Can I Add Surround Speakers Without a Subwoofer? Ask the Editors

surround speakers

Q: I live in a condo that prohibits subwoofers. I have just upgraded my Pioneer AV receiver from a VSX-1020 to an Elite SC-LX502. My current speakers are two Pioneer SP-FS52 towers in a 2.1 configuration. Can I add surround speakers without using a separate subwoofer in my home-theater system? I was looking at adding two surround speakers to make a 4.1 speaker configuration. If so, will I have to worry about power for these speakers, since the Pioneer Elite AVR is specified to deliver 120 watts/channel for the surround speakers?

– Derek (PacificCoast1)

A: If your condo association prohibits subwoofers, you can’t have a 2.1 speaker configuration (unless you are breaking the rules!). The “.1” indicates the presence of a subwoofer. So, unless you really do have a subwoofer, your speaker configuration is 2.0. In that case, make sure the speaker settings in the AVR specify no subwoofer and “Large” front left and right speakers. (If you specify no sub, the main speakers probably will be set to Large automatically.)

You can certainly add surround speakers without a subwoofer; they are completely independent of each other. The SC-LX502 is specified to deliver seven channels of 120 watts each into 8 ohms, so it will have no trouble powering two surround speakers in addition to the two front speakers. (The SP-FS52 tower speakers have a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, which increases the power draw from the amp, but since you have only two speakers now and perhaps two more soon, that’s no problem at all.)

For the surrounds, I recommend getting two Pioneer SP-BS22-LR speakers. They will match the tonal quality of the SP-FS52 towers perfectly. Alternatively, consider the SP-BS22A-LR, which adds Dolby Atmos upfiring drivers. Of course, they are more expensive ($299 each for the BS22A versus $129 each for the BS22), but the SC-LX502 can power a 5.2.2 Dolby Atmos system. Atmos is really cool, so I would recommend spending the extra money if you can swing it.

I also recommend getting the SP-C22 center-channel speaker ($99). I prefer a physical center speaker over a “phantom” center speaker, especially since most of the dialog is placed in the center channel. That would give you a 5.0 system using the SP-BS22-LR surrounds or a 5.0.2 Dolby Atmos system using the SP-BS22A-LR surrounds. Again, make sure the AVR is set for no subwoofer so low frequencies will be directed to the main speakers.

BTW, the SP-FS52 is specified to reach down to 40 Hz, which is pretty good. The SP-B22, B22A, and C22 have a low-frequency extension down to 55 Hz.

Once you move into an abode that allows subwoofers, you can add a Pioneer SW-8MK2 ($159) or SW-10 ($349) subwoofer, which would complete a sweet little system. I recommend the SW-10, which can reach down to 30 Hz; the SW-8MK2 is spec’d down to 38 Hz, which isn’t much lower than the SP-FS52 can go by itself. On the other hand, even the SW-8MK2 will make the system sound better by removing the low-frequency burden from the SP-FS52, and you can place it in the optimum location for a low-frequency source. Either way, the SC-LX502 will have no problem driving that entire system.

Update: In the comments, it has been suggested that the Emotiva BasX subwoofers are much better than the Pioneers, and the specs bear this out. The BasX S8 ($199) has a 150W amp and goes down to 28 Hz, which is significantly better than the Pioneer SW-8MK2 ($159, 100W, 38 Hz). To compete with the Pioneer SW-10 ($349, 300W, 30 Hz), there’s the Emotiva BasX S10 ($299, 200W, 27 Hz) and the BasX S12 ($399, 300W, 25 Hz). It’s much less important to stay within a manufacturer’s lineup for the subwoofer than it is with the main speakers, so when you move to a place that allows subs, one of these Emotivas would probably be a superior choice in the same price range.

On the other hand, another couple of commenters point out that the Pioneer SP-C22 center-channel speaker is not particularly well-regarded, so perhaps looking outside the Pioneer brand might be warranted in this case. The Emotiva BasX LCR might be a good choice at $149, though it’s bass extension is only 80 Hz. Another good possibility is the ELAC Debut C5 ($180, 48 Hz). However, I remain concerned about tonal matching across the front three channels more than any other subgroup of speakers in a system.

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