At CEDIA 2015, Pioneer showed off its latest Dolby Atmos-enabled modules, speakers, and AVRs. At the show replete with multiple six-figure immersive audio sound systems, Pioneer took the opposite tack and highlighted its most affordable components during its demo.
This year, Pioneer’s AVRs (including the Elite models) all feature HDMI 2.0a inputs and HDCP 2.2 support in at least three HDMI inputs. In addition, every Pioneer AVR except for the least expensive model in its lineup (the $280 VSX-530K) now possess Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities—and even the VSX-530K supports Bluetooth.Pioneer displayed and played its affordable Atmos-enabled speaker products at CEDIA 2015. The SP-T22A-LR modules—featuring concentric 2-way drivers—sell for $200 per pair and fit on top of the existing SP-FS52 towers that cost $130 each, as well as the popular SP-BS22-LR bookshelf speakers that are $130 per pair and have garnered much praise. The company also showed an Atmos-enabled variant of the bookshelf model, the SP-BS22A-LR that costs $300 per pair.
This concentric 2-way driver performs Atmos-related duties for Pioneer’s latest speakers.
The 5.1.2 Atmos-enabled system with dual subs that Pioneer demoed at the show cost $1600—total—including all the speakers plus the AVR. Broken down into its individual components, the kit consists of the VSX-1130-K 7.2-channel AV Receiver ($600), a pair of SP-FS52s ($260), a pair of T22A-LR modules ($200) that were placed on top of the towers, twin SW-8MK2 subs ($ 160 each), the SP-C22 center channel ($100), and a pair of SP-BS22-LR bookshelf speakers acting as surrounds ($130).
On paper, the value proposition of the economical Pioneer Atmos system is tremendous, but how did it perform at the show?
For the money, Pioneer’s affordable Atmos system offered a glimpse of the potential of the format. It handled ear-level sounds deftly, with good tracking and a neutral, engaging quality that has made Pioneer’s value-priced speakers such a hit. The issue is that a 5.1.2 system featuring only two Atmos-enabled modules, positioned up front, is going to get overwhelmed quickly.
Compared to most of the Atmos demos at CEDIA 2015, the performance of the budget Pioneer system—in particular the height effects and the bass output—was decidedly modest. However, since it costs around one percent of what many of the Atmos-capable systems at the show sell for, it simply can’t be compared in the same terms. Furthermore, there were acoustical issues with many listening rooms I heard at the show, not just Pioneer’s.
Pioneer chose to pair its top Elite model, the $2500 SC-99, with its Elite line of Atmos-enabled speakers at the show, and had it set up in the same demo space, where I heard it play the same demo clips as I heard on the low priced Pioneer system. The price point of the Elite package was much higher—more than quadruple—but so was the fidelity it achieved. For the record, the Elite system used four SP-EFS73 Atmos-enabled towers priced at $700 each, a SP-EC73 center that sells for $400, and two SW-E10 subwoofers that cost $600 per piece.
Pioneer set up its 5.1.2 system and the pricier Elite 5.1.4 system (each with two subs) side-by-side.
I think it was brave and necessary for Pioneer to show that a budget system can offer Dolby Atmos with a very minimal additional investment beyond the cost of a 5.1 surround system.