Pioneer Elite SC-57 Receiver Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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Pioneer Elite SC-57 Receiver Review

Pioneer Elite SC-57



The SC-57 is the Flagship in the Pioneer A/V receiver lineup and is loaded with enough features to overwhelm today’s modern tech-head and is the first Pioneer Elite AVR to boast 9.1 channels. The SC-57 also hosts Pioneer’s new Class D3 power amplifier that was completely re-engineered from the B&O Class-D’s used in previous models. It requires less energy to produce continuous power and it shows by the 4-ohm load that the SC-57 can carry without a loss in fidelity. That is one of the first things I noticed about the unit by comparing what I experienced with my older SC-05.

Below are some of the changes that were made to the overall amplifier design:
  • Improved Thermal Dissipation – Redesigned from previous generations, the large aluminum heatsink is top mounted to achieve 360 degrees of heat dissipation. The technique enables heat generated during use to radiate from the top and bottom of the unit to increase reliability and high performance at any volume level.
  • Direct-Thru Signal Path – The amplifier section was reconfigured to achieve a much shorter audio signal path. A third shorter than last year’s design, audio signals are directed one-way from the audio input side to the power supply, eliminating any looping through the circuit board or the need for a loop circuit which can cause feedback, noise, and ringing, especially in the high frequency audio band.
  • THD Improvement – The Direct-Thru Signal Path design combined with a less circuitry design resulted in improved switching characteristics. The amplifier produces virtually no noise with a total harmonic distortion (THD) rating of .003 percent (rated at 100W).
  • Pre-Amp Mode – The SC receivers feature advanced preamp processors supporting the latest surround formats such as DTS NeoX, sound enhancements, network content and network control. Users can take advantage of its full multi-zone capabilities assigning the preamp and speakers outputs independently. When channels are set to the off position, the power supply and associated components are shut down for efficiency and to reduce heat production.
  • Certifications – The SC-57 and SC-55 are both certified by THX® and AIR Studios to ensure that the receivers deliver the highest fidelity home entertainment experience to the consumer. THX and AIR Studios are experts in reference sound technology and have strict standards in their certification process.

Ergonomics
The unit itself is very elegant and exudes the type class that its name (Elite) commands. The remote was quite a bit different than that of the SC-37 with some of the functions actually removed from it such as the small display. The basic layout of the remote is similar to past remotes for the Elite series so there wasn’t much of a learning curve once the unit was up and running. Additionally, this is one of the most, if not the most, feature laden and integrated system that Pioneer has ever produced right out of the box.

Setup and Calibration
The unit comes packed as you would expect it to be, wrapped in plastic and placed in formed foam that packs tightly into the box. This particular review unit came with the optional AS-WL300 Wi-Fi adapter and the AS-BT200 for Bluetooth connectivity tucked away neatly inside. Setup was a breeze and Pioneer even ships the unit with a setup disc for your PC so all the information you would need is just a simple click away.

Proper setup and calibration will eat up the better part of two hours for true home theater enthusiasts and maybe longer for those unfamiliar with Pioneer’s MCACC auto calibration tools. Similarly to the more popular and widely used Audyssey, MCACC takes measurements from the listening position via the microphone that is included in the box and then calculates the responses together to give the listener the best experience possible. Many familiar with MCACC will use this as a starting point and fine tune using Advanced MCACC. Now, I don’t want to go into a whole Audeyssey vs MCACC discussion as each one has its pros and cons. I like being able to modify the MCACC, which you cannot do on most versions of Audeyssey, but MCACC does a fairly poor job of equalizing below 63Hz in my opinion and anyone looking to flatten the sub response will need to work with room acoustics and an external sub EQ to get that flatter response that they are looking for.
I did notice that I needed to do some adjusting of the video scaler to get it dialed in just right. This wasn’t a huge task and an hour or so jaunt through my DVE: HD Basic disc helped clean it up quite nicely.

Features

The Good
For starters Pioneer has a new application created for use with touchpads and smartphones such as the iPod and iPad as well as Airplay integration, which makes streaming from iTunes, your iPhone or iPad very nice. I was really appreciated being able to stream Spotify from my phone directly to the receiver without having to break out cables and connect a device directly. Right out of the box the unit supports LPCM, WAV, MP-3, AAC, WMA and even FLAC over the network, which I also appreciated. The MCACC interface is much more elegant than that of the SC-05 and it is very intuitive making setup a breeze.

