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Pioneer Elite Dolby Atmos Speakers Preview and Demo Results

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Pioneer Elites Dolby Atmos home theater.

Pioneer Elite's Dolby Atmos home theater.

Summary

  • Product Name: SP-EFS73, SP-EBS73LR, SP-EC73, & SW-E10
  • Manufacturer: Pioneer Elite
  • Review Date: September 12, 2014 08:00
  • MSRP: $750-$1,400/pair
  • First Impression: Pretty Cool
  • Buy Now

SP-EFS73
TBA

SP-EBS73-LR Bookshelf

  • Enclosure: Bass-reflex
  • Configuration: 3-way
  • Frequency Range: 50 Hz - 20 kHz
  • Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Sensitivity (2.83 V): 85 dB
  • Maximum Input Power: 140 W
  • Crossover Frequency: 260Hz, 2.6 kHz
  • Finish: Black Vinyl
  • Magnetically Shielded: No
  • Dimensions (with Grille): 7” x 15” x 10” (W x H x D inch)
  • Weight (Each): 15.7 lbs
  • Woofer: 5-1/4” Aluminum
  • Midrange: 4” Aluminum
  • Tweeter: 1” Soft Dome


SP-EC73 Center Channel

  • Enclosure: Passive Radiator
  • Configuration: 3-way
  • Frequency Range: 45 Hz - 20 kHz
  • Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Sensitivity (2.83 V): 85 dB
  • Maximum Input Power: 140 W
  • Crossover Frequency: 260Hz, 2.6 kHz
  • Finish: Black Vinyl
  • Magnetically Shielded: No
  • Dimensions (With grille): 7” x 40” x 10”(W x H x D inch)
  • Weight (Each): 17.6
  • Woofer: 5-1/4” Aluminum
  • Passive Radiator: 5-1/4” Aluminum
  • Midrange: 4” Aluminum
  • Tweeter: 1” Soft Dome


SW-E10 Subwoofer

  • Enclosure: Sealed
  • Frequency Range: 30 Hz - 150 Hz
  • Maximum Output Power: 600 Watt Peak, 300 RMS
  • Crossover Frequency: 40 Hz – 150 Hz continuously adjustable
  • Finish: Black Vinyl
  • Magnetically Shielded: No
  • Dimensions: 13 “ x 13” x 13” (W x H x D inch)
  • Weight : 34lbs
  • Power Requirement: 100v– 240v
  • Woofer: 10"

Since the successful release of Pioneer’s budget friendly speaker line designed by Andrew Jones, people have been wondering: what could Pioneer’s speaker genius do with a few more dollars? The answer to that question is now upon us with the announcement of a Pioneer Elite branded line of speakers. Expected to be available later this summer, the line includes the SP-EBS73LR three-way bookshelf ($750/pair), the SP-EC73 center channel ($400/apiece), the SP-EFS73 tower ($1,400/pair), and SW-E10 subwoofer ($600/apiece). As you might guess, there’s a lot to talk about, so let’s dig in.

Design Overview

In terms of basic performance, Pioneer’s new Elite line looks to have quite a bit of potential. All three loudspeakers are true three way designs boasting a concentric driver array featuring a 1” soft dome tweeter and 4” aluminum midrange driver. Both drivers of the concentric array utilize neodymium magnet structures, which helps reduce size and weight, as well as improve performance. We've also been told that the midrange unit's first breakup mode is up at 8kHz. Combined with a crossover frequency of 2.6kHz, this will ensure pure pistonic behavior through the driver's passband and adequate suppression of the midrange cone's breakup in the tweeter's operating range.To cover the low end, both the SP-EBS73LR bookshelf and SP-EC73 center feature a single 5” aluminum cone woofer with a 1.5" voice coil for improved power handling (the second 5” driver on the center channel is actually a passive radiator), while the SP-EFS73 tower features a trio of 5” woofers which should allow it to deliver a more authoritative low end. Completing the package, the SW-E10 subwoofer features a 10” long throw woofer with a 2" voice coil motivated by a 300W RMS amplifier in a compact sealed enclosure.

  Pioneer SP-EFS73-2 SP-EBS73-LR

The Pioneer Elite SP-EFS73 tower and SP-EBS73-LR bookshelf speakers.

