Pioneer SP-SB23W Speaker Bar System - Review

Andrew Jones Does It Again

Pioneer SP-SB23W Andrew Jones Soundbar System
Pioneer SP-SB23W Andrew Jones Soundbar System. Photo from Amazon

Pioneer has once again enlisted the aid of noted speaker designer Andrew Jones, this time to come up with a sound bar system that can deliver the goods without dipping too deep into your pocketbook.

The result is the SP-SB23W Speaker Bar system. This system combines a powered sound bar unit with a wireless subwoofer that is designed to both visually match the profile of the current crop of LCD and Plasma TVs, as well as provide a worthwhile listening experience upgrade to the diminishing quality of built-in TV speakers.

Pioneer SP-SB23W Speaker Bar System Overview

Features of the Speaker Bar unit provided with SP-SB23W system include:

1. Speakers: Six speakers total - includes four 3-inch Mid-range/Woofers and two 1-inch soft dome tweeters. Each speaker is individually amplified.

2. Speaker Bar Amplifier Configuration: Six individual amplifiers with a combined power output of 268 watts (28w x 6) measured at 1kHz, 1% THD, 4 ohms.

3. Frequency Response (entire system): 45Hz - 20kHz (sound bar and subwoofer combined)

4. Inputs: One Digital Optical, and one set of RCA-connector style analog audio inputs.

5. Bluetooth Audio Input: Allows wireless streaming of audio content from compatible Bluetooth-equipped devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and PCs/MACs.

6. Audio Decoding and Processing: Dolby Digital audio decoding supplemented by DSP and Equalization presets for Music, Movies, Dialog.

7. Wireless transmitter for Subwoofer link: Bluetooth 2.4Ghz Band.

Wireless Range: Approximately  30 feet.

8. Speaker Bar Dimensions: 35.98-inches (W), 4.05-inches (H), and 4.74-inches (D).

9. Speaker Bar Weight: Approximately 10 pounds.

10. Cabinet Construction/Finish: Composite Wood with Black Ash Vinyl finish.

Features of the Wireless Subwoofer unit of the Pioneer SP-SB23W Speaker Bar include:

1. Design: Bass Reflex with downfiring 6.5-inch cone driver, supported by front mounted tuned port for added low-frequency extension.

2. Power Output: 50 watts (measured at 50Hz, 1% THD, 6 ohms)

3. Wireless Transmission Frequency: 2.4 GHz

4. Wireless Range: Up to 30 feet - line of sight.

5. Subwoofer Dimensions: 9.01-inches (W) x 10.01 inches (H) x 9.01 inches (D)

6. Subwoofer Weight: Approximately 15 pounds

7. Cabinet Construction/Finish: Composite Wood with Black Ash Vinyl finish.

Set-up

After unboxing the SP-SB23W's sound bar (speaker bar) and subwoofer units, place the sound bar above or below the TV (the sound bar can be wall mounted - wall mounts provided - but additional wall screws are not).

Note: For the purposes of this review, all my listening tests were conducted with the sound bar (speaker bar) using the shelf-mounted placement option below, and in front, of the TV. I did not conduct any listening tests with the sound bar section in a wall-mounted configuration.

Next, place the subwoofer on the floor to the left or right of the TV/sound bar (speaker bar) location, or any other within the room where you find the bass response the best (perform this step after you have SYNCd the sound bar and subwoofer and are able to play an audio source).

Since there is not a connection cable to deal with, you have a lot of placement flexibility.

Now that you have placed the sound bar and subwoofer, connect your source components. You can connect either the digital or analog audio outputs from those sources directly to the sound bar. If your TV has a digital optical output, it is best to use that connection from the TV to the sound bar (speaker bar). However, if your TV only has an analog audio output, you can use that option to connect to the sound bar instead. Whichever option you use, you can still connect another component to the remaining available input if you wish.

Finally, plug in the power to the sound bar and the subwoofer. The sound bar and the subwoofer both come with detachable power cords. Turn the sound bar and subwoofer on, the press the SYNC button on the sound bar (speaker bar) and then the SYNC button on the subwoofer - when the LED SYNC indicator lights on both units emit a steady glow, they are now working together.

Performance

With the SP-SB23W set up properly and the subwoofer link working, it was time to check out what it can do in the listening department.

To start off, I listened to a variety of TV, movie, and music and I liked what I heard. The SP-SB23W did a good job with both movie and music content, providing a well-centered anchor for dialog and vocals, and broad front stage. In addition, the center channel vocals and dialog do not get buried under the left and right channels.

On the other hand, if you looking for a surround sound-type listening experience, the SP-SB23W does not incorporate any type of virtual surround sound or sound projection technology, thus does not place sounds to the side or rear. On other the hand, I felt the real "star of the show" was the subwoofer.

