Pioneer Elite DV-47Ai DVD-A/V/SACD Player 
Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players
Written by Matthew Evert   
Monday, 01 March 2004

Pioneer Elite, as its name indicates, is the premium audio/video line of Pioneer Electronics. Pioneer has come a long way from its origins as a Tokyo-based radio and speaker repair shop back in 1938. Pioneer has since expanded to become one of the more trusted names for home, professional and automotive electronics in the world.

With all the latest 5.1 audio formats and ample connection options, the $1200 DV-47Ai is a “universal” player that is within reach for many listeners looking to upgrade their home theater systems. This progressive scan DVD player with multi-channel DVD-Audio and SACD playback is a formidable option to enjoy the most advanced audio and video formats with the ease of a single player.

The DV-47Ai is quite a handsome DVD player for those used to the rather plain styling of Pioneer players of the past. The faceplate is nicely designed, with a glossy black finish and gold lettering. The dot matrix display was easily readable from 15 feet away, with the front panel sporting just a few buttons for the most commonly used functions (stop, play, eject, next/previous track). The construction of this player is solid and impressive, featuring a steel chassis, a well-fastened cover and sturdy connectors on the back of the unit. The CD drawer opens and closes smoothly. The drawer is robust and a cool feature. It easily accepted and played CDs that were haphazardly placed in the drawer’s transport. My roommate is not very talented or coordinated, so correctly placing CDs properly into the tray is a constant challenge that this player remedied better than most. The 11-pound-three-ounce player is hefty, a good indication of the quality of construction used on the chassis and the multitude of precision electronics within. The DV-47Ai stands four-and-one-eighth inches tall, 16-and-three-quarter-inches wide, and 11-and-one-eighth inches deep. Rubber feet mounted on the circular legs of the player reduce the frequency of skips for those of us who have heavy feet and flimsy old floors.

Looking at the back of the player, you will notice quite a few enticing connections for various audio/video applications. The back panel is intuitively laid out, with a slew of gold-plated RCA connectors. A rarity for players of this caliber, the DV-47Ai has a removable EIC power cord allowing philes to tweak with obscenely expensive aftermarket power cables. Video outputs include two S-video, one composite video and two component video connectors. Audio outputs include one optical digital, one coaxial digital, one analog set of RCAs, a six-channel analog output and a digital I-link connection. The optical and coaxial outputs are the most common connections to your receiver or digital processor for Dolby Digital movies or DTS music. For the all-important 5.1 audio playback, it provides six analog outputs or the I-link connector. The single I-link cable is nice, since it is much easier to hook up than the cumbersome six cables. If you have beefy audiophile-grade interconnects for your 5.1 audio connections, good luck labeling and feeding all those thick cables around your stereo rack. The drawback of I-link is that the technology is new and you will need to buy a receiver that supports the I-link connectors, like the Pioneer Elite VSX-55TXi. The only notable connection missing is a DVI or HDMI output for best connection to today’s newer digital video monitors, such as Plasma, LCD and many others.

Versatility is definitely an asset for the Pioneer Elite in that it will play CDs, CDRs, CD-RW (as long as the session is closed), DVDs, and DVD-Rs. On these various types of CDs and DVDs, you can play MP3s, DVD-video/audio, DTS-video/audio, and SACD formats. I have several dozen MP3 CDs that played without issue in the DV-47AI and sounded pleasant, despite some poorly recorded tracks. MP3 recordings are tolerable if they are sampled at 128kbps or greater.

Recent enhancements to the technologies used in DVD players have drastically improved the home theater experience. One major enhancement is digital progressive scan video capabilities, which are intended to recreate as closely as possible the look and sound of the movie theater, using your home theater equipment. Pioneer's has its own PureCinema progressive scan technology, as opposed to other manufacturers, who license this feature from outside manufacturers. This feature results in much smoother images, removing much of the stair-stepping of diagonal lines, thus making video look considerably more like film. Also, Pioneer’s progressive scan 2:3 technology detects when the material was originally shot on film and instantly recreates each individual still frame to yield a more film-like presentation. It also up-converts analog video signals to digital, doubling the amount of information displayed, then doubles the information again both vertically and horizontally for a substantial increase in signal density. To further improve the video quality, the DV-47AI sports video DAC 108MHz/12-bit video processing and both Progressive Digital Noise and Interlaced Video Noise Reduction.

