Pioneer Elite SC-61 A/V Receiver Page 2

Stop the presses and servers: New to this receiver is HTC Connect. Run a firmware update, and your HTC smartphone can stream music to the receiver via DLNA and your home network. The SC-61 does lack one significant feature introduced on the SC-68: a high-resolution digital-to-analog converter for the USB input, which would enable the receiver to get the best out of computer-fed high-resolution music files. Of course, at $2,500, the SC-68 sells for more than twice as much, but I can’t wait for this feature to trickle down.

Video processing is Marvell Qdeo, a usually excellent choice—see our Video Test Bench for results. For custom installation, the back panel has the usual suspects (RS-232, 12-volt trigger, IR remote). The SC-61 is hip to Crestron, AMX, Control4, Universal, Savant, and RTI whole- house systems.

While proprietary (as opposed to licensed) auto setup and room correction schemes sometimes provide poor results, Pioneer’s MCACC is world class. I set it up without incident aside from my usual switch to Small speakers and an 80-hertz crossover (I’m fussy that way).

Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers and Seismic 110 subwoofer with EQ turned off, an Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player—yes, it’s two generations ago, but the great thing about a long-term investment is that it keeps on ticking—a Lenovo Win7 laptop, and a Wadia 121 USB DAC. All movie demons (I meant to type demos, but the typo fits) were Blu-ray Discs with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. All music demos were high-resolution digital material of one kind or another.

Little Big Man
When I reviewed the SC-68—at more than twice the cost of the SC-61—I was wowed by its ability to handle challenging loads without clipping, its superior dynamic flow, its prodigious bass output, and its clean midrange. While the junior model isn’t as potent, it has much the same personality, with slightly scaled-down versions of the same characteristics, and still feels brawnier than most receivers I’ve listened to in its price range.

The Ridley Scott space epic Prometheus reaches for huge bass-heavy moments in both music and effects. While the SC-61 handily aced those thundering passages—and here I speak of both amplification above the sub crossover and the MCACC-sculpted subwoofer signal below it—the receiver was just as impressive when conveying more subtle bass effects, such as the constant low rumble of the spaceship heading into the unknown. The soundfield it conjured transcended the locations of speakers and easily dominated the room. It was a big, confident sound if not a terribly airy one.

Chernobyl Diaries—a pseudo-documentary exploration of lurking threats at the historic meltdown scene—stayed quiet most of the time. But when the effects struck, such as a bear attack, they were big and startling, arising out of almost dead silence and then just as suddenly falling back, a testament to the receiver’s dynamic potency: It can make big noises start and stop on a dime. In the Marilyn Manson song that runs over the end credits, the receiver extracted the frazzled vocal from the metallic shock-rock background, emphasizing the human element over the machine.

Headhunters is a Norwegian thriller, fast paced and full of plot twists, about a corporate recruiter cum art thief who meets his match in a demonic businessman. Even when the soundfield filled with low-level sounds, the Pioneer managed to sound big. It made subtle bass lines warm and deep, and bongos snapping through the soundfield were rhythmically exciting, offering further testimony to the receiver’s low-frequency control.

High-Res Perspectives
The arrival of the deluxe box set of King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic: the Complete Recordings was a big event in my household (it tormented my roommate for weeks). Steven Wilson’s 5.1-channel mix of the 1972 progressive-rock milestone is offered in uncompressed, lossless, and lossy versions; I chose uncompressed LPCM from the Blu-ray Disc. Welcome to wonderland, I thought, as Jamie Muir’s African thumb piano segued into a soundfield brimming with still more eccentric percussion instruments and suddenly erupting metal mayhem. The receiver’s top end was far from vague—David Cross’ violin was detailed and natural, and when Robert Fripp chose to have his guitar sting, it stung hard. Pioneer’s king-size soundfield combined with the sprawling surround mix to give this difficult masterpiece the giant canvas it has always craved.

John Coltrane’s Blue Train is a 24/192 download licensed by Blue Note to HDtracks. Per my usual habit, I switched back and forth between the MCACC room-corrected version and the pure direct analog version. It was a choice between brighter and tighter or warmer and larger. The use of an echo chamber was more audible on all instruments in the pure direct mode, and the bandleader’s tenor sax had more image size, body, and warmth in pure direct. The sax highlighted one odd imaging effect: MCACC tended to move it to the left. I confirmed this with headphones. The probable cause was my having set up MCACC in All Ch Adj mode, which treats each channel individually, versus the Symmetry mode, which balances frequency response in the two front channels. Symmetry is the default in MCACC setup; I should have stuck with it.

Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, as performed by Bernard Haitink and the London Symphony Orchestra, is a 24/48 download from the Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound. With the LSO’s bright canary-in-a-coal-mine string section, MCACC was brittle and smaller, whereas pure direct sounded more relaxed and larger. I preferred the latter. With his massive symphonic superstructures and dynamic tidal flows, Bruckner has to be big, and with no room-correcting wizardry standing between his score and the D3 amps, big is what I got. I’ve said MCACC is good, but good is not perfect, and the real test of a great amp is how it sounds au naturel. This receiver passes the test.

When Class D sounds this good, why would anyone stick with Class AB? Sentimentality, perhaps, coupled with a fear of change. The fear of change extends to a reviewer like me, and I also have to be concerned with what other people—specifically speaker manufacturers—would think of using Class D in a reference system. They might wonder whether the top end of their products is getting the best possible belt-and-suspenders demo. So the Pioneer Elite VSX-53, with Class AB, will continue to serve as my reference receiver indefinitely. However, if I were just a civilian designing a system for my own satisfaction, I might reach a different decision.

Someday we may look back on the emergence of D3 as a high-water mark in home theater technology. The Pioneer Elite SC-61 shows how well the technology scales from a hefty list price to a moderate one. For that alone, it would be worth studying—but what makes it worth buying is its strong performance, ability to run 4-ohm speakers, and comprehensive feature set. I have a feeling that very few people who approach this receiver with an open mind will find it wanting.

Audio editor Mark Fleischmann is also the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater (quietriverpress.com).

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COMMENTS
JustABrah's picture

Mark seeing how you reviewed all the Avrs I'm looking at can you tell me your favourite out of the bunch, I'm looking at the elite sc-61, cambridge 551R, Yamaha rx-a1020, Arcam 360 and an Anthem MRX, I don't listen loud my speakers are book shelves with a 86 sensitivity, with you hearing all of those would love your input.

FarmerBob's picture

I have the SC-61 twin, the SC-1222K, which replaced a VSX-D909S (which served me faithfully for 10 years) and having been a Pioneer man for decades, with 4 5.1 or better units installed in my home at this moment, the rack that the 1222 is in has a Pioneer 300 DVD player, Pioneer 100 CD player and one of the last LaserDisc player they made, but I now feel Pioneer just isn't what they use to be. I just installed a Yamaha RX-675 with a free Polk 5.1 speaker system for a friends Christmas gift and right out of the box it was amazing. It gave me great reason to seriously question my 1222. Matter of fact I am quite "bummed". I have had my SC-1222 for close to a year and hate it. The Yammi has far better/richer sound, input assignment capabilities and features than the Pioneer. From what I can find the only real differences are minor from the 61 and 1222 which is basically the Elite branding of Amber display with blue ringed power button and 12v triggers. Other than that, not much difference. I have been talking to Pioneer, when they chose to respond since problems started arising last Summer and it's not been pretty. At best they have been snotty and condescending. The last fix they had me try has left my 1222 with a popping sound every time it looses the HDMI connection on its own or you change inputs. Which is a lot. So for the price go Yamaha. I came from Yamaha, mostly production power amps and an occasional AVR to Pioneer, so going back is not that unnatural for me. I'm looking to replace the 1222/61 with an RX-775, or may wait and see what CES has to offer.

jwood314's picture

I am in the market for a new AVR, and I didn't have this one on the list. Amplifying the above comments, I would love to see the Denon AVR-3313CI and the Marantz SR 7/6007 comparison. Thanks for helping to illuminate these great products.

Pacman9270's picture

I just bought this AVR.a week ago. Have been loving it, upgrading from the Elite VSX40. Pushing DefTech ProCinema600 system. This review is the EXTRA cherry on top.

anakinskye's picture

I could be wrong but AIR Studios tuned Pioneer's second generation ICE Power amps too.

cwall99's picture

I just got the Pioneer Elite BDP-62 blu ray machine, and it seems like an ideal mate to this AVR (currently, I'm stuck in the stone ages with my VSX82-TXS, but I'm not feeling any compelling reason to get a new AVR). I downloaded that remote control app, and it's awesome, even for the limited use the bdp can take advantage of. It looks like an Elite AVR would be awesome to control with it.

