If you’re looking to step up the sound quality and power of your home studio speakers, but you have a busy audio life with lots of listening sources, then a pair of “pure” studio reference monitors, while desirable, might not be the most practical solution for you.
Enter the Pioneer S-DJ08 Active Reference Speakers. Recognising that the “prosumer” DJ / producer has different needs to the studio professional, these are active (meaning the amplifiers are built-in) monitors that – because they’re so flexible – could be the only speakers you need for DJing, production and home audio use.
We like clever thinking like this because one of the benefits of digital DJing is that you can have a DJ set-up comprising smart kit that can do an immense amount. This is great for people juggling busy lives in often less-than-ideal environments, which I suspect describes most of us. We can’t all have our own lock-up studios, eh?
Unboxing and first impressions
These are the bigger of two models in this range, the smaller ones being the S-DJ05s. And they are definitely big. They’re deep and heavy, too. If you wall mount them, be sure to do it properly, and if you’re putting them on a glass worktop – well, be careful, that’s all I’m saying! They’re probably the heaviest monitors we’ve ever reviewed, and so are not particularly suitable for small rooms. I’d definitely edge towards the smaller model if that’s you.
They will likely get hot with extended use at decent volume, so squashing them into a small space is not advisable.
Pioneer suggests 12″ (30cm) behind and to the sides of the speakers so they remain cool in use. While this is probably playing it safe, they will get hot with extended use at decent volume, so squashing them into a small space is not advisable. (Our studio is small here at Digital DJ Tips, so for the purpose of this review we had them in what was really too small an area.)
They’re a modern-looking, trendy design. They have thinly scored bold gun-metal surrounds around the eight-inch woofer speakers, which match some Pioneer headphones. They’re front-ported, meaning they have a gap in the front (it’s a wide slit below the woofer) to assist the bass response. The front is an attractive, rubberised material, slightly curved which removes some of the boxiness from their looks. It features eight deep-inset Allen key bolts, a subtly inlaid tweeter, a big silver Pioneer logo, and a few small LEDs for function display. The cabinets themselves are black veneered wood.
Round the back, though, is where the flexibility and forward-thinking show. Of course there’s a big mains power socket and an on/off switch, but then each speaker has four inputs (two RCAs, a balanced TRS 1/4″, and a balanced XLR); bass and treble EQ, with an EQ on/off switch, an overall volume, an input selector, and a power-saving standby on/off.
There’s also a pair of control cable sockets which is where things get clever. These allow you to link two speakers together in order to control major functions using a supplied wired remote (think Mackie Big Knob).
It allows you to control on/off, mute, EQ on/off, volume and crucially the input selector for both speakers simultaneously – meaning you can cycle through your attached inputs without reaching round the back or unplugging and replugging devices.
You can cycle through your attached inputs without reaching round the back.
It’s worth mentioning at this point two characteristics of these speakers. Firstly, they’re independently powered, meaning each has its own main connector and amplification circuitry. Thus you connect the left-hand mono cable to the left speaker, and the right-hand cable to the right speaker. This is standard for studio monitors, but if you’re moving up from “posh” computer speakers where there’s a slave and a master, or you’re replacing a set-up where you have a separate amplifier and speakers, you may not immediately realise that this is how active monitors at this level work.
Secondly, these are “bi-amped”. That means there is separate circuitry to power the tweeter and the woofer in each speaker. All very professional, and in theory this should give better sound. Let’s find out…
Pioneer says that these speakers are magnetically shielded so they shouldn’t pick up hum or buzz. I had them by necessity far too close for comfort to a 27″ iMac monitor, and there was no buzz at all discernible through them, so top marks there – I’ve heard bad results from other brands of speaker when put in the same position. However, my iPhone caused the usual mobile phone cackle intermittently when it was too close to them.
I decided to test them with a Traktor Kontrol S4, and with a streamed Mixcloud radio show from my computer. That way I figured I’d be using a consumer audio source and a professional source.
So with the Traktor Kontrol S4, the sound was really very good. It helped that the speaker were perfectly at ear level (having tweeters level with your ears is the optimum way to experience any speaker), but nonetheless with 320kbps MP3s the sound was refined, warm and satisfying. The treble was clear and in no way harsh, the midrange was defined, and the bass punchy and full – as you’d hope from a speaker of this size.
Despite the fact that I had them somewhat squashed on our workbench, the sound wasn’t boomy or bass-heavy as can be the case with speakers not given enough room around them.
We’re in a busy block, and I can only push music so-loud, but they were pretty ear-splitting with reams of volume left on the controls. Pioneer says they’re 70W (HF) and 170W (LF) “dynamic power” which I take to mean “peak power” and which is a more generous specification than the better RMS method of specifying power, and frankly means little to me.
Switching to Mixcloud streamed over the web is where I was basically blown away.
Nonetheless, for home, home studio or booth monitoring, I don’t think you’ll reach an issue with volume. And while we never recommend using your studio speakers for parties, these would fare better than most (Pioneer says they have an auto cut-out, which should protect you from “up to 11″ syndrome should you be bold / silly enough to use these as party speakers).
Switching to Mixcloud streamed over the web is where I was basically blown away. I have no idea what bitrate Mixcloud streams at and frankly I don’t care, as I use it to listen to curated radio shows in order to discover new music that I then go and buy as high-quality MP3s, so it has never really bothered me what quality they’re delivering.
Nonetheless, Chris Coco’s “Melodica” show sounded amazing over these speakers. I tweaked the EQ to my liking to remove a tiny bit of treble harshness, but I could quality happily listen all day without any tiredness or ear strain. Really, top marks here.
So first things first – these are large, heavy, well-made, attractive, good-sounding speakers that for the serious hobbyist, “prosumer”, and indeed the professional looking for some input flexibility in a compact studio, would be great. They’re not an ideal choice for a very small room as obviously with eight-inch drivers and ported cabinets, they’re substantial, but the trade-off for their size is that you get decent bass response and reams of volume.
Having switchable EQ is a smart option. This means that for sources where you want to compensate for input imperfections you can turn the EQ on, and the adjust bass ands treble to suit.
But for situations where a true representation of the input signal is most important (such as for production work), you can completely switch the EQ out of the equation, so you can be sure you’re getting a flat response, but also so you can probably improve the sound quality slightly by removing the EQ from the signal patch entirely.
Being able to wire them together and them control major functions vial a desktop remote is the crowning function, though: If you’re a digital DJ / producer, this means you can quickly turn EQ on and off, cycle thorough your sources, adjust volume and power up etc. without ever reaching around the back, or indeed leaving your studio chair.
Throw in the convenience factor of their smart workflow, and you’re onto a winner.
They’re not exactly cheap, but go and price up the separate for bi-amped stereo studio monitors plus suitable amplification and you’ll see that actually, they represent good value. Throw in the convenience factor of their smart workflow, and you’re onto a winner. Overall, for the money, they’re a great set of semi-pro all-rounders.
They would even make good booth monitors for “real” DJ boxes, although I don’t think that is Pioneer’s primary intention for them. For sheer practicality, they get top marks – and as the sound quality doesn’t let them down either, there’s really little to fault here.
- Really practical design
- Great looking
- Excellent sound quality
- Convenient remote control
We don’t like:
- Too big and heavy for small rooms
- Not much else!
Ease of use:
Size & weight: 9.8 x 15.3 x 14.5″ (250 x 390 x 369mm), 30lb (13.5kg)
Freq response: 43Hz to 26kHz
What do you think?
Do you own these speakers? Would you consider upgrading to them? Do you like the idea of flexible DJ / studio monitors that can be used for other purposes too? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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