Pioneer Elite SC-68 A/V Receiver Page 2

If you want to be liberated from the traditional remote control—the one included is barely acceptable—Pioneer offers the iControlAV2012 app, which covers both Pioneer’s receivers and its Blu-ray players. One especially cool feature enables adjustment of front-to-back and side-to-side balance by tilting the device. The Air Jam app promotes interactive play among up to four music lovers. Note that these apps are available for both iOS and Android devices. Users of Windows computers (remember those?) can use Advanced PC Setup to set up the receiver and control many of its functions remotely. Custom interfaces are covered via AMX, Control4, Crestron, RTI, Savant, and Universal Remote Control.

Better Sound From Computers
Stop the presses and the servers: The SC-68 is the world’s first receiver with an asynchronous DAC (digital-to-analog converter) capable of supporting direct USB input from a computer. Of course, receivers have sported sophisticated silicon—in this case, a pair of Texas Instruments Aureus chips with resolution of 32 bits and sampling rate of 192 kHz—for a long time to support surround codecs, bass management, room correction, and myriad other functions. But thanks to advances in digital audio processor technology and the availability of high-resolution downloads, the keen-eared listener has a new incentive to get the receiver on speaking terms with a PC or Mac. Pioneer rises to the moment by devoting a back-panel USB-DAC input to the job. Just spin the front-panel input select knob, and there it is. The computer must have a USB 2.0 bus, though this version has appeared in computers from 2000 onward so there’s a good chance yours has this. To obtain resolution above 24/48, install the exclusive driver from the supplied CD-R.

Now, computers tend to make lousy audio sources. They’re often so unsuitable for playback of high-resolution content that they practically negate the purpose of buying it. Besides being cumbersome objects, they tend to multitask, resulting in jitter— with audible timing errors in the bitstream. The receiver’s asynchronous DAC wrestles the clocking function away from the PC and cleans up the sound considerably. Even plain ol’ MP3s benefit—but what’s especially gratifying is that you can now use the computer to download lossless FLAC or uncompressed WAV files, play them on the computer itself, and hear the benefit of their higher resolution on your primary theater speakers. The DAC offers the option of requantizing 16-, 20-, and 24-bit material to 32 bits to achieve what the manual calls “smoother, more subtle musical expression.” Its digital filter can be set as follows: “slow (soft and warm), sharp (solid and tight), and short (quick and forward).” You can easily toggle these two functions on or off via remote buttons. All my demos used 32-bit requantization and the slow mode, Pioneer’s default settings.

Incidentally, Pioneer also offers a proprietary PQLS jitter reduction circuit for an HDMI-connected Pioneer Blu-ray player. It applies to both stereo and surround signals, and once again, a button on the remote lets you A/B it.

Via USB, the receiver supports FLAC, WAV, MP3, WMA, and various iPod formats. Via network, the list also includes LPCM. FLAC and WAV are both supported at 192 kHz. The front USB jack accepts direct dockless plug-in of all but the oldest iPads, iPhones, and iPods. Interestingly, in another industry first for AVRs, the USB jack also accepts the

DSD DFF files that give the Super Audio CD its high resolution. Legal DFF downloads are available from a few small music labels such as Blue Coast, Channel Classics, and 2L. It’s also possible to rip SACDs to DFF, FLAC, or WAV if you have the appropriate third-party software.

Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers, a Paradigm Seismic 110 sub, Oppo BDP-83 universal disc player, Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable, Shure M97xE phono cartridge, and Onix OA 21s integrated amp serving as phono preamp. The primary PC was a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 14 Win7 laptop with 4 GB of RAM and a 320-GB 7,200-rpm hard drive. Music player software included Foobar 2000 (freeware) for high-resolution files and Windows Media Player for others. All movie demos were on Bluray Disc.