Despite its extremely compact size, the subwoofer easily pushed out a strong bass response that was fairly tight with both movie and music content. In fact, playing one of my favorite CD test cuts, Heart's "Magic Man", which features long and deep bass slide, I was surprised at how much output the sub was able to produce at the lowest end of the slide - mind you, not as deep or powerful as my 10-inch Klipsch Synergy Sub10, but we're talking a 6.5-inch driver encased in an approximate 9-inch cube. Needless to say, a very good result - I have heard worse bass response on some larger subs.

Also, in listening to both music and movie content, I found that the sub was not overly boomy in the mid-bass range, resulting in a good transition between the low and mid-bass frequencies produced by the sub and the mid-range frequencies assigned to the speaker bar.

For further observation, I used the Audio Test section of the Digital Video Essentials Disc to get approximate measurements of the system's frequency response.

On the subwoofer, I observed an audible low point down to about 35Hz - however, strong low-frequency output started at about 40Hz. Since the subwoofer requires pairing with the Sound Bar to receive low-frequency signals, I was not able to observe the actual high-end point of the subwoofer.

On the other hand, disconnecting the subwoofer, and re-running the Digital Video Essentials frequency sweep test, I was able to observe that the Speaker Bar was able to produce a slight audible tone beginning at about 80Hz with strong audible output on the at about 110Hz on the low end to a barely audible high point above 12kHz. Based on these observations, it sounded like the subwoofer/speaker bar crossover point might be somewhere in the range of 110 to 120Hz.

As far as the speaker bar unit goes, the mid-range frequencies where vocals and dialog sit were very clear and distinct, and the highs, although slightly subdued, were clear and distinct enough to add to the presence of musical instruments, and, if the case of film content, effect and ambient sounds. In contrast, since the SP-SB23W does not provide additional virtual surround sound processing, some movie surround sound-type effects were not always brought out well.

For example, in the first battle scene of the film "Master and Commander" (where the enemy ship comes out the fog to attack), there is one cut where the main action occurs below deck - but in the soundtrack there are deckhands running above, on the top deck. The intention of the sound mix is to present the sound of footsteps on wood coming from slightly overhead in the front, and slightly to the sides. In a 5.1 channel setup, or a sound bar that incorporates some form of virtual surround processing (if executed well), you would normally be able hear the footsteps placed slightly overhead. However, on the SP-SB23W, those sounds were both subdued and placed lower in the soundfield in the front, thus losing their intended overhead impact.

One additional thing to point out is that the SP-SB23W does not accept or decode DTS. This means that when playing a DVD, Blu-ray, or CD may only provide a DTS soundtrack, you must set your DVD or Blu-ray Disc player to PCM output. On the other hand, if you want to access SP-SB23W's onboard decoding for Dolby Digital-encoded content, you must reset your source to output in Bitstream format (if you are suing the digital optical connection options - if using the analog audio connection option, you can keep your source setting on PCM).

However, in observing the entire audio performance characteristics of the SP-SB23W, I felt that it not only sounds much better than what you would get from a TV's built-in speaker system, it also sounds better than many of the sound bar/subwoofer systems I have heard in its price range.

What I Liked About the Pioneer SP-SB23W

1. Very good overall sound quality - excellent subwoofer.

2. Easy to unpack, set up, and operate.

3. The included Wireless Subwoofer reduces cable clutter.

4. Provides on-board Dolby Digital audio decoding.

5. The sound bar can be shelf, table, or wall mounted (template is provided but hardware must be purchased separately).

6. Solid build quality.

What I Didn't Like About the Pioneer SP-SB23W

1. Cannot accept or decode DTS.

2. Good stereo imaging but no real surround effect.

3. Only one digital and one analog audio input (No HDMI or USB connections).

4. Easy-to-lose rubber feet, rather than screw-in attachable feet provided for table mounting.

5. Wall mounting template and screws not provided.

Final Take

The Pioneer SP-SB23W is very easy to set up and definitely enhances the audio listening experience side of TV viewing. The system provides much more distinct and full-bodied sound than you would get from TV speakers, and is also a good system of its type for music-only listening. On the other hand, it must be pointed out that it doesn't provide the immersive surround sound experience you would get from a sound bar that incorporates virtual surround processing or a 5.1 channel setup using separate speakers.

To sum up, if you are looking for sound bar solution at a reasonable price, definitely consider the SP-SB23W, as it outperforms much of its similarly-priced competition, and even outperforms a few higher-priced units. Minus the non-acceptance of DTS and not incorporating a good virtual surround sound processing feature, Andrew Jones and Pioneer have produced a great-sounding sound bar system for TV viewing and music listening.

For a further look at the Pioneer SP-SB23W, check out my supplementary Photo Profile.

The Pioneer SP-SB23W Soundbar System on Amazon