Almost two years ago, Pioneer introduced its monstrous new flagship receiver, the Susano, and while it was very well received many people baulked at its 10 grand price tag. So then, we were quite excited to hear of the new "Son of Susano", a step-down model priced at the much more affordable AU$3699. It may miss the Susano's full-colour screen and even-more-towering size, but as we found, this is still an outstanding piece of equipment.
The Pioneer SCLX82 receiver is a mighty black slab. Monolithic, you might say. In fact, it was way too large for our equipment rack with a standing height of 200mm — most receivers top out at around 180mm.
The design is a familiar one with a large LED display, two knobs for volume and source selection respectively and a drop-down door enabling access to further functions such as a USB port and menu buttons.
The remote is neat and looks straightforward, though some buttons have three or four functions, which means the real estate around them can get cluttered with text. It's also partially backlit, though not the source keys unfortunately.
The SCLX82 is a 7.1 receiver which rocks a high 140 Watts per channel output. The Pioneer is ostensibly an audio receiver and not video focussed, so while you do switching and analog upscaling to 1080p it s definitely not the aim of this receiver. The SCLX82's audiophile roots show through in its inclusion of high-grade audio components including both Wolfson and Burr-Brown DACs.
Pioneer has had a long-running relationship with George Martin's AIR studios and as a result the SCLX82 has been tuned in to the company's facilities — further strengthening the audio heritage of the receiver.
The SCLX82 uses a "full-colour" Graphic User Interface (GUI) but it's not the most attractive around. It features a brushed metal look but doesn't use the full screen real estate. It's functional but nowhere near as friendly as Sony's Xross Media Bar.
Like many competitors, the Pioneer shows a high degree of connectivity, with an Ethernet port allowing access to a wealth of content including DLNA streaming from your network via Home Media Gallery and internet radio.
The Pioneer supports all nature of formats with the standouts being DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD and even FLAC — via Ethernet only. However, support for "software" formats like FLAC and MP3 seems a little piecemeal, as if different people on non-speaking terms were responsible for the USB section and the Home Media Gallery respectively. For starters, the use of the word "Gallery" is a misnomer — you can't view either photos or movies with it — it's music playback only. The receiver will also support image files but strangely only via the USB slot. Streaming video isn't supported at all.
Like the AX2 we reviewed some time ago, the SCLX82 features iPod connectivity, this time via the front-mounted USB port. The Pioneer also features a digital link between the iPod and the receiver, which means the SCLX82 uses its Wolfson DAC to replay your music instead of the inferior converter on your iPod. Win! The company includes an iPod cable that also incorporates a separate video connector, but seeing as it's plugged in the front it looks a little untidy as the white casing clashes with the austere piano-black finish of the receiver.
If you want to plug other stuff in you have a choice of five HDMI inputs including one under the front flap, two HDMI outputs, four component inputs and a wealth of other analog connections besides.
When connected to a BDP-LX52 Blu-ray Disc player via HDMI, the two devices use a Multi-Channel Precision Quartz Lock System (PQLS) that "speed synchronises" the digital audio data between the receiver and the player to deliver low jitter audio on multi-channel uncompressed LPCM data.
Like all modern receivers the SCLX82 comes with an auto-set-up routine involving plugging in a mic, setting it at your listening position and then pressing the "Go" button. However, if you're an audio obsessive like ourselves the results aren't always the best, and we still think you can do better armed with a sound level meter and a tape measure. For a full-cycle calibration of the Pioneer you'll need to leave the room for about five minutes, and on returning we weren't all that happy with the results. We found that it had set the sub too low and the sound was a little thin. As a result we preferred the sound of the Pure Direct mode, which defeats the equalisation, and used this for our testing.
After enjoying the "hi-fi" touches of the competitive Sony STRDA5500ES receiver, we were very excited to listen to how the Pioneer fared with music. As it turns out, very well.
We compared the receiver to the Cambridge Audio DacMagic which shares the same Wolfson DAC and found, unsurprisingly, that they sounded very similar.
Stereo through the Pioneer was enveloping on CDs and uncompressed iPod music alike. "Big" songs like Sufjan Stevens' Chicago and the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1 sounded huge and bombarded the listener from all angles. Bass response may not be the tightest we've heard, but it was still solid.
Through our listening tests we found the Pioneer was a little less "warm" than the Cambridge DacMagic and more neutral than our other favourite, the Sony 5500. The AIR Studio tuning really showed its spots here. As a result you don't need an outboard processor if you plump for this receiver, as it's good enough already.
Like the Sony, this receiver is skewed towards music replay, but it's also a much better performer in a surround sound role. Closing our eyes and listening to the city chase scene near the start of Spider-Man 3 we enjoyed a "trouser-flapping", surround sound experience. The movie may be fairly weak, but the mechanical scream of the giant Terminator from Terminator Salvation and the squeal of tires on broken bitumen make for a truly exciting surround sound experience out of the SCLX82.
The Home Media Gallery was probably the only disappointing part of the receiver for us. The menu can be slow depending on your network speed, and if your music files have any "glitches" in them it will grind to a halt where most other players will simply give you a "clicking" sound. Unless your FLACs are in pristine condition, and ours aren't, then you may find a better solution in something like the Western Digital WD TV Live which will connect via HDMI to the rear of your receiver and play video too.
The only other niggle we had with the Pioneer was that there is little control over video options. For example, you can't access the video menu while using an HDMI source. The only choice with a video connection is a choice of video convert (upscaling) on or off. For the record, we didn't see that the Pioneer added any additional artefacts to either digital or analog video and so this lack of control isn't too much of a problem.