Statuesque
You’re probably wondering how this D3 receiver differs from Pioneer’s Class AB models, including the Elite VSX-53 that recently joined my reference system. It does sound different and, in many respects that matter, better. In a nutshell: The top end has marginally less air, but the middle and bottom frequencies are much better defined and more dynamically assured, with stronger weight and superior structure. If these receivers were statues, the D3 model would have more muscle over a more substantial skeleton but just a little less refinement in the bone structure of the face; while the Class AB model would have more soulful and communicative facial features but less muscle definition and bone density below the neck. Weighted in terms of importance on a scale of 1 to 10, the top-end characteristic is a 2, while the mid- and lower-frequency characteristics are together an 8. In other words, the mid/low beneaththe-neck stuff makes a bigger difference and to me is well worth the trade-off. As a practical matter, if you like dynamically wide movie soundtracks and rock ’n’ roll, D3 is for you. But it is not a one-trick pony: It is balanced enough to do everything at a high level of competence.

Super 8 is a darker and more turbulent rewrite of E.T. with Steven Spielberg participating as producer and J.J. Abrams scripting and directing. Starting with a prolonged train wreck, it’s loaded with serious mayhem and dramatic dynamic challenges. The more I listened to this relentless barrage, the more the receiver impressed me. Not only did it play apocalyptically yet palatably loud—it played loud in a wide range of ways, revealing a surprising wealth of dynamic gradations. These gradations were integrated into a discernible dynamic flow, like dots on a line, and the receiver maintained iron control of this dynamic arc to an unusual degree. It also made me forget where the speakers were sitting, as though it had waved a magic wand and bidden them to disappear, replacing them with a large and well-integrated soundfield.

Once in a while, the receiver’s top end bordered on antiseptic. In Gone, with Amanda Seyfried hunting (and being hunted by) a serial killer, strings were bland and elusive. Yet I had little else to complain of: Dialogue, bass control, and other performance parameters were spot on. And the dynamic flow that had wowed me in the previous demo remained. About halfway in, I chastised myself for being too analytical, listening too hard, and then let the movie carry me away.

Intruders is a psychological thriller with Clive Owen stalking (and being stalked by) a malevolent supernatural presence. Here there was more activity in the upper mids and highs, and the receiver responded accordingly. The strings had more of an edge, though they lacked the nth degree of refinement. The soundfield was smaller, but more specific, than in the previous two demos.

Vinyl and Beyond
My relationship with the SC-68 was still in the getting-to-know-you phase when I played an old cutout LP of Bryan Ferry’s underrated masterpiece The Bride Stripped Bare—originals and covers recorded when he was feeling raw, Jerry Hall just having dumped him for Mick Jagger—but the results were too good to omit. The rhythm section grabbed me. It was fully developed and lacked nothing, giving the monster groove of “Take Me to the River” an irresistible flow (that word again). This vindicated the MCACC-sculpted bass management as much as the amp’s inherent strength. I toggled MCACC to make sure of it. Waddy Wachtel’s electric guitars, which make the album so bravely un-Roxy, had as much snap and crackle as my phono cartridge would allow.

Most of the formal music listening demos focused on the USB DAC. Some of these demos were marred by glitching, especially with 192-kHz material. This turned out to be partly a buffering problem: Increasing the buffer size in Foobar 2000 helped. But to eliminate it entirely, I had to install a virgin USB cable with a ferrite-core noise suppressor.

The HDtracks releases of Blue Note classics in 24/192 include some of the most mind-blowing high-resolution content that’s come my way. In Horace Silver’s Song for My Father, the high-resolution DAC and content maximized the texture and solidity of every instrument. Saxes and horns maintained their velvety feel even as they pushed at the outer edges of the dynamic envelope. Silver’s Hammond was mellifluous yet solid. Drums and bass were leaner and tighter in MCACC mode, but fuller and stronger in Pure Direct, and I came to prefer the latter.

The USB DAC and D3 amps could be a jaw-droppingly powerful combination. In the first seconds of Larry Young’s Unity, the drums—though limited to the right speaker—practically floored me, punching through with powerful bass weight and crisp transient response, both meaty and snappy. Donning AKG K240 headphones for a few minutes, I found that the Pioneer makes a fine headphone amp, with good imaging and sometimes surprising depth perception: I could perceive the distance of cymbals from the mike, but they lost little of their authentic metallic sheen. All of this was a tribute to Rudy Van Gelder’s original engineering jobs, his transfers of his own tapes to an ultra-high-resolution medium, and what I now recognized as the receiver’s dynamic and tonal virtuosity. Kudos to HDtracks for doing high resolution right. Kudos to Pioneer for letting me hear the difference.