On the audio side, Pioneer went big by using three Burr Brown DACs 192KHz/24-bit (3x2 channel) for top-notch sound reproduction. Burr Brown is well known and respected in the AV industry for their outstanding DAC performance. The addition of a bass management features lets you control the amount of bass sent to your speakers, for better multi-channel sound with your DVD-Audio and SACD recordings. Some of the early universal players didn’t offer bass management for SACD or converted DSD to PCM, thus defeating many of the audio advantages of SACD. This player keeps the signal pure and in control for both formats, no matter what size speakers you have.

The remote is essential to the operation of this player. The remote has some necessary accents like the jog controller (works like the paddle controller on the old school Atari game systems). This jog dial allows you to quickly fast/slow forward or reverse to see the explosion happen at the end of the chase scene, over and over again. This controller has a pseudo-joystick to navigate the DVD menus and the OSD (on screen display) of the player itself. The joystick takes some getting used to, but it is functional for its intended purpose. The buttons are intuitively laid out on the remote and they glow in the dark. The trick play processor is cool, since it enables the viewing of individual frames by stepping frame by frame. The OSD has nearly all of the set-up configuration functionality of the player, so don’t waste your time looking for a button on the remote for setup options: it is probably not there. The OSD is absolutely necessary to visit prior to SACD or DVD-A listening, since neither will work without changing two settings buried in two different submenus. There are some other, less important settings in there for adjusting chroma levels, chroma delays, sharpness levels, gamma correction and progressive scan functions.

Music and Movies
Let’s start the discs a-spinning with the DVD-Audio release of The Fixx’s 1011 Woodland (Silverline Records). The familiar tune “Stand or Fall” chilled me out with the melancholy lyrics of singer Cy Curnin. His voice dwelled sweetly in the lower midrange while staying warm to my ears. Slight picks and gentle brushes of Jamie West-Oram’s acoustic guitar brought me into the mood of the song. The track “Outside” was a different contribution from the drummer and the singer. The drummer’s high hat demonstrated that the high frequencies were just as sweet as the earlier mentioned midrange. Curnin ventured all over the place, with his voice almost going soprano at times in this track. The DV-47AI kept up the pace very nicely. I never become immune to the coolness of having music emanating from all six speakers and this cut was a great reminder of how great six-channel sound is.

Moving to a completely different genre, I next tapped the abilities of Donna Summer with her timeless Bad Girls (Casablanca Records) CD. Disco will never die. Okay, perhaps it has to some degree, but it never died in my mind. Say what you will, but I have seen few that can resist shaking their booties to “Bad Girls.” This cut displays an electronic synthesizer and a funky guitar that would outclass anything modern-day funk master Bootsy Collins could throw out there. The toot-toots and beep-beeps from the backup singers were surrounding me, thanks to the excellent sound staging of the DV-47AI. This was pretty incredible, since the recording is from 1979. “Walk Away” used lots of echo effects and an impressive vocal solo from Summer herself. The thumping bass was very tight and kept the driving rhythm solid throughout, Although this recording can sound a little congested at times, the DV-47Ai performed exceptionally and provided a detailed and powerful view of this recording.

