Pioneer Elite TZ-9 loudspeaker Page 2

It was immediately obvious that the TZ-9 can't be all things to all listeners. While it proved capable of producing an impressive sound with most rock and classical organ recordings, where its deep bass, excellent sense of dynamics, and neutral high-frequency balance helped communicate the music's vitality, orchestral recordings didn't fare as well. I couldn't escape a rather nasal coloration in the lower midrange that most affected the sound of naturally miked violins, lending them a "hooded" quality. Voices, too, were a little nasal, but male spoken voice was more affected by a boomy resonant effect in the chest region that accentuated a "boxy" coloration.

Investigating further revealed that the exact degree of this coloration was very dependent on the listening axis. Slouching in my not-very-high seat so that I was on the tweeter axis both improved the midrange tonality and added a little sparkle to the extreme highs. However, this places the listener's ears a mere 33" off the ground, which is an unrealistically low position, in my opinion. Below that axis, a sharp crossover notch can be heard in the treble.

Moving as far away from the TZ-9s as I could comfortably get in my listening room, some 10' or so, revealed that the sound did integrate better at a more distant listening position, the transition between the low and upper midrange being then better handled. This is not a speaker for small rooms, my 20' by 16' by 9' room still probably being a little on the small size to get the best from the TZ-9.

This was also relevant in the low frequencies. While it did add a degree of "purr" to electric bass guitar, the fact that the low bass sounded both raised in level compared with the upper bass, and a little undercontrolled overall, diluted the sound of plucked double bass on classical recordings to a rather indistinct "blob" of low-frequency sound. Partly, this will be due to the twin-woofer design of the TZ-9 more efficiently exciting the room's LF resonant modes. This, too, should improve in a larger room, though my preference would still be a more damped bass alignment. It did add an impressive degree of weight to the sound of organ-pedal stops, however.

On the positive side, apart from the very slight degree of liveliness noted earlier, which was also apparent as a slight exaggeration of piano sound in the octave above the treble stave, high frequencies were pretty clean. The top two octaves sounded a little depressed with the speakers firing straight ahead, but there was a sufficient degree of openness to the sound, particularly on the tweeter axis. The TZ-9 tweeter is obviously a fundamentally neutral performer.

If you have been following my ongoing odyssey through the world of loudspeakers, you will have noted that the ability to throw a sharp stereo image, well-defined in both lateral and depth dimensions, is something I hold to be very important. It's the one reason I've given high ratings to minimonitors like the LS3/5a and Celestion SL700, and dipoles such as the Quad ESL-63. The TZ-9 proved only average in this respect. Laterally, the precise positioning that I had arranged on my own recordings became somewhat smeared, with some midrange notes "splashing" across the stage. The presentation of soundstage depth, too, on recordings that possess the necessary wherewithal, was restricted compared with, say, the Quads. And instruments with a strong harmonic content in the lower midrange, cellos for example, were thrust forward at the listener.

All in all, I was disappointed by the sound of the Elite TZ-9. At this price level, even minor criticisms become significant. Despite the speaker doing many things well, when it comes to overall levels of midrange coloration and balance, and the ability to present a well-focused image, my criticisms are rather more than minor.

An ostentatiously high-tech design, Pioneer's Elite TZ-9 is actually the first Japanese high-end loudspeaker with which I have spent a lengthy period of time. In some areas, it offers superb performance. Throughout the upper mids, there is an immediacy to its sound that brings even the dullest recording to life. The highs, too, are detailed, without becoming over-etched or fatiguing with a typical "hot" modern rock recording. It will also play extremely loud, and, in a large listening room, will produce extended low frequencies that are reasonably well-controlled.

However, it does have midrange problems that are particularly noticeable on naturally recorded classical orchestral music and are out of place in a $4000 pair of loudspeakers. As well as a rather forward midband balance, there is a pervasive, somewhat nasal coloration that precludes a recommendation. The competition is just too stiff: the Mirage M-1, B&W 801 Matrix, Magnepan Tympani IV, and Quad ESL-63, for example, offer much lower levels of coloration and considerably greater transparency at the same approximate price level, while the Thiel CS3.5, Vandersteen 3A, and MartinLogan Sequel II best the TZ-9 in all areas save ultimate loudness and bass extension, and cost considerably less.

Despite this speaker getting good reviews elsewhere, ultimately it failed to impress this listener. What it does well is less important to me than what it does wrong, I fear. I suspect that, despite its high-end price tag, it is not aimed at readers of this and other high-end magazines.

Pioneer Electronics USA
P.O. Box 1540
Long Beach, CA 90810
(800) 746-6337