Among a half-dozen orchestral selections, the standout was Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony with Bernard Haitink conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (24/48, B&W Society of Sound). The receiver’s wide dynamic capability was tailor-made for Bruckner’s massive architecture and surging waves. I could play it pretty loud with minimal fatigue—though the room-corrected presentation was thinner, harder, and less palatable than the Pure Direct presentation, without room correction, Phase Control, or bass management. The lack of bass management was never a deal breaker thanks to the receiver’s potent bass response. It gave the Paradigms’ 7-inch aluminum woofers a good kick.

When not luxuriating in high resolution, I used a few other forms of network connectivity for background listening. AirPlay required me to enable Network Standby in the receiver GUI, then select the SC-68 as a playback source on my iPod touch. DLNA functioned with two different router-connected computers using both wired and wireless connections—the latter was a first for me. The SC-68 detected my WinXP desktop PC via Ethernet, and once I OK’d the receiver as a media-sharing device at the PC end, the receiver could pull music off the PC’s hard drive. The receiver also detected a Win7 laptop linked to the router via Wi-Fi. This time the process was automatic—I didn’t have to OK media sharing in Win7. It just worked. In either case, the lower-quality lossy portions of my music library sounded as good as they could within their inherent limitations.

While I didn’t spend a lot of time making direct Class D versus Class AB comparisons between the SC-68 in the guest-receiver berth and the Pioneer Elite VSX-53 in the reference-receiver berth, I did play the entirety of Keith Jarrett’s Solo Concerts (LP) on the SC-68, a few weeks after playing it on the VSX-53. At first the SC-68 seemed to have both firmer bass and a cruder top end. But as I cruised to the Bremen concert encore, halfway through the set, some things had happened: The SC-68 and phono preamp warmed up and the top-end distinction diminished. By the time the Lausanne concert was under way—different recording, different hall, possibly different piano—the topend distinction diminished further, almost to the vanishing point, leaving the SC-68’s firmer bass as the one distinction of which I was absolutely certain. I could have spent weeks and weeks pursuing this.

If I were to live with the SC-68—and I could easily do so—I’d use MCACC and all the trimmings for the studio-constructed soundscapes of movies and rock, but my default mode for classical and jazz would be Pure Direct, which is more of a viable choice with great-sounding amplification. Which this receiver has. And I’m willing to underscore the point. With sentence fragments. To make sure you notice.

The Pioneer Elite SC-68 is not only a great audio/video receiver but a milestone in the growth of the product category. It’s the first AVR to include a highquality USB DAC and would be memorable for that alone. If you want to listen to high-resolution audio files through a receiver as they’re meant to be heard without a fancy standalone DAC, this is the only game in town. The D3 amplification is dynamically compelling and well rounded in other performance parameters. If you approach it without preconceptions, it’ll treat you right.

This receiver is not for everyone: More than most, Pioneer tends to favor the advanced user over the newbie, opting for versatility over simplicity whenever faced with the choice. But surround sophisticates will love toggling the receiver’s room correction, Phase Control, DAC controls, and other modes for the vast array of content that this receiver can support through its numerous wired and wireless connectivity options. If AVRs were people, this one would be part Muhammad Ali, part Albert Einstein.

COMPANY INFO
ARTICLE CONTENTS
Share | |
COMMENTS
snorene's picture

WOW. Drool Drool Drool...not sure about the WF (Wife Factor)...

Rob Sabin's picture
This is the second year in a row we've favorably reviewed the third generation Class D amp design from Pioneer (which they call D3), and I'm convinced that, short of some extremely high end examples of the breed, this is probably the best full-range Class D amplification we've come across. Both our reviewers -- Michael Fremer last year and Mark Fleischmann this year -- described the sonic character the same way: extremely tight and authoritative on the bottom, solid and natural through the midrange, and perhaps just a little high end air sacrificed on the top. Good imaging, too. You throw in all the kitchen sink features that Pioneer is known for, and you really have a winner. We just requested the SC-61 for review, which is their "entry" Elite Class D receiver at $1,100, to see how that one fares. Anybody out there own one of these D3 amps from last year or this year? Curious to hear what the long term listenability has been and whether you like it...
GreyJoy's picture

I own the Elite SC-57, well atleast until yesterday. I sold it and picked up an sc-68 after reading this review. I loved everything about the Sc-57. The sound was just amazing. I had it paired up with the Jamo D600 THX ultra 2 system( I think home theater.com needs to review this system :) ). In fact, i just opened up my SC-68, will give you guys a comparison in about 2-3 days.