Off to the movies, I started out with Iron Maiden’s two-DVD set called Visions of The Beast (Columbia Music). Man, this DVD set rocks. Maiden has been entertaining the world’s rebellious youth for some 25 years and is still going strong. I have seen them in concert probably five times, so I was a little cynical about a compilation of their old videos and live performances. I started out with their first major video (with Bruce Dickinson singing), “Run to The Hills.” This track begins with a barrage of tom-toms, bass drum pounding and hit hats closing together from the drummer. Then a thunderously heavy bass line from Steve Harris bass guitar gives a prelude to the head-banging that is about to commence. Dave Murray’s fast-paced electric guitar melodies and Dickinson’s opera-style singing were powerful and detailed in their presentation without being overly bright, the way some players can sound. Dickinson looks about 16 years old in the video and is wearing black leather and tight pants, a mandatory get-up back in those days. In fact, I think you got a free pair of tight jeans with any metal-style electric guitar purchased at guitar stores back then. The deep tenor voice of Vincent Price in the intro to “Number of The Beast” and the low midrange sound of the dueling electric guitars was smooth yet not soft. It was very engaging and was free of grain or other annoying artifacts that can otherwise detract from the enjoyment of the material. In fact, I never did detect any obvious signs of stridency or harshness with this midrange throughout the time I auditioned this piece. Dickinson’s 30-second scream that kick-started the rest of the song was mind numbing. I was so impressed that after the song ended, I wanted to grow a mullet and get a muscle car to work on in my front lawn.

Jim Carrey’s breakout movie, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (Warner Home Video), is a hilarious spin on the all-too-common Hollywood detective story. This time the plastic-faced Carrey uses his unique powers of impersonation and body manipulation to portray a wacky pet detective. The opening scene of Ace dribbling and kicking a parcel around like a soccer ball had me in stitches. The sound of broken glass shaking in the smashed box was hugely convincing, sounding real without any edginess. The DV-47Ai presented the vivid colors that were prevalent in this movie (i.e. Ace’s Hawaiian shirts and the Miami Dolphins uniforms) very well, better in fact than I have seen to date in my system.

I next fired up “Saving Private Ryan” (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) because of its impressive cinematography and excellent surround sound. This movie’s opening scene of the growling of the landing ships engines, the splashing of the ocean against the ship and the soldiers being informed that the time is near to run for the beach was incredibly displayed both with sound and picture. As the gates of the ship open and bullets rip through the bodies of dozens of soldiers in front, the sound was both detailed and immediate. It was no stretch to believe that I was there. This scene clearly makes the viewer feel the hell that these brave souls faced. Blood and water splashing onto the lens of the camera added even more drama to the re-enactment of Operation Overlord. There were moments in this film, such as when the soldiers storm the bunkers at the end of the beach invasion, that I forgot I was evaluating the product and was fixated on the story.

The Downside
Once the player was set up for all the common audio formats, the sound was killer on this player considering the price. The mandatory steps needed for the 5.1 audio set-up, allowing you to play both SACD and DVD-Audio, were completely ridiculous. The main purpose for this player was to play these two formats, yet they will not play as they should out of the box. Yes, the manual (10 pages into it, mind you) does tell you how to change the settings (from two-channel to 5.1 channel playback), but the more obvious question is, why would they make it so difficult for users to get 5.1 audio playback running? To make matters worse, you need to go into the OSD to change these settings and they are buried in two different submenus. The OSD menu was difficult to navigate and the joystick control required repeating the movement of the control frequently, since it did not always register the movement. Ever play a video game where someone spilled soda all over the joystick and the controller would stick sometimes? It was like that. DTS audio CDs worked without any configuration needed.

This is a great-sounding universal DVD player for someone looking to have a nicely-priced DVD player that will play SACD and DVD-Audio and beyond. It supports all the most popular video and audio formats on the market today and features digital progressive scan for sharp video reproduction that makes it look like you are actually watching at the theater. The set-up of this player is a little tricky and the remote takes some patience, but overall it is a solid player. A shining light in this experience is that Pioneer has free technical support and a two-year warranty, just in case something goes wrong. I can easily recommend this player to the movie enthusiast that wants his or her movies to look the best they can be, or equally, to the hardcore AV enthusiast who wants to wow friends with huge performance in the latest audio formats.
Manufacturer Pioneer
Model Elite DV-47Ai DVD-A/V/SACD Player
Reviewer Matthew Evert

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