Skip to main content

Pioneer SP-SB23W review

Pioneer Soundbar SP SB23W subwoofer side
Pioneer SP-SB23W
MSRP $400.00
“The system’s rich and clear sound signature, ample stereo spread, and musical low end provided just the right boost of sound quality…”
  • Warm, detailed sound signature
  • Musical bass response
  • Integrates well with all content
  • Convenient setup and design
  • Bluetooth connection spotty/possible stereo issues
  • Treble is slightly tinny on occasion

Pioneer was once king of the budget speaker market, offering a host of car and home audio speakers that pumped up the volume for a pittance. However, in more recent years, the company has found its numbers in the entry-level market slipping behind a legion of upstarts offering better performance at lower prices. To solve the problem, Pioneer called in its version of ‘The Wolf’: Chief Design Engineer and guru behind Pioneer’s renowned TAD speaker line, Andrew Jones. Jones’ expertise has paid off so far, reinvigorating Pioneer’s entry line-up with value packed systems like the SP-PK525S.

Mr. Jones’ latest design in the home theater segment is the SP-SB23W speaker bar (don’t call it a sound bar, it’s been here for…well, months). The SB23W boasts a six pack of individually amplified drivers, a stand-alone wireless subwoofer, and a respectable bundle of features, all for only $350. We walked away impressed with our first take of the SB23W at CEDIA this year, but we’ve learned not to trust first impressions at trade shows, so now we’re back for a deeper investigation. Follow us below to find out what Jones’ latest labor can do.

Out of the box

The SB23W arrived in a large box, with Mr. Jones’ signature tattooed conspicuously across the front and back sides. Opening the package, we unearthed a modest sized bar, set in a handsome composite wood frame, with wood grain ripples carved into the black ash vinyl veneer, and softly curved edges. A rounded speaker screen spreads across the front face to cover six speakers, with a V-shaped cutout to allow a display window of mirrored plastic too peer out from the center.

The bar arrived with no base attached, so we wound up digging through the accessories to find the unit’s stick-on foam pads, which were taped inside a hollow cardboard sleeve along with a small remote, two power cables, and a length of digital optical cable. Metal key-hole slots are attached at the backside of the bar for wall-mounting as well, but we ended up simply setting it on its belly in front of our TV.

At the bottom of the box was the SB23W’s small wireless subwoofer, surrounded on the sides by empty boxes to keep it centered and protected. The little sub is what candy makers like to call “fun-sized,” boasting dimensions similar to a large boombox speaker. Its sleek, cubed frame is set on four rubber feet, and the smooth exterior is interrupted only by a large gloss black port at the front, a silver Pioneer logo, and a back plate which hosts a Bluetooth LED indicator and a beaded red power light.

Features and design

The SB23W is attractive enough with the speaker screen attached, but removing it reveals a much sexier configuration, unveiling an array of well-crafted drivers that look impressive considering the bar’s price class. Flanked out to the far sides are two 1-inch dome tweeters, while dual pairs of 3-inch midrange drivers line-up towards the center. Each of the drivers is individually powered with a 28 watt internal amp. The wireless subwoofer boasts a 6 ½-inch woofer inside, supplied with 50 watts of power. The total system frequency response is listed at 45Hz-20kHz.

Pioneer Soundbar SP SB23W portsAt the back of the sound bar is a small selection of inputs, including the IEC power cord port, an analog RCA input, and a digital optical input. The SB23W’s Bluetooth connection rounds out the source selection, with no 3.5mm input or HDMI input to be found. Also at the back is a main power switch, and a bright red LED power indicator.

A small selection of buttons is set into the bar’s main control panel, allowing adjustment of volume, source, and standby power. The rest of the system’s features are accessed by the small remote, which offers basic controls for volume and mute, source selection, subwoofer level, and standby power, as well as Bluetooth controls to search and pause music from your transmission device. The SB23W also has the ability to learn your TV remote, allowing you to use one remote for your entire entertainment setup.

The SB23W is attractive enough with the speaker screen attached, but removing it reveals a much sexier configuration…

The bar offers very little in the way of visual representation, flashing only a couple LEDs for source and sound mode, which also pull secondary duties indicating volume adjustment, etc. The stripped-down configuration gives a general idea of system status, but we wouldn’t have complained about a real display.

