Floorstanding Loudspeaker Pioneer S-3EX
So what will our audiophile friend, who is often attributed the term "snob" (and sometimes rightfully so), think of speakers manufactured by the A/V company Pioneer?
Will he be deterred from buying speakers from a company that manufactures display devices, Receivers, DVD and blu-ray players, vehicle systems and headsets?
If so, the loss is entirely his.
I have no intention to present the Pioneer company. In our narrow field (two - channel audio) I guess the company is known mainly for it's amplifiers and players and not necessarily for high-end speakers. In the parallel field of multichannel audio and home theater in particular, the company has much to offer in the form of Receivers of various levels (and prices), DVD and blu-ray players and of course 5.1 configuration speaker sets - floor standing, designer speakers, Satellites etc.
But still you can not mention Pioneer without mentioning the great leap which the company gave to the flat screen market. The plasma screens by the KURO brand carried the flat screens market to unmatched levels by any other screen of that time. I can only regret the news when we were informed only few months ago of the company's decision to cease manufacturing of these screens.
But what about the audio field?
In the audio field business are as usual. I would not be surprised if now that there is more focus on this field we may see more audio innovations in the coming years (as of this moment this is only a wish that is not backed by any statement I've seen).
But it's not that we don't have anything to discuss. Let's start with the TAD Corporation (now a subsidiary of Pioneer) specializing in the pro market but also turned to the consumer Hi-Fi and presented a convincing demonstration of both the floor standing and the large bookshelf monitors at the last Munich show I reviewed here
(scroll down a bit as needed.)
Let us continue to Pioneer's EX series now made up of two floor-standing, two monitors and two center speakers which drew a variety of technologies from TAD and are targeted at the audiophile market as well as the high end market of home theater enthusiasts.
I admit I came across the EX range in a variety of opportunities. What aroused my curiosity about the series was the review in stereophile magazine in 2007 describing the senior floor standing member of the range - the S-1EX. However, I have not been able to listen to a speaker from the range connected to an "audiophile" system in any exhibition or demonstration room in the country or abroad. Therefore I was glad when the opportunity to test the S-3EX in my home field finally arrived.
A Closer Look
When the two speakers arrived at my house I noticed they were rather overgrown beasts, and the effort demonstrated by the nice pair of movers taught me that they where also massively built.
During the positioning stage I learned at first hand what it was all about - 48 kilos of solid speaker.
The visual design demonstrated by the pair of the S-3EX is somewhat reticent but handsome: a rounded deep cabinet tilted backwards with the back side being straight and curved front baffle. The entire length of the front baffle is covered by the grille.
At the bottom are four massive silvery cylinders that house the rather dull spikes.
The Quality of materials, construction and assembly are impressive and all give the impression of a very durable product. That being said even though the units reviewed were not in optimal aesthetic condition, I guess they underwent some uneasy travels.
You probably cannot notice it in the pictures, but the cabinets are actually built from three parts: a straight middle section which comprises the majority of the cabinet, the back panel that forms the pointy tip and the front section creates the curve. The two outer parts are painted black and the middle is painted in a slightly reddish Wenge which in most lighting conditions will appear black as one piece with the other two parts.
The speaker also comes in a version with a light beech colored middle section.
With the grille installed the speaker looks like an impressive home theater speaker. This look is further enhanced by the small "Pioneer" caption at the bottom. It also helps the speaker disappear in its surroundings, certainly in front of the black backdrop of my listening room. With the removal of the grille the curve is unveiled along with the white midrange driver, giving a slightly different look.
In the driver sector we find a 3 way configuration with the drivers, as mentioned before, based on TAD technologies.
Let's start with the 5.5" magnesium driver containing the tweeter (about 1.2" ceramic graphite) in concentric configuration (what TAD calls Coherent Source Transducer : "CST").
We shall continue with two 6.25" woofers at the center of the cabinet and a front port lying underneath .
Each speaker is equipped with two pairs of binding posts for Bi-Amping or Bi-Wiring connection, in my case the pair was bridged with a thick white speaker cable which I am not sure is the standard bridge supplied.
The official specs mention an impressive frequency range of 30hz to 100khz, sensitivity of 88.5db and nominal impedance of 6ohm .
Let's start with an anecdote.
The Pioneer pair arrived to my house with both the ushers (dancer Mini2) and the WLM (La-Scala ) present in my listening room after one of the electronics reviews. But because I was so eager to hear the new sample I connected them without clearing the room, and in each corner you could find a stray speaker.
The initial sound emitted from the S-3EX even before accurate placement was very impressive, and two days later I was already in love. A perfect combination of correct tonality, clarity and accurate and true bass (and also a few other compliments I will not write about now for lack of relevance). I knew that the speaker can not be examined in this manner, and in any case I had to empty the room to test other equipment so a few days later I left them alone in the room.