Still, in the BDP's owner's manual, there may be a lot of slick, synergistic features that owners of both this AVR and my BDP could take advantage of. It would be interesting to read a review of this combo.

STSinNYC's picture

I have the Pioneer SC-1222, in nearly all respects the same as the SC-61, and I concur with Mark's review. Its a fine sounding AVR and seems to be well mated with our classic ADS 710 4 ohm speakers. The Sc-61/1222 handle 4 ohm speakers with no difficulty.

The iControl AV2012 app works very well on my Android phone FYI. The receiver also plays Ogg Vorbis files when the DirectShow codec has been installed in Windows and Windows Media Player "sees" and plays Ogg Vorbis files. No luck with Opus yet, haven't found a good codec for Opus for WMP.

Mark notes the MSRP of $1,100, same for both the SC-61 and 1222, but you can get the SC-1222 on Newegg for $550-600. I got ours for $550, no shipping charge, which for a receiver of this quality is a genuine great value.

alphonso's picture

Recently I purchased an OPPO BDP-103 unit, and with an initial run through of its features and performance, I can unquestionably say that this OPPO player is up to the Professional audio requirements and value for its money paid. It’s practical to have the added connection option of two HDMI outputs, one for my Projector and the other for my Plasma TV. The HDMI inputs are provided for connecting my Blu-ray, Set-Top Box and other HDMI equipped source components that can take advantage of the BDP-103's video processing and up-scaling abilities.

OPPO is the very few that definitely does not scrimp on connections, such as the inclusion of a set of 5.1/7.1 channel analog audio outputs for use with compatible older Home Theater receivers that may not have latest decoders. This 5.1/7.1 channel analog audio outputs connection option actually has been removed from almost all other Blu-Ray disc players in the market. This high quality audio playback features 2D/3D Blu-Ray disc, DVD, SACD, DVD Audio and CD playback. It also, has a built-in network connectivity which can access media content from both the internet and DLNA connected PCs and other devices.
Alphonso Soosay
www.alphonsosoosay.com

alphonso's picture

A speaker system that is solid, smooth and polished as the sculpted marble that houses it. The NOrh Marble 9.0 Stereo Loudspeaker System is different from every other speaker system I have ever worked with, and you will notice that difference the
moment you see it, it’s housed in a single block of sculpted marble in the shape of a traditional Thai drum.
It is the quality of the marble (or rather, its resonance) combined with its shape, and the electronics, that has made the NOrh Marble 9.0 the amazing phenomenon that it is. Despite the pure marble (all 72kgs of it.), the high performance drivers, the unique acoustic design, and the sheer elegance it exudes in any living room, it compares with some of the best high-end systems I know and it costs a lot less. I must admit I was a little sceptical at first. The loudspeaker industry is full of smart systems that look better than they sound and for a moment I wondered whether marble was just another “look good” gimmick. As an audio recording engineer, I have always tended to believe that while speaker housings do matter, one has to consider other key factors such as the combination of audio speaker components and the crossover itself. Let’s face it, we all know that the finest recordings encoded on the most advanced home storage devices (Blu-ray, DVD, DAT or CD) that is played back through a top grade, high current amplifier can sound dreadful if the audio system is hooked up to a poor quality speaker system.
The speaker system produced a very balanced stereo image with negligible harmonic distortion. The dynamic range was overwhelming again; vocal performance
was remarkably natural with low coloration. I noticed that male voices had
extra definition, which made diction more precise; it gave the music a quality of
vitality and excitement, well balanced and fatigue-free.
The bright side was that the better the recording (Blu-ray concerts, SACD & DDD), the more realistic it sounded. Also, it was equally responsive while watch a movie on Blu-ray disc to quiet sounds like rustling leaves, dripping water, clinking jewellery and rustling paper. Effects you expect only in cinemas are now available in your own home when watching a Blu-ray and DVD movies.
The imaging on 9.0’s is spot on to an extent that I could point my finger to where the actor, musician and singers were standing. The sense of detail was accurate.
Alphonso Soosay
www.alphonsosoosay.com

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