With the sheer quantity of under $200 speakers out there and the lack of in-depth reviews, I thought it might be helpful to add my review of the bookshelf speakers I recently purchased.
The speakers are the Pisces PB-651 V2.0 speakers made by AER Acoustic. I hadn't read any reviews online about how they sounded so I purchased them based upon #1 Real wood finish, #2 Price, and #3 looks/design. These were purchased to be used as surround sound speakers.
When I took them out of the box I was immediately impressed by their finish. At first I was thinking that the statement about a real wood veneer was untrue since the finish surface was so perfect. After closer inspection, it is indeed a real wood veneer. My only disappointment was that the wood finish was considerably darker than pictured on the internet. It appears to be a lightly finished walnut. I emailed to ask about this and they stated that the different wood grain finishes are due to the differences in wood lots used in cabinet production - with some being lighter and others darker than the picture shown (I imagine this keeps costs down). I was told that this could be preselected based on my preference. I wasn't willing to pay shipping both ways again so I didn't bother exchanging them.
With the speakers out of the box, the next thing I did was to hook them up as my primary speakers and test them out on my high-end stereo system. I have Vandersteen 3A and 2W speakers, a Naim Nait 3 integrated preamp/amp, and an upgraded Assemblage DAC and Audio Alchemy DTI.
My jaw dropped! For under $200 speakers I was not expecting this level of performance. I listened to some 24-bit HDCDs and was amazed at the depth of the soundstage. Imaging is spectacular for speakers in this price range. I haven't heard speakers under $500 that can create such a coherent soundstage. I believe the key to such transparent highs is the separate top-mounted tweeter arrangement and the narrow front baffle design.
While the Pisces PB-651 V2.0 speakers present a detailed and open sound, they can sound congested in the mid-bass area with certain types of music. An excellent example can be found on Chris Isaak's CD, Baja Sessions. In his lower vocal range, the speakers begin to sound muddy. Regarding bass under 100Hz, the speakers were only used in conjunction with a Vandersteen 2W sub, so it is difficult to judge, but the speakers seemed to do quite well for single 6.5" woofers.
Often times speakers begin to sound better after the speaker cones have been played for a while. After playing for 40 hours at high volume levels (I'm actually amazed at the volume levels these speakers can produce - but they do take a lot of power, perhaps 87db efficiency, and the woofer phase-plug does get warm), a few things happened. The first was that a nasty buzz started to occur. I tracked this down to the tweeter mounting ring. It was vibrating against its mount at high volume levels. I inserted a piece of felt cloth inbetween and the vibration disappeared. As far as the mid-bass performance, after breaking-in, it did not improve, and if anything, actually seemed more noticeable.
Being the naturally curious person that I am, I decided to see how the speakers were constructed. I unscrewed the 6.5" woofer and was immediately impressed by how the cabinets were built. The face plate was an inch thick and the sides appeared to be about 3/4" thick. The material wasn't typical MDF, instead if was composed of a softer fiberboard (less glue, more fiber - somewhere between low and medium density). Taking a look at the 6.5" driver showed me everything I needed to know about the bass performance. While this driver has a great appearance (yellow Kevlar cone), the magnet structure is typical for speakers in this price range. The crossover is also average and uses typical electrolytic caps.
Speaker cabinets are normally over 65% of the cost of the finished speaker. In this case, I would say an even higher percentage went to building these cabinets. While they could have been built with higher density to be absolutely perfect, their construction is considerably better than any speaker I have seen near this price point. Purchasing better empty cabinets would far exceed the price of these completed speakers.
With that said, I think it's a shame that these speakers aren't available at a higher price-point with better 6.5" woofers. Although, for some, this may be a benefit. I can imagine these speakers might sell quite well with DIY speaker-builders. It's impossible to build speaker cabinets of this quality for anywhere near this price. With new crossovers, a pair of Seas 6.5" P17REX/P, and perhaps Morel MDT-41 top-mounting tweeters (optional since the existing tweeters are good) installed in these cabinets, these would truly be high-end looking and sounding speakers. Of course the list price of these drivers is far above the price of these speakers. And that brings us to the conclusion:
These speakers are incredible for this price point. Most people without high-end systems will simply think that these speakers look like thousand dollar speakers (they really do!) and sound good. And for those of us audiophiles that want high-end speakers cheap, spending another $150 and putting in the SEAS P17REX/P drivers and upgrading the crossovers would make these speakers both look and sound like high-end speakers.