Rob Sabin's picture
...and thanks for the comments. Good to know we're not out of our minds! :-) Good tip on the Jamo's too -- we're overdue to do one of their systems so we'll put this on on the candidates list...
rwlincoln's picture

I just picked up the SC-55. I've used air play, iPod connected through the usb (better) and an older CD player as sources.

Not quite satisfied, I started looking at ways to use the other lossless codecs supported by the SC-55 via network streaming.

I'm now using the JRiver Media Center software to manage and stream flac and wav files to the SC-55 from my laptop. The sound is AMAZING. Love it.

Downloaded the HDtracks sampler pack. It is a great introduction to their extremely high quality tracks. Their process makes a huge difference in the detail that you hear.

RocketMan503's picture

It seems almost every receiver in this price range has HD radio, except for the Pioneer. It's a feature I would like to have and am leaning against this receiver because of that. Am I crazy?

DefTechFan's picture

Mark, do you foresee more impedance options becoming mainstream or available to low/mid-level home theater products with the integration of more Class D amplification? I am still newer to home theater but have been a car audiophile for a while and have always enjoyed the numerous power options available. Is my perception that it is cheaper for a manufacturer to make an amplifier with lower impedance incorrect? To power a car audio subwoofer at 8 ohms would be much more costly for me to power than 4 ohms - what am I missing?

Mark Fleischmann's picture
The press release for this product makes two points about impedance: The SC-68 supports lower impedances. And it refrains from using impedance switching to allow a more direct signal path. Your latter questions are interesting and I'll pose them to the manufacturer -- Pioneer makes car audio as well as home theater products. If I get a response I'll post it here. Thanks for asking interesting questions!
DefTechFan's picture

Thanks for the reply Mark. Now it's time to do what the first commenter said and start kissing up to my wife so she eventually sees reason - that it's time to upgrade receivers and it will benefit her as well :)

rightslot's picture

Mark,

Please tell me where you rate this in relation to the Arcam AVR600 or 400.

I'm in the market and REALLY don't have money to throw away.

The reviews on the Arcam stuff is over the top! And until I read this, I would not have ever CONSIDERED the Pioneer. That takes me back to my early days of stereo. Pioneer, Kenwood, Sansui and the like.

But names don't really mean anything. It's performance that counts. Being able to listen and enjoy for long hrs at a time.

Do you think this Pioneer has sonics like the Arcam?

Help,

Thanks!

Mark Fleischmann's picture
A vs. B questions are hard to answer because usually they've never been in my listening room at the same time and often their visits are spaced far apart. However, since you mentioned the Arcam AVR600, I am compelled to answer -- because it is one of the two best receivers I've ever heard. The only thing as good was the Rotel RSX-1065 which I used as my reference receiver for eight years until its lack of HDMI became an issue. What the Arcam and Rotel had in common (I use the past tense because the Rotel is long gone) is definitive top-to-bottom performance, acing pretty much every parameter, and with the kind of bass and dynamics you'd expect in an outboard surround amp but rarely get in a receiver. The Pioneer has the same dynamics -- which is saying something -- but not the top-end tonal purity of either the Arcam or the Rotel. See my above-the-neck metaphor. However, the Pioneer is the only receiver I've ever heard that approximately matches the dynamics of the Arcam and the Rotel, and that's progress. The Arcam AVR400 is less powerful than all of the above though it still sounded golden with my speakers, which are of average sensitivity and not a hard load to drive. Note that the AVR600 is $5000, twice the cost of the Pioneer and the Rotel, so these comparisons are somewhat Godzilla-vs.-Bambi.
tommygunz's picture

Hello Mark, what is your thoughts on the SC09 in comparison to the Arcam 600? I have a chance at both, and I would love some good feed back regarding these two from your perspective.

