Pioneer EX Series Surround Speaker System Page 2
Bookshelf is a bit of a misnomer for the S-2EX. With its weight of nearly 64 lbs. it really needs to be used on a sturdy stand. The same goes for the 83 lbs. and change of the S-7EX. I wouldn't plan on putting this center channel speaker on top of my big-screen TV! In any case, all of the EX Series speakers are magnetically shielded, though this is of limited importance given the fact that a speaker system such as this is most likely to find a home in a system equipped with a video projector and screen.
All three full-range EX Series speakers have been designed with a unique cabinet configuration that Pioneer calls Perfect Time Design. It's most obvious in the S-1EX, but also used in the other two. This arrangement places the drivers on a slightly curved front baffle—following the arc of a virtual sphere. The intent is to have the signals from all the drivers arrive at the listener at the same time. Overkill? Perhaps, but it's consistent with the attention to detail evident throughout the design of these speakers.
The EX Series' cabinets are built with multiple layers of laminated MDF ranging from just over 1" (30mm) to nearly 4" (100mm) in thickness. According to Pioneer, the locations of the drivers on the front baffle have been computer-optimized to minimize the buildup of standing waves inside the enclosure.
The full-range speakers are fitted with two pairs of high quality binding posts that may be used for bi-wiring or bi-amping, if desired. I did all of my listening with a single run of cables to each speaker. The S-1EX also has four integral feet with spikes that may be left retracted, if desired, for use on a wood or tile floor.
The grilles may also be removed. I did all my listening with the grilles off, as recommended by designer Andrew Jones.
Pioneer also provided two S-W1EX subwoofers. Each is equipped with a 12" driver loaded by a 12" passive radiator, and the on-board amplifier is rated at 250W into 4 ohms (at 100Hz). The driver and passive radiator use the same aramid cone material found in the other low frequency drivers in the ES Series. The subwoofer controls include the usual suspects: a Bass Mode control for Music or Cinema (I used the Music mode, which provides the flattest response, for all of my listening, both music and film), a crossover setting adjustable from 50-150Hz that also includes a bypass setting, volume plus a separate volume control for the line-level input, and a phase adjustment for 0 or 180 degrees. There's also a ground connection, speaker level inputs, and a line-level output. I used the latter to daisy-chain the two S-W1EXs together.
The setup I used for the Pioneer speakers is essentially the same as I've used with other speakers in my 26' x 15.5' x 8' home theater room. The left and right front speakers flank my 78" wide projection screen and sit approximately 6' out from the wall behind them. The setup is slightly displaced from the center of the room's 15.5' width, so the left speaker is about 4' from the left sidewall and the right is about 3' from the right. The S-7EX center speaker sits about 19.5" from the floor on a B&W stand. This is supplemented by the MDF support plate that Pioneer provides, shaped to accommodate the cabinet's curved sides and give the speaker a firm footing on the flat top of most stands.
The S-2EXs, used as surround channels, sit on their dedicated stands near the rear of the room about 8 feet behind the main seating area. After some experimentation, I ended up with the two subwoofers stacked one above the other along the right sidewall, a few feet forward of the right front corner.
My first impression of the EX Series setup was of dynamic, full-bodied sound. There was also a bit more warmth through the mid and upper bass than I am accustomed to, plus a slightly forgiving, laid back, but not dull extreme top end. While these characteristics weren't necessarily ideal for music (more on that a bit further on) they definitely helped the Pioneers produce magic on film soundtracks. While these speakers didn't give a free pass to films with excessively bright and lean sound (and there are hundreds of those), such films were more than tolerable on the EX speakers. And great soundtracks sounded genuinely spectacular.
Take, for example, the recent remake of Flight of the Phoenix. While the crash sequence early in the film was hardly sweet and laid back on the Pioneers, it didn't grate or go over the top with bright edginess either. And though this sequence's top end lacked a bit of the sparkle I've heard from it with other systems and usually favor, in no way did the sound lack genuine detail.
The Director's Cut of Kingdom of Heaven also has a great soundtrack. The Pioneers didn't miss a thing, from the clanking of swords, the crashing of boulders hurled by catapult and trebuchet, the clatter of clashing armies, the clean dialogue, and, most of all, the marvelous score by Harry Gregson-Williams. All of it was presented in an expansive, coherent acoustic tapestry. I heard no sense of left, center, or right as individual elements, but a continuous spread of sound across the front—the proverbial sonic bubble. The soundstage had excellent depth, particularly evident on the choral work and vocal solos that support so much of the film's score.
One of the characteristics I've noticed on Dolby Digital Plus from the Toshiba HD DVD player, accessed from the player's coaxial digital output (which involves converting the DD+ stream to 24/96 PCM and then to DTS) is an ease of presentation that's rare with standard Dolby Digital. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a prime example. Heard at high levels on the Pioneer speakers, it' a wonder, producing some of the best movie sound I've ever heard in my home theater system. The loud bits have all the crash-boom-tinkle you could want, with no sense of dynamic compression. And the subtle touches, such as the brilliantly underscored final scenes, are as sweet as I could wish for. That's quite a trick for home theater—sweetness combined with dynamic scale and majesty—and the Pioneers pull it off effortlessly.
The same was true of the DD+ track on the HD DVD of Batman Begins. The speakers handle the soundtrack's wide dynamic range superbly. The dialogue is clear, realistic, and free of unnatural forwardness and coloration. Sibilants sound natural and not tizzy. And the music is superbly rendered. It's punchy when it needs to be and sweet and refined in the film's quieter moments. One of my favorite scenes is when the adult Bruce Wayne enters the cave to face his fear of bats. The swirling cacophony of the flying rodents, accompanied by the enveloping score, is mesmerizing on the Pioneers.
From the above, it should be clear that the EX speakers will play very loud without turning raw and unpleasant, given a soundtrack that is clean to begin with. Whether the latter characteristic is due to the speakers' low rated distortion or frequency balance is hard to say—likely a combination of the two—but it is a quality that struck me time and again as I listened to a wide variety of soundtracks.
The overall key here is balance. As mentioned earlier, the S-1EXs and S-7EX produce a virtually seamless front soundstage on well-produced soundtracks. They portray depth well and play loud without obvious compression. Dialog is relaxed, clean sounding, and as uncolored as the soundtrack allows. The highs are crisp and open, and if they sound a bit less sparkling than with some competitors, that characteristic contributes to their overall listenability on a wide range of material.