Pioneer Elite DV-38A DVD-A/V Player 
Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players
Written by Brian Kahn   
Wednesday, 01 August 2001

The DV-38A is Pioneer’s eagerly anticipated top of the line progressive video DVD player. The DV-38A retails for $2,000, is THX Ultra Certified and supports both DVD-Video and DVD-Audio formats. With all of the hype of new formats swirling in the audio/video magazines, the DV-38A arrives just in time for those looking for an upgrade in sound and picture.

Upon unpacking the DV-38A, I found it to be finished in the traditional Pioneer Elite manner, with a polished black face with gold details and attractively finished wood side panels. The face plate, in addition to the drawer assembly, contains a small number of indicator lights, including one that has a cool blue light for illumination, and minimal operating controls. This give the unit an attractively clean, functional look.

The DV-38A weighs in at a fairly hefty 22 pounds. The construction of the unit is very solid, utlizing a triple-layered chassis and three chambers to isolate the various internal sections. The copper used for the isolation material adds to the unit’s rigidity, as well as isolating potential interference between different sections of the player.

However, Pioneer has elected not to incorporate the very cool air chamber train assembly from their former top of the line DVD player, the DV-09, into the new unit. The DV-38A’s tray assembly is a damped assembly, which emerges from behind a drop-down door but is not nearly as cool as the DV-09 assembly.

The DV-38A is full of features to maximize its performance, both audio and video. On the audio side, the DV-38A supports CD, CDR, DVD and DVD-A formats. The unit includes Dolby Digital, DTS and MPEG decoders, allowing the digital output to be completely bypassed. The internal digital-to-analog conversion process incorporates Pioneer’s Hi-Bit Legato Link conversion, Dual Analog Devices 192 kHz, 24-bit DAC’s on the front left and right channels, and Analog Devices 96 kHz, 24-bit DAC’s on the remaining channels. The digital outputs support Dolby Digital and DTS and are 96kHz, 24-bit capable.

The video performance features are too numerous to list in their entirety. Below is just a sampling. Most notably, the DV-38A is capable of producing a progressive scan output through its PureCinema, 10-bit, 54 MHz processing system with 3:2 pulldown. The player is capable of passing a below-black signal, useful for calibration and has more adjustments for noise reduction, sharpness, color, hue, brightness, etc. than most users could ever hope to figure out. While many of these controls will go unused by the majority of purchasers, they can prove invaluable to the trained installer in obtaining the best picture possible.

Two-Channel Setup
I utilized the DV-38A both in a two-channel music system, as well as in my multi-channel home theater system. My music system includes a Krell KAV-300IL integrated amplifier, Final 0.3 speakers, B&W CM2 speakers and a Sunfire Signature Subwoofer. In both my music and theater systems, I also utilize several of ASC’s Studio and Tube traps to optimize the room acoustics, as well as to experiment with loading the electrostatic speakers in a horn configuration.

The Music
The DV-38A was first placed into my two-channel music system as a CD player. I have previously used other Pioneer Elite CD players and was curious as to how the DV-38A would compare. The unit I had received had already been out on the review circuit for a while, and was consequently already broken in when I began my review.

I found my notes from prior listening sessions with Pioneer Elite CD players, pulled out some of the same discs that I used in the prior sessions and began to listen. I began with Bill Berry’s For Duke (Realtime Records). I found the DV-38A to be more detailed than prior Pioneer units, which is not surprising in light of the dual Analog Devices 192 kHz, 24-bit DAC’s. I also immediately noted slightly forward, warm midrange, something I had also noted previously on other Pioneer Elite digital products. I believe this to be a result of the Hi-Bit Legato Link. I had previously noted that on "The Busy Child" track on the Crystal Method album Vegas (Outpost Recordings), the bass was a bit on the thin side. On the DV-38A, this effect was much less noticeable, although the bass was still not as solid as when using the Theta DAC. This detail in the bass was confirmed by listening to Janet Jackson’s "Go Deep" from the Velvet Rope album (Virgin Records) and Paula Cole’s "Tiger" on her This Fire album (Warner Brothers), which regular readers will note is a favorite album here at Audio Revolution for checking out low-frequency capabilities.

The DV-38A was able to create a large solid soundstage with good imaging. Voices and instruments both were portrayed with proper timber and tone to create a convincing image. While the DV-38A is designed to be utilized in a multi-channel system with DVD and DVD-Audio material, it is more than capable as a CD player as well.

I also utilized the DV-38A in my theater system, along with the Theater center channel speaker. The remainder of the system includes the following components: a B&K Reference 30 processor, an M&K MX-350 subwoofer, a Martin Logan Ascents, Theater and Scenarios, a Sony DVP-CX850D DVD player, a Pioneer CLD-704 Laserdisc player, three McIntosh Laboratories MC602 stereo amplifiers, Silicon Image’s iScan Pro line doubler, a Barco Graphics 808s projector, an 84-inch Da-Lite 1.0 gain screen, Monster Cable power conditioning, video and line-level cables and Audioquest speaker cables.