The Not As Good
The support for Apple products is huge, but Android is currently limited to USB connectivity only, but I have a feeling that is just a matter of time. Video cannot be streamed across the IP network like the audio, but this really didn’t bother me as there are plenty of other devices that are specifically made for that function already in my HT. As a matter of fact, I can say that there is no ‘feature’ that I felt was missing from a connectivity standpoint be it audio or video.

The sound quality of network streaming seemed to suffer a bit from that of directly connected devices. This is what I expected though as 0’s and 1’s are a completely different animal than a directly connected sound source and subject to quality of service issues on the LAN. That’s not to say that the quality of the streaming was bad by any means, but there was just a discernable difference between streaming and directly connected via HDMI and RCA. Additionally, there was no difference in sound quality that I could detect between wired and wireless connectivity to the receiver. The sound quality of the music coming over the external wireless adapter sounded equal to the sound quality streaming to the on board Ethernet adapter.

The Bad
I am a bit fickle when it comes to certain functions and/or certain scenarios if you will. For instance; I will not buy a used game or Blu-Ray if it does not have the original case and that is because I want the cases to all match on my shelf with the original artwork. Some call it weird, others call it OCD; whatever it is crops up in some odd places. In the case of the SC-57 it is the volume display, or actually lack there of. The SC-57 unfortunately does not display the volume on your screen and since they removed the display from the remote control, you have to use the remote app yet the app only gives you an approximate as there is no numerical read out. In other words, if you want to see the numeric value of your volume level, it is only displayed on the units display which is a hassle for those of us that keep our gear put away in a closet, cabinet or those that sit too far away from the unit to see it. One of the reasons I went to the Onkyo TX-NR3007 in my theater from an SC-05 was because of this very feature. I am not sure why Pioneer continues to forgo adding this one little feature, but I personally find it annoying.

The only other thing that I would like to see added is an on board Wi-Fi adapter instead of a ‘sold separately’ unit. I am willing to pay more for a unit that has built in Wi-Fi personally and I imagine most others would as well.

The Awesome
Now that I have all of that out of the way, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of why we’re here. How does it perform? In one word… Phenomenally! I have been a fan of Pioneer Elite receivers since I purchased my SC-05 several years ago. The sound quality, in my opinion, is unmatched in the price range. The older units that have the Bang and Ollufsen ICE Power sound incredible and perform even better, but they start having trouble once you put a 4 Ohm load on them. The sound starts to thin out a bit and just doesn’t hold the impact. Pioneer made a decision to go it alone and design a new Class D Amp, the Class D3, for their Elite line and in my opinion they made the right decision. The new D3 design removes most, if not all; of the colorization of the sound leaving the listener with one of the purest sound stages I have ever heard right out of the box.


Specifications

POWER
  • Amplifier Design Class D3
  • Channels 9.1
  • Power Output: Watts per Channel 140 x 9 (1kHz)
  • Estimated Power Consumption 370 Watts

HANDHELD AND INTERNET
  • AirPlay
  • Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad Certified iPod/iPhone/iPad
  • Supported Apple Devices 2nd gen Nano and above / iPhone, 3G, 3GS, 4, iPad, iPad2
  • iControlAV Application iControlAV2 (iPad, iPhone, Android)
  • Supplied iPad/iPhone/iPod A/V Cable
  • iTunes Movie / TV / Video Playback via cable
  • iTunes Album Art
  • iTunes Cover Art
  • YouTube Video Playback via Supplied A/V Cable
  • Android Audio Playback via USB
  • Internet Radio vtuner
  • Pandora Radio
  • Rhapsody Music Service w/Subscription
  • Sirius Radio via Internet w/Subscription
  • DLNA 1.5 Certified Yes
  • USB Formats WAV, MP3, WMA, iPod Digital, JPEG
  • Network Audio Formats LPCM, WAV, MP-3, AAC, WMA, FLAC

DECODERS & FORMATS
  • Digital Core DSP Engine TI Aureus™ x 2
  • Air Studios Certification Yes
  • THX™ Certification Ultra 2 Plus
  • iPod Digital Audio
  • 192K/24-Bit DACs 192kHz / 32-Bit
  • Dolby True HD
  • Dolby Digital plus
  • Dolby Pro-Logic IIz
  • DTS-HD Master Audio
  • DTS Neo:X Yes

SOUNDFIELD CALIBRATION
  • Phase Control Full Band / Plus
  • Auto MCACC Advanced
  • Manual MCACC
  • Standing Wave Control
  • EQ Bands 9
  • Symmetric EQ
  • MCACC Memory 6
  • X-Curve
  • Distance Adjustment 1/2 inch
  • Precision Distance
  • Polarity Check
  • Auto Subwoofer Crossover


