Pioneer SP-BS41-LR loudspeaker Page 2
Part of the reason for the SP-BS41-LR's transient realism was its ability to reproduce extended and uncolored high frequencies, and the way the highs seamlessly integrated with the midrange. I found myself searching for jazz recordings that spotlight the dynamic and tonal range of the trumpet. On the title track of Miles Davis's 'Round About Midnight (CD, Columbia CK 40610), his horn was silky and holographic, with just the right amount of metallic bite and long decay. On a mellower note, in the ballad "Tristan's Way," from Liam Sillery's Priorité (CD, OA2 Records 22082), Sillery stretches out the long, slow, soulful trumpet melody before moving on to an improvisational passage. Through the Pioneers, the lower register of Sillery's horn bathed the rhythm section in a mellifluous glow.
The SP-BS41-LR's reproduction of the highs let me focus on things in rock recordings that I'd never noticed before. In the instrumental introduction to "Little Wing," from Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold As Love (CD, MCA MCAD-1601), a track I've heard many dozens of times, I found myself ignoring Hendrix's trademark rhythm guitar and being transfixed by that glockenspiel melody, whose upper harmonics shimmered and decayed without getting lost in the mix.
I was very impressed with both the quantity and the quality of the Pioneer's bass reproduction even in my large listening room, which has proved a challenge for the smallest bookshelf speakers at the low end. In "Aurora," from Jon Hassell's Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (CD, ECM 2077), there is an interlude between Peter Freeman's thundering electric bass guitar and the electronic bass of Jamie Muhoberac that at times drops below the bass guitar's bottom note. Although Pioneer claims a lower limit of 55Hz for the SP-BS41-LR (we'll see what John Atkinson's measurements tell us), I never noticed a lack of bass clarity with this track, or any lower-register notes on which the speaker seemed to peter out. Similarly, in John Rutter's Requiem, with Timothy Seelig conducting the Turtle Creek Chorale and the Women's Chorus of Dallas (CD, Reference RR-57CD), the pipe organ's pedal notes never lost definition, the ensemble remained clear and crisp with no loss of definition even at fairly high volume levels, and the "air" of the recording venue (a church) was quite audible.
With rock music, the SP-BS41-LR was able to produce a good sense of high-level dynamic drive and heft, especially for so small a speaker. However, if I pushed the Pioneers too hard, the limitations of the laws of physics did come into play. I cranked up "Vrooom," from King Crimson's Thrak (CD, Discipline 8 40324 2), and although the distinction between the bass lines of Tony Levin on Chapman Stick and Trey Gunn on bass guitar was quite clear, when I tried to push the SP-BS41-LR past 95dB in my large room I began to lose a bit of detail, the speakers sounded a bit squashed and compressed, and some smearing emerged.
I compared the Pioneer SP-BS41-LR ($149.99/pair) with my trusty entry-level benchmark, the Paradigm Atom v.5 ($250/pair), as well as with the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 ($350/pair), which I reviewed in the July 2011 issue.
The Paradigm Atom v.5 had a midrange richness similar to that of the Pioneer, with quite good inner detail. However, the Atom's sound had a darker qualityits highs weren't as extended or as clean as the SP-BS41-LR'sand its transients seemed a bit more blurred. Finally, the Paradigm's midbass was a touch warmer, the Pioneer's cleaner.
The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1's midrange was as clean as the Pioneer's and seemed to resolve even more detail. The 10.1's highs were more extended, however, as well as more silky, airy, and delicate. The Wharfedale's bass was as tight and clean as the Pioneer's, but seemed more extended. Finally, the Diamond 10.1's overall dynamic range seemed wider than either the Pioneer's or the Paradigm's.
Over the last few years, I've continued to be impressed by what speaker designers are accomplishing at lower and lower price points. It seems that every time I get a new affordable bookshelf speaker in-house, it raises the bar. One would expect the sound of a $149.99/pair bookshelf model to include some serious compromises and tradeoffs, but within its size limitations, the Pioneer SP-BS41-LR has none. It is a dynamic, coherent, and colorless reproducer of music, with quite convincing bass for its size. It should give lovers of all genres of music hours of convincing realism in the listening room, so long as those listeners keep their volume levels within reason and don't attempt to rewrite the laws of physics. Sure, spending two or three times as much can buy you a number of speakers that will do one or more things better than the Pioneer. But Andrew Jones set himself a very high design goal with the SP-BS41-LR, and he has fully attained that goaland without compromise. An impressive achievement indeed!