Pioneer SP-PK21BS review: Pioneer SP-PK21BS

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MSRP: $400.00

The Good The Pioneer SP-PK21BS is the best-sounding 5.1 speaker system we've tested at this price. It's sold direct from Pioneer with free shipping at a very affordable price. The system offers the kind of solid performance on movies and music we generally only find on more expensive systems.

The Bad It's a huge speaker system that will overwhelm many living rooms. If you're looking for a lifestyle system, this isn't it.

The Bottom Line If you can handle its big and burly speakers, the Pioneer SP-PK21BS is the absolutely best-sounding speaker package we've heard at anywhere near this price.

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9.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 10

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 oversized 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.

Design and features
The SP-PK21BS system was designed by Andrew Jones, a name known to audiophiles for his work for high-end speaker companies like KEF, Infinity, and Pioneer's ultra-high-end TAD Reference speakers. Jones' designs have consistently earned rave reviews in the audiophile press.

Pioneer SP-PK21BS speaker connectors
The Pioneer SP-PK21BS features high-quality metal speaker connectors.

The SP-PK21BS is a six-piece system and comes with four SP-BS21-LR bookshelf speakers, a SP-C21 center-channel speaker and the SW-8 subwoofer. 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.

Pioneer SP-PK21BS's bookshelf-style speakers
Four identical bookshelf speakers are included and while they sound great, they're larger than many buyers may be willing to tolerate.

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.

Pioneer SP-PK21BS's center channel
The center channel is one of the largest we've seen on any system.

The SP-BS21-LR speaker has a 4-inch woofer and a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter; the SP-C21 center speaker boasts two 5.25-inch woofers flanking a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter. If you have a 7.1 channel system, extra SP-BS21-LR speakers are available for $100 per pair.

The drivers are protected by perforated metal grilles (they can be removed, but it's not easy). Wall-mounting is possible, but no hardware is provided; for our listening tests we placed the speakers on floor stands. Given the heft of these speakers (each bookshelf speaker comes in over 8 pounds), wall-mounting will require some serious finesse.

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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