Pioneer Elite SC-71 AV Receiver Page 2

The Package (Blu-ray, Dolby TrueHD) pits action man Steve Austin against action man Dolph Lundgren. Result: action. An especially balletic and orgiastic gunfight early in the movie established the receiver’s dynamic credentials. MCACC focused the soundfield, especially in the front of the room, without causing any gross timbral changes—unlike most other room-correction systems, which in my experience generally make the sound brighter. Not surprisingly, bass also benefited, giving the soundtrack’s occasional low synth tones good weight with clean tone and no obvious bloat.

House of Cards (streaming, Dolby Digital Plus) dines out on dialogue, and the Pioneer adroitly handled both the appetizers (low-voiced conspiratorial scenes) and the main courses (negotiations, tirades, speeches). The sonorous opening theme, with its lonely trumpet soaring over the majestic District of Columbia cityscape, sounds gorgeous and powerful even through my little Audioengine 2 TV speakers—but played through this superb amp and my reference speakers, its reverberant beauty took on a life of its own, oddly complementing the cynical drama with a sense of wonder. Season 2 became available for streaming on February 14.

The 2013 DTS Demo Disc (Blu-ray) is a DTS-HD Master Audio feast. The movie section kicks off with the flaming-forest scene from The Hunger Games. The Pioneer easily filled the soundfield with all-channel upper- and midbass roar. Scenes from Snow White & the Huntsman, Prometheus, The Cave, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 showed off the receiver’s ability to deal with complex directional information. Singin’ in the Rain, with Gene Kelly performing the title song and dance, had the Pioneer changing gears for a vintage warm analog feel—not exactly what you’d expect from a switching amp. The DTS disc’s music section leans heavily on live recordings. The one that popped this time was a version of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” with the D3 amp doing full justice to its monster beat and syncopated bass line.

Big MCACC Attack
Symphonic music is always the canary in the coalmine. And so a CD of Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7, with Joshua Bell conducting the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, was the demo least flattering to MCACC. Here’s where the blandness and opacity I referred to earlier finally became noticeable. When I turned off the room correction, the presence region gained detail and the midbass thickened pleasingly—and these improvements were helpful enough to offset a small decline in imaging. When I turned off the separately adjustable phase control (a Pioneer exclusive), there was a faint coarsening of tone, but it wasn’t a major change. Incidentally, it was possible to turn off MCACC and the phase control using dedicated remote buttons while keeping bass management. With most receivers, the easiest way to defeat room correction is to use the pure direct mode, but that usually shuts down the subwoofer. With a Pioneer receiver, you can kill the EQ and keep the sub.

Having determined that the D3 amp sounded great without room correction, I decided to let it fly solo for the high-rez download demos using FLAC files from HDtracks. In Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter (96/24), the familiar deep, breathy voice imaged into a glowing, almost physical presence without manipulation. I own this recording on LP and CD and know the lush textures of Joe Boyd’s loving production well—but with this combination of high-rez content and receiver, I’ve never heard it so unveiled, its layers so well balanced and placed, with the rich voice soaring over them. This is the only Drake album where the acoustic guitar is sometimes in danger of drowning amid busy piano and other parts. Not this time: The guitar was well articulated and rhythmically taut, and it kept its head above the surface, as always the ideal counterpoint to the haunting voice.

Likewise, I’ve got the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five on ‘wax’ and shiny discs and have heard it innumerable times at trade shows. Via D3, the high-rez version (176.4/24) offers more of the delicate harmonic detail in the piano, a well-integrated tap-and-shimmer on the cymbals, and (with bass management but no EQ) good weight for the string bass as well as the drum solo’s mighty echoing thunks. In my review of the SC-68—my first shot at a D3 receiver—I felt that the top end was marginally less refined than the bottom. But having spent more time with the technology, and having access to high-rez downloads, I’m letting go of those doubts. This is a great-sounding receiver by any criterion.

While Pioneer isn’t the only AVR manufacturer to replace Class AB amps with Class D, it’s the only one doing so on a large scale, with all of its $1,000-plus models now using the new technology. And the results are excellent. The more of these products I hear, the better I like their assured dynamics and what I now perceive as their top-to-bottom clarity. Give the Elite SC-71 a listen and hear the D3 difference for yourself.

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

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COMMENTS
utopianemo's picture

Mark, excellent review! I am thinking about purchasing this very model. My other choice is the comprably-priced Marantz. In general, how would you characterize the sonic characteristics of these D3 Elites to the Marantz receivers?

Mark Fleischmann's picture
I haven't had them together in the same room at the same time, but my recollection is that Pioneer has the edge in dynamics, while Marantz has a slightly more open top end. I assume you're referring to the Marantz SR7008, the last Marantz I've reviewed.
javanp's picture

I wonder if they'll start releasing stand-alone amps. If they can put out a $1,000 receiver with these specs, I can't help but think they'd do well releasing the same amplifier in its own chassis for just a little less money.

