Pioneer Elite SC-95 A/V Receiver Review Page 2

Multichannel music is an important factor for some of us, and the SC-95 stands ready to deliver here, too. Manually changing to a no-subwoofer five-channel setup to place maximal demand on the receiver’s power amps, I heard a well-produced rock-surround selection like Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake” from the SACD of The Globe Sessions deliver plenty of oomph in the bottom octaves coupled with a very convincing presence on the upfront, dead-room vocal. Pioneer touts the SC-95’s latest generation of its Class D power amp topology as D3, with shorter signal paths and reduced complexity for improved performance. Whatever the case, the new receiver boasts very fine amplifier performance all around. On a familiar multichannel reference disc like the Telarc SACD of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, the Pioneer had no difficulty delivering all its bells and whistles—and strings, horns, and woodwinds—with all the required realism, both tonal and spatial, at fully naturalistic levels, even with my rather low-sensitivity 5.1 speaker suite.

Moving on to film sound, I quickly determined that the SC-95 aced my rotation of torture scenes (the audio, not the actors!) from movies such as The Fugitive and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, with clear, intelligible dialogue, appropriately dynamic music, and well-presented effects. This allowed me to advance to the main event: full 5.1.4-channel Atmos. I began with Dolby’s Atmos demo disc, in particular the “Leaf” trailer. This had wowed me on Atmos’ debut, and it wowed me again via the Pioneer, with its preternaturally lifelike bubble of ambience and overflying birds.

I’m not much for sword ’n’ sorcery, but because Atmos-equipped Blu-rays of Game of Thrones had arrived on my doorstep, I quickly got sucked into the Westeros vortex (a little nudity doesn’t hurt, neither). HBO’s mashup of The Tudors and Conan the Barbarian, with plot lines lifted from I, Claudius (with a tablespoon of Dallas), blurs the production-value line between TV and movies. GOT ’s Atmos soundtrack is less wow-ified than I’d expected, but there are scenes like the tower fight in episode 1 (chapter 5) that showed off Atmos’ value—more worthy in ambience re-creation than gee- whiz flyovers, in my estimation—and the SC-95 to excellent advantage. The new Dolby Atmos soundmark even more so.

The SC-95 offers the streaming audio options we’ve come to expect on midrange-and-up receivers today. Pioneer contents itself with just two pay services, Pandora and Spotify, along with free internet radio via the vTuner interface, and media-server hookup via DLNA or Windows Play To (Win 8.1-certified). Via my Mac OSX–based TwonkyMedia software server, the new receiver cheerfully played every file format I tossed its way, including MP3, AAC, WAV, AIFF, and FLAC. The SC-95 also seamlessly played my growing collection of DSD files (DSDs have tripped up a couple of streaming receivers I’ve tried in the past year), sounding great in doing so via either wired-Ethernet or Wi-Fi linking to my home network. All was not beer and Skittles, however. On a couple of occasions, the Pioneer locked up during DLNA playback, requiring a cold reboot, unplugged, to recover. This seemed to occur when switching inputs from a live-playing DSD file, but the sequence of trying to re-create it deliberately was so laborious and haphazard that I eventually gave up and put it down to one of those things. Nor can I say, definitively, that my DLNA server wasn’t a contributing factor.

I confirmed Bluetooth playback from my iPhone—no problem. AirPlay: ditto, and the Pioneer obligingly switched automatically to its wireless input, requiring no setup (other than a viable wireless network) to work. I also messed about with the Pioneer’s video scaler, which comes with a couple of interesting options, though since I’m not as yet 4K’d on the display side, I can’t speak to its ultimate scaling quality. (I did discover that, for unknown reasons, my admittedly aged Samsung LCD set would not sync to the Pioneer’s 1080p-scaled signal, but it displayed its 1080i output just fine.)

The un-illuminated remote supplied with the SC-95 is familiar from several previous Pioneer models. With small, tightly spaced buttons and generally low-contrast lettering, it’s not my favorite, but it’s sensibly laid out and usable nonetheless. Happily, Pioneer also offers free control apps for both iOS and Android. The iOS version of the latest, iControlAV5, is a well-conceived and occasionally whimsical but quite powerful controller. In addition to the usual parameters of volume, input and mode selection, and so on, this incorporates quite comprehensive zone control, Pioneer’s too-cool four-axis audio balance commander (which involves a rolling ball), individual channel level trims, control over the SC-95’s video converter/scaler, and access to all of its many “sound enhancement” functions, such as digital-audio upconverting, Pioneer’s Sound Retriever-AIR processing, and DNR. And, of course, it lights up in a dark room.

To the usual two-zone multiroom facilities Pioneer adds an HDZone option, with a dedicated HDMI output for a (stereo) HD second room (though for longer runs, you’ll have to add your own HDMI extender). And there’s enough packed into the iControlAV5 app, including its multiroom-control pages, that with an obsolete smartphone (and who doesn’t have one?) or a modest investment in a Craigslist previous-gen tablet, an SC-95 owner with a multiroom setup could have a pretty snazzy touchscreen system for little more than pennies.

