- Written by Kieran Coghlan
- Published on 08 April 2013
The Pioneer SP-PK52FS 5.1 Speaker System and VSX-822-K A/V Receiver In Use
As I mentioned earlier, my initial audition of the SP-PK52FS speakers was done using my own reference receiver, the Yamaha RX-A2000. I tried the Pioneer speakers in a few different configurations including with the Pioneer sub, with my own SVS 20-39pci sub, and without any sub at all both with my Yamaha receiver and with the Pioneer VSX-822. For each scenario, I ran a full calibration of the system. This wasn't a matter of simply unplugging a sub, then plugging it back in. When demoing the system without a sub, the SP-FS52 towers were set to "large" so that all low frequency sounds would be routed by the receiver to the front left & right channels.
I started out with the Pod-Race scene from the blu-ray edition of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This scene is filled with a good amount of full-range effects, including Sebulba's pod with a very thunderous engine. The Andrew Jones designed Pioneer speakers performed wonderfully. The action was enveloping, yet details were not lost. Full-range front-to-back pans were seamless: the timbre was constant as the pod racers flew in and around the canyons of Tatooine. These days, due to family requirements, my standard HT speakers are very small, high quality satellites. Boy was it fantastic to listen to a set of quality speakers with solid frequency response a full octave (or more, in the case of the towers) below my norm.
Next up was the hospital explosion scene from The Dark Knight. I love to crank this scene for low frequency effects demos. Obviously, a good subwoofer will dominate any speaker system with a scene like this, which isn't the point here. What was interesting with this system -- and it was true across the board not just for The Dark Knight -- was comparing these speakers with and without the Pioneer SW-8MK2 sub, both on my own receiver and on the VSX-822.
The Pioneer sub has a rated low-end extension virtually identical to that of the SP-FS52 tower speakers it supplements (38Hz for the sub, 40Hz for the towers). So in theory, with the system properly set up and balanced, and with enough power driving the speakers, one shouldn't really hear much of a difference between these speakers in a 5.1 configuration with the SW-8MK2 or a 5.0 configuration (sans sub). Sure enough, when driven by my more powerful receiver, the differences with and without the Pioneer sub were small. However, when driven by the VSX-822, which has a smaller power supply and less power than my receiver, the differences were definitely noticeable. When driven to loud levels, the sound was less clear, less vibrant; it was more muddied without the subwoofer. At softer volumes, the differences were again hardly noticeable. Low end extension was pretty much the same whether the Pioneer sub was present or not. But using it, and setting up the system properly with it, gave the whole system that much more power and headroom; it was more dynamic. A sub with a dedicated amplifier with its own power supply goes a long way when dealing with a moderately powered receiver. Keep in mind also that all five speakers have a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, meaning the amplifiers have to work even more than with more typical 8-ohm speakers.
Finally, not to beat a dead horse, but I tried one more scenario in this vein: I let the MCACC auto-calibration system detect the towers as "large" and left them that way (whereas in the other scenarios I set them as small with an 60Hz crossover). This resulted in the same, somewhat muddied sound at high volumes as when I setup the system without a sub. It wasn't quite identical, but definitely not as good as setting the towers to "small" and using a proper crossover setting. Don't get me wrong - the VSX-822-K is a capable receiver, and a very good value. But it would be easy to not get that impression if it wasn't set up properly with speakers like these. Set up properly, you can really crank this system. Set it up improperly though, and you may experience buyer's remorse.
Moving on from movies to music, I dropped in my favorite symphony: Beethoven's 9th played by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. It's ideal for audio testing because it contains nearly the full dynamic range of classical music, including choir and operatic vocal soloists. The Pioneer system again performed great. This is not the sound you expect from a $600 set of speakers, especially when it's a set of five and a sub. Granted, I prefer to listen to classical music in 2.0 stereo mode, but I also demoed the system with Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode, which is a wonderful DSP for music. Vocals were pure and realistic with no sibilance and excellent dynamics. The second movement with the timpani alternating with the orchestra was reproduced quite well. In this case, the differences between the system with and without the sub were less dramatic. The two tower speakers are very musical and nearly sufficient by themselves. Again, the sub doesn't add much in the way of low-end extension, and few people are inclined to listen to classical music at the levels required to make the receiver start to sweat.
Finally, I cued up a little 1970s pop rock, with my DVD-Audio disc of Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors" album. This is a high resolution 5.1 channel re-mix of the original album masters. The presentation is very laid-back for surround sound, meaning the rear channels are largely producing ambiance. Again, this very affordable system delivered in spades. As a singer, I tend to focus on the vocals a lot, and I felt very comfortable listening to this vocals-heavy album through the Pioneer system. My standard satellite system is excellent when it comes to imaging, which is why I was surprised at how pleased I was with the imaging of a set of such large speakers. I sat back with my eyes closed and felt like I could locate each band member.
At first I thought my non-iOS, non-HTC, Android phone would not be supported for an AVR controller app. Then I noticed a small sticker that says "ControlApp for iPhone / Android" in small print on the receiver. I found it on the Google Play site, installed it on my Android phone, and it worked great. It's a very nice AVR controller app. I could browse and play my server's media, select surround modes, control volume; all the standard things. I don't know why Pioneer doesn't tout their Android compatibility more, but they should. You can't stream music from your Android device to the receiver via this control app, but other than that it worked quite well.
Pioneer included a Bluetooth adapter (AS-BT200) and a WiFi adapter (AS-WL300) in the box with the receiver. Both are sold separately, and I did not test either adapter. The BT adapter would allow you to stream media from your BT enabled Android (or other) device to the receiver. Seems to me like it would be easier to just incorporate this with the ControlApp they already have and ditch the Bluetooth adapter. The WiFi adapter would be very handy if you don't have a router near your receiver; my router is right next to my HT stack, so this wasn't an issue.