Pioneer has come full circle with the re-launch
of high-end, two-channel audio
Back in 1937, a new Japanese electronics manufacturer
hit the market, the founder was Nozumu Matsumoto and
the company’s name was Fukuin Denki Seisakusho.
Nozumu Matsumoto entered the market with the A-8 dynamic
loudspeaker. In 1961, the company name was changed to
what we presently know as Pioneer Electronics. Pioneer
later introduced the world’s first separate stereo
system. The company produces and sells everything audio
and video under the Pioneer as well as the Elite brand,
the company’s high-end home electronics division.
These loudspeakers are part of the Elite Series (EX)
of products appropriately named Pure Audio. The foundation
of these designs is in Pioneers TAD (Technical Audio
Devices) speaker, little known to most consumers, but
long regarded as an industry standard. The EX series
principal designer is ex KEF genius Andrew Jones who
worked with TAD to complete the speaker under review
as well as speakers for an entire surround sound system.
The following, however, is all about a serious two-channel
system, a pair of speakers made for the reproduction
Stunning! Sums up the description.
The enclosures are designed to slope back at about a
10 degree angle with the drivers mounted on a concave
front baffle. Finished on all sides, my samples came
in flat black, which resulted in a monolithic-like structure
finished off with a metal grille mounted on the front
with four easy-access bolts. Removing them can be achieved
easily, and remove you must. With the grille removed
the driver array is exposed and includes two 8-ich woofers,
and 7-inch midrange driver/tweeter on the top portion
(it’s a dual concentric design). The 175 pound
enclosures are mounted on adjustable, four-point metal
supports that allows leveling and anchoring the speakers
securely to the floor. Also on the front baffle, a flared
tuning port opens at the enclosures bottom section. The
cabinetry is formed and shaped so that there are no hard
edges throughout the structure — every vertical
line is smoothly rounded, probably to assure the best
method to eliminate diffraction.
Imagine Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony” played
in you house by a large, very talented orchestra under
the direction of another talented conductor. Imagine
being able to make out the violins stage left, the cellos
and basses stage right, horns and woodwinds neatly arranged
back centre stage and the tympani far back, slightly
stage left. It’s called imaging, the recreation
of a live stage in your listening room. The Pioneer speakers
do this as well as some of the speakers I have auditioned
in the $30k range. Most reviewers (and I’m one
of those) agree that small, well-built enclosures offer
the best image as they come close to the ideal, the point
source. Some, and I mean only some, large speaker designs
can match the (imaging) performance found with small
enclosures and the prime examples of such a design are
the S-1EX speakers. But wait, there is more, a lot more.
Take, for example, the speakers’ performance in
top frequencies — the very high musical notes the
speaker is asked to reproduce. While one must consider
many factors, such as tweeter material, magnet construction
and other quality parts, the high frequency drivers embrace
as many different tonal gradations as one will find in
human voices. The Pioneers’ tweeters have a unique
flavoring inasmuch as they offer the kind of tonal quality
I’d call organic — never in your face and
always well tempered and, oh so pleasant to listen to.
Hear a trumpet without screech or harshness; distinguish
the different tonal elements of a sax and a clarinet
performing in the high frequency domain. And hear the
multitude of overtones (harmonics) as they identify the
personality of an instrument.
Next segment, the midrange. Midrange is divided into
three parts — the frequencies from about 160 Hz
to 320Hz (lower midrange), the segment between 160Hz
to about 1300Hz (pure midrange) and the section of frequencies
from about 2600Hz to 5kHz (the middle highs). The tweeter
handles some of those frequencies, of course, but the
midrange driver must often handle a very broad frequency
band and — in great designs — smoothly handle
the transition. That’s easier said than done — the
Pioneer engineers have done it right.
