The second of this year’s tests starts in earnest and the Pioneer SC-LX901 is next up to bat, replacing the recently reviewed Yamaha RX-A3060 in my system at home. There seems to be a major overhaul with Pioneer this year which probably has something to do with the recent purchase of the brand by the Onkyo Corporation. This as it turns out looks to be a large positive. The set-up menu system has been totally overhauled, and the graphical user interface is much better laid out than previous iterations with a higher resolution and better graphics, by far the best looking on the market. The entry point into the on-screen menus is familiar giving the options for; System set-up, MCACC Set-up and Network/Bluetooth Setup and rather than the cluttered jumble usually presented on high end amplifiers. This is easy to navigate with clear options as to what you are changing and what the effect of that change will be.
As usual the MCACC excels at the set-up stage, and is by far the best automatic EQ system on the market provided by a Japanese manufacturer. The fact the amplifier seems to make a huge stab at correcting for phase within the system is a massive plus point. Distances were correct down to the centimeter and levels were bang on including the subwoofer which is rare from these basic automated systems. I didn’t take any amount of care with the initial EQ mic position, rested on the back of the sofa for an initial run gleamed a great result, so much so that I didn’t feel the need to revisit this. I suspect if I had with a proper mic stand, the results would have been even more impressive, if that is even possible. So many EQ systems particularly Audyssey are fussy about the microphone positions, it is refreshing to see one that isn’t and still gives a fantastic result giving it a clear advantage to the novice user.
Pioneer amplifiers in the past have often been described as “bright” which is unfair, they are not bright but rather very clear, ruthlessly so. If there are any issues within your system, chances are the Pioneer may find them. What I experienced was a super accurate clean joyous sound, not bright at all. Over the years Pioneer seemed to have developed their digital amplifiers to the point where they are super-efficient giving you loads of power on tap, without the unit itself ever getting stressed or harsh sounding. In previous years Pioneer included their X-Curve system for people who felt the top end was a bit lively. Proper use of this tamed the amplifier in larger rooms, at higher volumes, to great effect. This year’s amplifier seems to be happy at higher volumes and the further refinement of the digital amplification would appear to have enabled Pioneer to remove this feature form the 901 (or at least I couldn’t find it!).
Rather like Denon & Marantz products 3D up mixing was confined to its original source material so DTS Master Audio cannot be used with the Dolby Surround Up mixer, no great shakes as the unit seems to seamlessly switch between the two while also letting you have a preferred-up mixer for TV for example.
The real star of the show though is Pioneer I-pad control app, leagues ahead of the competition. This gives you brilliant access to the main features in the unit, Hi-Res 2ch up conversion, bass & dialogue emphasis and overall system emphasis. Usually I would avoid any tweaking after the initial set-up as you invariably make things sound worse. The Pioneer is slightly different. It seems to have the ability to subtly change the sound with clever finger swipes and pinches, without effecting the initial EQ to any great degree. Most importantly, once you are done fiddling, it is east to get back to the original refence point. Again, brilliant for the novice user to maximize their enjoyment of the system.
Add into the fact that the 4K video scaler is very good, way better than most TV’s internal scalers making all video content benefit, 11 channels of internal amplification and build quality like a tank, makes it a serious contender alongside the likes of any Anthem or Arcam with their advanced EQ system. For my two pence, I think it is outstanding. The Pioneer SC-LX901 is now on demonstration in the shop.
Next up, the Marantz SR7011………….