LISTENING MODES
  • Auto Surround
  • Auto Level Control Multi-Channel
  • Optimum Surround
  • Stream Direct Yes
  • Advanced Surround 15+1
  • Wide Surround
  • Front Stage Surround Advance Y (Focus / Wide)
  • Headphone Surround
  • Virtual Surround Back
  • Virtual Height
  • Virtual Depth


AUDIO FEATURES
  • High-bit. High sampling 32-Bit
  • DSD to PCM Converter Multi-Channel
  • PQLS Jitter Reduction HDMI Bitstream
  • Dialog Enhancement
  • Advanced Sound Retriever Multi-Channel / Auto
  • Sound Retriever AIR
  • Digital Noise Reduction
  • Tone Control Multi-Channel
  • Sound Delay (Lip Sync) 10-Frame
  • Speaker A/B
  • Bi-Amp Front /Center / Surround / B-Speaker

VIDEO PROCESSING
  • 3-D Ready
  • Audio Return Channel
  • HDMI 36-bit Deep Color
  • HDMI x.v. Color
  • Video Converter to HDMI
  • Video Scaler Marvell Qdeo up to 1080p / 24fps
  • Stream Smoother
  • Pure Cinema
  • Video Parameter Adjustments Advanced Video Adjust - HD Sources Progressive Motion - YNR, CNR, BNR, MNR, Detail, Brightness, Contrast, Hue, Chroma, Black level

CONNECTIVITY
  • HDMI Input / Output 7 In / 2 out
  • Bluetooth Adapter Port AS-BT100 or AS-BT200
  • Component Video Input / Output 3 In / 1 Out
  • iPhone / iPod Front USB / Composite Video
  • USB Memory Input Yes (MP3 / WMA / WAV)
  • Ethernet Input
  • SIRIUS Satellite Ready
  • Composite A/V Input / Output 4 In / 1 Out
  • Analog Audio Inputs / Output 2 In
  • Phono Input
  • Digital Inputs / Output 5 In / 1 Out
  • Multi-Channel Inputs 7.1
  • Pre-Amp Outputs 9.1 Channel (11.2 Terminals)
  • Headphone Output
  • Front A/V Inputs HDMI / USB / Composite
  • AM/FM Presets 63



Subjective Listening
This has been an extremely busy season for reviews, which enabled me to use four different speaker setups for this particular review.
  • Axiom Epic 80 9.1
  • Chase Home Theater 3.2 (Review in progress)
  • Martin Logan Motion LX16 2.0 (Review in progress)
  • Axiom Grand Master 5.2 On-Wall (Review in progress)

Music
In the music area this time I decided to take a bit of a turn from my normal demo fare and dive into some music that can really put me in another place. All of the demo material that I listened to was in either FLAC, Apple Lossless or direct from a CD played on my PS3.
  • Earth, Wind and Fire: ‘Kalimba Story’
    Earth, Wind and Fire’s Kalimba Story from their 1974 album ‘Open Our Eyes’ has so much going on and yet melds so wonderfully into a masterful performance by one of music’s most overlooked bands. Kalimba Story has it all and each individual instrument sings with such impeccable clarity through the SC-57 that I couldn’t help but be overtaken by its intrinsic rhythm.
  • Steve Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: 'Voodoo Child (Slight Return)'
    What can I say but this is probably my hands-down favorite cover of all time. There is no doubt that Jimi Hendrix had possessed Stevie Ray in the studio that day as SRV’s performance is truly inspired and flawless. Again the SC-57 delivered with incredible fidelity and relayed the raw energy of the song as if SRV was at Austin City Limits throwing down as he did back in the 80’s.
  • Jim Matheos: 'A Way With Words'
    Jim Matheos’ A Way With Words is a great piece of acoustic music that can easily become lopsided when played through the wrong system or an improperly calibrated system. If the lows of the bass or the highs of the violin are not properly balanced, it’s not that great of a song to hear. But if they are, well then there is a real treat in store and the SC-57 pulls it off with little to no effort. From the mild swell in the beginning to the slow fade at the end every instrument is clear and accurate.
  • Avenged Sevenfold: Nightmare
    Ok, you all knew that there was no way I was going to do a review and not crank out some heavy metal right? Since taking my kids to see A7x this year I have become quite a fan. It also helps that their last studio release has Mike Portnoy, formerly of Dream Theater, on drums and that should be all I have to say about that. Nightmare is an outstanding song with tons of time changes, heavy guitars, brutal percussion and it absolutely grooves in a very unstoppable way. Coming through the SC-57 at 0 it stirred my emotions and had me ready to take on the world. The song is so full of attitude and it just bleeds through the system with the utmost authority.

