Pioneer Elite SC-71 7.2 Channel Receiver
Review by Peter Loeser
Review Discussion Thread
Pioneer has introduced five new members of the Elite family this year (7.2 and 9.2), with the SC-71 being the most budget-friendly entry. The new lineup includes a competitive set of features, a unique amplification system, and room correction, all within an attractive modern package. Pioneer's Elite models are intended to compete with the most advanced receivers on the market, and are aimed at consumers who want a lot for their money. The SC-71 offers the convenience of up-to-date audio and video formats, the latest connectivity options, seven channels of amplification, plenty of network streaming capability, and yet keeps things simple enough that setup and operation are relatively easy. With its ability to handle the latest Dolby and DTS surround sound modes, the SC-71 has been a great excuse for me to upgrade my home theater from 5.2 to 9.2, and I am glad I took advantage of the opportunity. Before I get any further, I want to clarify that the SC-71 is a 7.2, not a 9.2 receiver but it can accommodate three different 7.2 configurations, two of which use speakers in either the front height, or front wide positions used by 9.1 and 11.1 configurations. More detail on that later. Overall, there is a lot to like about the SC-71, and a few things I do not like. It can be difficult to keep up with media formats and connection standards that are constantly advancing, while maintaining a high level of reliability and performance that so many of us desire. Doing so within a reasonable budget while maintaining good ergonomics and pleasant aesthetics? Even more challenging. At first glance, This new receiver appears to be a worthy contender in its price class. Read on for the details of my experience with the SC-71.
Design, Build Quality, and Aesthetics
The Elite SC-71 fits the mold of today's feature-packed home theater receivers, attempting to balance technology, convenience, power, and user-friendliness. The key components of the receiver's performance are its D³ power amplifiers, Qdeo video processing and 4K (UHD) video capability, proprietary MCACC room correction, and a multitude of network streaming and control options. The D³ amplifiers are much more efficient than traditional A/B amps, allowing for more power output from within the packaging constraints of a typical AV receiver. They are also certified for 4-ohm loads, which gives owners a wide range of options for high quality speakers.
MCACC (Multi-Channel ACoustic Calibration System) like Audyssey, Yamaha’s YPAO, Emotiva’s EMO-Q, Trinnov, and others is an automated calibration and room correction program. It is designed to clean up frequency response and reduce unwanted reverb and time delays, among other things, for users with less than idea room configurations. The system uses a series of test tones, along with an omnidirectional mic (included with the SC-71) placed at the desired listening position. Calculations are performed and adjustments are made to each individual channel (except for the LFE) to accurately determine distance from the listening position, frequency response, and standing waves.
As I mentioned earlier, the SC-71 is well equipped to handle most of the latest surround sound and HD audio formats. With 7 channels of internal amps (one set is assignable to either surround back, front height, front wide, or speaker B/zone 2) this Pioneer receiver offers lots of flexibility when it comes to speaker configurations. Unless you plan to power a 2nd zone, you can chose from three different 7.1 arrangements: 5.1 plus rear surrounds, 5.1 plus front height speakers, or 5.1 plus front wide speakers. The SC-71 will decode Dolby® True HD, and Pro Logic® IIz, as well as DTS-HD® Master Audio and Neo:X. The SC-71 also includes quite a few of its own surround modes for movies, music, and games - many of which can make use of multiple speaker configurations.
The Elite series of A/V components is also intended to offer more than the average level of build quality and attractive looks. The construction of the SC-71 looks to be on par with other receivers in the price range. For its size, it is not unusually heavy, suggesting the power supply is not overly beefy. Materials used for the front panel and knobs have a premium appearance and quality fit and finish. Connections on the rear panel are typical, and the layout is agreeable for the most part. The stacked sets of speaker binding posts can be a bit frustrating to connect to bare wire, especially if your receiver is positioned in a way that limits access to the back panel. My preference would be a single row of horizontally oriented pairs of binding posts (such as the ones found on newer Onkyo and Denon receivers for example). The plastic binding posts on the SC-71 also appear cheap compared to what I would expect on this level of receiver. They function perfectly fine, but are not what I would consider Elite.
The visual design of the SC-71 is very tasteful and upscale, in my opinion. The front panel is simple and attractive with the brushed finish and a pair of large knobs for input and volume control. The large knobs are nicely balanced with the height of the front panel. The overall proportions of the front of the unit are very natural and pleasing to the eye. The amber colored display is a bit old school compared to the many aqua and blue displays found on modern receivers, but I do not mind it, as I am used to an older Yamaha with an amber display. Although the SC-71 provides a basic on-screen display when adjusting volume or accessing some menu items, I have found most of the text on the front panel display to be legible from my seating distance of about 9ft. The receiver makes a nice focal point for any setup where the gear is visible, such as below the display, or in an exposed custom rack.
