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Old 11-17-10, 08:54 AM   #1
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Pioneer Elite SC-37 A/V Receiver Review **Updated**


Pioneer Elite SC-37 A/V Receiver Review


MSRP: $2200.00
Overall:
Feature Set:
Performance:
Ergonomics:
Value:



Overview:

Pioneer's Elite series of AVR's is well known among A/V enthusiasts and the general public alike for high quality, extensive features, and great performance. When Pioneer offered to send me their top current generation receiver to review I was excited for many reasons. First and foremost, this receiver is the successor to the much loved SC-27, which was a feature-filled and incredibly balanced AVR that won many accolades among reviewers and enthusiasts. Secondly, I had never had a chance until this review to compare the results of Audyssey's MultiEQ XT(in my Onkyo TX-SR805) to any other room correction systems available. Pioneer's MCACC (Multichannel Acoustic Channel Calibration) technology is bundled with all Pioneer Elite A/V receivers including the SC-37.

The SC-37 comes nicely packaged in a standard sized box for an AVR and weighs in at 41 pounds with measurements of 16.5" wide, 7.9" high and 18.11" deep. The construction of the unit is excellent and the venting of the case is superb. The unit comes with a standard 2 year warranty and almost every feature imaginable. I will include a specification chart below but the highlights are as follows:
  • 140 Watts per channel
  • Full iPod/iPhone support.
  • Full Internet Radio/Rhapsody/iTunes support.
  • 3D Ready
  • 6 HDMI Inputs / 2 HDMI Outputs
  • RS-232 Control
  • ICEpower Class-D Amplification


Unboxing and Setup:

Setting up the SC-37 was extremely straight-forward as the unit is similar in design to almost all modern AVRs. I simply connected my speakers to the corresponding channels, reconnected the HDMI cables, and plugged it in. The SC-37 also comes with an RF capable remote that can be switched to RF mode by connecting a dongle to the RS-232 port on the back of the receiver. Setting this up was a little annoying as the directions are in two different sections of the manual, however the result was excellent. The large display on the remote syncs via RF and displays exactly what the display on the front of the receiver does. While I initially thought this might be a gimmicky feature, once I used it for a few hours I was sold - this is an incredible feature that I absolutely miss. For the purposes of this review Pioneer also included their AS-BT100 Bluetooth adapter, which allows you to play audio to the receiver from any Bluetooth enabled device.

Once the unit was connected I turned the receiver on and watched a few minutes of TV, everything seemed to be working correctly so I collected the MCACC microphone from the accessory bag and plugged it in. The unit recognized the microphone and I was greeted with the Advanced MCACC interface. To start off I placed the microphone at ear height just above the back cushion of my seating in the center position. Pioneer offers two methods to perform MCACC with the SC-37, Full-Auto MCACC which requires no input from the user, and manual MCACC, which is the same thing but allows the user to tweak the process after it finishes. In my case, I started off with Full-Auto MCACC. Another handy upside to the RF remote was leaving the theater room and watching the process run without even being there - I simply hit Enter and let the process run.

Right away MCACC popped up a warning that my front speakers appeared to be out of phase. I double checked the wiring and determined that this was not the case before restarting the process. This time, MCACC popped up no such warning and proceeded directly into the automatic correction process. A full run of MCACC takes approximately 5 minutes to complete, and sounds similar to Audyssey in that many sweeps, pops and interesting noises are produced while the system gathers data. My wife found all of this incredibly annoying even outside the room, but after the five minutes were up, I was ready to give the system a listen. Those new to Pioneer should note that by default my speakers were set to Large with an 80Hz crossover to the sub. I manually changed this to Small and proceed to perform some listening tests with "out of the box" MCACC results.

My first demo material for the receiver was How to Train Your Dragon on Blu-Ray, which features a reference quality score and Dolby TrueHD surround mix that is one of my personal favorites. I was impressed immediately by the Class-D ICEpower amplifiers, which produced clean, uncolored and potent sound. Dialogue was perfectly intelligible, and spatial queues were easily recognized and placed around my head. While I was fairly happy with the results of this first run, there was a little bit of mid-range muddle and a hump between 60 and 80 Hertz that sounded a little off to me.

