Pioneer LX-01BD £2000
19th May 2009 | 10:00
Forced to stray from the separates path, we try Pioneer's unconventional all-in-one Blu-ray system
I have always fancied a dodecahedron in the living room, but I confess I was thinking perhaps some objet d'art, or even a light fitting, rather than speakers. For it is an irregular 12-sided polygon (and no parrot jokes), upon which the satellite speakers of Pioneer's LX-01BD system is based.
The shape of the speakers comes from the precise angles needed to produce a phantom centre and reflected rear surround field from front-mounted speakers.
Pioneer is aiming this £2,000 system at the slick professional male archetype who would not want to compromise his Conran-inspired bachelor pad décor with speakers the size of VW Beetles or a rogue bolognese of speaker cable spaghetti.
In that respect the LX-01BD comprehensively outclasses its closet rival, Bose's identically-priced Lifestyle V30 system, in almost every respect.
The Pioneer is better looking, produces a much better picture, has Blu-ray rather than a DVD player, offers HD-audio decoding rather than just Dolby Digital, is packed with features and offers much deeper, faster bass.
The rival V30 has two things on its side, of course. Firstly Bose has trademarked the word 'Lifestyle' so it has the right to be officially called a Lifestyle system. Which probably means I can only say that Pioneer's is a system designed for a life full of style.
Secondly, own a V30 and all your friends will say 'Ooooohhhhh, Bose' and think you are cooler than a polar bear's ice lolly. Strange but true.
While the four satellites are actually best arranged in a surrounding square (the fronts producing a phantom centre), all four can also be placed up front. In this configuration they use reflected sound from their clever 12-sided joint shape to produce centre and rear effects.
The large but fairly slim subwoofer offers a lot more than it seems, too. Inside its immaculately-finished piano black exterior are six channels of amplification and all the Dolby and DTS format decoding any film fan could want, including the hi-res HD variations.
The Blu-ray player is a lightly disguised Profile 1.1 BDP-LX71, and connects to one of the sub's three HDMI inputs with a single HDMI cable for digital audio and video connections.
A slick-looking remote display handles all you IR interfaces, flashes lights at you at the relevant points and has a blue dot-matrix display to let you know what's going on.
Speakers connect to the sub cabinet with colour-coded push-fit plugs; if you have an iPod there is a docking cable supplied. Add to this Pioneer's excellent MCACC Room EQ and auto-set-up, complete with microphone, and the wicked touch-screen remote control, and you've got a system packed with style.
My first run of the setup, with speakers set on stands towards the room corners and the sub to one side, produced a wow-factor 'up-front' sound with the bass wound up so tight the sub threatened to leave the ground at the first explosion in The Dark Knight. Diving into the menus, I took 5dB from the sub level to regain a sensible neighbour-friendly balance before continuing the film.
Cream of the crop
The picture is typical of Pioneer's latest crop – that's to say, stunning. This is a company that has got Blu-ray player technology by the scruff of the transistors and is happy to show the world. Blacks are inky dark with masses of shadow detail and the colour range will stretch all but the best display devices.
When running 1080p24 frames with The Dark Knight, the picture is an instant summary of all that's groovy about hi-def. The Pioneer's image is razor-sharp, crisp, detailed, scrolls like it's on rails and has a depth you want to step into.
Only Sony's BDP-S5000ES and Pioneer's own BDP-LX91 make really significant improvements over this image – and this from a packaged, all-in-one home cinema system designed to appeal to one's modern 'life style'.
It's no slouch on the sound front either. OK, the audio is not going to touch a mid-priced receiver and serious big-box speaker package for sheer presence and impact, but the spatial spread and clarity is definitely good. Helicopters pass tangibly overhead and the crack of gunfire has a deep, percussive impact.
Dialogue is a little less focused than ideal, but tweaking the centre level pulls speech up to give tighter enunciation and better projection. Wind up the volume and there is something disjointed about the overall soundfield, presumably due to the drivers firing in differing directions. Yes it is spacious and enveloping, but it isn't as cohesive as it could be.
Moving the speakers about changes this effect quite dramatically. Positioning close to a wall, perhaps on the rather swish supplied brackets, firms up the soundstage admirably. The Dark Knight's moody conclusion draws to a close with captivating intensity and plenty of emotion.
The final dialogue is focused while the pacey beat that precedes the titles thumps away with serious room-shaking intensity and speed.
Moving the rear speakers to the front is a surreal feat, not least because it gave me a fit of the giggles. Oh, how many times have I seen perfectly innocent mass-market customers assemble their Dixons-bought budget surround sound system with all the speakers in a line under the TV! Makes me chuckle every time, but now I'm not so sure, as the Pioneer's arrangement actually works – sort of.
The surround sound effect is vague and the result is very dependent on the relative position of side walls and heavy furnishings, but it has got a peculiarly solid feel, far wider and more entertaining than the simple stereo you'll get from your TV's own speakers.
Arranged at the front, the array is definitely at its best near to walls and positioned relatively close together. Initially placed either side of my 2.4m projector screen and less than 50cm from the side walls, the speakers threw the soundstage all over the place and the dialogue was lost somewhere in the neighbour's back garden.
Moving them closer – to around 1m apart – tightens up the dialogue focus and effectively used my evenly-spaced side walls to throw a surround sound effect to both sides of the sofa. Switching back to the helicopter scenes showed the limitations of the system – the movement being an ambient effect rather than a precise location-based one – but the overall balance and punch remains pleasantly potent.
The LX-01BD won't give you high-end home cinema thrills, but I just can't deny it does what it aims to do rather well. The picture is excellent and without peer against any similar solution on the market; the sound does the job with more conviction and punch than most.
And the product's real magic lies in its sophisticated integration, low cable count and flexible features. If spousal pressure or a house full of errant kids put a full-size speaker array out of the question, then Pioneer's LX-01BD is the perfect alternative.