Pioneer’s new SC-95 is fairly typical of upper-range A/V receivers today—which is to say, very flexible, substantially powerful, and frankly quite complicated. But beyond those bare facts, and the excellent nine-channel amplification, its many, many features seemed somehow more than usually accessible, and its especially attractive iOS control app raises its likability quotient considerably.


hk2000's picture

Love S&V reviews that include test bench results, sounds like a great receiver.
On an unrelated matter, the comment section on most of your articles has turned into a a spam board, does any one monitor these? Couldn't you stop them? Simply ban members who do it? Anything- It's quite annoying.

utopianemo's picture

I've been waiting for a review on this unit. I bought an SC-95 before it was technically available, and I wanted to see how the professional review correlated with my own findings.

It sounds pretty close: Love the sound. There have been some pretty significant hiccups with the connectivity, but those have seemingly been mitigated by foregoing wi-fi and hooking it up directly via ethernet.

The one thing I would like to add is just how much using the Dolby Surround upmixer can enhance 2-channel music. It positively makes old recordings come alive, taking a flat plane of music and pulling it into a 3D hemisphere. There are some exceptions, like 80's rock(I think the synthetic gated reverb confuses the processor), and some modern electronica recordings that use reverb in an experimental way. But classical recordings sound so much better, and this is coming from someone who has traditionally hated extra processing on music.

The most incredible example of Dolby Surround at work is with theater pipe organ music. There was a pizza place here in Portland called the Organ Grinder that had a massive, beautiful theater pipe organ, that produced some of the most impactful, wonderful live music I've heard. I have a few of those recordings, and playing them using the Dolby Surround upmixer brings me closer to being in that space than I'd ever imagined possible. The brass sections in particular play out up high in the front of the room, just like they did at the Organ Grinder.

dommyluc's picture

I totally agree with your opinion of Dolby Surround upmixing for music. I personally think Dolby Pro Logic IIx Music Mode does a phenomenal job of creating a natural 3D soundfield. I have thrown just about every kind of music at it, and it never seems to falter. Of course, like anything else, the better the recording, the better the results. The works of Steely Dan and Donald Fagen sound spectacular, as does most rock, including the 2008 digital remasters of the Beatles albums, which I stream to my Onkyo receiver from my PC in WAV format (as I do all my other music). But what is really fun to listen to are the RCA Living Stereo and other landmark classical recordings that were recorded on 3-channel studio decks, since they actually contain a true center channel that the Dolby processor can extract and place in the center, and also these recordings have great ambience, since they were recorded in many of the world's greatest concert halls, and it really shines through in the rear channels.
Hey, if people prefer just straight stereo, more power to them, and if the Dolby processing sounded flangey or over-reverberant or phony like most of the music modes on many receivers during the 80s and 90s (Yamaha and a few others excepted, of course), I couldn't bear to listen to it. But when I listen to music with DPL IIx, it sounds like I'm sitting in the middle of the studio, or on stage with the orchestra, and that's the way I like it. Also, since I have a 7.1-channel system, it's really nice to be able to use ALL of the speakers. LOL!

pirroplato's picture

Nice review of a a popular receiver, published just in time for the model to be replaced.

Mrsnikoph78's picture

To get to the point -

You say that the MCACC Pro correction basically nailed the setup, but commented that it chose a different EQ curve than other auto-correction systems. Can you please Elaborate? What sort of curves do you usually see?

I am close to pulling the trigger on a Yamaha, Pioneer Elite, or Anthem, but the information on room correction is pretty sparse, and I can't figure out what their target EQ curves are. I understand that Yamaha's is "selectable", Athem's is probably "adjustable", and Pioneer grants a lot of editing but is perhaps using a "flat line". I am wanting something more like the Harman Curve.

Basically, If I know that the room correction won't nail the bass EQ response in my room (which isn't a bad room but clearly has a room mode in the 30-40hz range), I won't bother spending the big bucks. I already know how to set levels, distance, and crossovers without the auto systems. So it is the quality of EQing that matters most. I understand that Yamaha lets you EQ subwoofers down to 16 hz now, with 4 bands. But does YPAO even do anything to the sub channel?

Lewis3000us's picture

I hear stories of some difficulty with the Start-up Navi app that may be used for setting up this receiver. Can you please comment on whether or not you used this app, and if not, then how easy/difficult the setup was without the app?

Triad Steve's picture

Hi Daniel,

Knowing actually tested 8 ohm power is very helpful, particularly with 7 channels driven - so thank you. For AVRs & amps it would be helpful to see 4 ohm tested power to understand compatibility with the many 4 ohm speakers on the market. Different amplifier topologies and power supplies can greatly affect 4 ohm power and even an amp's ability to drive 4 ohm speakers without shutting down. Any chance we can see these tests in the future?

BTW, readers might be interested in the fact that Dolby Pro Logic IIX does not artificially "create" multiple channels from music like many gimmicky venue selections do. Instead it extracts real information from the recording, so you can actually hear more of the original recording space and ambience. As commenter utopianemo suggests and you verify, this can enhance many 2 channel recordings. For those who haven't tried it before, you might give it a shot.

zman's picture

After 4 months this receiver can't get Pandora thru fi. However it gets Internet radio thru wi fi. Any help?