Integrated Amplifiers

Pioneer PD-D6MK2 SACD Player and SX-A9MK2 Integrated Amplifier

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

The D6 SACD player and A9 integrated stereo amplifier are two of four possible combinations in the Pioneer G-Clef series of SACD players and integrated two channel amplifiers that are sold as a pair. The G-Clef series is tested and approved by AIR Studios in London and are designed for the discriminating stereo lover in mind. As quoted from Pioneer's website, "The AIR Studios quality seal is proof not only of the extraordinary engineering that has gone into these audio units, but also of the exceptionally high quality of their craftsmanship and carefully selected electronic components".

With sleek curved faceplates and a shiny black lacquer finish, this combo is certainly a statement piece. But did this duo convert me, a die-hard multi-channel music man, into a two-channel purist? Almost.

Specifications

  • Pioneer Elite D6 Stereo CD-SACD Player
  • Codecs: Redbook CD, Two-Channel SACD
  • MFR: CD 4 Hz – 20 kHz; SACD 4 Hz – 50 kHz
  • S/N: CD 118 dB, SACD 110 dB
  • THD+N: CD 0.002%, SACD 0.003%
  • Dimensions: 4.2" H x 16.5" W x 13.5" D
  • Weight: 9.9 Pounds
  • MSRP: $499 USA
  • Pioneer Elite A9 Integrated Stereo Amplifier
  • Output: 70 Watts RMS x 2
  • Inputs: CD, Phono (MM/MC), Tape, AUX, Tuner (XM Ready), USB (Rear)
  • Outputs: Speakers, Pre-Out, Tape Loop, Headphone
  • Dimensions: 4.4" H x 16.5" W x 14.5" D
  • Weight 25 Pounds
  • MSRP: $ 1,600 USA
  • Pioneer

Design and Setup

The D6 stereo SACD player has twin Burr-Brown 192/24 bit DACS for a brain. It also has Pioneer's Legato Link, which can recreate the ultra high harmonics that can be lost in the digital conversion process by converting 16-bit sound data to 24-bit.

The power supply response is greatly enhanced by integrating the non-feedback power supply circuit and low ESR capacitors with Schottky barrier diodes. The unique single-chip decoding of the DSD (and PCM for that matter) signals reduces the signal path length of the digital circuitry and this certainly adds to the overall sound quality of the player. I have a plethora of multi-channel SACDs and was curious to hear what happens to my beloved surround sound music when it gets "folded down" into stereo.

The face plate of the D6 has an elegant curve that perfectly matches the faceplate of the A9. The blue LED readout was easy to view from across the room and notified you if the disc was a CD or SACD. No indicator was seen when playing a HDCD disc, but it did play the few that I have without a hitch. Both units have a glossy black aluminum front that sport minimal buttons and knobs which lends to a clean, uncluttered look that I found pleasing. The D6 has an Open, Pause/Play button to the right of the tray and a Direct button to the left side of the player. The tray had a nice solid feel to it, though it was a bit slow to open and close.

The Legato Link was ON by default. Because my review player did not come with the remote, I could not turn this feature ON/OFF to evaluate any sonic differences. In reality, I would probably have left it ON at all times anyway. Fortunately, the A9 remote had a CD player section on the bottom that allowed me to use almost all of the features needed to keep me planted in my chair during my many hours of listening.

The A9 is a twin mono design integrated stereo amplifier that delivers 70 watts/channel. It contains twin toroidal transformers, a motorized volume control knob, USB inputs, input for MM/MC phono and a honeycomb chassis for rigid stability. The user can play PC audio files via the USB input terminal, with the Sound Retriever (SR) breathing life back into compressed audio formats.

The display was easy to read from across the room. In Direct mode, the display automatically turns off and will only display briefly when the volume is adjusted. Both units have Direct Construction, which allows the shortest and simplest design paths – from input to output, circuit block by circuit block. All of this design is to ensure the music is kept as pure and faithful to the original source as possible. It is XM radio compatible, has a built in tuner, a 12 volt trigger out and headphone jack, as well.

After some poking about in their insides, I was happy with the overall construction of each unit and the clean layout.

Because they are also part of the Elite series, I noticed a fair amount of copper on the insides and even copper screws on the back plate. Each unit felt solid and rigid, so stacking them would not be a problem. Heat from the A9 was not a problem during long listening sessions, either, but keeping them in a well ventilated space is still a wise choice.