Mark Fleischmann's picture
This is a great idea -- but if Pioneer decided to build D3 into a muscle amp, it should probably be modeled on the Elite SC-79, its top of the line receiver, rated at 150 into 8 ohms with 2 ch driven. That model costs $3000; an amp-only product at half the price would be an amazing value. Also, an amp-only product wouldn't have the design limitations of an AVR, so Pioneer might use it as an opportunity to provide even more power. Killer product, it ever happens. Just speculating.
VidioCat_80's picture

The sound part of the review was very good, but it is an audio-video receiver. Note the video part. There was really no mention of the video performance in the review. That is like giving a review of a new car saying that it looks great and sounds great at idle but never saying anything about how it performs when it is being driven. When Home Theater was taken over by Sound and Vision I was concerned that the video would get second seat in the reviews and it looks like my concerns are valid. This is a very incomplete review of what may be a very good receiver, but without the video part of the review it is not very useful.

javanp's picture

Click on "test bench", and scroll down to the video test benchmarks.

Mark Fleischmann's picture
Please click ahead to the fourth page (labeled Test Bench). It includes the results of 10 video tests by Tom Norton, our video technical editor. Tom also bestows the Video Performance star rating on the first page of the review. This has been our procedure for years, predating the name change from Home Theater to Sound & Vision.
VidioCat_80's picture

I saw the little line with the video test results for the receiver before I wrote the comment. Almost all of the review was about the sound with only that small line about the video. If there had been a paragraph of two about the video that would have been something. The sound part was very well reviewed, but the video part was ignored except for that one small part in the last page of the review. I stand by what I said before. The review was only half done and not very useful because it failed to review the video section in any detail.

jcm2128's picture

Although AVR includes the word "video" I think it's fair to state that many people buy higher end AVRs for their sound characteristics, room correction, networking, and features other than video processing/up-scaling which is a function already incorporated into display devices. Nearly all content is available in 1080p and the people who care about video quality will purchase or rent Blu-rays over DVDs and stream HD instead of standard resolution. All newer receivers should be able pass an unaltered HDMI signal and switch between video sources. The lack of a detailed qualitative review of an AVR's video capabilities seems appropriate.

Rob Sabin's picture
Although perhaps a more extended comment would be in order in the video Test Bench section, I've never felt the need to report on video performance in running text in AVR reviews beyond the benchmark tests we do. Our primary purpose in testing the video in an AVR is to insure that it "does no harm" in performing its switching function. Those that contain processors may have a scaling function that might be useful to some users attaching older standard definition sources, and more advanced units may offer some degree of video adjustments dedicated to each source that can be further helpful in optimizing legacy sources. Perhaps a line about these capabilities would be approriate in the main text. We do check the scaling with our video test benchmark testing, and comment only when there are issues. You'll also find that the Video star rating is usually reflective of what we find in the VTB. In this case, the SC-71 was perfect but for some stumbling on our standard defiinition 2:2 cadence testing, which reflects how well the unit locks on to the unusual frame sequencing that is sometimes encountered in video-based (vs film-based) source material (concert DVDs may be one example). We test for it to be thorough, but the result is nearly inconsequential in real world use, and it is a very common failure among both pass-through devices like this and in displays. Hence, the SC-71 lost a half star for not doing something right that nearly all AVRs get wrong. The more critical thing we look out for in an AVR or any switching device is video clipping, in which the above white and below black portion of signals are filtered out by the device under test. Theoretically, video material is not supposed to contain above white or below-black information, and this is also relatively inconsequential in real world viewing. However, clipping above white can cause the occassional bright scene that does contain above white info to lose some of its highlights, and there's just no good reason to set a processor to clip. So we penalize for it, and often work with manufacturers during the course of the evaluation to acquire a firmware update to fix this. Examples include the Krell Foundation prepro (published in our April print issue and soon to appear online) and our recent review of the Nuforce prepro, for which we issued a conditional pass (5-star) video rating based on updated firmware we are about to receive that is said to resolve the issue.

VidioCat_80's picture

Rob Sabin's response seems reasonable and it tells me why there was not as much about the video as the sound. I was somewhat surprise that I got replies to my comments, but that is good. They were good comments that explained some of the reasoning for the review as far as the main focus being on the sound in the written part of the review. For the record I have used the reviews from Home Theater in buying equipment. I bought a Denon 2313 receiver and Oppo 103 blue ray player. Thank you for the information in your replies. vidioCat_80

tommylee's picture

OK, this receiver has everything I need at the right price except...a phono input!
I have no plans to stop listening to my 2000+ LPs.
Wise up.

