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Pioneer SP-SB03 review:

Speaker Base puts powerful sound under your TV

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The Good The Pioneer SP-SB03 sounds great for pedestal-style sound bar, with excellent dynamic range and impressive bass for a subwoofer-free design. It's built like a tank, supports up to 55-inch TVs, and streams Bluetooth audio from smartphones and tablets. The price is right for this level of sound and build quality.

The Bad Massive size; doesn't sound as good with music as with movies; minimal connectivity, control options and front-panel indicators.

The Bottom Line The hulking Pioneer Sound Base delivers some of the best sound we've heard from an affordable pedestal-style sound stand.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.6 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Sound 8.0
  • Value 10.0

Review Sections

Instead of going through the whole Design, Features, Performance dance, there are times in my career as a reviewer when I feel like just typing "Buy it" 500 times and pressing publish. On those rare occasions I like a product so much that it's hard to write anything at all, and just instead wave my clenched hands together in a Wallace and Gromit moment of pure glee.

You can probably guess that this is one of those times.

Like the Pioneer SP-SB23W sound bar before it, the Pioneer SP-SB03 Speaker Base has recast the mold on a category of speakers, redefining how they should sound. Both were designed by Andrew Jones, whose track record of delivering excellent sound for a modest price is entirely justified, in our experience . The SP-B03 is huge and costs a bit more than some competing pedestal-style sound stands, but it's worth it.

The SP-SB03 offers excellent sound for both movies and music plus build quality the bomb squad would be proud of. It has all the features you need at this price -- one-cable connection to a TV, Bluetooth -- and the only "frivolous" extra in a wide cinema sound mode...that actually works! Sure, it doesn't look like much, but then again neither does Bob Dylan.

The only "issue" I have with the Speaker Base is that it isn't as accomplished at music as its SP-SB23W Speaker Bar predecessor, which is a more traditional "bar plus subwoofer" combo. But for a one-box system that you can plonk your TV on and forget about, there's simply nothing else I can recommend more strongly at this price range right now. It's available for $350 in the US; and while UK and Australian pricing and availability has not been confirmed, that price translates to approximately £215 and AU$390, respectively.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Design

A sound stand is basically a speaker shaped like a pedestal and designed to support your TV. They all owe a huge debt to ZVOX, even the Pioneer, for while this speaker's a cut above everyone in terms of audio quality it doesn't really do much different in terms of design: it's a large, black box.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Little touches show care in its construction. The Speaker Base has a composite wood housing, not plastic. There's a fifth foot raised slightly off the ground in the center of the box designed to take the weight of particularly large TVs. The front is protected by a mesh grille which doesn't obscure any of the readouts or functions. The Pioneer isn't fancy, but certainly looks the part of a proper piece of home theater equipment.

Compared to the Pioneer, the Vizio Sound Stand and others in this price bracket look like toys.

This speaker is a colossus, measuring 28 inches wide (71cm), a significantly tall 4.75 inches (12cm) and 16 inches (41cm) deep. While Pioneer doesn't specify a weight limit for the TVs it supports, the company specifies that it "accommodates most TVs 55 inches and smaller" and that you should allow "at least 1 inch [2.5cm] of clearance surrounding the stand." The stand of the 83.8-pound (38kg) Panasonic TC-P55ST60 fit without issue, and yet despite the higher-than-average weight, the middle support foot still didn't touch the table.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The front-panel "display" is minimal too, with just a couple of LEDs to indicate sound mode, analog, digital and Bluetooth. The only front panel controls are for power, volume, input switching, sound mode select and Bluetooth pairing.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

On the features list of any middling-priced speaker product is this following item: the credit card remote. The one included in the box with the SP-SB03 isn't terrible for the breed, but it's far from ergonomic, with all of the buttons smooshed together. Cleverly, Pioneer includes directions in the manual on how to teach your TV remote to control the Base, which would be preferable. Or just buy a decent universal remote.

Features

The SP-SB03 features four discrete speakers: two 4-inch woofers on the bottom, two 3-inch mid-range drivers and two soft-dome tweeters, all driven by a 160W amp. Despite missing a discrete subwoofer the ported SB03 can get pretty low, down to 55Hz. Pioneer claims it has improved the crossover network from the original speaker bar for an improvement in vocal performance.

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