Pioneer SP-PK21BS

It can be hard to get excited about budget audio products, with even the best sound bars and home-theater-in-a-box systems just sounding "good enough." That's what makes the Pioneer SP-PK21BS 5.1 speaker system so impressive.

Not only does it sound much better than everything else in its price range, it sounds legitimately great without qualification. Its spectacular sound quality comes with trade-offs, though; the Pioneer SP-PK21BS is absolutely huge compared to any of the competing systems. The over-sized speakers also lack the furniture-level finish of some other speakers, so they stick out a little more as being "audio equipment" in the living room.

If you've got the space and don't mind bulk, we can unreservedly recommend the Pioneer SP-PK21BS as the best-sounding speaker system we've heard in the budget price range. It's a phenomenal value. However, the size is a serious drawback for most buyers, which is why the smaller and more stylish Energy Take Classic 5.1 remains our Editors' Choice.

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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Satellite bookshelf speakers

The SP-BS21-LR bookshelf speakers are 12.6 inches high, 7.2 wide and 8.1 deep; and the SP-C21 center speaker is even bigger, it's 7.9 inches high, 19.9 wide, and 8.7 deep. For comparison's sake, the satellite speakers are essentially twice as big as one speaker in the Energy Take Classic system. If you're looking for a "lifestyle"-oriented speaker system, the SP-PK21BS won't be of interest.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Speaker connectors

The satellite speakers' curved-sided, all-wood cabinets are finished in faux black wood grain, and the speakers' sturdy metal connectors accept banana plugs, spades, or stripped bare wire.
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Center channel

The SP-C21 center speaker's most likely destination will be shelf placement, under a TV display. Thanks to the speaker's curved bottom panel, it doesn't lie flat on a shelf, but that didn't affect its performance.
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Center channel, side view

Thanks to the speaker's curved bottom panel, it doesn't lie flat on a shelf, but that didn't affect its performance.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Subwoofer

The SW-8 subwoofer is average in size for a budget system, at 14.3 inches high and 12.4 wide and deep. It has a beefy looking, down-firing 8-inch woofer, and a port on its front baffle. The SW-8 matches the speakers' black faux wood finishes, but it doesn't have the curved sides.
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Subwoofer, back panel

It's more or less just an unadorned cube, and features a built-in 100-watt power amplifier with stereo RCA line-level and speaker-level inputs.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:
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