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 up—something 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 shielded—but 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 on—with 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.

Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc.
PO Box 1540
Long Beach, CA 90801-1540
(800) 421-1404

fvelasco's picture

Anyone listen to the floorstanding in this series, the SP-FS52's? I would like the floorstanding if it will sound as clean as the bookshelf. And at the same price, $129, I am torn on which way to go. I tried listening to them in the store but I couldn't get a good feel for them, and for some strange reason they wouldn't let me borrow them :)

Stephen Mejias's picture

The floorstanding Pioneers are sold individually; the standmounts are sold per pair. So, while the SP-FS52 costs $260/pair, the SP-BS22 costs $130/pair. Note that the price of the SP-BS22 has just officially been reduced to $130/pair from the original price of $160/pair.

I haven't heard the floorstanders, but I suspect they maintain the smaller speakers' tonal qualities, while offering greater frequency extension and being capable of playing at higher volumes. Michael Fremer wrote about them for AnalogPlanet.

fvelasco's picture

I did realize that after I posted, I got a little excited! Thanks for the direction, I'm kinda new to the whole audiophile community and really appriciate you taken time to reply.

SridharPoli's picture

I am on budget. Can you please suggest me the best stereo amplifier for Pioneer SP-BS22 under $200?

Walter Martin's picture

I don't know that there is a "best," but the Onkyo TX-8020 receiver has gotten good review and is available for $159 on Amazon. I think it would be an excellent match, even if you don't care about the tuner and just use it as a preamp and power amplifier. For even less money, you could also consider one of the inexpensive tripath (also called "Class T") amplifiers available from places like Amazon and Parts Express.

SridharPoli's picture

Heyyy Walter, Thanks for suggesting me with a better choice with the modest budget I have. I am ordering Topping TP30 (I think that's the Tripath Class T amp you are suggesting) and i am VERY EAGER to get it soon. Just cant wait having the Pioneer SP BS22 at home just sitting in the packaging box and don't have an amp to get it playing :-)

Walter Martin's picture

That is not the only one, but yeah, that is the type I was talking about. I have a friend running $500 speakers off of a similar one. Even though he and I have different ideas of what sounds good, he is very picky about sound and is quite happy with it. By all reports you should have a nice sounding system for very little money. Enjoy.

ccfk's picture

I've had these speakers for about four months now and the only thing I've heard them struggle with is Public Image Limited's "First Edition", which is a sonic monster.  For $130 a pair they're a no brainer.

Snowdog57's picture

These speakers are a perfect addition to my 27" iMac (with the ubiquitous Lepai 20-20 amp). Given the glowing reviews of other sites, I took the chance and picked up a pair at a small shop in Seattle that gave me ample time to audition them - sure they sounded good there, but what about when I got home? Hooked them up and couldn't believe the quality of the frequency range. Having purchased the Dayton B652s online about 6 months ago (purchased solely on glowing reviews), I was greatly disappointed. They sounded flat, as in no depth whatsoever, and narrow fq range. So, naturally, I was wary of the Pioneers at first, but after listening to them I know I'll be purchasing more in the future - without reservations!

Et Quelle's picture

Why take the time to talk about this plain, ordinary speaker? No one is dreming of this? You buy it just to have a speaker.
The enthusiast wants monitors they can collect, pass down and drool over. A non audiophile will snatch it up though?

Pioneers have bass. My mom has used them for years. They went further maybe with this and make it condusive to piano. Whar-
fedale has got to be better, cooler and worthy of drooling I like the middle ground monitors; slightly pricy but not 25,000$

Stephen Mejias's picture

With respect, these Pioneers, designed by Andrew Jones, are not your mom's (or your dad's) Pioneers. Their looks may be plain, but their sound is remarkable. They very easily hold their own against much more expensive speakers, the Wharfedales included.

Ben2talk's picture

A rhetorical question surely, or do you scorn those who are unwilling to fork out big bucks for 'real hifi'.
Hopefully there will always be a few paying attention, though I love my main stereo speakers I'm in no position to match up a 'good' 7.1 or even 5.1 system.

These pioneers sound very sweet, their warm character matching my front B&W pair at a cost (685's at 45,000 baht here...) of 5000 baht. I'd never even listen to Pioneers unless I'd read this article..... I still cannot quite believe 1. The quality for a Pioneer or 2. The way they blend in and extend the sound field.

gn77b's picture

speaking of Wharfedale, I watched (read? I forget) an interview with Andrew Jones where he mentioned that generally cheap speakers are actually just built to provide "some" sound, drivers thrown together in a decent-looking box. funnily enough, the first example that came to mind was Wharfedale, which have an incredible finish for the price but I'm not sure there's more to it :D

Stephen Mejias's picture

Read our complete review of Wharfedale's Diamond 10.1 here. I also spent some time with the speaker.

It kicks ass and is one of my favorite speakers.

JIGF's picture

Funny how Andrew's much more expensive design up a few posts from here gets 0 comments vs 8 comments here.

Utopianemo's picture

Okay, although I have been eyeing Mr. Jones's monitors since before the last model came out, I had decided that for my upgrade I was going to go with the Wharfedale Diamond 10.2, the larger sibling to the 10.1's. Now, the 10.1's were glowingly reviewed everywhere, including here. I know the Pioneers are really good, but what do you mean exactly by "they hold their own" against the Wharfedales?

My choice to go with the Wharfedales over the Pioneers was based on the fact that I tend to favor a warm midrange, as well as my assumption that were I to crank the volume(as I like to do from time to time in my somewhat large room), the Pioneers wouldn't be able to remain as composed and dynamic as the Wharfedales.  It's also why I was planning on going with the 10.2. Admittedly, I haven't been able to listen to the Wharfedales yet as the nearest dealer is 2-1/2 hours away and in another state.

