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 uniform—and 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.

Summing Up
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 audiophile—even well-heeled investment bankers—should listen to the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR, to hear what's possible for the fiscally challenged music lover.

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?