I’m just gonna jump right into the thick of it because I’ve already talked about the dreariness that are stock TV speakers before. For those that don’t know, sound bars are often the next best thing when it comes to stepping-up your home audio experience without many hassles.
But flexibility is what you’re paying for with Pioneer’s SP-SB03 Speaker Base, the company’s latest entry into affordable Hi-Fi and designed by famed in-house engineer Andrew Jones. Those who deal in singular components like these will find their opinions varied, and while I won’t waltz around in a moment of Wallace and Gromit zeal over these speakers are excellent if you’re strictly using this for television and movies.
The SP-SB03 makes some big promises thanks to a very prominent and straightforward pedestal design constructed of composite wood and draped in a black ash vinyl finish – a look that’s right out of the nineties. The front sports dual 3-inch midrange drivers and dual 1-inch tweeters protected by a hard mesh grille, while two 4-inch woofers and five raised feet occupy the bottom portion (the fifth center foot is engineered to accommodate heavier sets if need be) for a total of 168 watts in total amplifier power. All of these touches are recognizable nods to Pioneer’s range of premium speakers.
At a hefty 20.94 lbs. this is a wide and massive base with dimensions of 28” x 4.75” x 16” (WHD), and while there’s nothing to specify the maximum holding weight the base was able to support a 50 lb. TV with relative ease. In the back though, you only get standard stereo RCA (analog) and a digital optical (Dolby Digital) input, so you’ll have to rely on your TV’s switching abilities to make everything work in conjunction with HDMI or analog video sources.
A spartan control panel contrasts the upscale style and only has volume, source, sound mode selection, and a Bluetooth paring button all displayed with simple LED status lights. The remote control is ergonomically lacking but adds playback, subwoofer volume, and a EXP (3D expansion) button for simulated surround sound (movie mode only), it gets the job done but you’ll definitely want to program this speaker base to respond to your TV’s clicker if possible.
But in terms of sound quality, many will differ on how capable the SP-SB03 sounds to the ear. Upon first impressions it’s apparent that Pioneer has done their homework where it counts, and tried to work their magic with clarity instead of absolute punch. The two subwoofers are admittedly subtle in delivery and forgoes some bass potency to compliment everything else. Without suffering from compression or abnormal vibrations; for example, the raid aboard the cruise liner in The Fifth Element provided a impeccable sense of depth and composure when the action quickly picked up.
But it’s actually vocal detail that’s the strongest attribute here. With dramas like The Terminal and the various misadventures seen in The Big Lebowski, the delivery is portrayed naturally and probably some of the best I’ve heard from a sound bar, period. Things are further helped along by the audio expansion enhancement (EXP) which provides a distinctly wide surround effect in all directions – a minor improvement that attentive audiophiles will appreciate, if boosted somewhat.
Overall balance usually comes before dynamics and range anyways, but switch the SP-SB03 from Movie Mode over to the Music and Dialogue Modes and things change to adequate. For many, the Music Mode won’t sound too different but at its worst there’s a distinct lack of separation for instrumentals (The Miracle – U2) and low-end frequency is average. Pairing a Bluetooth device is painless but the audio is definitely constrained with accompanied sync hiccups, and it also doesn’t help that AptX enhancements are absent too (for compatible smartphones/tablets). As for the Dialogue mode; it’s unnecessarily just for voices while treble substitutes everything else.
The Pioneer SP-SB03 does a outstanding job with the essential theater sonics right out of the box, but the other niceties are pretty scarce and isn’t a totally accomplished performer for music. But as far as poised audio for movies and build quality is concerned, this is still ahead of many other sound bars. Otherwise, Pioneer’s own and more conventional SP-SB23W Sound Bar might be a better alternative.