My first introduction to high end audio was back in college. During my freshman year (1975) I came into contact with a kid across the hall from me who owned a Pioneer tape deck. I remember well the wooden side panels and dancing dials. Even though I can not remember the model, I remember that it was able to record on CrO2 tape for the highest fidelity. Does anyone else remember those tapes? Over the years, I have owned a Pioneer CTF-650 tape deck and at least one Pioneer CD/SACD player. But even back then, I knew that Pioneer was really only mid-fi. In fact, Pioneer was competing with JVC, Technics, Sansui and others in the entry to mid level equipment market place.
Sure, today the Elite series is pretty good, but I still can’t shake the feeling that it is just on the upper end of the mid fidelity crowd. My perception started to change when I met Andrew Jones (formerly of KEF) at CEDIA this last year. He gave me a brief history of the company and its goal of creating a completely new high end audio speaker family. He and his team (TAD, the Technical Audio Devices group) were given a free hand by the company to produce true audiophile grade speakers and they came up with the EX series. Andrew also reminded me that Pioneer has been making speakers for over 65 years, so a lot of experience has gone into making these speakers. Their experience and effort seems to have paid off.
Pioneer makes speakers too, and they are very good. Here, we review their model S-2EX, which are monitor-sized, which means they are too big to go on a shelf, but not floor-standing.
- Design: 3-way, Ported
- Drivers: One 1.4″ Beryllium Dome Tweeter, 5.5″ Magnesium Cone Midrange, 7.1″ Carbon Composite Woofer
- MFR: 34 Hz – 100 kHz
- Sensitivity: 86.5 dB
- Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
- Crossover Frequencies: 400 Hz, 2 kHz
- Power Handling: 200 Watts
- Dimensions: 22.3″ H x 11.4″ W x 16.8″ D
- Weight: 61.8 Pounds/each
- Finish: Dark Teak Wood Veneer
- MSRP: $6,000/pair USA
- Pioneer Electronics
The S-2EX are a 3-way bass reflex speaker that has a sloped front baffle that helps create a time-aligned transducer configuration. Pioneer calls it a coherent source transducer. The design allows each driver to project sound that arrives at the listener at the same moment. I saw a cut away view of these speakers at CEDIA and was impressed with the thick (2 inches) front baffle and internal bracing. These are some of the strongest built speakers I have ever seen.
The speakers weigh in at over 60 pounds each. The top concentric driver contains a beryllium tweeter inside of a midrange transducer, similar to the KEF UniQ driver. Beryllium is an expensive metal to play with as only about 200 pounds of this material are mined each year. In powder form, it can be harmful (as in fatal) if inhaled. The beryllium is vaporized and deposited onto copper dome and then heated. The copper is etched away leaving just the beryllium dome tweeter behind. It is very rigid and light weight.
Only a few other companies make beryllium tweeters due to the cost. If you are lucky enough to hear one in action, they really do sound marvelous. The 5.5″ midrange cone is made of magnesium. Both drivers share the same magnet structure but have a wave guide in between them. The 7″ woofer is made of a one piece composite construction for greater rigidity and lower distortion. It contains ten layers of aramid fibers, resins and unwoven carbon fibers.
The port is located in the front under the woofer. Even though floor spikes are supplied for these speakers, they really need to be placed on stands to get the best performance out of them.
The back of the speakers are tapered. High quality dual binding posts finish off the back of each speaker. They can be bi-wired or bi-amped. Make no mistake, these speakers are built and designed to play music at high volumes. Rapping on them with my knuckles produced a solid thud…and hurt my knuckles.
My set came in a very dark mahogany color. My wife’s first reaction to seeing them was, “Those look really good with your stuff”. My HDTV, stand and audio equipment rack are all black and the S-2EXs did look good in my room. For the first three weeks of auditioning I left the grilles off, but put them on for the last 2 weeks. They looked and sounded fine either way. The grilles by the way, have small bolts that hold them into place. It was a bit tricky getting them on because the instructions were not very intuitive, but once on, they were very secured. All in all, these are very handsome looking speakers with a solid look and feel in their design.
Even though I recently bought a pair of towers, I kept my old speaker stands. I figured that eventually I would be listening to some bookshelf or monitor speakers and it gave me a chance to justify keeping them. I placed the S-2EXs 8 feet apart, 3 feet off the side walls and toed in slightly. Because of the coaxial design, they provided a larger sweet spot than a more traditional tweeter/midrange configuration. My seating position is 8 feet from the speakers. My listening was in 2 channel (music) and multi channel (music and movies) with my existing Revel C12 center and S12 surrounds. The S-2EXs played very well with the Revels. I also listened with and without my subs to evaluate the bass extension of the S-2EXs. Though the S-2EXs look like large bookshelf speakers, they are full range speakers and they performed very well without the addition of a subwoofer.
For movies, I watched (and listened to) Baraka, Star Trek, and Phantom of the Opera. Baraka not only has stunning images captured in 8K resolution, but has a high definition soundtrack that contains instruments from around the world.
Drums with pulsing deep bass, cymbals and flutes that dance delicately, and sweeping musical vistas were all well reproduced on the S-2EXs. I heard subtle nuances within the music as well as the engulfing roar of the dynamite explosion in the chapter 15.
Star Trek provided special effects of phasers, flyovers, explosions and some great dialog effects from people talking off screen. When voices panned across the picture, they remained stable and intelligible. Good dialog is usually a testament to good mid range reproduction. Phantom was a good choice just for the sweeping musical score. Due to some mastering problem with HD-DVD, I had to crank the volume more than usual to get the soundtrack to hit realistic levels. It paid off though as the S-2EXs really came alive when cranked.
My musical choices where varied. In order to evaluate these speakers, I sampled everything from classical to the Beatles (newly re-mastered, of course). Prokofiev’s Symphony No.5 allowed me to hear deeply into the orchestra and hear subtleties such as the breath intake of a horn player. Crescendos were easily handled and bass had a strong impact. The piccolo had a good deal of “air” and the beryllium tweeters played them without a hint of harshness or metallic ringing. It reminded me of some well designed silk-dome tweeters. A sweet and smooth treble.
The Beatles White Album is made up of individual musical expressions from all four members.
Their music swings from introspective (“Mother Natures Son”) to frivolous (“Bungalow Bill”), hard rocking (“Back in the USSR”) to acoustics (“Julia”). The re-mastered version sounds amazing on speakers that can achieve high resolution. The S-2EXs sounded very good with the Fab Four. Imaging was wide and deep and the details…I could hear things in the music that I never heard before… a softly spoken word, a musical note or some background banter. Little things that I had not noted before were revealed with the S-2EXs. Even “Revolution 9” was fun to listen to with all of the sonic details. It was like rediscovering an old friend. And as an aside, these speakers can be pushed pretty hard. In fact, the harder they are pushed, the more open they sounded. I never got them to say “uncle”, and the warm articulate sound they produced was perfect for music and movies alike.
Well, as you can tell, I enjoyed these speakers. For music, they projected a large soundstage with great depth. Music was reproduced naturally with smooth treble and solid bass. With movies, the dialog and sound effects panned well from right to left without any noticeable gaps or timbre issues. I could easily have left my F12 towers out my mix of Revels and replaced them with S-2EXs and lived happily ever after. My guess would be that you could live happily ever after with these speakers as well. Pioneer, Andrew Jones and TAD have created an audiophile speaker with solid build and performance that they should be proud of. As for you other high end speaker companies: Watch out! There is a new kid in town.