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Pioneer SBX-300 Soundbar Review

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Not quite the same feature-set but otherwise a virtual match for its costlier stable-mate

by Mark Hodgkinson Feb 6, 2014

  • Home AV review

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    Pioneer SBX-300 Soundbar Review
    SRP: £169.99

    What is the Pioneer SBX-300?

    Having just had the rather lovely SBX-N500 in for testing, it seems an ideal opportunity to run the rule over its more affordable stablemate, the SBX-300.

    We'll be honest and say that we have no idea what the missing 'N' in the product code represents but the SBX300 is a no-frills alternative to the SBX-N500 and is typically found at around£100 less through retail channels. Neither it, nor the N500 have a separate wireless subwoofer as per the range-topping SBX-N700 so the most significant differences lay in the range of connectivity options.
    The 300 lacks a HDMI terminal, there's no LAN port or WIFi built-in, meaning there's no DLNA, mobile control app or Miracast availability. Other than that, specifications are near identical so, if you don't need all that added convenience, it could just be that the SBX-300 is the one to go for. Let's check it out.

    Pioneer SBX-300 Design and Connections

    There's a certain meatiness about the Pioneer soundbar range that instills confidence, right from the unboxing. There's not really an awful lot you can do with a soundbar, in terms of innovative design, but the SBX-300 is nonetheless a nice looking unit with its two-tone black/charcoal grey colour scheme,

    There are a few indicator lights behind the mesh facia of the unit, giving feedback on input selection and one that flashes whilst a Bluetooth connection is being established but, other than that, the only outward features worth remarking on are some simple control buttons, placed on the top.
    Pioneer SBX-300 Pioneer SBX-300 Design and Connections
    Pioneer SBX-300 Pioneer SBX-300 Design and Connections

    At the rear of the speaker bar are a limited - but for many sufficient - set of connections. Specifically, there are two S/PDIF digital audio inputs, one coaxial digital and a 3.5mm aux jack. If you want the luxury of HDMI/ARC (Audio Return Channel) functionality, you will need to look up the range.

    The lack of HDMI doesn't really bother us, it certainly doesn't improve the audio quality, and the supplied remote is capable of learning IR commands from your TV's controller, so if coffee table clutter is a bugbear of yours, that's an alternative. It's actually quite a loveable little controller, despite its tombstone design, and all the buttons are easy to read and accessibly laid-out.

    No HDMI but most will be satisfied with the options.

    Pioneer SBX-300 Setup and Operation

    Pioneer supplies some 'feet' in the box with the SBX-300 should you feel it necessary to raise the height of the bar but since it measures nearly 9cm, already, most will want to go footloose so they don't obscure the bottom of the screen. There is also the option of wall-mounting the speaker with its ready fitted brackets on the rear.

    The majority of your operations will be taken care of by the above-mentioned controller which has dedicated buttons for all the input sources, plus the expected volume control (the subwoofer usefully has its own buttons) and some sound modes. There's also control over dimming the display and a key for fixing any lip-sync issues, should they arise.
    Pioneer SBX-300 Pioneer SBX-300 Setup and Operation
    Pioneer SBX-300 Pioneer SBX-300 Setup and Operation

    Pioneer labels the two S/PDIF optical connections at the rear of the unit as TV and BD/DVD whilst the coaxial is down as STB. These are somewhat confusing naming conventions, given there's no guarantee your equipment will carry the specified connections - particularly in the case of your Set Top Box. Still, it shouldn't take too much detective work to find out what they do have so you can connect accordingly.

    Connection labels could cause confusion.

    Pioneer SBX-300 Features

    The SBX-300 doesn't have the dazzling feature-set found in the higher placed models in the range but it does, at least, feature very reliable Bluetooth streaming capabilities. The speaker supports the A2DP profile and proved near flawless when used in tandem with our Windows 7 PC and a Nexus 7.

