Pioneer Elite SC-09TX A/V Receiver Real-World Performance
As of this writing, I've had the SC-09TX in my system for three weeks with plenty of opportunity to test it on a wide variety of material. Recently, my wife and I discovered Lost—yes, we are a little slow, finally watching the hit show of 2004! The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is outstanding.
Season one's plane crash on the deserted island is a great demo scene to see how well an AVR can handle complex material through the entire soundstage. The SC-09TX didn't skip a beat and played loud and clear, with plenty of attention paid to each and every channel as the Oceanic Airlines plane ripped apart. Subtler sounds offer plenty of depth, especially twigs breaking while the castaways explore the mysterious jungle around the crash site, creating an eerie environment on the seemingly deserted island.
Lossless soundtracks from Blu-ray discs were just as impressive. The DTS-HD Master Audio track from The Orphanage is outstanding in its creepy yet seductive sound design. The creaking sounds as the characters walk through the orphanage were reproduced with astounding clarity and imaging, creating a full 360-degree soundfield with magnificent dynamics.
Another stellar DTS-HD MA soundtrack is found on Universal Pictures' U-571, which is a bass-heavy mix with endless discrete sound effects flying though the room. Hearing every creak and groan of the submarine as it drops below 200 meters gave me claustrophobia with the realistic re-creation. As the depth charges exploded, it sounded as if the German Navy was trying to sink my room—after that experience, I don't think I'll be setting foot on a submarine in my lifetime.
I listened to soundtracks at various volume levels to test the THX Loudness Plus functionality. This is the second flagship AVR I've tried that supports this technology (the other being the Yamaha RX-Z11), and it delivers on its promise of a more immersive soundfield at lower volume levels. The LFE channel has less impact, but the dimensionality is preserved, and the surround channels continue to provide useful audio, even when the volume level is very low, which isn't the case with older AVRs—at lower listening levels, the surround channels tend to disappear.
One thing that separates a good AVR from a great one is how well it handles 2-channel music, and with the Pioneer, there were no issues at all. I played a variety of music on CDs from my Oppo 983H as well as streaming WMA lossless music files from my computer using Home Media Gallery. Maybe my ears aren't golden enough to tell, but I could detect no difference in performance when comparing the computer-stored music versus the actual CD.
From a convenience standpoint, I really love Home Media Gallery, especially when using the LCD screen to add songs to a playlist. Of all of the functions offered by the SC-09TX, this may be my favorite. I was able to add myriad songs for testing without having to constantly change CDs.
Initially, I noticed that the AVR was on the bright side out of the box, but after a week of continuous use, its sound started to warm up. Also, when listening from a cold start, it sounds a bit harsh at first. I had the same experience with the Wyred 4 Sound Ice Cube amplifier, which also uses ICEpower circuitry, so for critical listening, give it a few minutes to heat up.
I like to use similar music when reviewing equipment because I remember the nuances of specific recordings over a smaller spectrum of choices. One of these songs is Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me" from the CD of the same name. The song features her silky voice and some nice acoustic instruments, which challenges AVRs to effectively reproduce the subtle sounds. As I expected, the Pioneer had no issues resolving the mix. Her voice was firmly rooted in the center of the soundstage, and the acoustic instruments remained in the background, as they should. For comparison, I popped the SACD of the same album into my Oppo 983H, and the 5.1-channel mix sounded just as good.
Another highlight from my standard music tests is the Beastie Boys' 1986 album License to Ill, which was the first rap album to top Billboard's Pop Album chart. One of my favorite tracks is "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," a song that features a nice guitar rift, ample bass, and fun lyrics. At reference level, the Pioneer created a "wall of sound" with the front left and right speakers, never sounding strained or stressed.
Finally, I tested some 2-channel SACD mixes such as Billy Joel's An Innocent Man. The title track has superior depth and detail, and once again, I had difficulty localizing the sound from the left and right speakers—it was as if my whole front wall was in the recording studio. At no time did I ever feel my M&K speakers were gasping for more power, even with their demanding 4-ohm load.
As I stated previously, I really dig Home Media Gallery. Its ability to stream lossless music, play slideshows, and play video files was a real treat. Granted, I have an Xbox 360 that can do the same thing, but it's as loud as a crop duster and not as convenient to use, especially since it normally requires me to turn on my projector versus using the Pioneer's LCD screen. This was mostly an advantage for music files—to watch a slideshow or video, the projector would need to be on anyway.