Pioneer SP-SB23W Speaker Bar System - Review

Improve your TV sound without all the hassle of a home theater setup

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

The SP-SB23W Speaker Bar combines a powered sound bar with a wireless subwoofer that is designed to visually match the profile of LCD, Plasma, and OLED TVs, as well as provide a worthwhile listening experience upgrade over the diminished quality of built-in TV speakers.

Pioneer SP-SB23W - Product Description

The SP-SB23W system offers up the following features:

  • The sound bar houses six speakers - four 3-inch Mid-range/Woofers and two 1-inch soft dome tweeters.
  • The speaker bar has six amplifiers (one for each speaker) with a combined power output of 268 watts (28w x 6) measured at 1kHz, 1% THD, 4 ohms. This is sufficient for a small or medium size room.
  • The frequency response for the soundbar and subwoofer combined is 45Hz - 20kHz
  • There is one digital optical, and one set of RCA-connector style analog audio inputs. There are no USB or video inputs provided.
  • The SB23W incorporates Bluetooth, which allows direct wireless streaming of audio content from compatible Bluetooth-equipped devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and PCs/MACs.
  • The SB23W provides Dolby Digital audio decoding supplemented by DSP and equalization presets for Music, Movies, Dialog. Dolby Digital encoded content is downmixed to two channels for playback through the SB23W system.
  • The soundbar has a wireless transmitter for linking to the subwoofer using the Bluetooth 2.4Ghz Band. Transmission range is approximately 30 feet.
  • The speaker bar section is 35.98-inches wide, 4.05-inches high, and 4.74-inches deep and can be shelf or wall mounted. The speaker bar weighs approximately 10 pounds
  • The speaker bar section has a composite wood cabinet, complemented by a black ash vinyl finish.

The wireless subwoofer provided with the SB23W system features the same composite wood construction as the soundbar along with the same black ash finish. Additional subwoofer features include:

  • Bass Reflex design with down-firing 6.5-inch cone driver, supported by front mounted tuned port for added low-frequency extension.
  • The subwoofer has a rated power output of 50 watts (measured at 50Hz).
  • The subwoofer is 9.01-inches wide, 10.01 inches high, and 9.01 inches deep and weighs approximately 15 pounds.

Setting Up The SP-SB23W System

After unboxing the SP-SB23W's soundbar (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. Listening tests were conducted with the soundbar (speaker bar) using the shelf-mounted placement option below, and in front, of the TV.

Next, place the subwoofer on the floor to the left or right of the TV/sound bar (speaker bar) location, or any other spot within the room where you find that bass response the best (perform this step after you have synced the soundbar and subwoofer and are able to play an audio source). Since there is no connection cable to deal with, you have a lot of placement flexibility.

Once the soundbar and subwoofer are placed where you want them, connect your source components. You can connect either the digital or analog audio outputs from those sources directly to the soundbar. If your TV has a digital optical output, it is best to use that connection from the TV to the soundbar (speaker bar). However, if your TV only has an analog audio output, you can use that option to connect to the soundbar 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 soundbar and the subwoofer. Turn the soundbar and subwoofer on, press the SYNC button on the soundbar (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.

What The SP-SB23W System Sounds Like

Listening to a variety of TV, movie, and music 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, 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, 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 a demanding CD test cut, Heart's "Magic Man", which features long and deep bass slide, it was surprising at how much output the sub was able to produce at the lowest end of the slide - not as deep or powerful as a typical home midrange home theater subwoofer, but we're talking a 6.5-inch driver encased in an approximate 9-inch cube. Needless to say, a very good result - This reviewer has heard a worse bass response on some larger subs.

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

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

On the subwoofer, the audible low point went 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, the actual high-end point of the subwoofer was not able to be directly measured.

On the other hand, disconnecting the subwoofer, and re-running the Digital Video Essentials frequency sweep test, 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 midrange 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 to hear the footsteps placed slightly overhead. However, on the SP-SB23W, those sounds were both subdued and placed lower in the sound-field 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 using 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 soundbar/subwoofer systems I have heard in its price range.

Pioneer SP-SB23W - Pros

  • Very good overall sound quality - excellent subwoofer.
  • Easy to unpack, set up, and operate.
  • The included Wireless Subwoofer reduces cable clutter.
  • Provides on-board Dolby Digital audio decoding.
  • The soundbar can be placed on shelf or table or mounted on a wall (template is provided but hardware must be purchased separately).
  • Solid build quality.

Pioneer SP-SB23W - Cons

  • Cannot accept or decode DTS.
  • Good stereo imaging but no real surround effect.
  • Only one digital and one analog audio input (No HDMI or USB connections - there are no video connections).
  • Easy-to-lose rubber feet, rather than screw-in attachable feet provided for shelf mounting.
  • Wall mounting screws not provided.

The Bottom Line

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

If you are looking for sound bar solution at a reasonable price, definitely consider the SP-SB23W. It outperforms much of its similarly-priced competition, and even outperforms a few higher-priced units. It is a great-sounding sound bar system for TV viewing and music listening.

For a more detailed look at the exterior features, connections, and included accessories of the Pioneer SP-SB23W, check out our supplementary Photo Profile.

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