Setup and Operation
Getting the SC-71 up and running is a fairly simple task. Making connections, selecting inputs and choosing a sound mode is intuitive for the most part, although the standard remote leaves something to be desired. The main menu is well laid out and organized, and easy to navigate. Speaker and input settings, MCACC, network setup and other essential functions can be accessed and/or edited here. Aside from choosing the speaker configuration up front and running MCACC a few times for different seating positions, I have not needed to dig into the overall settings very often. The remote does have a few handy shortcuts that allow me to bypass the "home" menu.
Pioneer offers a few different options when it comes to running MCACC. Fully automatic Advanced MCACC is standard. In fact, the on-screen display appears, prompting the user to begin the automatic program as soon as the measurement microphone is plugged into the front panel. Simply tell it whether you are using a THX speaker setup (subwoofer on with crossover at 80Hz), and which of the six available memory slots to use for the results. It starts right up, and will complete the process without the need for any additional user input. Although I have not timed the process from start to finish, the fully auto MCACC takes somewhere in the neighborhood of five minutes (maybe a tad longer) to complete. At this point, the most recently calculated calibration will be active, and the receiver is ready to go. There is also a manual version of MCACC which appears to allow the user to step through each process manually, and possibly choose to bypass some if needed. I have not personally attempted this method.
In keeping up with technology trends, Pioneer has developed a mobile app which allows users to control their Pioneer devices from mobile phones and tablets connected to the same network. iControlAV2013 will display information about the receiver’s status (input, volume level, settings, etc.) and also provides a graphical interface for choosing different sound modes and even EQ settings. The app is free and works with iOS and Android. (iTunes) (Google Play)
General Impressions and MCACC/REW Results
Overall the SC-71 has been a pleasant addition to my system for the few weeks I have been using it. The visual design is very attractive and it blends well with a variety of HT gear. I have yet to experience any glitches, bugs, or odd behavior during operation. Switching inputs, navigating menus, and changing settings has all been very smooth. There is noticeable lag at times, particularly when starting up the home menu. Source switching is not what I would call lightning fast, but consistent. Again, the unit seems very stable and predictable in general.
The standard remote included with the SC-71 is a disappointment, considering the price point of the receiver and the level of features offered. It looks and feels average, if not cheap and is tedious to navigate. It seems to have too many buttons, almost all of which are exactly the same shape and size: tiny. Speaking of tiny, the labels are quite small too, and can be difficult to focus on if your eyes have adjusted to the picture on your screen. While there are a few handy quick-access shortcuts which have been beneficial, I still find myself using the “hunt and peck” method when I need to use them. Backlit keys would be nice but that seems to be absent from other brand’s models in this price range as well, so perhaps I am demanding too much. Having said that, Pioneer’s iControlAV app is a major step up in user friendliness. Once you get the hang of the interface, it is a breeze to locate and adjust settings, change inputs, and even power the receiver on or off from other parts of your house. If you have the ability to use it, the app really makes up for most shortcomings of the physical remote.
The overall sound quality of the SC-71 is natural and balanced to my ears. If anything, it is a tad laid back, but in a way that makes music easy to listen to. For movies, it performs well in the various different surround modes I have tried. My favorites for movies are Neo:X Cinema and Dolby PLIIx, making use of the front wide or rear surround channels. It creates an excellent 3D soundstage and smooth panning throughout the room. At higher volumes though, particularly during movies with intense surround effects, the SC-71 seems to lack the dynamics to provide that punch and impact I’m looking for. I have noticed that this receiver gets quite warm, even when being used at medium listening levels. The heat is not enough to concern me, but more than I expected, considering the advertised efficiency of the D³ amps.
Something I would prefer to see on the SC-71 is a full set of 7.2 preamp outputs. In addition to the dual sub outputs, the rear panel contains main left and right outputs for use with an external amplifier. While this is a handy feature, it would be convenient to have, at the very least, front left, right, and center outputs. This may be more a matter of personal preference, as I have a 5 channel amp that I prefer to use with my mains, center channel, and front wides.
Advanced MCACC has its strengths and weaknesses. Its simplicity and ease of use is a benefit, and the ability to perform manual tweaks to the settings after the fact is definitely convenient. It did smooth out the response of my mains up to around 10kHz, where it tapered off the high end. It also made evident a weakness: lack of subwoofer EQ. The SC-71 will EQ down to about 125Hz, but below that you are basically stuck with your sub’s natural response in your room (or an external EQ/DSP solution). After playing with sub placement and seating location, I have a setup that is pretty good for my main listening position despite a couple of peaks and dips, however the other seats in the room suffer from a nasty peak in bass below 40Hz. Another drawback is the lack of ability to measure and average room responses from multiple positions, as others like Audyssey and YPAO can do. It is something that could potentially be very beneficial for my room, and many others.
Although it only provides a small glimpse at the impact of MCACC on my system performance, the graph below shows the response of my sub and mains before and after MCACC. The changes are subtle, and the results sounded ok to my ears, although even minimal bass management would have been helpful.
Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb (The Wall, CD)
The Wall is a great album containing lots of subtle elements and wide dynamic range. The bass is deep and punchy, the vocals are smooth and guitars have a very full presence. At times, I have found Pink Floyd music can sound a bit too warm and even muddy on the wrong setup. In this case, bass is nice and full, but not boomy or excessive. The vocals are natural sounding, but maybe a bit too mellow for my taste. Throughout the album, Pink Floyd encorporated so many background elements like individual voices and crowds, phones ringing, cars passing, and planes flying. The Pioneer does a nice job of presenting the primary music material while incorporating the additional effects in a way that they are noticeable, but not obtrusive.
Imogen Heap - Hide And Seek (Speak For Yourself, 320kbps streaming)
I like this song for its ability to surround the listener, even in 2 channels, as recorded. Since the SC-71 comes with a few music surround modes, Hide And Seek is a good candidate on which to try them. Among the options are DTS Neo:X Music and Dolby PLII Music. I find that I prefer the Neo:X format for music, and it does a nice job of expanding the soundstage of this song. It creates a lush surround environment with the vocal effects, while the primary vocals maintain a focused presence front and center. Although I typically opt to listen to 2-channel music without any processing, the music surround modes offer a fun way to change things up if you happen to be in the mood for something different.
Jack Reacher (Blu-Ray)
Jack Reacher is a vigilante thriller with plenty of fast-paced action, and an excellent soundtrack. A highlight for me is the chase scene triggered by an encounter with Emerson, an officer in pursuit of Reacher. The exhaust of the stolen Chevelle roars as Jack flees the scene. In an attempt to shake a flood of police cars, as well as a pair of hitmen out to get him, Reacher ducks and dodges through the quiet streets and alleys of the city. I am treated to the sounds of that good old GM V8 as it howls past barricades and bystanders. The effects during this scene are well balanced, and dialogue remains clear and focused, so nothing is missed. In contrast to the intensity of the chase sequence, another portion of the story takes place in a remote abandoned structure. A few gang members taunt and threaten a victim in the quiet of a dark night. Their voices echo throughout the empty, hollow building, pulling me right into the set. The SC-71 does a nice job here of capturing the delicate parts of the soundtrack, without over-emphasizing any particular element. Overall I am very satisfied with the SC-71’s performance throughout this movie.
The Incredible Hulk (Blu-Ray)
The scene that begins with Bruce Banner trapped in a glass walkway outside of the campus library is a fun way to show off any decent surround sound setup. A wave of thunderous bass surges through the room as the transformation to the Hulk completes, and again with each step he takes. Almost immediately you are surrounded by the roar of Humvees and armored trucks, machine gun fire and .50 caliber cannon blasts. Bullets zip past your head, bouncing off the Hulk’s chest and scattering about the room. The Pioneer executes this scene very well, and generates an extremely effective sound field that fills the room, and even seems to extend beyond the walls. I can almost feel shockwaves from the gunshots and flying projectiles. Each blast of the .50 cal cannon is accompanied by a startling *thump*. Throughout the scene, key dialogue elements were produced with good balance and clarity. Although the SC-71 leaves me wanting a bit more impact at high levels, it presents this type of material well at a volume that is loud enough to be engaging and fun. It maintains control throughout, and nothing sounds out of place or distorted.
As a primarily 2-channel guy, I am used to measuring value of audio products in terms of pure sound quality, raw power and excellent build quality. Anything beyond that would just seem gimmicky for stereo source material. When it comes to modern AV receivers, those “gimmicky” features are an absolute must. Network streaming capability, compatibility with the latest HD audio and video formats, surround sound processing, room correction, support for multiple zones, intelligent user interface, good looks, and sufficient power are all essential components of a competitive receiver. Consumers want these features, and have come to expect them as standard. Pioneer has packed all of this technology into its Elite series, and the SC-71 gives you access for under a grand. The thing is, there are definitely others offering these features at that price point. For less than $1000 you can still find AV receivers with 7.2 or 9.2 preamp outputs, more extensive room correction programs with bass management, and even most streaming options. It is not a bad deal for the asking price and offers more features than most consumers will use, but it stands against some stiff competition.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The SC-71 has been a welcome (although temporary) addition to my HT setup for the past month or so. I have yet to even explore the full extent of its features or hear every one of the many sound modes, but have found it to be a good sounding unit for most of the material I have tested it with. My major gripes would be lack of bass EQ and preamp outputs (beyond subs and main L&R), and a lousy remote. What I like best are movie performance and integration with the iControlAV app. Unfortunately gripes 1 & 2 would both be deal breakers for me. Pioneer receivers probably do not get the attention they deserve, considering the majority of the discussion I see and hear seem to be focused around Onkyo, Denon, and Marantz, but based on my time with the SC-71 I believe many consumers would be very happy with any one of the Elite receivers.
SC-71 Features and Specifications