Unfortunately a lot of charm was lost. There was probably a perfect combination of acoustics and other drivers playing in harmony. This scenario forced me to conduct a variety of experiments with acoustics during which I hope I've learned a thing or two but I am straying from the subject.
Well placing the pair of the S-3EX was not particularly difficult, but my room has this quality of not building much pressure even if the speakers are somewhat close to the walls.
However, I found that the pair of S-3EX might change its skin in the highs and mid- highs depending of their positioning (mainly distance from the listener and toe-in).
While placing them I noticed the speaker was rocking a little. Examining the bottom revealed a rear central spike placed a little higher between the two outer spikes. This means that in fact the speaker is standing on three spikes instead of four. Because it was a screwable spike I tried to remove it and use the outer rear spikes. The speaker was stable but the sound was significantly inferior. Less clear, less coherent. I returned the spike and regained the enhanced result.
I chose a location that gives a good stereo image, and sound character tonally reminiscent of the perfect performance I was telling you about at the beginning of the chapter. No, I did not manage to perfectly recreate the same performance, yet the result, as we shall learn right away, was very good in itself.
The S-3EX pair are different from my personal WLM speakers in almost every aspect. It begins with the multiple drivers, continues with the materials which they are made of, passing on to the massive rounded / sloped (for sake of time alignment by the way) enclosure compared to the boxy thin "playing" cabinet of the WLM, and ending with the front port in the S-3EX compared to a bottom port on the WLM. Let's see if indeed these technical characteristics provide a different sound experience (hint: yes). Corinne Bailey Rae
This lovely artist's debut CD was released in 2006 - and was followed by a wave of rave reviews. Even those of you who never noticed Corinne must know a few of the songs from this album as they appeared in advertisements, movies and some were even covered by other artists despite their young age. Ms. Bailey also participated in several projects since her debut album, One example is her excellent part in - River - The Joni Letters from Herbie Hancock. Yet I Believe another solo album has not been released since then (at least until the publication date of this review).
Through the pair of Pioneers, Bailey's voice was rendered bigger than I'm used to using the WLM. It's a good thing in most cases except the most intimate ones. But it is not that through the S-3EX the intimate performances were roughly played, the opposite is true: Bailey's childish voice was produced with sensitivity and (intended) fragility that were very moving.
The album, which is based mainly on the rhythms of pop and R & B , played better than usual through the MBLs thanks to the Pioneer, but played even better using the Plinius Hiato (but that has already been discussed in a previous review). The point is that by virtue of neutrality and size of the Pioneer and the MBL set also accomplish the task successfully. Knesiat Hasehel (The Mind Church) - Autobiography
Usually I'm not that into to this album. Not because I do not like its content, but because usually my personal setups don't play it convincingly as they are tuned to a different type of music. The sound combined with the S-3EX sounds different even at my normal volume level in which I listen to most of my music (relatively low level ), but while increasing to higher SPL - some new layers revealed themselves with which I was not familiar.
Drumming gave an impact I'm not used to, and in general the dynamic parts (quite a few) were played with an appropriate degree of forcefulness suitable to the genre.
It's not that the compression in the album disappeared entirely - it's still there and it is audible - it's just that now there were other areas to enjoy. I have no doubt that some setups built to play such genres can play this album much better, but thanks to the Pioneer I could enjoy it too. אבישי כהן – Devotion
I admit I'm more into Cohen's previous albums than those of recent years (and no, I'm not talking about the vocal albums at all ). I'm just not that fond of the increasing eastern influence affecting most of the Israeli jazz artists. Here we have a diverse album with variety of influences. Yes, there is a track devoted to the eastern subject, but there are also many other influences and in total the album is quite interesting.
This well recorded album played in excellent form through the 3EX. They revealed very good imaging and a kind of pleasantness / velvetness without sacrificing detail or air. They are a little darker in tonal aspects than the WLM and their soundstage spreads wider than deeper or higher, but they give a satisfyingly realistic view.
One very good feature of the Pioneer is its ability to convey detailed textures through the entire tonal spectrum, ranging from violin and flute all the way to Cohen's bass. June Christy – The Intimate Miss Christy
I have decided that this time you will not escape my oldies, and for that out of the attic came Mrs. June Christy in her album " The Intimate Miss Christy". Although I did not get to hear this great album recently, you need not worry, as I've heard it enough to have it well engraved in my memory. As the name suggests these are intimate performances of immortal songs where June (and the instruments) are recorded close to the microphone and deliver that same intimate feeling. This may not be the optimal album to test soundstage and imaging as June and the guitar appear usually on the left speaker while the bass appears on the right. However, you can easily distinguish that June's voice is significantly bigger than her voice through the WLM. While this lessens my feeling of June singing in my room, but on the other hand gives a slightly more interesting presentation. Tonally I feel the S-3EX are darker than the WLM. That does not mean they are "clogged" - the opposite is true, as they convey enough air and ambiance, but June's voice sounds a bit lower pitched through them.