Thank you kindly.
Tom.

Jonasandezekiel's picture

Mark or Rob,
I'm a little confused about the somewhat higher-than-usual distortion percentage in the frequency response. The previous generation measured significantly lower in distortion, bottoming out at a very impressive < .002%, where this receiver strangely stops at around .04%. Is that a big deal? Any ideas why it would behave so differently? The entire trace on the graph looks strange to me, unlike any Pioneer class D I've ever seen. I would be interested to hear what you think
Thanks.

Rob Sabin's picture
I have a possible explanation for this: when we reviewed the first D3 receiver last year, Pioneer told us that one of the significant developments contributing to its advance in sound quality was that they had waited two years since the last iteration for the release of a new ultra-fast switching device that allowed them to virtually eliminate negative feedback from the circuit topology. Negative feedback is commonly used to keep distortion in check, so this change in design may have contributed to a slight uptick in distortion levels at certain frequencies vs the previous generation. However, I can tell you that anything less than 1% distortion is nothing to be concerned about, which is why we flag power output in our bench tests at .1% and 1% distortion. So .04% is just a little more than nothing, and not even half of .1%. If you look below at the power output numbers on this amp (with a 1KHz test signal), you can see that it kicked some serious butt, even with 7 of the 9 channels being fully driven (7 is the max we can test in the lab right now).

The other thing that contributed significantly to the sound quality was the involvement of the personnel at Sir George Martin's AIR Studios, who consulted on the sonics throughout the development.

Two channels driven continuously into 8-ohm loads:
0.1% distortion at 144.5 watts
1% distortion at 191.6 watts

Five channels driven continuously into 8-ohm loads:
0.1% distortion at 92.3 watts
1% distortion at 138.8 watts

Seven channels driven continuously into 8-ohm loads:
0.1% distortion at 90.0 watts
1% distortion at 113.8 watts

Jonasandezekiel's picture

Rob,
Thanks for the reply. Yes, its definitely true. Even the best sounding tube amplifiers have higher distortion than the Pioneer, and MANY audiophiles wax poetic about their virtues. (Unfortunately, I haven't heard a single one.) So, I'm more than willing to give it a listen when I can, as I'm looking to replace my first generation class D SC-09. I was just surprised to see the change in response of that one parameter, where the SC-57 absolutely excelled.

This begs another question: How does it compare to my first gen SC-09? Certainly less power, but the sonics? Any thoughts on that as well?
Thanks again.
Jerry

rightslot's picture

Thanks Mark for your reply about the Pioneer vs Arcam.

I'm going for the Arcam ~~ wih some fear ~~

Do you think they've cleared up the problems/bugs??

Goyoishere's picture

I own the Arcam 600. I have been using it for a about 1.5 years now. In regards to questions about bugs, yes for the most part everyting has been cleared up. There are still some minor things that still need to be resolved but otherwise it's been an amazing receiver. The only major caveat I have is the fan which is loud for my taste. However, when running 120 watts to each of 7 channels it's not surprising.
All this being said if I was buying a one today, in addition to this Pioneer, and if you are considering spending 5k, I would give a listen to the new NAD receivers, as well as the Anthems before making a final decision.

adamwwa's picture

What's about this Pioneer vs Marantz Sr7007 especially in midrange and bass quality? This year I had audtiton Pioneer SCLX56(Europen model) and it's sounds realy bright... A bit similar to Yamaha RX-A2010/3010 which I have and can't stand it any more...

Last thing about class D, Did you test it with demanding speakers like Sonus Faber? What's about volume control? How much do you need to increase volume to get full sound?

Jonasandezekiel's picture

From my experience. I think that class D has a much better bottom end and midrange, that's basically what the review talks about. That's one of the strengths of the topology over A/B. The imaging and sound are more spacious, dramatic and powerful. Great for home theater.

DomO's picture

I have a dumb question re the USB DAC input. This receiver, as all other AVRs, already has a DAC for all incoming digital audio signals. So what's the significance of the USB DAC? If it weren't there, the incoming USB signal would have to pass through the "regular" DAC anyway, right?

Thanks.

