Pioneer Elite SC-37 A/V Receiver Page 3
That brings us to Green Zone, with Matt Damon, an Iraq-war 20/20 hindsight plot, and a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The opening scene’s shock-and-awe sequence is full of thunderous low frequencies. MCACC (among others) maintained a bass presentation that was potent but disciplined. The crossover from speakers to sub was slick, with no obvious midbass bloat from the sub. I know that my room has a large midbass standing wave, so I was gratified to hear this. I shifted among Auto Surround, THX Movie mode, and Optimum Surround, and it made little difference with this busy, bombastic material. However, in later scenes that mix action and dialogue at more moderate volumes, I found that Optimum Surround delivered dialogue more loudly and clearly, while THX offered a more open soundfield.
The Losers, also in DTS-HD Master Audio, offers another military-intelligence plot, this time based more on comic books than reality. Jason Patric, Zoe Saldana, and a talented supporting cast bravely compensate for the cheesy story and even cheesier soundtrack. The THX Movie mode emerged as most appropriate, possibly for the way its reEQ shaved off the top layer of harshness, making the inherently harsh hard-core music and cheap effects more tolerable. Again I was impressed by the bass, which was aggressive yet not anarchic.
Not Easily Broken and its Dolby TrueHD soundtrack offers a troubled-marriage script with a Christian spin, adapted from the novel by African-American megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes. The one opulent moment of this soap-operaish but heartfelt story is the opening wedding scene, suffused with music that evokes all the beauty, mystery, and optimism you’d hope to experience at a church wedding. After that, dialogue was everything, and in this selection, it didn’t have to compete with other soundtrack elements. Thus there seemed to be no need for the THX Movie or Optimum Surround modes—Auto Surround and unvarnished Dolby TrueHD were enough to deliver the eloquent ensemble acting of Morris Chestnut, Taraji P. Henson, and others. Male voices sounded notably natural, indicating excellent dovetailing of the speakers and sub at the 80-Hz crossover.
Rearrange Your Liver
I plunged right into vinyl with Close to the Edge, the monumental Yes album. With this twochannel source material, my main mission was to distinguish between surround rechanneling via Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode and DPLII + THX. Both opened up the title track’s twittering birds and buzzing insects, which precede the crashing entrance of guitar, bass, and drums. The difference between them was inaudible in some passages and subtle in others. I heard it mainly in the quiet, reflective, reverb-rich episode that comes about halfway through. The DPLII + THX mode had less obvious leakage of backing vocals into the surround channels. I preferred it, but I wouldn’t call it a night-and-day difference. Among the two-channel modes, I played with Pure Direct and (plain) Direct. I preferred the latter for its superior MCACC-refined bass management. In general, no mode could mitigate the source material’s abrasive sizzle-and-boom mix, which would be best addressed in the high-resolution surround remix that this album has always deserved but never had. At least MCACC, Loudness Plus, and the other committee members valued Chris Squire’s twangy bass—it never got lost in the mix.
Bach and the North German Tradition is a freshly recorded 5.1-channel SACD from Audite. Martin Neu is at the organ playing works of J.S. Bach and his contemporaries, Georg Böhm and Dietrich Buxtehude. This multichannel content opened up more listening-mode possibilities, including THX Music, Pure Direct, Direct, Optimum Surround, ALC, and relatively unvarnished Auto Surround. With MCACC, Full Band Phase Conrol, and THX Loudness Plus perpetually upstream, the other modes didn’t have many flaws to repair, so their committees broke off deliberations: “We’re done here. Meeting adjourned.” Among the few notable contrasts were THX Music versus Pure Direct. The latter’s elimination of MCACC resulted in a thickening of the bass pedals that was pleasant in this case. This demo, in Pure Direct, also gave me a chance to hear high-resolution content with little between the AVR’s Class D amps and my ears—and the result was gratifyingly transparent and listenable.
Rent: The Final Performance Filmed Live on Broadway is a Blu-ray Disc with a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. THX Music continued to be the default mode against which I contrasted other modes. Pure Direct was slightly less focused, but I liked that. Live music should be a little messy, not sterile and tidy. The producers may disagree with me—they designed the production to give every singer a headset microphone. A modest reverb sweetened the vocal inputs, but it seemed more like processing than in-house sound. Optimum Surround made vocals more prominent but also more nasal.
The Pioneer Elite SC-37 is the Swiss army knife of A/V receivers. Advanced users will get months of tweaky pleasure exploring its myriad and overlapping listening modes. Beginners with a desire for great sound can also live with it by running the most automated of its setup programs and trusting the default choices. Pioneer’s MCACC is one of the few proprietary auto setup schemes that rival the usability of the fancy licensed ones. But all of these pale in comparison with the significance of the Class D amplification. Pioneer’s second-generation implementation of ICEpower is on a par with the best conventional Class AB, producing excellent sound with far less waste of power. This is one $2,200 AVR that’s worth its price tag.