Pioneer Elite SC-68 A/V Receiver


Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $2,500 At A Glance: 32-bit asynchronous USB DAC • D3 Class D amplification • All the Apple trimmings

Like a parent who charts a child’s growth with colored pencil marks on the wall, I’ve been observing the growth of audio/video receivers since the beginning of the product category. The wall is covered with ascending marks: Here’s the first A/V receiver, with composite video switching and no surround processing. Here’s the first Dolby Surround model, the first Dolby Pro Logic model, the first Dolby Digital model—and the first with DTS, THX, lossless surround, room correction, satellite radio, HDMI, network audio, Apple everything.

By my reckoning, Pioneer receivers have seen some remarkable growth spurts in the last few years: The pencil marks still rise ever upward. The SC-68, scion of the upper-crust Elite line, uses a new generation of switching amplification Pioneer calls D3. And the feature roster is as long as a mobster’s rap sheet. It has virtually everything a receiver could possibly have, plus a few things no one but Pioneer has, such as AIR Studios Monitor Certification.

What stretches the distance between the pencil marks even farther is this receiver’s USB DAC, which can accept direct input from a computer, essentially turning the receiver into a 32-bit, 192-kilohertz, asynchronous, jitter-busting, digital-to-analog conversion machine, one that can turn a chaotically clocked bitstream into something musical. In theory, this might put Pioneer in the same category as the high-end USB component-DAC makers, and I can just hear those guys chiming in with something along the lines of “like hell it does.”

D to the Third Power
D3 is the third generation of Pioneer’s switching amplification strategy. Pioneer’s implementation of Class D, based on ICEpower modules, made its debut in the Elite SC-09TX, which cost $7,000 when Tom Norton reviewed it in 2008. Later and lower-priced versions went on to claim raves from Michael Fremer in 2009 in his review of the SC-07, and again in 2011 with the SC-57, which saw the first introduction of D3. Class D, in general, is more energy efficient than the Class AB used in most receivers because it dissipates less energy in the form of heat. Pioneer says D3 uses 44 percent less energy than its previous version of Class D, and 50 percent less than Class AB, while providing a wider dynamic range and supporting speaker impedances down to 4 ohms, even when more than one zone is operating. My review sample ran warm but not hot. The amp also benefits from a newly designed heat sink, discrete seven- and nine-channel inputs, and more direct signal paths, eliminating EMI filtering, feedback loops, impedance selectors, and current limiters. Pioneer says this reduces coloration, ringing, and noise, especially at high frequencies.

Just 7.25 inches tall, this 9.2-channel receiver is rated at 140 watts into 8 ohms with two channels driven. Surround is at heart a 5.1-channel medium, so you have two extra pairs of amp channels to play with, plus provision for a second sub. You might use the extra amp channels to run front-height and back-surround speakers simultaneously. But they have other potential uses, including biamplification of the front left/right channels and multiple zones. Mix and match to your heart’s content: This receiver will let you set up to 10 output configurations. And it facilitates multiple wiring schemes, with 11.2-channel preamp outs and 11 sets of binding posts. If you like having high def in more than one place, note that one of the four zones is associated with an HDMI output, another with component out, and two more with composite outs—so half the total is HD capable.

Most manufacturers say their products are great, but few can point to multiple sources of credible outside certification. The SC-68 is an exception: Pioneer’s top-end models are the only receivers “mastered,” as the company likes to say, at AIR Studios in London. That means the prototype’s sound was evaluated and tweaked by Sir George Martin’s henchmen until it earned AIR Studios Monitor Certification. The receiver is also THX Ultra2 Plus certified, meaning it can produce sound pressure levels of up to 105 decibels in a room of up to 3,000 cubic feet when mated with THX Ultra2–certified loudspeakers.

Though Pioneer rolls its own auto setup and room correction system, the resulting MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration) ranks with the best licensed competitors. This receiver lets you select Full Auto MCACC; Auto MCACC, which lets you customize some setup options; and Manual MCACC, which allows still more setup options for the advanced user. Running Full Auto MCACC will also invoke Pioneer’s Full Band Phase Control, which adjusts group delay in an attempt to keep your system’s unruly woofers and tweeters coordinated in the time domain. It can be switched on or off separately from MCACC using a dedicated remote button.

