CNET First Look
Affordable sound bar that's serious about soundThe Pioneer SP-SB23W is the best affordable sound bar if you care about sound quality, with its outstanding sonics making up for some of its design limitations.
Hey, I'm Matthew Moskovciak from CNET and we're taking a look at the Pioneer SP-SB23W. This is the highly anticipated sound bar from Pioneer's line of Andrew Jones designed budget speakers, and the whole system is selling for $400. The Pioneer doesn't look like your typical plasticky sound bar. It's more like a composite wood cabinet that's better for sound quality but does add bulk to the system. It stands at about 4 inches high and if you're placing it on your TV cabinet, it might end up blocking your TV's remote censor. The styling is a little boring with a black vinyl finish but it looks good enough setting under your TV. They included sub woofer is wireless and it's tiny. It's actually probably one of the smallest sub woofers I've seen with the sound bar system. That makes it easy to hide in your living room although it does sound best within a few feet of the sound bar. The included remote isn't great with a wafer thin design that's hard to navigate by feel. Luckily, you can program the sound bar to respond to commands from your TV or cable box remote or even better, you can use a universal remote. Around back, you'll find a bare, minimum selection of ports; an analog input and an optical input that might not seem like much but it's plenty if you use you TV as a switcher by connecting all your devices directly to your TV and then connecting your TV's audio output to the sound bar. There's also built-in Bluetooth which supports for the better sounding aptX codec and that will let you wirelessly stream audio from just about every mobile device. But the real reason to get excited about this product is its sound quality. The Pioneer sounds better than just about any sound bar we've heard and certainly better than any sound bar at this price. The little sub delivers a surprising amount of low-end and it blends particularly well with the sound bar. That blend really contributes to the overall natural sound. So, while other systems may try and wow you with excessive bass or virtual surround effects, the Pioneer simply strives the sound more like a set of good balance speakers. That's why it's one of the few sound bars that actually sounds good with music as well as movies and most sound bars can't handle music that well. We compared it directly to two excellent sound bars. The JBL SB400 and the Sony HT-CT260 and the Pioneer clearly sounded best with the wide range of content. Although the JBL counts on a little bit more powerful on movies. But the bottomline is that you're not gonna get a better sounding home audio system without spending more than this. And if you do spend more, the pioneer still sounds better than a lot of the pricier sound bars that are on the market. So, while there are some nagging design issues, they're relatively minor and worth putting up with if you care about sound. Which is why the Pioneer SP-SB23W earns the Editor's Choice Award in the sound bar category. I'm Matthew Moskovciak and this is the Pioneer SP-SB23W.