With this MCACC data applied, I proceeded to run XTZ Room Analyzer to look for any anomalies in my in-room response. There was a noticeable null at 250Hz and a slight peak at 4KHz when i ran the tests, so I entered MCACC's menu once more, this time selecting manual MCACC. The built in EQ can be adjusted on a channel by channel basis, which allowed me to dial in a relatively flat response for all 5 channels. I then did some minor tweaking to get the sub integrated and put the disc back on.

Now I was starting to hear what this receiver was capable of, effortless dynamic range, authoritative bass and crystal clear reproduction of music, dialogue and effects. At this point the sound was if anything, cleaner and more neutral than what I normally hear with my Onkyo receiver. Satisfied with my basic calibration of the unit I proceeded to listen to and watch my standard demo material and get a sense of the capabilities (and limitations) of the SC-37.


Published Specs:

See a full spec sheet here: http://www.pioneerelectronics.com/ep...iles/SC-37.pdf

Feature Set:
  • 7.1-Channel 3D Ready Elite A/V Receiver
  • Made for iPhone® Certified & Available iControlAV App
  • Direct Energy HD Amplification developed with ICEpower®
  • AIR Studios Monitor Certified
  • HDMI® (V.1.4a with 3D & Audio Return Channel) 6 Inputs (Including 1 Front Input) / 2 Outputs
  • Marvell® Video Scaler
  • THX® Ultra2 Plus Processing & Certification
  • Networking Entertainment (Vtuner Internet Radio Service, Rhapsody and SIRIUS Internet Radio)
  • PC Browser Control




Digging In To The Features:

1) Web Control:

Pioneer's Web Control interface for the SC-37 is relatively easy to use (if a little simple). The main benefit to this page in my opinion is firmware updates. You can easily download the latest firmware from Pioneer and flash it via the web interface in less than two minutes.

2) Home Media Gallery/Internet Radio:

Once you enter the HMG (Home Media Gallery) you can choose from several options including your PC (if it's sharing media), Rhapsody, Sirius and Internet Radio. I was surprised to note that my PS3 Media Server application was instantly detected by the SC-37. I'm not sure if this is by design, but using it I was able to play back all my music files without a hitch. Quality playing from the PC was excellent and I was very happy with the interface overall - my one complaint with HMG (and this applied to all the menus) was performance. I would often press a button and wait several seconds for the radio station list to populate. I understand that this is a receiver and not a computer, but the performance still left me quite unimpressed. A squeezebox or cheap HTPC provides a far cleaner, and more enjoyable Internet radio experience than the SC-37.

3) iPod Connectivity:

The "Made for iPhone" certification means that Pioneer worked collaboratively with Apple to ensure that iPod/iPhone devices work seamlessly with the SC-37. Connecting my 160GB iPod classic to the receiver gave me an instant charging and then Pioneer logo on the iPod itself. Going into the iPod menu on the receiver I was greeted with a standard SC-37 menu similar to HMG. This time however browsing was quick and there wasn't noticeable interface lag. Playing both songs and TV shows off the iPod worked seamlessly, though there was a slight (~10 second) delay between playing video and getting any output on the screen.


Subjective Performance

Reference System:

My reference system at home consists of Onix Rocket RS550MkII fronts, a Rocket RSC200 center channel, AV123 ELT525 surrounds and an MFW-15 subwoofer. The media room is 11.5' x 16' with 12' ceilings. My display consisted of a BenQ W6000 DLP projector and a 92" 16:9 GrandView 1.0 gain cinemawhite screen. The room is treated with panels at all reflection points.


Music Performance:

For my music tests I used five tracks that exemplify my tastes in music and that I have heard enough times on my reference 2-channel setup to have a very good idea of how they should sound.

1) [CD] Yuki Kaijura - Madlax OST - We Are One {Classical/Eastern}
2) [CD] Acoustic Alchemy - Very Best Of - Playing for Time {Jazz}
3) [CD] Kalmah - They Will Return - They Will Return {Metal}
4) [Blu-Ray] TrondheimSolistene - Divertimenti - Carmina {Classical}
5) [FLAC] Above & Beyond & Gareth Emery pres. OceanLab - On A Good Day (Metropolis) - Extended Mix {Trance}


Track 1: We Are One is a track filled with delicate chimes and flute melodies playing alongside several string instruments as a female vocalist sings in the background. This is an ideal track for discerning how "nimble" the response of an amplifier is as there is simply so much going on at once. The track also does a great job indicating to me whether the tonality of the amp is warm, bright, or neutral. Playing this track back I was immediately please by the absolute neutrality of the SC-37. There was no color to the output at all and the result was a very engaging listening experience. The many layers of detail in the opening 30 seconds of the track were emotionally involving and came through exactly as expected with deft reproduction of the chimes as the haunting melodies of the strings and flute played off of one another.

