Pioneer BCS-323 – Performance
We took the BCS-323 for a spin with our current favourite test disc – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Blu-ray – and were treated to an entertaining and dynamic performance, although it lacks sparkle. But for the money there can’t be too many complaints.
It’s certainly powerful, kicking out a room-filling sound with the volume turned up barely over half way. As Gandalf and company battle their way out of Goblin Town, the Pioneer conveys Howard Shore’s rousing score with drive and purpose, while the sound of yelping, grunting goblins flies from every speaker.
And when the Goblin King crashes up through the bridge and thumps the floor with his club, it’s accompanied by a thick, bass-heavy boom.
Dialogue is also clear and commanding thanks largely to the sub, which bolsters Gandalf’s booming tones and Azog’s deep growl. Also satisfying is the way the system places you in the middle of a spacious soundstage with accurately placed surround effects and smooth steering – opened up further by the surprisingly useful Virtual 3D Sound.
However, for all its energy and power, there’s not much finesse to be heard. The little sats do their very best to dig out detail, but high-frequencies never sparkle as they should, often getting lost in the melee of a busy action scene.
It also relies too heavily on the sub to fill in gaps left by the sats’ limited frequency range, resulting in a sound that’s overly soft and warm. The leading edges of bass notes aren’t crisp enough, while excessive overhang makes the sound a little sluggish.
Music playback fares a little better. We dusted off an SACD copy of Avalon by Roxy Music – with a 5.1-channel mix, no less – and the sound seems more open and detailed, with passable rhythmic ability, yet the subwoofer still lacks the speed needed to fire those basslines into your chest.
The BCS-323 is also a little disappointing on the picture front too. The Hobbit’s 1080p pictures don’t reach the scalpel-like sharpness we’re used to – detail doesn’t punch from the screen, and colours seem a touch waxy. We switched over to the OPPO player and the picture looked sharper and more natural. 3D pictures are still enjoyable however, lending remarkable depth to the image.
Pioneer BCS-323 – Verdict
On paper the BCS-323 looks like an excellent proposition – a 1100W 5.1 system with space-saving compact speakers, built-in Wi-Fi, web content, DLNA and 3D Blu-ray playback for £300. It’s also easy to use and plays a wide range of formats.
But its soft, bassy sound and lack of top-end sparkle means it doesn’t quite cut the mustard sonically, plus pictures are underwhelming. There are rival systems from the likes of Panasonic and Samsung that offer better performance and features for the money.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7