    Pioneer's 'Sound Retriever' technology, which is present in the SBX-300, is designed to restore the detail in compressed music and works with WMA, MPEG-4, AAC and MP3 files. Specially designed algorithms aim to restore those portions of the files which otherwise would have been inaudible, i.e. at the extreme ends of the frequency range and it does a very good job too. If we're being critical, we would say it does a better job with music tracks than it does with dialogue (the likes of podcasts, for example) but it's impressive nonetheless.

    Pioneer SBX-300 Audio Performance

    The fact that the SBX-300 was delivered at the same time the SBX-N500 was picked up for return to Pioneer didn't allow us to do a direct head to head comparison but there is no mistaking that the two products sound exceedingly similar. In fact, had the exchange taken place without our knowledge, and given the obvious physical similarities, it might have taken us quite some time to realise it had happened at all. This is a huge compliment to the £169 SBX-300 but also no slight on the 500's capabilities, whatsoever.

    There aren't as many DSP (Digital Sound Processing) modes aboard the junior model, just 'Surround' to speak of, but its natural tendencies are very rewarding, in any case, meaning it delivers clean and crisp audio with a nice hint of warmth. The SBX-300 seems not quite as expansive and enveloping in the Surround mode but it still helps to eliminate the sweet-spot syndrome and gives a boost to the performance of the two in-built, down-firing woofers.


    Pioneer SBX-300
    Huge sonic similarities with the SBX-N500.

    Those twin 7.7cm subs certainly produce a surprising dynamism to the low-end performance and you have to push this speaker quite hard before you sense any distortion or undue vibrations. That said, this will be somewhat dependent on where it is placed and what material it is situated upon but for your average wooden AV cabinet, it certainly holds true.

    The inclusion of a DTS, as well as Dolby Digital, decoder certainly pays dividends with movie soundtracks and we sat through some of our favourite Blu-ray testers including the complex ambience of the Bourne Supremacy and the rumbling Oz the Great and Powerful and found ourselves mightily impressed by the general precision on show. Sure, we might have wanted a little more in the low-end department and bass heads should seek something with a separate sub but, make no mistake, the SBX-300 punches above its weight.

    Musically the Pioneer was also very pleasing too. We spend literally hours each day streaming tunes from Spotify or Google Play and the natural warmth of tone finds favour with our penchant for laid-back acoustic tracks (Mon-Wed) but it wasn't found wanting when we threw in some more testing and upbeat fare, from old skool hip hop to a rock-out with some Led Zep. In fact, we would say with music, in particular, we really couldn't sense any differences with the higher-end model.

    Conclusion

    8
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Surprisingly powerful and expansive audio
    • Great build quality
    • Easy setup and operation
    • Bluetooth streaming

    Cons

    • Sometimes lacks clarity with compressed dialogue-only files
    • Connections misleading named
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 1
    You had this Total 0

    Pioneer SBX-300 Soundbar Review

    The SBX-300 arrives as Pioneer's entry-level soundbar product but still boasts the same great build quality as the rest of the range. There aren't as many connectivity options with the lack of HDMI being the biggest omission but, for many, a couple of optical and coax connections will be sufficient. It also has Bluetooth streaming abilities supporting the A2DP profile that proved almost flawless, in terms of reliability.

    Set up and control of the SBX300 is mere child's play and the supplied remote, whilst compact, has plenty of space between its well designed button layout. There is no mobile app available with this model but the inclusion of Bluetooth means you can pretty much replicate its functionality by using the controls in your compatible device, although using the remote is certainly no chore.

    We've probably spent too time discussing what isn't present on the SBX-300 because what it does possess is excellent audio performance that is more powerful, expansive and revealing than one might expect. It might just lack a little of the clarity with dialogue than the more expensive models but for its day-to-day duties of movies, TV and music it is an accomplished performer.

    In short, if you don't need the extras found on the models higher up the range and you're not a die-hard bass head, the Pioneer SBX-300 represents a very fine choice, at a considerably reduced price-point.


    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    8

    Connectivity

    6

    Ease of Use

    7

    Sound Quality

    8

    Features

    6

    Value for Money

    9

    Verdict

    8

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