The SW-8Mk2 subwoofer is a flat-sided box with a port on its front panel. It has an onboard 100-watt amplifier and a down-firing 8-inch paper cone woofer. The rear panel has a 0/180-degree phase switch that can be used to improve the bass blend between the sub and speakers. Connectivity options include stereo line-level RCA and spring-clip speaker-level inputs.
Sound quality: Best you'll find without spending a lot more
The SP-PK52FS performed extremely well, sounding like a much more expensive system. We had to remind ourselves again and again of the Pioneer's very affordable price tag. It sounded fully competitive, and in some ways better than our reference Aperion Audio Intimus 4T Hybrid SD that costs more than twice as much. On the whole the Aperion's tonal balance was richer and warmer, the Pioneer's leaner, but more detailed. Then again, when we just listened to dialogue from the two center channel speakers, the considerably larger Pioneer SP-C22 center was more naturally balanced, and less "boxy" than the Aperion 4C center speaker.
As the speakers are larger than average, we experimented a bit to find the optimum crossover settings in our Denon AVR-1912 receiver's setup menu. We were happy with both the 60 and 80Hz settings, but settled on using 80Hz for all of our listening tests. Timbre matching of the five speakers was good, so the sound of the pink-noise test tones remained fairly consistent as they moved from speaker to speaker during the setup routine. That helps ensure a uniformity of sound quality for home theater or multichannel music listening.
Home theater impact on the two systems with the "Mission: Impossible III" Blu-ray was very close. The scenes with the helicopter flying around the wind turbines and the exploding missiles were equally thrilling on both systems.
We didn't have the original smaller SP-PK21BS satellite/subwoofer system onhand to do direct comparisons, but we recall that its subwoofer was the weakest link in that system. Well, the new SW-8MK2 sub's amplifier and 8-inch woofer are nearly identical to the original's, but the new sub sounded pretty powerful mated with the SP-FS52 tower speakers. That might just mean that the sub is a better match with the towers than with the bookshelf models.
To confirm that hunch about the SW-8MK2 sub's potency, we directly compared it with the Aperion Bravis 8D sub, which has two 8-inch woofers, and the Pioneer was awfully close in deep bass power. I'd give the nod to the Aperion sub, but at $450 it costs two-thirds as much as the complete SP-PK52FS system. The SW-8MK2 succeeds by blending in with the rest of the SP-PK52FS system, but it's not the sort of subwoofer that can truly shake the foundation of your home. Larger and more-powerful 10- or 12-inch subs can, but again, they're typically more expensive than the entire Pioneer system.
Peter Gabriel's "New Blood: Live in London" concert Blu-ray features a full orchestra and sounded amazing over the SP-PK52FS system. The sense of being at the concert was impressive and the overall presentation utterly natural. The orchestra's strings were clear and present, and Gabriel and the other vocalists sounded realistic. The towers, center, and surround speakers' sound perfectly jelled to create an immersive soundscape.
Listening to rock, jazz, and classical CDs in stereo over the SP-FS52 towers was a real treat. The towers offer superior resolution than the Aperion 4T towers, but the 4Ts had a richer and fuller sound.
What are the alternatives?
As we mentioned before, if you can't live with the Pioneer's size, the Energy Take Classic 5.1 is a great alternative. It's stylish, compact, and sounds great for its size, at an incredible $400 price point. That's why it remains our Editors' Choice for budget surround sound systems.
Also note that the Pioneer also offers the similar SP-PK22BS ($400), which swaps the front tower speakers for bookshelf speakers. It's a little cheaper and the smaller front speakers may be a better fit for some living rooms. However, in most cases, the tower configuration is worth saving up for. Not only will you get better sound from your all-important front speakers, but bookshelf speakers on speaker stands take up around the same space as tower speakers -- why not get more speaker in the same footprint?
The Pioneer SP-PK52FS is a remarkable achievement that dramatically lowers the cost of high-quality sound. Yes, the system may be too large for some buyers, but if you can handle the size, it's one of the best values you'll find in home audio.