So Steven and/or Robert, given the choice, price notwithstanding, would you pick the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR over the Wharfedale 10.1? And related to that, do the Pioneers respond well at loud volumes? 

Thanks so much,

Nathan Daniels

Stephen Mejias's picture

Hi Nathan. Thanks for reading and thanks for your questions.

I know the Pioneers are really good, but what do you mean exactly by "they hold their own" against the Wharfedales?

I'm working on a Follow-Up for our October issue, which will make direct comparisons between the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR and the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1, so please stay tuned for that. In Bob Reina's review of the Pioneer, he mentions a few differences between it and the Wharfedale, so check that out.

The Pioneers respond fine to high volumes, but this fact also depends on how high you mean, the size of your room, and your amplifier. That said, if you want more size, volume, and warmth, definitely go with the 10.2s. No question about it.

Given the choice, price notwithstanding, would you pick the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR over the Wharfedale 10.1?

Given the choice, price notwithstanding, I would pick both. I could live happily with the sound of either. If I had to pick just one, I would pick the Wharfedale because it's prettier.

Utopianemo's picture


thank you for the insight. I enjoyed Bob's review and I am looking forward to the October issue!

tcmalibu's picture

While I do not consider myself an 'audiophile', I've been buying and listening to pretty good gear since the early 70's. Over the past 40 years I found that my ears always turned to british speakers and have rarely swayed from B&W in the last 15 years. After reading the review I bought the Pioneers, thinking what the hell - at this price who cares - maybe they will surprise me a little. After a good solid listen, and with the realization that they are not close to being broken in, I now find myself fearful of compaing them to my B&W 805D's and giddy with the idea that I just found a ridiculously good speaker for this kind of money. It's like finding a Pinot Noir at $10 a bottle that rivals $100 bottles.

And Kudos to SM for a spot on review - ".... made it an excellent match for well-recorded voices." indeed - Lyle Lovett singing 'Baltimore' was mesmerizing. Audio is feeling like fun again!

Ben2talk's picture

Me too, shocked that these shoeboxes make good surrounds to a B&W front end!

deckeda's picture

Stephen, I was glad to see last year's SP-BS21-LR mentioned since I own a pair and since they completely flew under Stereophile's radar when all the hubbub about the SP-BS41-LR was being published. So the brief comparison with the newer pair is interestting.

Oh, and for another reason: The SP-BS21-LR's were generally more available than the SP-BS41-LR's were. But whatever. Who knew?

I also have the SP-C21 center channel speaker and together with the SP-BS21-LR's makes a seamless presentation for movies.

Thanks again and for the link to MF's review of the floorstanders. I was on the fence last year and almost bought them (the predecessor SP-FS51-LR actually) but not being able to hear them took the "lesser risk" and picked up the '21s instead, not knowing A. Jones had a potential winner there, too.)

SridharPoli's picture

Thanks for recommending the SP BS 22's.

Walter Martin's picture

Sorry, this was a reply to a comment above that somehow ended up down here, so I deleted the content.

604Yarks's picture

A bit late to the party, but I'm contemplating picking up a set of these to go with a new U-Turn Orbit Plus I've ordered for my wife. I have a phono pre-amp, but have been scratching my head on what amp would work best on these (while staying in the spirit of low-cost but good). The NAD D3020 and C316BEE come to mind...thoughts??

MrBill's picture

I picked up a set of these to use as PC speakers and to test out the amphony model 200. I am not a fan of amps who advertise wattage much higher than their PS is capable of delivering (the wall wart is only 36v 1000ma, so I wouldn't trust it past a realistic 15w per channel). I can now say that at least for near field listening this amp/speaker combo is pure magic for a total of $200. Anyone looking for an inexpensive amp that matches these speakers wonderfully should seriously consider checking and taking a look at the 200 or 250 amplifiers. Sure, these speakers won't hit the bottom octave, but I wouldn't say I am missing it at all. I have just gotten through Chesky's World's Greatest audiophile Vocal recordings in FLAC 24/192 and I had a smile on my face the whole time knowing how little the amp/speaker chain cost. The mids are forward and syrupy, but not so much that they mess with the overtones and throw the timbre off too much. I cannot imagine a better sounding stereo setup for this price or below.

SridharPoli's picture

I have a pair of Pioneer SP BS22 but not thoroughly satisfied. Looks like wharfdale has more clarify, sound-stage and emotion compared to pioneers. Also, we have a new debut series of Elac B6 which i am very much tempted to buy. Not sure which one to choose. Can someone suggest me which one to choose? I like live and true to life music and little warmness or richness in the sound.

bdaddy60's picture

I was way late in actually hearing these things......yes I am astounded. Pioneer deserves as much credit as Andrew Jones for this product. No major brand has released any hi fi product I can remember at such a price with such must be a bit difficult on the reviewers to explain to their own ears what is taking place.....even though Elac has upped the "entry level" ante by $100.00 for the Debut 5 the Pioneer 22's remain the better bargain. The real task is to be content because once you have gained "entry" moving to the next "level" is almost impossible to stop....I decided to match a pair of the SP-BS22's with a NAD C516BEE cd player and Quad Elite integrated (80w/ch) and I can't explain why I've lost interest in my much much more expensive other system....I might just sell it and buy more music haaa

Mau Villegas's picture

Hello. I just began to care more about my audio experience and this article has been the most helpful for my selection on entry level speakers on a budget. I intend my little system for LPs listening, what amplifiers would you recommend on this speakers?