Pioneer Elite S-IW571L, S-IW871LR Page 2

MUSIC & MOVIE PERFORMANCE

Sometimes a particular CD track or DVD chapter practically defines a speaker for me. That's definitely the case with the S-IW571L, through which I played Iggy & the Stooges: Live in Detroit over and over and over again, courtesy of the Netflix streaming built into my LG Blu-ray Disc player.

Technically, the material is mediocre: video that's barely better than VHS and a two-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack. But this 2003 performance, like these speakers, is relentless and engaging; the S-IW571Ls sounded fantastic pumping out the Stooges' visceral rock & roll. Although I expected that the voice of a frantic, screaming, ecstatic 56-year-old man might push any speaker into harshness and distortion, the Elites treated Iggy Pop with far more care than he ever lavished on himself.

As I explored gentler music (a category that includes almost every other recording ever made), I noticed that the Elites were just as kind to every other singer, from smooth-voiced Holly Cole to the raspy tones of Ron Sexsmith. I have heard few speakers sound so good with such a wide range of vocal styles.

One unusual aspect of the Elites' performance is that the upper treble region seems barely present, even with the treble switches set on +. This characteristic de-emphasized percussion instruments that are especially high in frequency, such as splash cymbals and cabasa. Despite the upper treble rolloff, the stereo soundstaging was some of the best I've heard from in-walls. Sounds stretched to the far left and right of my room.

The S-IW571L and S-IW871LR sound similar, as you might expect. I preferred the S-IW571L because its reproduction of voices is a little smoother; the S-IW871LR's big 8-inch woofer doesn't blend with the tweeter as evenly as the S-IW571L's 6½ -inch midrange/woofer does. The S-IW871LR does deliver deeper bass, though.

You kinda have to figure any speaker that can handle the Stooges should play movie soundtracks with ease, and the S-IW571L certainly does. What proved especially compelling to me was its treatment of dialogue. I threw on DVD after DVD trying to find an actor whose voice would bring out the bad side of this speaker, but I couldn't find a single one. Even Danny DeVito's dialogue tracks on the children's movie Matilda sounded smooth and clear; through many speakers, his voice in this movie takes on a harsh, nasal tonality.

When I tried pushing the S-IW571L to its limits with action movies, I heard some distortion, but it wasn't the earstraining distortion one usually hears from speakers - it was more a sense of sonic confusion. With a subwoofer added to take over deep-bass duties, both the S-IW571L and the S-IW871LR play plenty loud with any material you want to throw at them.

BOTTOM LINE

I can't say for sure that the skunk-works approach works miracles - after all, I've heard plenty of great speakers designed by big corporate engineering crews. But these Pioneer Elite in-walls conjure a certain magic that runs counter to the usual mass-market priorities of a worldwide manufacturing conglomerate. They may be somewhat shy in the upper treble, but both the S-IW571L and the S-IW871LR generally deliver smooth, satisfying, kick-ass sound that's a joy to experience hour after hour, day after day.

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