Want to get music from your smartphone or tablet into the receiver? Pioneer offers multiple wireless and wired paths. Prominent among them is Apple AirPlay. It’s oh so easy to use: Just enable Network Standby in the GUI. But you’re not limited to that. Pioneer now supports the HTC Connect standard for music streaming from HTC One smartphones, pushing album art and metadata to the video display. This receiver accommodates MHL (Mobile High-definition Link)–compatible devices via the front-panel HDMI jack—and it’s noteworthy that MHL has at least the potential to offer better-than-CD resolution. The receiver also offers Bluetooth support with the optional AS-BT100 adapter ($99). Note that many Apple devices support Bluetooth in addition to proprietary AirPlay. There’s also DLNA 1.5 support for a router-connected computer. If running an Ethernet cable to the receiver is inconvenient, get the optional AS-WL300 adapter (price knocked down from $149 to $129). It’ll be easier to configure if your router has WPS protection. Mine has old-fashioned WEP, so I settled for Ethernet.

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COMMENTS
leonardo's picture

Hi!
After reading this review I'd like to know if it's worth spending more on a Marantz AV7701 with a Parasound Halo A52 amplifier over the Pioneer SC68 alone (in 5.1 mode with front and surround or center bi-amp) to drive my future 5.1 home-theater... Will the sound quality be significantly different between the 2 setups?
I'm also undecided about speaker selection. For about the same cash what would you recommend: Klipsch RF7 II speaker system, Monitor Audio GX300 based system or a KEF R900 based system???
I NEED HELP!
THANKS!

kent harrison's picture

For you sir,i would go with monitor Audio gx-300 based system with sc-68,that receiver has everything you need.

Ndaggett's picture

I presently have an Anthem MRX-300 with an Epson 8500UB projector.

I dont believe Anthem is strong in the video processing area.. which has notable effects in my display..

Is the Pioneer better .. honestly.. I want an upgrade in video AND audio quality .. i dont want to sacrifice one for the other..

PLease advise,

Nathan

bellerbu's picture

Nice review, thanks. I'm wondering how the SC-68 might perform as a preamp? Would the top end likely improve since you're bypassing the D power amps?? I'm trying to decide on a preamp for my HT and am currently back and forth between the SC-68 and the Marantz av7701. I need the dual HDMI outs and like the other networking abilities of both. Any other recos are welcome, of course. Thanks again.

Evans's picture

Dear Mark many thanks for this excellent and helpful review. I have three questions:

1. I have three speakers (one center and two rear) from an Samsung all inclusive system (receiver plus dvd). I have kept the speakers because they are quite stylish and have not found "proper" replacements. The Samsung receiver was mentioning in it back something about having an output of 3 ohms. I assume thus that the Samsung speakers are 3 ohms each. I am using them with a Sony STR-DB-920 (which has a minimum setting of 4 ohms) and they play just fine (no smoke anywhere at the audio chain!). Do you think (no liability - my own risk etc) that I would have a problem attaching those speakers to the SC-68 (only one zone at the time, 5 speakers max)? Can I do something in order to further protect the system? (e.g. attach additional impedance on the cable?).

2. I have currently connected my pc to the DB-920 through the optical out of my soundblaster. Everything is rooted through this output, including multichannel sound which is recoded as Dolby Digital. If I attach the SC-68 as a usb sound card, will I be able to play directly multichannel sound? I cannot understand the mentioned restriction to flac / mp3 / wav etc. A normal soundcard would play everything as long as you have the proper codecs at a player level. Isn't this teh case with SC-68? What would happen if I open xbmc an play a dts file? Will I have to change the input to optical in? What about multichannel dff files? Can I play them the same way that I play other music on my pc?

3. Can I control the SC-68 with Android? I understand that there is an app for that.

Many thanks,

Evans

venkyla's picture

All,

We are trying to finalize between Elite SC-61, SC-63 or a Marantz 6007. We listen to stereo music as well as watch movies a lot.

What do you recommend? Please Advise.

Thanks,
Venky

venkyla's picture

Hi Friends,

Any update? Please let us know.

Thank,
Venky

gunbadlsi's picture

I enjoyed reading your post and found it to be useful and to the point. Thank you for not rambling on and on just to fill the page.
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vilgoolnes's picture

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Diagrafeas's picture

Is there something wrong with the graph?
Even the SC-61 one looks better.

Eladio's picture

I bought this Pioneer Elite SC-68 A/V Receiver
A few moths back how should I use it with or with out my power amp??
The amp is this The Signature MPA 5150 five-channel reference power amplifier. Any help would be greatly Appreciated.

RocketMan503's picture

How come Pioneer does not include HD Radio.

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