The S-A4SPT-PM story goes something like this: a Pioneer engineer built a whiskey-barrel prototype speaker on a hunch, and when he compared it to the same design with a conventional medium-density fiberboard (MDF) cabinet, he knew he was onto something because it produced "a mature mellow tone." That makes sense to us: a speaker's sound is the result of the total design. All of the wood in these speakers has been used for 50 years to age whiskey. The barrels' curved wood is flattened and hand-crafted into speaker cabinets--Pioneer claims the wood from one barrel produces just a single pair of speakers. Even the speaker's bass-enhancing port is made from the whiskey wood (most speakers use plastic tubing inside the speaker). Such craftsmanship would be extraordinary in a $1,000 speaker, so it's downright unprecedented in the Pioneers' price range.
Behind the removable black cloth grilles, the S-A4SPT-PMs feature a 4-inch woven fiber cone woofer and a 1-inch soft dome-type tweeter. They're pretty small speakers--each one is just 9.7 inches tall by 6 wide by 8.4 deep and weighs 8.4 pounds. They might be ideal for use in a bedroom or den flanking a TV (they're magnetically shielded for safe placement near TVs) or as a set of B stereo speakers for music from an A/V receiver. They're fitted with solid metal speaker binding posts that accept banana plugs, spades, or bare wire ends. The speakers come with a pair of 8-foot heavy-gauge speaker cables, the same thick cable that's used within the S-A4SPT-PMs' cabinet.
Mounted on our speaker stands and placed a few feet out into the room, the pair of S-A4SPT-PMs projected a large sound field, with an accurate portrayal of depth and space. Wall mounting reduced the sound's apparent depth but boosted the speakers' bass response. That said, we listened to music on the S-A4SPT-PMs on stands and were perfectly happy with the bass.
The little Pioneers' engaging sound clicked with Belle and Sebastian's shiny pop tunes and Bruce Springsteen's mostly acoustic We Shall Overcome CD. In both cases, the dynamic energy was beyond what we would normally expect for speakers of the S-A4SPT-PMs' size. Treble detail was also quite good.
We also used the S-A4SPT-PMs in our home theater when we watched our favorite scary movie, the Saw DVD. Thanks to the two speakers' big sound, we never missed the other three speakers of our surround system. Dialogue was clear and precise, and the little Pioneers proved themselves gutsy enough to fill moderately large rooms with sound. We can't fault the bass power of the speakers' 4-inch woofers, but when we added a PSB SubSeries 5i subwoofer (available as part of the $1,026 Alpha Studio Theater System, or separately for $499), the sound was even scarier. Alas, Pioneer doesn't offer a matching whiskey-barrel wood subwoofer or surround speakers for use with the S-A4SPT-PMs.
We finished up comparing the S-A4SPT-PMs with a set of NHT SB-1 speakers, which are a little larger overall and have a larger (5.25-inch) woofer than the Pioneers'. The SB-1s are terrific little speakers (now discontinued), but we were wowed by the S-A4SPT-PMs' greater clarity and superior bass definition. The SB-1s produce a bit more, though less well-defined bass, which might tilt the balance for some buyers for whom more bass might be more important than "better" bass.
The Pioneer S-A4SPT-PMs are special speakers. They sound wonderful on music and movies, and the whiskey-barrel wood finish is comparable with that of speakers selling for double or even triple the Pioneers' very reasonable price. We recommend them enthusiastically for discriminating listeners.