Pioneer Elite SC-61 A/V Receiver

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Price: $1,100 At A Glance: 125 x 7 watts D³ power • Brawny, assured bass • Network audio cornucopia

Someday I will be able to review a Class D receiver without mentioning this up-and-coming amplifier technology in the lead. That day hasn’t come yet and probably won’t in the next few years. But I can see it shimmering on the horizon.

Class D has been steadily infiltrating Pioneer’s upper-crust Elite line since 2008 and now accounts for five of the line’s seven models. With the SC-61, reviewed here, the latest version of the technology—which Pioneer calls D3—has come down in price to as little as $1,100. That’s a far cry from the $7,000 Pioneer charged for its first-ever Class D model five years ago. Pioneer still uses only conventional Class AB amps in its lower-priced plain-old-Pioneer line. And with rare exceptions, Class AB still rules in the audio/video receivers of most other manufacturers—largely because most of them haven’t invested as much in Class D as Pioneer. But seeing the technology come this far in the offerings of a major brand is a bit of an eyebrow raiser. In a good way!

What does Class D matter? Until now, its main attraction has been energy efficiency: Class D amplifiers dissipate less energy in the form of heat. That’s because they don’t keep their output stages biased on when there is no signal, as Class A and AB amps do. Instead, their output stages are only energized when the signal so demands. When idling, they use very little power—but when the all-channel action-flick effects kick in, or a symphonic score sends the guy at the tympani into a percussive frenzy, a well-designed Class D amp can handle the intensified load with relative ease (assuming an appropriate choice of speakers).

Energy efficiency isn’t the only attraction of D3. Assuming equivalent power-supply capacity, its efficiency also has the potential to improve sound quality, specifically in bass output and wider dynamics. And that’s where D3 shines, as I discovered when reviewing the SC-61’s big brother, the SC-68. Dollar for dollar and pound for pound, D3 can potentially drive more demanding loads, expanding the range of speakers you might consider using in your system. Is there a sonic price? Class D amps are generally thought to have a less nuanced top end than more conventional and less efficient amps. However—and this is the breakthrough here—in listening to both the SC-61 and the SC-68, I’ve found this distinction marginal, almost nil.

Third Time’s the Charm
D3 is Pioneer’s third generation of Class D products. One of the things that distinguishes D3 from Pioneer’s previous Class D attempts is the involvement of George Martin’s AIR Studios, which evaluated numerous prototypes and helped tweak the result.

The SC-61 is a 7.1-channel model, which means it has seven amp channels. It can support two subwoofers, but they are on a single, monophonic channel. It is rated at 125 watts of continuous power into 8 ohms at 1 kilohertz and 200 watts into 4 ohms. It is specified to drive speakers with nominal impedance ratings down to 4 ohms, not the usual 6-ohm minimum. Note that these ratings are with two channels driven; see our measurements for five- and seven-channel figures. And now, tah-dah, we change the subject, because there’s more to the SC-61 than its amp technology.

In appearance, the SC-61 is your basic Pioneer, with its distinctive amber front-panel display—which complements the blue LED indicators—flanked by large volume and input dials. Behind a flip-down door is a full set of navigation controls, USB and HDMI inputs, listening-mode buttons, and a quarter-inch headphone jack, among other things. The back panel sports seven HDMI inputs and one output. A quibbler might ask for a second HDMI output, but its component video output can also be used to support a second high-def screen. The graphic user interface is good, the remote control OK.

Above the $1,000 mark—plus $100, in this case—you should expect a pretty full feature set with few if any serious omissions. Nowadays, Apple-approved features are de rigueur, and the SC-61 does not disappoint. It supports AirPlay wireless streaming, and while I hate to repeat myself, I can never say too many times how cool it is to have an iOS device order the receiver to power up, select the AirPlay input, and start playing music. Puts me in a good mood every time. This receiver is “made for” iPad, iPhone, and iPod, so you can plug any of these devices into the USB jack and experience all the joys Saint Steve intended. You can also download the free iControlAV2012 app and use your iThing as the world’s slickest remote control. The app wisely separates basic and advanced functions into different screens. Its cleverest trick is adjustment of front-to-back and side-to-side channel balances via tilting. Once the soundfield is balanced to your preference, you can lock in the settings with the touch of a virtual button. Also offered is a free Air Jam app, which allows up to four iOS devices to make a group playlist and share content through the Bluetooth-connected receiver and a home network.

But Pioneer has not neglected functionality outside the Apple universe. It also supports Bluetooth wireless streaming via the optional AS-BT200 Bluetooth dongle ($99). A Windows 7 PC can stream to the receiver via Windows Media Player if you drag your selections to the right-hand list pane and hit the Play To button. If you’d rather pick tunes from the receiver’s interface, you can use DLNA to find the computers on your home network. Note the plural: Now that I’ve got two desktop machines running during work hours, the receiver detects them both. Other music spigots include Pandora and vTuner Internet radio and SiriusXM satellite radio. It would be awful if the lack of a network connection prevented you from using any of these features—some home layouts might make it hard to string Ethernet to your rack—but this receiver can go Wi-Fi with the addition of the AS-WL300 wireless adapter ($129).

Pioneer Electronics USA
(800) 421-1404

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

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