Pioneer Elite SC-09TX A/V Receiver Page 2
Putting It Together
Except as noted, I made all of the following observations in a manual setup with no equalization. I used an HDMI link for the multichannel audio/video and a separate coaxial digital link for two-channel, music-only playback. The subwoofer was always in the system.
The Blu-ray release of the revival of the musical Company (DTS-HD Master Audio) opens with a startling, audio-only cacophony of street sounds that could only suggest New York City. But there’s more to this disc than noise. The dialogue comes through clean and clear, perfectly balanced, and with no audible coloration. Ditto for the singing. In an interesting twist, the cast members actually supply the instrumental accompaniment in addition to singing and acting. You have to see this to believe it. The result makes for a fine demo disc. The Pioneer ate it all up, including the disc’s equally luscious video.
Staying with music-related audio/video sources, Legends of Jazz: Showcase (Blu-ray) brings together a wide variety of great performances from, well, jazz legends. It includes instrumentals and vocals from Al Jarreau, Lee Ritenour, Chick Corea, Clark Terry, Jane Monheit, Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis, and more. The Pioneer didn’t take a wrong step on this multichannel Dolby TrueHD recording. It’s the best example I’ve heard of how high-resolution audio together with great video on great program material can up the ante with conventional two-channel audio.
And the Pioneer didn’t disappoint on some of the most challenging soundtracks. Transformers has a dynamite soundtrack, in more ways than one. The action, of course, is spectacular. Thanks to the Blu-ray re-release in Dolby TrueHD, the extended battle at the end came through with incredible clarity. No one would call this soundtrack laid-back, and the effects can get a bit bright. But it was never irritating through the Pioneer—at least not at any volume I can tolerate (and no one has ever accused me of listening to movie sound at wimpy levels).
For me, if an amp/speaker combination can’t do justice to the music on a soundtrack (and not just the purely music-video material mentioned above), it’s a no-go. The Pioneer never had the slightest problem with that challenge on any of the films I watched. It punched through the densest mixes like Transformers and did justice to the prominent and beautifully recorded score on The Nightmare Before Christmas (Blu-ray, Dolby TrueHD). Together with a good lossless soundtrack, the Pioneer will give you a new appreciation for how important movie music is.
The Pioneer kept me happy on two-channel music as well. Its highs are silky smooth, its midrange is clear and uncolored, and its bass is powerful. If I had any reservations, they involved a bit of excess warmth in the midbass. And I can partially blame this characteristic on my speakers and room.
For music lovers, the Pioneer’s two iLink connections might be its most exciting feature. I paired the SC-09TX with a Pioneer DV-79AVi universal disc player (also iLink-equipped) and played standard CDs, SACD (two-channel and multichannel), DVD-Audio (multichannel), and two-channel 24/96 CDs through this connection. The Pioneer reproduced all of these sources with full bass management, and the receiver’s front-panel display showed the disc’s resolution (for DVD-Audio and 24/96 discs).
Pioneer also claims that the iLink connection uses advanced anti-jitter circuitry. Its sound was uniformly superb, although not all of the higher resolution audio recordings I tried sounded better than the best CDs. As always, the recording engineers’ choices are more important than the format.
Pioneer’s MCACC setup and equalization system can be as complex or simple as you make it. Or you can turn it off completely and set up the system manually. All of the automated equalization for the main speakers (which you can tweak manually later if desired) is basic nine-band graphic. There’s additional automated three-band parametric equalization that helps dial in the bass to minimize standing waves.
If you want to read all the most intimate MCACC details, download Pioneer’s manual to view a simple graphical depiction of MCACC at www.pioneer.no/files/eur/MCACC/index.html. Although its explanations look intimidating, when you use the menus, the actual procedure is a bit easier to do.
How effective was the MCACC? For me, it noticeably tightened the bottom end but leaned out the midbass and left the treble sounding brightened. The bass improvement was obvious and very welcome. The other changes, though more controversial, were also subtler. How much improvement you can expect depends on your system, setup, and personal reaction to the changes.
Adventures in Video Processing
In a simple video passthrough test, using a signal generator and 1080i resolution patterns (multibursts), the receiver was essentially transparent in HDMI. However, in component, it showed a small loss in resolution on the highest-level HD burst pattern (37.1 megahertz) in the Pure (processor bypass) setting. It also showed a significant loss in the 1080i setting. The same was true for any resolution. I got a good result in the Pure processing setting and clearly compromised resolution in all other processing settings, even with the same input and output resolutions. For the best results with HD material, I recommend that you use this receiver with HDMI whenever possible and do any required upconversion elsewhere (such as in the display).
I also noticed significant resolution loss when the Pioneer cross-converted a component source to HDMI. (The Pure setting is inoperative in a cross-conversion. You can select it, but you get no picture.) Nevertheless, I had to use cross-conversion to run my usual video-processing tests. This was the only way the receiver would upconvert a 480i or 1080i input all the way to 1080p.
Despite the resolution limitations, the receiver’s Marvell video processing passed most of my deinterlacing and scaling tests (480i-to-1080p and 1080i-to-1080p) with scores of good to (mostly) excellent. The only exception was 3:2 pulldown in HD, where the results were mixed.
The receiver passed above-white and below-black information on an HDMI passthrough. It passed above white but not below black with a component passthrough. And it passed neither when it cross-converted a component input to an HDMI output.
An electronics budget of $7,000 opens your options to a wide selection of separate processors and amplifiers. So which way should you go? Not so long ago, the choice was an easy one, as audiophile dogma held that separates offered better sound. Today that line is hopelessly blurred; the best receivers can compete head to head with similarly priced separates.
Separates provide more flexibility. You can replace the processor to accommodate new formats or the amp to add more power. But receivers offer space savings, possibly greater convenience, and fewer system connections. (You don’t need to link the processor to the amp.) Also, separates aren’t an option in some price ranges. However, once you get to this level, the choice becomes a very personal one. Either route can provide superb performance.
Whether you’re listening to two-channel stereo or full multichannel sound, the Pioneer’s ability to present a natural soundstage with depth and breadth, tangible and relievable instrumental timbre, full-bodied bass, and convincing all-around musicality, is first class.
This is a complex product, with more features than most users will ever need or use. Once you get past its relatively steep learning curve, you’ll have no trouble sitting back and enjoying its outstanding performance.