The quest for high-quality home audio can get esoteric in a hurry, with speakers that are priced more like a car and $4,000 speaker cables with "Counter-Spiral Geometry" -- whatever that means. For those with a more practical approach (and reasonable budget), there's the Pioneer SP-PK52FS. For $630, you get a full-size 5.1 home theater speaker system that delivers the kind of outstanding sound quality that's competitive with systems twice as expensive. With two tower speakers up front, a jumbo center channel, 100-watt subwoofer, and two bookshelf surround speakers, it's hard to believe you're paying just a little over $100 per speaker for the package.
The big drawback to the SP-PK52FS is its size, and, to a lesser extent, its style. The speakers are unapologetically large, especially compared with lifestyle speaker systems like the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 ($500). The black wood-grain vinyl finish isn't ugly, but it's far from the "furniture-grade" finish on speakers like the (more expensive) Aperion Intimus 4T Hyrbrid SD ($1,350). If the Pioneer's looks and size aren't your style, we recommend the outstanding, albeit not as powerful-sounding, Energy Take Classic 5.1 ($400), which remains our Editors' Choice for budget home theater speakers. But if you've got the space for the Pioneer SP-PK52FS, they're the best-sounding speakers we've heard at this price.
Design: As big as they sound
The six-piece Pioneer SP-PK52FS comes with a pair of SP-FS52 towers, one SP-C22 center channel speaker, two SP-BS22-LR surround speakers, and a SW-8MK2 subwoofer. The entire system was designed by Andrew Jones, a man best known in the audiophile community for his ultra-high-end TAD speakers that sell for nearly $80,000. (We told you home audio can get expensive.) The SP-PK52FS system is a significantly revised version of the SP-PK21BS, which was one of our favorite budget surround systems last year. The new speakers have new tweeters, woofers, crossover networks, cabinets, and speaker grilles; the subwoofer received only minor changes.
The SP-FS52 tower speaker sports a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter and three 5.25-inch "structured surface woofers"; most budget towers have single or double woofers. The three woofers' bass output is augmented with two ports on the back of the speaker cabinet, so the SP-FS52s shouldn't be placed too close to a wall. Unlike a lot of the budget surround sound systems we review at CNET, note that these are full-size tower speakers, measuring 35.2 inches tall.
The SP-C22 center speaker has the same 1-inch tweeter, but two 4-inch woofers, and two rear ports. It's unusually large for a budget-price system, coming in at 18.25 inches wide by 7.2 inches high and 8.4 inches deep. The top and bottom panels are curved front-to-back, and it comes with two small "cradles" to provide a stable base for shelf mounting over or under your TV. The cradles also allow the SP-C22 to be set up to fire straight ahead, or angled up or down to a small degree so you can "aim" the speaker's sound toward the main listening position.
Even with the cradles, positioning the SP-C22 is no easy feat. Case in point, for the photo above we had to set the TCL L40FHDP60 TV on small wooden risers so the SP-C22 wouldn't block the screen when placed on the hutch in front of the TV. Placing a center channel is rarely easy, but be prepared for more trouble than usual with the SP-C22.
The pair of SP-BS22-LR surround speakers feature the same 1-inch tweeter and 4-inch structured surface woofer as the center speaker, but with just one woofer per speaker, and one rear port.
All of the speakers feature all-metal connectors, which provide a more secure grip on the wires than the mostly plastic spring-clip connectors seen on typical budget speakers. The connectors accept banana plugs, bare wire ends, spades, or wires terminated with pin connectors.