takes time off from designing $80,000/pair speakers to come up with a quality speaker costing less than $200/pair. It's even more impressive when he takes the time to revise and refine such an inexpensive design. Jones's SP-BS22-LR is a stunning achievement at $159.99/pair. Its sound is balanced, neutral, and involving, with no significant shortcomings. I'm scratching my head at how Pioneer can produce this level of quality at this price. Every audiophileeven well-heeled investment bankersshould listen to the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR, to hear what's possible for the fiscally challenged music lover.