Track2: Playing for Time is an all-time favorite track of mine in any genre. The classical guitar and bass play off one another alongside a laid back drum part until climaxing in a catchy chorus that has excellent spatial detail. This is my track of choice for testing imaging as I have listened to the song live at a performance by the group as well as countless times off the CD. The SC-37 did a great job reproducing the atmosphere this song is so good at conveying. While it didn't give me goosebumps as my 2 channel setup can I was still extremely impressed by the music performance of this receiver - there is no question that it sounds better than my Onkyo when it comes to reproduction of this track.

Track3: They Will Return is a driving metal track with potent double bass, screaming guitar and tons of midbass slam - just what the metal doctor ordered. I love to listen to this track as a test of just how loud I can crank things before either my equipment, or my ears give up. With the SC-37 as the volume climbed I was impressed to the point of my jaw dropping - this thing would not give up. I cranked the volume up, and up, and up and the SC-37 just grinned at me and kept punishing me for being crazy enough to try and reach its limits. This was a really impressive demo track for me, seeing how effortlessly the SC-37 cranked the volume beyond my threshold assured me that this is a device at home in even the most demanding enthusiasts home.

Track4: Carmina is a beautiful track with incredible resolution and detail. I love to listen to this track while I read or when I'm in the mood for some seriously beautiful classical music. The SC-37 handled this track with the sort of sound I'd expect out of a high end separates rig. As the track begins to gain speed and momentum I was equally impressed by how well the SC-37 conveyed the low end (string bass, tuba, trombone) and integrated the sub into the sound. Carmina was the first time I noticed a hint of warmth to the sound as compared to my 2 channel setup (which tends to be ever so slightly bright) but the end result was still magnificently neutral, delivering music to my ears without any coloration.

Track5: For those unfamiliar with the modern Trance music scene, many tracks now combine vocal and melodic elements with the typical drum and bass elements to create what I consider some of the most engaging and uplifting tracks produced in the modern music world. On A Good Day rose quickly on the trance charts when released because it exemplifies what the trance genre is known for. The driving bass line and catchy melody combine with moving female vocals to create a truly incredible tune. Turning this track on in the theater was an absolute pleasure. With the subwoofer properly integrated the SC-37 added a low-end weight to this track that resulted in my most enjoyable trance listening experience in some time.


Movie Performance:

I used the following movies to test out the SC-37. The majority of these releases are near reference quality for both audio and video.

1) [Blu-Ray] How to Train Your Dragon
2) [Blu-Ray] Avatar
3) [Blu-Ray] Star Trek (2009)

How to Train Your Dragon:

I actually reviewed this film using the SC-37 so my observations from that review stand:

Quote:
Video: How to Train Your Dragon comes to Blu-Ray with an utterly jaw dropping 1080p AVC encode with an average bitrate of 22 Mbps. I was hoping that this title would best its predecessors and it does more than that, it completely destroys them. The video quality of this disc is without question reference quality, colors are superbly rich and accurate, blacks are infinite and shadow gradation and detail is incredible. The film has such incredible sharpness and detail that from start to finish I was noticing things that the 4K IMAX presentation left out, flames, dragons and vikings literally pop off the screen during this film and the result is in a word: breathtaking. I have only seen one film on Blu-Ray to date that left me with the same impression of raw video perfection, and that was Avatar. As is the trend with most animated titles, How to Train Your Dragon looks far better than any live action film out there, Avatar included. As a title produced entirely in (and for) the digital domain there are no flaws to speak of: no DNR, no noise, no grain, no banding or artifacts, and no black crush.

Audio: The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack in How to Train Your Dragon defied all expectations, proving a match to the reference visuals. The sense of scope the sound stage conveys is enormous, with palpable depth and pinpoint accuracy. The opening attack on the village will see your surrounds shedding any dust that may have built up as they are seriously put to the test. Fireballs and explosions come from all directions and give the viewer a complete sense of immersion. The dialogue throughout is clear and completely intelligible, no matter how much other noise is present. Quiet scenes in the film are full of natural ambience with the wind sighing behind your head and twigs crackling on the forest floor. There is plenty of cause for subwoofer maniacs to rejoice here as well, I found that my sub was active throughout the film and in such a way that it never stole the stage - well, except for one mega-explosion at the end of the film which many of you will no doubt replay many times.
The SC-37 relayed this reference quality video presentation perfectly without a hint of trouble. In fact, the SC-37 actually had a far faster HDMI handshake time than my Onkyo and left me feeling quite jealous.