Which is truer? It's hard to tell. I assume that in this particular case, the WLM gives a more correct view of June's voice (but in other albums the opposite can happen ) and yet the 3EX's presentation of the album was very flattering. The Pioneer also preserve the musicality of the MBL setup. In fact they are a surprising good match.Chet Baker – Live In Bologna
In order to represent some brass instruments I invited Chet Baker and his group to the stage. This excellent album sounds good in almost any system, but still we can notice what special features the 3EX will provide. Baker's trumpet is even darker than usual, which does not bother me at all. Guitar strumming (we talked about guitars in jazz right? So this is the kind I like!) is both coherent and dynamic. Rassinfosse's bass manages to move enough air in the room in order to provide an authentic experience. The total result is very good, very musical and flattering to this excellent album.
Again I had to shorten the playlist presented here even though the Pioneers have been here for an especially long visit in which I could listen to endless albums (I should note that professionally I really like the extra long examination sessions. They allow to become truly acquainted with the equipment, an acquaintance tested over time and in real life rather than "field conditions". Personally speaking it's another story.)
And the reason I am brief this time is that we did not have time to dwell on the sonic characteristics of the S-3EX, both in general and compared to the WLM in particular. The first characteristic that I will mention is the neutral sound the S-3EX provide. Even if their tonal balance leans towards the darker side of the neutral spectrum (but actually this has a lot to do with the speakers placement, they can also sound bright!), I can not say that these pair of speakers has any distinct "nature".
I've said recently that only equipment of great quality can afford to be neutral. That's true also in this case. The Pioneer pair do not use tricks to flatter the music nor do they let coloration infiltrate the tonal range. Comparing to the WLM - although they are not "deformed" tonally the WLM are definitely speakers with tonal character/ you either like what they do or not. They provide a unique kind of experience, whether using a tweeter that's a bit "dirty" or their super three-dimensional presentation.
The truth is in the beginning of my audiophile path I failed to connect to neutral speakers like the Pioneers. It is only when I achieved a complete set of quality electronics that I really came to appreciate this feature.
Another feature worth mentioning is the Pioneer's sound clarity. The tweeter and the midrange driver are able to reproduce high tones with an impressive clarity (again in contrast to the intentionally slightly messy WLM). We will notice this feature in high female voices, brass instruments (not Chet's...) and in metallic percussion instruments. But again, only provided we stream the speakers with quality data conveying these properties.
In the bass field I can tell the Pioneers provide bigger and more detailed bass than the WLM, even more aggressive. But I can not say they go down lower. In fact just in the lower spectrum the two speakers are pretty similar and only when you go up the tonal range the superiority of the S-3EX's features can be heard.
I have waited a long time for an intimate encounter with the EX series, and as it turns out it was worth the wait. The S-3EX manages to be very neutral while avoiding being boring, at least in my setup. It has a rich tonal range from top to bottom and the presence of a large (not a very large) speaker.
I found the combination of completely open highs with slightly darker midrange to be addictive. A combination of quality drivers, utter clarity and improved bass volume add much to this experience. I have noticed my frequent usage of the word " flattering " in the listening session chapter. This is no coincidence - the features of the S-3EX indeed contributed to albums from diverse genres. They did so not by using "tricks" (a legitimate thing) but by playing right and neutral. This is a remarkable fact in my opinion.
I did not mention much about it in the review but during the review period the S-3EX were hooked up with many solid state amps ranging from 40 to 300 watts. I was surprised to discover that even the weakest amplifier drove them without difficulty (of course there were sonic differences between the amps).
This is the first speaker I tested that I could\would use as my main personal speaker. In case someone did not notice I will hint that this is a very serious compliment (actually the only compliment higher than this will be that I actually buy the reviewed speaker).
I wonder if the senior member of this speaker series, the S-1EX, will get that far.
And to our audiophile friend from the beginning of the review - if you like the neutral sound, have a medium to large listening room and have the suitable equipment for driving such a speaker, do yourself a favor, you don't even have to eat your own shoe, just go and audition the S-3EX.
Many thanks to our friend - "Giant Steps" for helping out with the English translation.
Source: MBL 1531, SB3
Pre-amplifier: MBL 5011
Amplifiers: MBL 8011, Goldenote S-1, ATOLL IN200, Plinius Hiato
Cables : ELROD, MBL, SILTECH, Anti-Cables
Frequency range: 30hz - 100khz
Sensitivity : 88.5db
Weight: 48 Kg
Dimensions: Height 122 cm, width 35 cm, depth 54 cm
Importer: T.R Electronics
Distributor : Sabo Audio
Price (@ Sabo Audio): 35,000 NIS