Pioneer BCS-SB626 review

Pros

  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Crisp, dynamic sound
  • Sleek design

Cons

  • Sub not wireless
  • Limited Internet content
  • Bass a tad boomy

Pioneer’s BCS-SB626 is a fairly unusual 2.1 home cinema system. It comes with a soundbar speaker for the front channels, which is ideal for those with wall-mounted TVs or limited speaker space, but the Blu-ray player and amplifiers aren’t built into the soundbar itself – these are housed in a separate box, the sort you get with 'traditional' all-in-one systems. A supplied subwoofer provides the low-end grunt.

Design and connections

This system should settle in your living room with little fuss or fanfare – every component is clad in a stealthy black finish and boasts reasonably compact dimensions. The use of three components means setup is more fiddly than some soundbars with integrated amps and players, so consider whether this separates configuration is better suited to your room.

The 63mm high Blu-ray receiver is chunkier than you might expect but looks attractive. Hidden under a flap on the front is a USB port for media playback and two 3.5mm inputs, one for external audio devices and one for a microphone. There’s a row of buttons along the top and a large illuminated volume dial.

The rear panel houses a generous line-up of sockets, including an HDMI output and two inputs, which turns the system into a hub for other HD devices. The HDMI sockets are all 3D-ready and the output supports Audio Return Channel.

Other sockets include two optical digital inputs, analogue stereo input, aerial input for the FM tuner and a port for the supplied iPod dock (one of the system’s stand-out features). Completing the line-up is an Ethernet port and a socket for Pioneer’s optional Bluetooth adapter.

At 800mm wide the ‘Sound Wing Bar’ is a good match for a 40in TV. It’s slim, light and inconspicuous, with all the speaker drivers hidden behind a black mesh. It links to the receiver using a single pre-attached cable.

The subwoofer is similarly easy on the eye, but its build quality leaves a lot to be desired. And unlike many soundbar system subs it’s not wireless, which means it needs to stay fairly close to the receiver, plus the budget price means it’s passive, not powered.

Features

Internet content and DLNA file streaming take pride of place on the BCS-SB626’s spec sheet, both of which can be accessed through its built-in Wi-Fi connection.

Great news, but sadly the excitement is diluted somewhat by the limited web offering – YouTube and Picasa. The former has undoubted appeal, but Pioneer’s selection seems paltry by comparison with the likes of Samsung, Sony and LG.

The disappointment is compounded by the fact that you don’t even get Netflix, which is supported on Pioneer’s Blu-ray players.

DLNA is a real boon however, and is boosted by decent format support – you can stream MP3, WMA, WAV, JPEG, DIVX, MP4, 3GP, AAC, WMV, MKV, AVCHD and AVI. However, our AVCHD files looked glitchy and it would only play WMV without audio.

The system will also play FLAC from USB devices and discs as well as plays Super Audio CDs, which should keep fans of hi-res music happy. On the Blu-ray side it decodes Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD Master Audio and all the related legacy formats.

Power output is rated at 550W in total, plus there’s plenty of sound modes to add spice to the sound – chief among which is Virtual 3D Sound, designed to expand the soundstage and compensate for the lack of true rear channels. Sound Retriever boosts the quality of compressed music.

Elsewhere you’ll find picture adjustments, a Net Contents mode that enhances the quality of YouTube and video files, CD-to-USB ripping and a Karaoke mode (which explains the mic input) with echo, mic volume and Vocal Cancel settings.

Operation

The menus are all superimposed over a black background, with straightforward lists and monochrome graphics getting the job done. This grown-up, classy approach (which Pioneer has actually been using for some time) is a refreshing change from the bright, cartoony menus that have become the norm of late.

The menus are clear, easy to follow and comprehensive. Media playback screens offer all the relevant details, and allow you to browse while music continues to play. You can’t access the setup menu during playback, which is a pain when you want to see how your audio tweaks affect movie playback, but at least Pioneer’s ‘Continued’ feature remembers where you are in the film if you do need to stop.

Sadly though, the remote is a pig to use, with rows of identical black buttons and tiny lettering. Crucial buttons get lost in the clutter and aren’t helpfully placed, which stops navigation feeling intuitive.

Performance

It might lack the immersive quality of a full 5.1 system, but the Pioneer’s system fires out an exciting sound that knocks any TV speakers into a cocked hat.

There’s plenty of detail, plus effects like gunshots and explosions are delivered with great force and clarity. High frequencies are nice and clean at loud volumes, and the stereo soundstage is wide, particularly when you turn on Virtual 3D Sound, which also adds fullness to the sound.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that dialogue lacks clarity during certain scenes and the subwoofer could do with being a little tighter. Loud action scenes seemed boomy, and despite tinkering with the sub level in the setup menu bass never seemed punchy enough.

Otherwise, the BCS-SB626 delivers an impressive sound, backed up by dazzling hi-def pictures in both 2D and 3D, with sumptuous colours and pin-sharp detail.

Verdict

The BCS-SB626 is a stylish 3D home cinema system that can put any flatpanel TV to shame with its crisp, engaging sound. There’s a decent range of features too, including built-in Wi-Fi, Internet content, DLNA file streaming, 3D support, SACD and a supplied iPod dock.

On the downside, Internet content is limited, while bass and dialogue could be better. But that aside it’s a terrific way of adding some extra oomph to your TV and film viewing, without breaking the bank or swallowing up all your living room space.

Manufacturer and model

Pioneer BCS-SB626

Quoted power

550W

Channels

2.1

HDMI output

1

HDMI inputs

2

Component video output

No

Composite video output

Yes

Ethernet

Yes

Digital audio inputs

2 (both optical)

3.5mm minijack input

Yes

Analogue stereo input

Yes

Dolby TrueHD decoding

Yes

DTS HD Master Audio decoding

Yes

Dolby Digital decoding

Yes

DTS decoding

Yes

USB port

Yes

Built-in Wi-Fi

Yes

iPod/iPhone support

Yes

DLNA media streaming

Yes

Online content

YouTube, Picasa

3D ready

Yes

Dimensions (soundbar) W x H x D

800 x 100 x 88mm

Dimensions (subwoofer) W x H x D

130.5 x 420 x 375mm

Dimensions (Blu-ray receiver) W x H x D

430 x 63 x 345mm

Smartphone control

No

Audio Return Channel support

Yes

Radio tuner

Yes

Sound processing

Virtual 3D Sound

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