On the whole this is a system that you can get completely lost in, thanks to its innate warmth and sophistication, and we really can't find anything to fault from a performance perspective - everything just clicks, and the interplay between the tonally-matched speakers is mesmerising. If pushed, we'd concede that it doesn't quite attack film soundtracks with the same ruthlessness as the THX-certified Teufel System 9, but it doesn't stop the Pioneer's performance being anything less than sublime.
But some of the credit should go to the VSX-LX51 receiver driving it, which provides the ideal raw materials the S-81s need to deliver this knock-out performance and as a result proves itself to be a worthy partner.
The S-81's music performance is just as assured as its film handling and demonstrates many of the same qualities - a smoothness of tone, a fast, rhythmic delivery and plenty of detail. The fronts' wide frequency range enables it to convey punchy kick drums and delicate hi-hats in one fell swoop without batting an eyelid, and they sound astonishingly bassy even with the sub switched off.
The S-81 is a magnificent speaker system that continues Pioneer's rich vein of form after the VSX-LX51, BDP-51FD and BDP-LX71. The sound on offer is sensational with films and music, plus they're beautifully constructed and mightily attractive (even if the sub doesn't really match). Pioneer, keep up the good work.