Digital features for the system include Dolby Digital decoding, 8-channel DSP, and a trio of sound templates including movie mode, music mode, and dialog mode. The included manual appears to have mixed up the description of each template, but our testing revealed that the music and movie modes were relatively similar in sound, while the dialog mode accentuated the midrange, and rolled off the bass pretty heavily – helpful for watching regular broadcast programming without accentuating music and sound effects.


We connected the system to the optical output on our TV via the included cable. After plugging both the sub and the bar into an outlet, powering the system on paired the units automatically. Pairing our iPhone 5 was achieved by holding down the source key on the front of the bar until the blue LED flashed, and then connecting through our phone’s Bluetooth settings.

Audio Performance

We spent a good week or so with the SB23W, perusing our Blu-ray collection, as well as watching basic broadcast programming, and listening to music via the Bluetooth connection.

We started with Zack Snyder’s visually riveting 300, and right from the start, the SB23W exhibited a sumptuous and rich color from the midrange down, and a detailed cut to the treble that allowed for an immediately enjoyable listening experience. The system showed its prowess for dialog at the film’s onset, carving out a clear and textured display of the narrator’s gritty baritone voice, and a soft, present touch to the consonants. A particularly revealing moment came when the Spartans came upon a young boy, the last survivor of a slaughtered village. The child’s whispered account was excellently defined, with clean, sharply carved lines that let us hear every word clearly without straining our ears.

Pioneer Soundbar SP SB23W speakers macroThe system also added some welcome definition to the rest of the production. The thunder bolts and rain cast down from the sky as the Persian ships approached in the maelstrom had ample depth. And the gratuitous battle scenes displayed visceral moments, such as the vivid snaps of the slave driver’s whip, deep plunks of arrows on shields, and dull metallic sweeps of swords as the small pack of Spartans defended the chasm to their doom. There was a touch of tinny color to the treble here and there, but it wasn’t anything that caused us trouble.

Moving through a wide range of content, the SB23W continued to impress. The bar showed good stereo separation in moments like the dragon scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, allowing our ears to follow detailed sweeps across the screen. But more impressive was the system’s penchant for the finer details. As we explored both movies and broadcast content, we found ourselves focusing on benign moments like the thick ruffling of a newspaper, the movement of clothing, or the casting of sound off environments like closets or stone corridors, all of which created a deeper level of sonic engagement.

They say subtlety is an art form, and that rings especially true in the sound bar/subwoofer relationship.

They say subtlety is an art form, and that rings especially true in the sound bar/subwoofer relationship. While the SB23W’s little sub didn’t offer the massive, thunderous expanse of larger units at the deepest regions of the sound, it blended very well with the smaller drivers, mixing lower dialog, impactful door thuds, and musical bass lines into the upper realm effortlessly. The only real complaint we had with the low end came when we tried to move the cabinet away from the bar, which created some directional exposure of the higher frequencies produced by the sub’s small speaker cone.

The SB23W also sounded great for music playback. Soundtracks like the spread-out latin percussion in the background of Dexter impressed, as the SB23W showcased the array of instruments with good definition, without popping out of the background at an overwhelming level. And we continued to enjoy the warmth and detail of the sound signature while auditioning songs from our iPhone. The system leant a golden touch to acoustic instruments and vocals, while the clean upper register kept the attack of cymbals, high strings and brass tight. Older recordings like Neil Young’s “Alabama” came through just a hair muddy, exposing what we heard as a roll-off in the upper midrange. Still, the system provided good stereo spacing and plenty of accuracy, allowing us to enjoy it across our entire music catalog with few complaints.


The elephant in the room, however, is the SB23W’s much-maligned Bluetooth connection. Pioneer’s website acknowledges customers’ issues with wireless playback of only the right channel on some units, and in a roundabout way, the company offers to fix the malady for free. However, while our test model offered full stereo playback, the system cut-out multiple times over the few hours we used the wireless connection. Match our annoying experience with the more problematic stereo issue, and Bluetooth becomes a serious liability with the system.