What do the specs say about Pioneer’s new line? The SP-EBS73LR bookshelf boasts a frequency response of 50Hz-20kHz, where the SP-EC73 extends the response down to 45Hz (numbers are TBA on the tower). Unfortunately no tolerance was provided for these specifications, which decreases their value. However, both should dig deep enough to integrate properly with a subwoofer. In terms of electrical specifications, it should be noted that both the bookshelf and center speakers are rated to be 4 ohm nominal, and they both feature a below average sensitivity of 85dB w/ 2.83V at 1m (or 82dB w/ 1W as they are 4 ohm speakers). Taken together, those numbers indicate buyers would be well advised to pair these speakers with solid amplification, especially if you plan to use them in larger rooms and/or at higher listening levels.

SP-EC73 and SW-E10

The Pioneer Elite SP-EC73 center speaker and SW-E10 subwoofer round out the package.

Moving to the SW-E10, frequency response is rated from 30Hz-150Hz, which isn’t surprising for a sealed subwoofer living in a pint sized 13” cubed enclosure. Given the 10” driver size and linear excursion rating of 1” peak to peak, it’s fair to say that the SW-E10 isn’t going to be a low end monster, or even a really mean little gremlin like the JL E110 (which is notably more than twice the price). However, given the form factor and price point, Pioneer’s Elite sub should be a capable, if not awe inspiring competitor.

Aesthetics and The "X-Factor"

There are two things that will probably stick out to folks shopping in this price class. First is the finish; like Pioneer’s entry level line, the new Elite speakers feature a black vinyl finish. We can understand this to some extent: Andrew Jones wanted to wring out as much performance as he could for your dollar. Also given the price point, there are other competitors who don’t offer real wood in this range; in fact, AJ’s former employer KEF offers a “paper veneer” on their similarly priced Q series. Still, upgraded finishing options would be a nice touch for an Elite branded line for those willing to pay the premium.

The second thing buyers will notice relates to the bookshelf and tower speakers: both feature a second concentric driver at the top of the cabinet, which fires towards the ceiling. No, this isn’t Pioneer’s attempt at an omnipolar speaker. Instead, the top-firing driver is part of how Pioneer plans to support Dolby Atmos in the home: Atmos-enabled speakers (otherwise known as Elevation speakers).

Atmos Driver

The Pioneer SP-EBS73-LR bookshelves and SP-ESF73 towers are Atmos-enabled speakers which boast an up-firing concentric driver.

Listening Evaluation at CEDIA 2014

Our initial reaction to this idea was pretty skeptical. However, since Pioneer's announcement we've learned that there's more to Atmos-enabled speakers than meets the eye. A high pass filter is applied to the up-firing array at 180Hz in the AV receivers bass management when you select "Atmos speaker", easing its burden considerably. In addition, Dolby has formulated a bit of DSP magic which they claim will allow an Atmos-enabled speaker to convincingly pull off the illusion of height. The big question is: how well does it actually work? Fortunately, we were able to score some demo time with a full Pioneer Elite theater system at CEDIA, so we're able to answer that question. Suffice it to say that in spite of our initial skepticism, we walked away duly impressed with what Pioneer is offering. While an Atmos-enabled speaker doesn't necessarily deliver the exact same experience as an in-ceiling speaker, the Pioneers were able to pull off height effects quite effectively, including a thunderstorm raging over our heads. After our experiences in the demo room, we would definitely like to get these in-house for a bit of further testing and evaluation.

Pioneer Atmos Diagram

5.1.4 Atmos system diagram using Pioneer's Atmos-enabled speakers.

Summary

Ever since Andrew Jones stunned the audiophile world with his budget speaker line, we’ve been waiting for the encore. While the new Pioneer Elite lineup probably won't win any awards from interior decorators, for the home theater buff on a budget, they're worth a close look. In addition to bringing a high tech concentric driver to the table, these speakers feature an integrated Atmos Elevation module, allowing for a 5.1.4 Atmos setup that looks like a standard 5.1 system, while forgoing the complexities of adding in-ceiling speakers. While we had some questions about the effectiveness of the Atmos Elevation speaker concept, a demo of Pioneer's full Elite theater system at CEDIA has allayed many of our concerns. At this point, the only questions we have are a. whether other finishes will eventually be offered, and b. if we'll see non-Atmos versions of these speakers for those who opt not to upgrade to Atmos or choose to go with in-ceiling speakers. 

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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Steve Munz is a “different” addition to Audioholics’ stable of contributors in that he is neither an engineer like Gene, nor has he worked in the industry like Cliff. In fact, Steve’s day job is network administration and accounting.

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