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Pioneer SPEBS73-LR review: Atmos all-stars take stand-mount speaker crown

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The Good Pioneer's Dolby Atmos-enabled Elite SP-EBS73-LR speaker has the best sound we've heard from any stand-mount speaker in this price class. It has a three-way design with a 5.25-inch woofer, plus two sets of 1-inch tweeters, mounted concentrically in the middle of 4-inch midrange drivers. Build-quality standards are high.

The Bad Treble forwardness can expose poor recordings. It looks like it may be some time before you'll be able to use the SP-EBS73-LR's Dolby top-mounted Atmos driver.

The Bottom Line The Pioneer Elite SP-EBS73-LR is, hands down, the very best-sounding bookshelf/surround speaker we've heard in its price class.

9.0 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Sound 9.0
  • Value 9.0

In 2014 we listened to, and very much liked, the Bowers and Wilkins 685 S2 stand-mount speakers. So much so, we gave them an Editors' Choice Award.

Less than six months later there's another contender for our favorite sub-$1,000 bookshelf speaker. The Elite SP-EBS73-LRs were submitted to us as part of an Atmos surround set that included a pair of floor-standers, but we were immediately struck by the smaller speaker's capabilities. These are no shrinking violet surrounds, but rather full-blooded stand-mount superstars.

Yes, they make the few Atmos soundtracks available now sound more alive, but it's how they handle simpler material that really makes them shine. Give these a listen and the word that immediately springs to mind is "hi-fi." It's only a slight treble prominence -- though not harshness -- that means they are less forgiving of bright or poorly mixed material.

The Bowers and Wilkins 685 S2s are still very fine speakers, but it depends on what you want. If you require something that will play "everything," including lower-quality recordings, the more forgiving B&Ws could be a better choice. But if you want oodles of crystal-clear detail without sacrificing bass performance, then choose the Pioneers.

The Elite SP-EBS73-LRs are available for $749 a pair while in the UK they are known as the S-BS73A and cost £600. Australian availability is yet to be confirmed but as a rough guide the UK price converts to around AU$1,200.

Design

Sarah Tew/CNET

While their rivals from Bowers and Wilkins are on the flashier side, the Pioneers give off a refined elegance, with or without their distinctive domed grilles. The SP-EBS73-LR's high-end chops shine through in its build quality, and this is due to its design heritage. There's more than a bit of trickle-down engineering at play here.

The SP-EBS73-LR was designed by Andrew Jones, who was responsible for developing another "bookshelf" speaker, the TAD CE1 Compact Evolution One ($24,000/pair) that garnered raves last year in Europe and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Aside from build-quality differences, which are very considerable, numerous core design concepts are shared between the two Jones-designed speakers. The main one is the concentric midrange/tweeter, which is used not once but twice on the SP-EBS73-LR, on the front and on top. The top-mounted driver is designed to reflect sound off your roof during Atmos movies, and you'll find two sets of binding posts at the back to facilitate this second driver.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The speakers are a decent size for stand-mounts at 7.4 inches wide by 15.7 inches tall and 9.7 inches deep, and the curved sides add to the sense of elegance. When used as stereo speakers, the SP-EBS73-LRs will sound best when placed on 24-inch or taller floor stands, 12 inches or more away from the wall behind them. The speakers' rear bass port gets down to 50Hz and can expel a good amount of air, so we recommend giving the speakers some room to "breathe."

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