Andrew Jones’ design chops spawned a worthy performance in Pioneer’s SP-SB23W, and we enjoyed listening to the system for all of our home theater needs, from action movies, to dramas sitcoms, and music. The system’s rich and clear sound signature, ample stereo spread, and musical low end provided just the right boost of sound quality, bringing our home theater experience to life; all in a neat and compact package.

If you plan on plugging in for most or all of your home theater needs, Pioneer’s SP-SB23W does provide an excellent sonic experience at an affordable price. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Note: As of 1/3/2014, this review has been edited and updated to reflect improvements made in regards to wireless streaming performance and reliability. Pioneer claims to have addressed the Bluetooth issue we experienced and will continue to fix any lingering early models with which the problem remains. 

Editors' Recommendations

Ryan Waniata
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ryan Waniata is a multi-year veteran of the digital media industry, a lover of all things tech, audio, and TV, and a…
This 32-inch Roku Smart TV is on sale for under $100, and selling fast
An onn. 32-inch Roku Smart TV on a cabinet in a living room.

This smart TV is on sale for under $100. That's it; that's the story. Sure, it's only 32-inches, but come on, it's only $98! This deal likely won't stick around too long, so if you need a new TV for your dorm, kitchen, garage or office, grab this one before it jumps back up to its usual price of $144.

Why you should buy the Onn. 32-inch Roku Smart TV
One of the most attractive features of a Roku TV is the simplicity of its user interface and the convenience it’s able to bring to your viewing experience. With all of the features of a Smart TV bundled into it, this Onn. 32-inch TV is always ready and waiting with instant access to more than 500,000 movies and TV episodes across thousands of free or paid channels. Because it’s a Roku TV, it presents your favorite content through your own customizable home screen. The TV’s smarts also include smart home readiness, as the Onn. 32-inch Roku TV works with Apple Home, Amazon Alexa, and Google Home.

Read more
Our 10 favorite Memorial Day deals (including a 50-inch TV for $198)
A collection of electronic gadgets out of their shipping boxes.

Memorial Day is upon us. As we reflect on those that have lost their lives in wars, and the ongoing conflicts around the world, we are also given a chance for a much needed break and a three-day weekend. Retailers, too, celebrate this time of year by giving us sales lasting the whole weekend. Of course, not all of these sales and deals are created equally, so we've poured through the listings and found ten that we believe are truly worth your time. They include everything from TVs to smart thermostats, so let your imagination go wild as you scroll through our 10 favorite Memorial Day deals:
Ring Video Doorbell — $70, was $100

Want to keep your home safer, communicate with outdoor strangers without opening your door, and catch high quality video footage of the outside of your home even when its dark? For only $70 you do, especially with a Ring Video Doorbell, one of our favorite smart doorbells. You can communicate with it directly via Alexa, too, as part of your smart home. This can mean speaking directly with the people outside or using a preset response built into your Ring Alarm. Or, if you don't want to be bothered — or are outside your home —  you can have your alarm take a message. The setup is relatively easy, as the machine is wireless. While this does mean that the device uses a battery, you'll find that Ring Video Doorbells have longer lasting batteries than you might've guessed.

Read more
Don’t miss your chance to get a 50-inch TV for $200 today
The onn. 70-inch 4K Roku TV hangs on the wall as part of a home theater arrangement.

The graph of the standard TV size and the standard TV price is shaped like an X. As TVs get cheaper and cheaper, we all want to get bigger and bigger ones in our home theaters. A 50-inch TV is pretty much the smallest size you could want in your living room. That means they're very, very affordable. For instance, Onn.'s 50-inch 4K TV is normally only $238, even without TV deals.

Luckily, you can grab it even cheaper at Walmart, where they offer it for just $198. That's a $40 discount and brings this reasonably great and large TV in the sub-$200 range, and it even comes with a great smart TV platform, Roku, so you don't have to spend extra money on a streaming stick for a better experience. While there certainly are a couple of compromises regarding features to keep the price so low, they aren't deal-breaking, and it's well worth picking up if you don't mind a straightforward TV experience.

Read more