The glossy black finish looked distinctive, but it also tended to show smudges and fingerprints. Dust also seemed to be attracted to the glossy finish and I found myself dusting the units every other day or so. Then again, I am somewhat of a fussbudget and tend to dust off my components every day anyway.

The remote for the A9 was not extravagant, but functional. The buttons were small and a bit too closely spaced for my stubby fingers.

There is no back lighting and even in good lighting conditions, it can be hard to read the labels. Since the buttons were also of the same size, shape and color, it was difficult to navigate by feel alone. Not very ergonomic.

My real interest for this review was more about how I was going to feel about listening to my multi-channel SACDs in stereo. Normally I find surround sound in high resolution to be the most enjoyable way to listen to music. Most of my listening is with orchestral/classical music and the surround experience gives me the most realistic sense of "space", as though I were actually in a concert hall. Stereo sounds fine, but that sense of space (the acoustic signature of the venue) is just not there in two channel. Plus, I was not sure the "folding down" to stereo wouldn't cause a loss of sonic edge or some other form of audible degradation.

I used the analog outs from the D6 to the A9 using Kimber PBJ interconnects and using the Direct mode to get the purest signal possible, as the A9 does not accept coaxial/Toslink inputs. The A9 also has stereo pre-outs that allow you to connect to another amplifier of your choice. I am pleased to report that the D6/A9 combo really surprised me with wonderful sound.


In Use

Now let me explain right up front that I still prefer multi-channel sound. However, with that said, I have now developed a greater appreciation for stereo again after a few weeks of auditioning this combo. An appreciation that I had lost over the last few years from listening to music in the round. With Direct mode selected, my Revel F12s sounded fantastic.

I was so used to letting a sub carry the low end that I had forgotten how wonderful a set of full range speakers can sound on their own. In fact, the first thing I noticed was how tight the bass sounded. Low and clean. Yes, perhaps not as low as when supplemented with my Velodyne sub, but still, low, tight and life-like. Remember, speakers can only sound their best when fed from a good source.

Of the many discs I played, a few are noteworthy for specific sound quality. Most of the Telarc discs are mastered with superior sound, whether in CD and SACD formats.

Pioneer PD-D6MK2 SACD player and SX-A9MK2 integrated amplifier

The Planets by Holst, provides a broad spectrum of sounds from full orchestral crescendos (Mars: The Bringer of War) to the pianissimo tinkling of the harp and bells (Uranus: The Magician), all of which were reproduced with beauty, warmth and good dynamics. The soundstage was expansive, albeit in the front of the room and not all around me.

Pioneer PD-D6MK2 SACD player and SX-A9MK2 integrated amplifier

Spiral by Hiromi, was a SACD that offered aggressive surround mixing with drums, bass, piano and synthesizer that still came across musically even in two channel mode. The soundstage was well placed across the front of my room. Small details were still easily distinguishable. My impression of the G-Clef combo was that it favored the midrange and had good heft in the low end. There was no evidence of harshness or over the top sizzle. Vocals were portrayed smoothly and naturally. In general, I was very pleased with "plain old" stereo sound.

Pioneer PD-D6MK2 SACD player and SX-A9MK2 integrated amplifier

Jacques Lousier Trio's Best of Play Bach, which transcribes Bach gems in a jazz arraignments, also sounded very good. The plucked doublebass had weight and definition while the piano flourishes had a sparkling sound with nice resonance and decay. Overall, the G-Clef combo sounded great and cast a solid sound stage. This Bach swings! I know I was enjoying the music as much as the performers. (Thank you Pioneer for reminding me of what I have been neglecting lately).

In summation, I was quite pleased with this SACD Player/Integrated Stereo Amplifier combination. Clean, articulate sound, with deep bass.


Conclusions

With their solid construction and performance, the Pioneer D6/A9 combo makes beautiful music together. They look distinguished paired together and were easy to set up and operate. With a good pair of full range speakers, you could be in for years of audiophile quality sound. I'm still a big fan of multi-channel listening, both movies and music, but the D6/A9 have really made me think about having a dedicated two channel system. My appreciation for stereo is back again. In spite of a somewhat lackluster remote, this system is a great place to start for a two channel neophyte. Stereo still rocks!