Avatar:

Avatar is still the best looking Blu-Ray to date featuring live action. With the SC-37 I was no less impressed by the performance than I originally was with my Onkyo. The low end bass performance of the SC-37 was better than my current receiver even though there is little sub 20Hz content to speak of.

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek is my ultimate guilty geek pleasure movie, and it was a real treat to watch it using the Pioneer. The dynamics that the SC-37 was able to produce definitely trounced my current receiver. Space battles, phase shots, and most importantly - the jump to warp were more impressive than I have ever heard before on my system. I truly felt as though my speakers were handicapping the AVR in this case.


Cons:

The SC-37 has an incredible list of features to offer, but it does still have a couple of flaws:

As discussed above, the Internet radio interface is a little bit clunky, it just doesn't feel snappy and responsive like I would expect from a product touting this as such an important feature. Ergonomics: -

Editor's Note: The deduction for 7 vs 9 channel output has been removed, see Addendum below.


Summary:

The SC-37 is a monolithic A/V receiver with more features than even the geekiest enthusiast (myself) could fully appreciate. It's quite likely that many buyers will never use 50% of what the unit comes with, but that may be entirely irrelevant given one critical factor: performance. The SC-37 is a top-end receiver with beefy ICEpower amps, Marvell video processing and an extremely capable room correction system (MCACC) that ultimately does what every good receiver should: enhance the home theater experience. The SC-37 is by far the best sounding integrated AVR that I have had the pleasure of listening to, and includes enough raw power to make even the hardiest rock band dropout quail. HDMI handshake speed, video performance, and overall ease of use is incredible, and Pioneer has topped that off with what I believe to be the most useful new feature I've ever seen in an AVR: the on-remote screen.

In a receiver that has an MSRP of $2200.00 it is entirely fair to expect a lot, and in the top range receiver market Pioneer faces stiff competition from Onkyo, Denon, Yamaha and Marantz. If Pioneer had chosen to include 9.2 channel output on the SC-37 it would be without doubt the most solid and full-featured A/V receiver offering in this market segment. While this does require me to remove a single half point from the feature rating of this receiver, I do not see myself (nor anyone I currently know) using 9 channel surround sound anytime soon. With the measured output power listed in my addendum below, the SC-37 has proven to be the ultimate A/V receiver choice for those who want lots of clean power and a killer feature set as well. While in many ways the SC-37 is an improved SC-27 with 3D capability, that is not a criticism. Pioneer has taken what was one of the top receivers of the last generation and improved upon it. While they may not have added as many bells and whistles as competitors, I believe that the quality of the unit speaks for itself. In the near future I will be upgrading my review system and at that time, will need a receiver in this price range. As of this moment, the Pioneer SC-37 is the front runner in my list. If you are in the market for a receiver in this price range, you owe it to yourself to listen to (and see) what the Pioneer Elite SC-37 has to offer.

Addendum:

With the recent reviews coming out for the Onkyo TX-NR5008 and some new data related to the SC-37 I would like to post some updated output information:

The SC-37 measures at:

5 channels driven continuously into 8-ohm loads:
0.1% distortion at 135.7 watts
1% distortion at 171.9 watts

7 channels driven continuously into 8-ohm loads:
0.1% distortion at 125.4 watts
1% distortion at 164.7 watts

While the Onkyo TX-NR5008 measures at:

5 channels driven continuously into 8-ohm loads:
0.1% distortion at 79.1 watts.
1% distortion at 95.5 watts.

7 channels driven continuously into 8-ohm loads:
0.1% distortion at 78.7 watts.
1% distortion at 94.6 watts.


From this information is does appear that while the Onkyo does have 2 additional amp channels, if you're a normal individual with a 5 or 7 channel setup, the Pioneer is indeed the better choice if you want cool clean power.


Please use the Pioneer Elite SC-37 A/V Receiver Review: Discussion Thread for Questions and Comments


Res non sententia.

Last edited by Dave Upton; 11-19-10 at 01:37 PM..

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