Movies
For movies I ran the PS3 directly into the SC-57 enabling me to bitstream the HD audio and let the SC-57 do all of the work.
  • Cowboys and Aliens
    The audio fares only marginally better than the video and is just as impressive as most other films that have been recently released. This is an extremely dynamic and very well balanced 5.1 DTS-HD-MA presentation. The imaging is wonderful as horses gallop off the screen and exit through the rear surrounds. Voices on and off screen are directionally prefect and add a lot of depth to the overall experience. The action sequences are engaging and flawlessly executed as gunfire, alien weaponry and even ambient sound as the action draws to a close are all brilliantly presented. The surround presentation is a bit slow to get started as it is more dependent on the action to really take off and dialogue is very clear, crisp and textured. One thing that stood out to me was the amazing score put together by Harry Gregson-Williams. From brilliant guitar pieces to a truly inspiring composition that plays with a long vast shot of the landscape as our heroes prepare to do battle with the alien invaders, the entire score was truly remarkable.
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
    The 5.1 DTS-HD-MA is a bit of tricky one to grade as this is not a typical adrenaline fueled sonic bliss type of presentation that we are all used to getting these days. That being said, this is definitely a thoughtful and well-rounded presentation. Directionality is perfect and engaging as each channel has a life of its own. The score is masterful and gives just the right amount of emotion to each scene without being too intrusive. When the action finally does start up in the third act it isn’t explosive or overly processed but very realistic and balanced. Dialogue reproduction is outstanding and voices are thick with a lot of texture and LFE is proportionate and not invasive. I am not sure how this audio could have actually been any better for what the movie is.
  • Conan the Barbarian
    The 7.1 DTS-HD-MA presentation is a tad more impressive than the video. LFE growls, shakes and tumbles through the subwoofer as entire structures fall apart on the screen. The pounding of the ocean against the ship is equally impressive as the thud coming from the sub shakes the room. There is plenty of surround activity thanks to all of the battles and a constant bombardment of magic that keeps the scenery moving and the landscape changing. The score is epic and blasts from the speakers with authority breathing life into each scene. Dialogue reproduction is superb and directionality is perfectly placed throughout the film which really lends to a couple of creepy scenes. Overall this is an outstanding audio presentation and it’s a shame it was wasted on such a monumentally bad film.


Overall Impressions
Pioneer breaks new ground with the Elite SC-57 and its ferocious D3 amplifier design and while I was incredibly disappointed by the lack of volume display, the truth is that when I was listening to music and watching movies I couldn’t have cared less about that option and the same can be said for the external wireless as I don’t chance anything I consider important to a wireless signal anyway. With all of the connectivity options available on this unit right out of the box, I find it hard to believe that anyone could complain about something that is missing, although I am sure someone will. The Airtunes seamlessly integrates into your home systems to enable streaming from any Apple device that can support the architecture. The optional Bluetooth adapter can support wireless streaming from any device that is not natively supported on the system and with this list of features, anyone who would complain is looking to do so in the first place.

Value
I would not consider the SC-57 that great of a value at it’s MSRP, mostly because at $2100 I feel that there are better values out there however; the SC-57 can be had for around $1400 on line and at that price it will be next to impossible for anyone to compete. Yes, there are other options out there for less, but less does not equate to ‘value’. We all have our favorite brands and unfortunately a lot of people won’t even look at the SC-57 because they are so mentally invested in their ‘manufacturer of choice’ that they refuse to believe there could be something better out there. In the past year I have had the opportunity to work with several manufactures extensively including Onkyo with the TX-NR3007, Marantz and I will be jumping right in on a review for the Denon 1912 as well as the Onkyo TX-NR 709 and while several of those units are mid-range units, the Pioneer handily trumps the Onkyo TX-NR3007 in overall fidelity. There can be no mistake that the SC-57 is truly a Masterpiece…



Highly Recommended


Please see the Pioneer Elite SC-57 Receiver Review: Discussion Thread for Questions and Comments

Regards,
Dale Rasco




“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." -Thomas A. Edison


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Last edited by Dale Rasco; 01-01-12 at 01:51 PM.
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