LordoftheRings's picture

It's a good looking receiver; the front face is very elegant and distinguished (high society).

The rear panel is getting to where it should; more HDMI jacks, and less of everything else.

I also agree; @ this point in time it youl d be nice to see Pioneer, Denon, Marantz, Yamaha, ... offering affordable and high-quality sound separates.

The SSPs nowadays mainly only need HDMI jacks, and the multichannel power amps, like in this Pionner Elite receiver's scetion are sufficiant for most people.
Total cost for both; roughly between $1,000 and $2,000 depending on the total actual power, and total number of power amplifier channels, and the efficiency of the Correction & EQ system.

If Emotiva can do it, they all can do it.

Right now, Onkyo/Integra is the most versatile in that area.

No?

AVR_4_Me_2's picture

I am a first time buyer. I have decided to buy the Pioneer SP-PK52FS speaker system and am looking for a receiver. I have 2 questions
1) I have read that the receiver has to be more powerful than the speaker. The front speakers of the pioneer have a max input power of 130 W (6 ohm). This receiver has 7 x 120 watts (8 ohms, 2 channels driven) is that sufficient ?
2) Does the THD vary based on 8 ohm or 6 ohm speaker ? For the Onkyo TX-NR626 this is the specification provided -- 95 Watts per Channel (8 Ohms, 20 Hz 20 kHz, 0.08% THD, 2 Channels Driven); 115 Watts per Channel (6 Ohms, 1 kHz, 0.7% THD, 2 Channels Driven)

Mark Fleischmann's picture
Rated sensitivity of the Pioneer speakers are 85 to 88dB which the receiver should handle reasonably well. As for your second question, while a speaker may have a single rated impedance, it actually operates at a range of impedances, and this varying load (combined with volume) will cause the receiver's performance to vary. The greater the load, the more likely the receiver is to be driven into clipping, which would raise THD. I hope I understood your questions. You may want to pose them to our Q&A columnist, Al Griffin at AskSandV@gmail.com.
AVR_4_Me_2's picture

Thank you.

vidiot's picture

great review as always, but I was wondering if you ever considered giving bi-amping readings in your test bench.
I think people would be very interested

ameridian's picture

Mark,

I'm somewhat curious as to how this figure (7 X 106.8W) was arrived at when Pioneer's web site lists the following for the SC-71;

Power Output: Watts Multi ch Simultaneous Drive (8 ohms, 1 kHz, 1 %) - 560W

That's 560W vs 747.6W (which you got).

Satyaa's picture

I am researching for my new HT setup and ran into similar questions. Add this spec to your above question...

Estimated Power Consumption/Standby with HDMI Control off: 260 W/0.1 W (standby)

If the total power consumption is 260W of electricity, is there a formula or some other relation to explain how it can output 560W of audio power?

I don't have technical knowledge but my only logical conclusion was that probably these two are different type of 'watts'.

polar993's picture

Mark,

Great review of the SC71. I agree with almost everything you have noted, and I wish I could say that I love the Elite SC71, but after setting it up in my home theater, I have to say that I am rather disappointed!

First off, I want to say that the unit performs very well when used with my Elite BluRay player and when streaming content like Pandora and Spotify....no issues there.

The biggest problem I am having, and it represent 90% of my overall use for this particular AVR, is that it does a horrible job decoding the Dolby Digital signal coming off my DirecTV HD receiver!

The channel decoding is completely inconsistent between TV stations. On many stations and on certain content there is absolutely no sound coming from the Center Channel! Also, the LFE is marginal at best, and sometimes there is zero bass signal being routed to my sub, even when the volume is turned up high!

The poor decoding is so bad that I cannot even use it to watch television. I've tried numerous modes for surround sound, and it doesn't make a difference. I've tried turning up the gain on the Center Channel and the Sub, and it also makes no difference. I've tried a new DirecTV receiver and it makes no difference!

It seems that the SC71 has a very difficult time consistently decoding the Dolby Digital signal. I have the signal coming in over HDMI.

I have no problems with my McIntosh MX-119 with the same DirecTV receiver.

Mark, if you have any advice for me, I would greatly appreciate it!

Thanks!

-Polar993

sajeets's picture

How does this compare to Denon AVR -x3000 or 4000?

Planning to power 4 ohm Martin logan speakers

yahtzeejimbob's picture

Hi Mark,

Great review. I recently purchased the Pioneer SC-1523-K due in large part to the praise you gave the D3 amp technology being applied in your review of the Elite SC-71. I also was drawn by the inclusion of the Saber ESS DAC's now being used by Pioneer in my receiver. I am very happy with my new unit, but have to admit, I would like to have your know-how and experience to maximize the set up of system.

My question to you is, what do you think of the DAC's being used in the SC-1523, and what are your thoughts of the price ($799) today for so much performance?

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