Spirit's picture

Hi Mark:
I am brand new to the Hometheater.com.
I am intrigued by your comments about DSD capabilities for this receiver, and I was wondering if you could clarify:
DSD Direct is normal for DSD-capable receivers for some time now. You set the SACD/universal player for either PCM or SACD (DSD)via its HDMI output. However, if this Pioneer receiver can also do DSF and DFF files via DoP then this is indeed a first for the AVR category. Can you confirm that this can be accomplished?

Skillman's picture

Mark or Rob:

I have heard various versions of MCACC's ability to calibrate subwoofers. Some said it cannot whereas some (including Mike in his review of the SC-57) have said it does a fantastic job. Which is it? can you clarify, please? Also, how does the SC-61 compare with the SC-57 (the 68 is out of my budget). Thank you!

no-h2o's picture

Hi Mark,
Great review! I just removed my beloved RSX-1065 from my HT room and replaced it with a SC-1527, which is a Canada only SC-65 minus the elite badge. I had thought of using it as a pre-amp along with the RSX and my RB-1070, but the low end grunt and killer mid range has won me over. It mates with my Atlantic Technology 4400 system beautifully. I was worried that running dual subs would confuse the MCACC, but alas, the software is up to the task. My only gripe is when using zone 2 to drive my AE109 speakers, you must turn off the HT zone, which is speaker selection A, from the front panel. If not, your HT room ends up playing the same source, at the same volume level, as your zone 2 (speaker B) room. From my experiments, and I'm only one week in with the Pioneer, I'll fix this by utilizing an outboard 2 channel amp for zone 2, which leaves me a pair of unused D3 amp channels, being that my HT room is 7 channels. Maybe I'll return it & pick up the SC-63, which as you know is a 7.2 piece. I'm looking forward to your review of the SC-61 also. Keep up the great work guys !!

kent harrison's picture

I have sc-37 it has more power then sc-68 or sc-57 according to home theater stats,only reason for me get the new for 4kby2k tv's whenever they come out,so what about the Denon 4520ci it has great features too,i have 600 series BW's towers and bookshelves speakers,for now im not changing anything.

Tom1234's picture

hi
nice review. can you point in the manual where the bass management with specified crossover FQs are mentioned ??
Didn't find any
also after an auto MACC, can I still determine manually for each speakers, the crossover pt ? as with Yamaha receivers for instance
Manuals for these "hot gas plants" those receivers are should include much more OSD screenshots rather than badly written litterature...

thanks !
Tom

Cad Pi's picture

Thank you for the review. I am looking for a receiver and this will be my first foray into the Relatively midrange realm. I was originally only into music, but with a family now, my new system must incorporate movies etc.

I have crunched it down to the Yamaha Aventage and the Pioneer SC-67,68. I have finally decided upon the Pioneer SC-67 mainly because of the AIR certification and video upscaling, but I would like to know what is the major difference between the SC-68 and the SC-67?

Where I live there is a $500-$700 difference between the two systems but I would like to know if anyone has heard a major difference between the two.

Thanks

kent harrison's picture

The thx-mode on square feet and the dacs

kent harrison's picture

The thx-mode on square feet and the dacs and also bi-amping front and rear speakers.

kent harrison's picture

The thx-mode on square feet and the dacs and also bi-amping front and rear speakers and center.

Cad Pi's picture

Thank you so much for the response. I think that the question that comes to mind now is whether this difference is worth $500-$700? I can get a relatively good deal from the list price of $2000 for the SC-67 (I have seen $1200 online), but would I be better off going all out for the SC-68? Admittedly I am a Newbie at this and I have not had a stereo system at all in over 4 years since doing a rebuild on my house.

With kids and the hope of having a system for the next 5-10 years am I missing anything that only a High End person would be able to tell the difference? I am resigned to pouring most of my remaining funds into the Receiver and TV, both of which have not yet been purchased.

When I checked the single page spec sheets, apart from what you have mentioned earlier, there seems to be only a few power points separating the two systems. 770 w vs 810 w multichannel. Again, is that worth the money?

Thanks again.

(Mythos fronts, M&K surround back, Martin Logan Dyn 500 subw).
(TV pending, Receiver Pending).

Pages

X
Enter your Sound & Vision username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading
setting var node_statistics_99337