The S-1EXs are tuned to deliver 32Hz at the port, and
I put this to the test by playing some resolute bass
material. One CD by Jimmy Smith titled Sum Serious Blues
(Milestone MCD-9207-2), which features double bass with
lots of A-string energy; one called Todo Sobre De Madre
(Universal 676208-2) with well produced electronic bass
and synthesizer energy down to about 30Hz; and an old
favourite of mine, a Dorian CD titled The Great Organ
of Saint Eustache (Dor-90134t) that features Bach’s “Toccata
and Fugue in D Minor” with bone-rattling organ
bass. Although I used a test CD with a 30Hz note to check
the Pioneers’ capabilities, I soon found that speakers’ ability
to recreate all harmonics (above the fundamentals) made
them impart meaning to the term musicality. While the
Pioneers achieved great fundamentals and allowed plenty
harmonic structure at the low midrange and bass, they
didn’t allow these frequency segments to infiltrate
the pure midrange area. Thus, double bass sounded “woody” with
appropriate dimensions; electronic bass energy was high
enough to rattle the foundation of my new house, but
didn’t so much as flinch even when I drove the
speakers up to 110dB. Pipe organ fans rejoice the Pioneer
speakers easily handle bottom end with resolution, rich
harmonics and well-balanced energy.
I find it quite astonishing that loudspeakers the size
of the Pioneers can disappear, sonically that is. Nevertheless,
that is exactly what happens when the set-up is correct.
In my house, they sounded best about seven feet apart,
not toed in, five feet from the rear wall and a couple
of feet away from side walls; and I recommend this system
arrangement. Do not forget to use good cables and complementing
back-up components (high-end stuff will do). I believe
that ultimately, the kind of sound the end-user likes
is in his/her hands, because the Pioneers offer sufficient
tonal neutrality. This, of course, is the prerequisite
for us to be able to choose a good amp, cables, CD player,
etc. that make up a great system combination.
For some auditions, I used a single-ended Art Audio
amp (which sounded good, but is not a perfect match because
of power limitation. I decided to use the SimAudio 250
watt/channel Moon W8, connected the system with Nordost
Valhalla cables and used the new EAR CD player — a
tube design — as a source component.
Yes, folks, I love these not-so-little speakers — and
I love them for all kinds of reasons. First off, I like
the build quality — the speakers’ enclosures
are a costly well-constructed design, I find easy on
the eyes. Secondly, I like the way they sound — they
remind me somewhat of the WLM Grand Violas, I reviewed
in Vol.16 No.4 of TIE’s print version. Like the
WLMs, the Pioneers have that natural sound I would call
organic. I sensed no colouration which sort-of opens
up a view into the tonal gradations and complexions of
the music. That’s musical finesse found in few
designs, never in mass-market loudspeakers and rarely
in high-end loudspeakers. With these loudspeakers Pioneer
came full circle and, considering what you get for your
money, they are of great value as their performance in
a system almost mirrors that of a live event. Rush out
and listen to a pair.
|$14,000.00 / pair (CDN)
16-5/8 (w) x 50-1/2 (h) x 24 (d) (inches)
145 lbs. 8 oz.
Cabinet finish: Genuine dark teak veneer (satin finish)
Grille: Black cloth
All speaker designs begin with the enclosures
that house the moving transducers to perform unhindered and in harmony
with the cabinetry. Pioneer, though not the only ones to employ a special
method to achieve structural integrity, has gone the extra mile, so to
speak. The enclosures simply do not allow the buildup of vibration caused
by storing (unwanted) energy that may result in resonance. I’m pleased
to find that the Pioneer speakers are almost entirely resonance free, at
least one of the reasons why colouration does not seem to exist. I believe
that the engineers who created the design provided a solid foundation for
high-performance drivers, such as the ones used in this design.
The tweeter/midrange driver is a dual concentric design featuring a Berilium
tweeter centered in a five-inch paper cone driver.
Two bass drivers handle frequencies from 32Hz up to the crossover system’s
dividing frequency at 200Hz.
The enclosure is a front-vented bass reflex, floor-standing design. The concentric
tweeter is a 1-3/8 in. (3.5cm) Beryllium dome and the midrange driver is a 5-1/2
in. (14cm) Magnesium cone. The bass drivers sport 7-1/16 in. (18cm) Aramid cones.
Frequency range is from 28Hz to 100,000Hz; sensitivity (2.83V/1m) is 89.5dB;
nominal impedance is 6 Ohms; crossover frequencies are 400 Hz and 2 kHz.