|Pioneer Elite SC-27 A/V Receiver Review|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Todd Whitesel|
|Tuesday, 10 November 2009|
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Sometimes “good” isn't good enough. If it was, a certain A/V receiver would have been on many a home theater enthusiast's wish list for Christmas 2008. Instead of rushing to market with a product that just passed muster, Pioneer took a step back and worked on making a better component, one to spearhead its Elite A/V receiver lineup. The resulting Elite SC-27 was born after several years in development. Pioneer's marketing manager Dave Bales described it as a receiver designed by committee, with input from THX and certification from Air Studios in London. Good wasn't good enough, though, for the SC-27 - even after receiving certification from THX, Pioneer spent another year bettering the amp before introducing it to the market.
When I spoke with Bales, he was clearly enthused and proud of the SC-27, and believes this second-generation ICE Powered Class-D amp is the wave of the future, sporting a “green” amplifier design that is significantly more energy efficient. The SC-27 is a statement-making receiver, with a dazzling, if not dizzying array of options; however, the message I came away with was if it didn't sound great it wasn't good enough. “Turn it up, and listen to the dynamics and punch,” Bales suggested. And I did – a lot.
First Impressions & Setup
I've always found Pioneer's Elite components to be visually stunning and built to last. The SC-27 is no different. It features a gorgeous glossy black front plate and a design to match. When I first unpacked the nearly 41-pound behemoth, I was shocked to see a phono input on the back, among the many inputs and jacks. I mentioned this to Bales, who told me Pioneer recognized the resurgence of vinyl and the format's devoted following. Cool. At first glance, the SC-27 seems like an unwieldy beast that could take many hours to setup. But don't let its capabilities and 154-page operating instruction manual scare you. For such an option-studded machine and lengthy accompanying tome, the SC-27 is fairly straightforward to get up and running.
I asked Bales if the design team takes setup into account, realizing that technology can be a double-edged sword. He asserted that above the $500 price point, one has to build to the highest common denominator. The customer who drops $2K on an SC-27 is very likely a serious audio and video hobbyist and expects bells and whistles and fine-tuning options not available on lesser models. Bales also admitted that the majority of users will utilize maybe five or six inputs and call it good. Certainly, one can get crazy deep into the menus and sub-menus, but the receiver can also be fully customized and ready to play in 10 to 15 minutes. But allow a few hours to get speakers in place, connect wires and cables and just to get acquainted with the SC-27's operations.
A graphical-user-interface walks you through setup and does most of the thinking. The SC-27 has a default 7.1 surround setup that I used – almost – I went with two front speakers, two surrounds and two back surrounds, instead of going with a center channel speaker. Once everything was in place, it was time to employ the MCACC (Multi-Channel AcoustiC Calibration) Room Tuning feature. I set the supplied microphone where I would be doing the majority of my watching/listening. The receiver emits a series of test tones – white noise, ambient, waveforms and EQ – to adjust to, calibrate and optimize the listening area's acoustics. Connecting a PC via the RS-232 connector enables users to transfer 3D graphs of reverb, group delay characteristics and other MCACC parameters to a computer for detailed review.
One connection curiosity: The SC-27 has a detachable power cord, and the instructions warn against using any power cord other than the one supplied with the unit. I'm not sure why this is. If someone wants to swap to an audiophile-grade cord to maximize performance, he or she should be able to do so. And I can't discern any why the receiver wouldn't work in such a configuration.
In the relatively short timeframe that the SC-27 was in my hands, I was challenged to test all that it can do; this is a receiver that can keep you busy for many days as it is integrated with about every technology imaginable. A complete spec list is beyond the scope of this review, but I want to highlight some notable features:
• A remote that is functional and intuitive. Once you're setup, it's easy to make adjustments on the fly. If you don't read anything else in the manual, read the bits about the remote. Life will be easy.
• Supports input of Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS, High bit-rate audio, DVD-Audio, SACD, Video CD and Super VCD
• HDMI 48-bit Deep Color signal transfer
• 5 HDMI inputs
• More than a dozen surround sound formats
• Can power three independent systems via Multi-Zone connections
• Synchronized operation with KURO LINK-compatible components
• The iPod/USB terminal makes it possible to access and control the contents of an iPod/iPhone or jump drive with the receiver's remote. You don't even need to turn on the TV, as the SC-27's GUI will highlight the contents directly on the Character display. As well, the USB interface reads MP3, WMA, WAV and JPEF file formats.
• An HDMI input terminal on the receiver's front panel enables users to connect HDMI-equipped video cameras with a single cable.
• Numerous defeatable optional inputs permit true customization for each user.
• Stream music, photos and video from a networked computer hard drive. A LAN terminal allows for easy networking, accessing Internet radio, music-subscription services, audio files stored on a networked computer or media servers connected to the same LAN.
• An enhanced room calibration channels everything to focus on one sweet spot.
• XM and Sirius Satellite Radio ready.