I connected the DV-38A to my B&K Reference 30 through both the 5.1 analog and the digital outputs. I experimented with all three video outputs: composite, S-Video and component. I found the component outputs to provide a far superior picture. My observations are based upon utilizing the component video connections, unless otherwise noted.

Multi-Channel Listening
I watched (and listened to) several movies including Gladiator (DTS ES 6.1 DVD, DreamWorks), Mission Impossible 2 (DVD, Paramount) and Saving Private Ryan (DTS DVD, DreamWorks). I switched back and forth between the processor in the DV-38A and the one in the B&K Reference 30. I found that both processors provide competent decoding, but the additional flexibility provided by the B&K allowed me to really dial everything in.

I found the DV-38A to make a good transport for movie soundtracks (as well as for two-channel digital output), but the unit really excels with DVD-Audio discs.

I did most of my DVD-Audio listening with my two favorite discs, Toy Matinee’s self-titled DVD-Audio disc (DTS) and Blue Man Group’s self-titled DVD-Audio disc (Virgin Records), and am amazed at the increased detail available through this format.

With the Toy Matinee disc, I was able to switch back and forth between the DVD-Audio track and the DVD-Video DTS track. I found that I preferred the DVD-Audio track. Both the DVD-Video and the DVD-Audio tracks were mixed in DTS. The difference between the two tracks is the format itself. I found the DVD-Audio track to provide noticeably more detail, which translates into enhanced spatial cues and a more palpable presence.

The Blue Man Group disc is definitely unusual and strange, but makes for a good demonstration of the format. Upon listening to this disc, it became immediately apparent that a well-produced DVD-Audio disc is capable of providing great sound far beyond the limits of traditional stereo CDs or even 5.1 music CDs. While listening to the Blue Man Group, it was very easy to close my eyes and be fully immersed in the performance. The performers sounded like they were in the room with me and all channels were extremely detailed and consistent to provide a smooth and realistic 360-degree soundfield.

I experimented with various settings on the DV-38A, including using the PureCinema progressive outputs and bypassing my iScan Pro line doubler, which normally feeds my Barco projector with the 480p video signal it craves. I found that I consistently obtained the best picture with the interlaced component output feeding my iScan.

On occasion, I did obtain an excellent progressive scan output from the DV-38A, but it was not consistent. The Pioneer, like most progressive scan players on the market, utilizes flags encoded on the disc itself to decode the video and provide the progressive output. The flag encoding is not always done well, which can cause problems with providing a good progressive scan output. With well-encoded discs, the picture is great, but soon as you find a disc that is lacking in proper encoding, you will find a screen with numerous artifacts. I preferred to run the component signal through the iScan Pro, which has better flag detection.

To Pioneer’s credit, the video quality on the DV-38A is a huge improvement over their DVD prior players and, indeed, over that of most players on the market. The interlaced outputs provide a wonderful picture, and if you are lucky enough to have a collection of well-encoded discs, so will the progressive outputs.

I have a few different test discs on hand, which I used in checking out the Pioneer. I found the performance of the Pioneer to be quite good in just about every area, with the exception of chroma upsampling. The chroma upsampling artifacts are generally caused by the MPEG decoding and are, unfortunately, quite common. Fortunately, this rarely intruded on the viewing enjoyment provided by the Pioneer.

All in all, the video quality was quite good, noticeably better than that of my Sony DVD player. The Pioneer provided a much sharper picture, which was especially evident on anamorphic discs, such as Mission: Impossible 2 and The Fifth Element. The colors were deep and rich which, combined with the great detail, made for an astonishingly good picture.

The Downside
The remote is not up to the standards set by the player itself. When I first picked up the remote, it felt cheap and light. There are many similarly sized buttons, a lack of backlighting and poor tactile feedback, all of which combine to make the remote difficult to use in a darkened room. The chroma upsampling and progressive scan issues discussed above were less intrusive in actual use. Unfortunately, the progressive scan issues will occur in every flag-reading player (which most DVD players are).

At $2,000, the Pioneer DV-38A is simply one of the best DVD players on the market. The video, bearing in mind the caveats discussed above, is outstanding compared to other players above and below the DV-38A’s price range. As a DVD-Audio transport, the DV-38A is a winner as well. When using the MLP (meridian Lossless Packing) 5.1 surround mixes found on all DVD-Audio discs, the quality of the DACs is of the highest importance. Considering all of the other bells and whistles the DV-38A has, the DACs are surprisingly good, surpassing many of the DVD-Audio/Video players that were available at or around $1,000 one year ago. In the real world, you always have to contrast value vs. performance and this is where the DV-38A gets exciting. It wasn’t that long ago that a good line doubler cost $15,000. Now it is a feature in a $2,000 DVD player. You would have to spend thousands of dollars more than the DV-38A’s $2,000 price tag in order to elevate to the next significant level of performance. For many audio and video enthusiasts out there, the DV-38A will prove very alluring.
Manufacturer Pioneer
Model Elite DV-38A DVD-A/V Player
Reviewer Brian Kahn

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