The Pioneer Series 8s are a superbly cohesive set of loudspeakers with excellent sound and a wonderful build, but could be too analytical for some.
Second-hand stores and garages the world over are littered with remnants from Pioneer's hi-fi golden years: speakers, amplifiers and turntables clad in unapologetically 70's wood veneers. While the company arguably lost its way in the 80's, in the last 10 years it returned to the fore in an AV guise with its Kuro range of televisions. Unfortunately for Pioneer, it was hard to sustain a premium TV product in an age that wants large panels for cheap, and the line folded last year.
As a result Pioneer is returning to its roots: good sound. While the turntables have yet to resurface, Pioneer has resurrected its speaker business, with the Series 8 loudspeakers sitting near the top.
The Pioneer Series 8 loudspeakers reviewed here are a 7.1-surround sound set, and feature two four-way mains, four surround speakers, a centre and a 300W subwoofer. Features of the range include both ribbon and concentric tweeters — tweeters mounted in the middle of the woofer — which enable a greater sweet spot and a glossy piano, black finish. The build on the mains is slim with not too much surrounding baffle, and while they're quite tall they won't dominate a lounge room too much. Be aware that smaller rooms won't need the full 7.1 set, and a 5.1 set-up would be better suited, and you could use the spare surrounds as a stereo set elsewhere in the house.
While 12 grand may seem a lot from the outset it would be hard to get even an intermediate-level speaker set from a European brand for this price, and the company throws in four stands as well.
According to Pioneer, the set is "conceived with the intention of satisfying the most exigent audiophiles with regard to sound restitution". Um, we think that means they sound nice.
After setting the kit up in our listening room and pressing the "Go" button we can say we were impressed. In fact, we were most taken with the clarity of the rear speakers; with a movie such as Spider-Man 3 in the disc tray we were treated to "you are there" steering and twinkling surround effects.
But it's the front speakers where most of the sound comes from and these were tremendously engaging. The front and centre were seamlessly integrated. The centre's concentric tweeter means it doesn't draw attention to itself as some models can. This means dialogue is locked firmly to the screen, and with the addition of the other speakers the overall soundfield was open and detailed. We found the sub has a good weight to it, but it's not the last word in extension.
With music, the sound was immersive and a chaotic track such as Battles' Atlas was bursting with energy but well reigned in to prevent distortion or a bloated bass response. There was also an impressive depth to musical mixes, where you could almost place musicians in their places in the sound field in front of you — seemingly standing between somewhere between the speakers and behind the wall.
In Nick Cave's Red Right Hand the bass weaves threads in and out of Nick Cave's booming voice and can present a challenge for many speakers. Here, the bass becomes throaty and not as warm as it could have been. The song still teemed with jagged edges and pent-up malice, though. In contrast, Jonsi's orchestral pop masterpiece Go Do is a religious experience.
If there's one criticism of the speakers it's that they can lack warmth, the sound is not so analytical as to strip the joy out of music, but some acoustic and intimate music can come off sounding a little cold.
Given the speaker's penchant for analysis we'd suggest pairing the speakers with a warmer amp than Pioneer's own LX82 — say perhaps a Rotel or Marantz.
The Pioneer looks good, sounds great and will fit into most home theatre set-ups with ease. They're as comfortable with movie soundtracks as with music, and will add sparkle to any home theatre set-up. If you're looking for more fun, we'd try elsewhere.