Receivers

Pioneer SC-57 9.1 A/V Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX


 

Introduction to the Pioneer SC-57 Receiver

I've reviewed a fair number of receivers, and owned a fair number of them myself as well. The unit that I was the most sad to part with was the Pioneer SC-27 a couple years ago. With its Class D amps, it was fast and powerful, but not harsh, and did better with music and soundtracks than anything else in the price range I had heard. When I saw the SC-57 at CEDIA, and Pioneer explained they had build the Class D modules themselves instead of using a modified ICEPower module, I had to hear what had change and pestered them until I had one in my theater room again.

PIONEER SC-57 RECEIVER SPECIFICATIONS

  • Design: 9.1 A/V Receiver
  • Codecs: All, Including Dolby TrueHD anDTS-HD Master Audio
  • Power Output: 140 WPC x 9, @ 1 kHz, THD 0.08% @ 8 ohms FTC
  • Video Connections: HDMI 1.4a (6 rear in, 1 front in, 1 out), Component (3 in, 2 out), Composite (4 in, 4 out), No S-Video
  • Audio Connections: RCA Stereo (5 in, 3 out), Optical (3 in, 1 out), Coaxial Digital (2 in, 0 out), 7.1 Multichannel (1 in, 11.2 preout), iPod, Sirius Radio, Bluetooth (optional), Phono (MM compatible)
  • Other Connections: Ethernet (Internet Radio, Networked Audio Firmware), 12V triggers (2), USB, RS-232, IR (2 in, 1 out), Headphone Jack (6.3mm)
  • Dimensions: 7.3" H x 17.1" W x 17.4" D
  • Weight: 39 Pounds
  • Price: $2,100 USD
  • Pioneer
  • SECRETS Tags: Receivers, 7.1, Pioneer

Design of the Pioneer SC-57 Receiver

As the top receiver in the Pioneer Elite line, the SC-57 has as classy a design as you would expect. The front is clean with only a power button and two knobs to control input and volume. All of the controls are hidden away behind a door that drops down to reveal everything you need to control the SC-57. Additionally the front panel hides a USB and video input for an iPod or iPhone, a headphone jack, the MCACC microphone jack, and a front HDMI input. The Elite looks very nice in your AV rack, but I was still able to do all the setup and use of it from the front panel without the remote control. That sort of convenience is nice compared to when I want to start watching a Blu-ray disc but can't find the remote, yet the front panel of the player has no way to control the menus and begin.

The rear of the SC-57 shows the migration away from analog video and towards HDMI continues at a rapid pace. Everyone has abandoned S-Video at this point, and the SC-57 is no different. There is still a plethora of composite video inputs, and three component video inputs, which is useful as one can be assigned to a secondary zone on the receiver and even assign a pair of speaker terminals to that zone as well. The Class D3 (as Pioneer calls it) amplifier supports up to 9 channels at 140 watts per channel, but there are 11 sets of binding posts on the rear of the receiver. This allows you to configure up to two additional stereo zones to send music to, but still have enough terminals to drive up to a 9-channel system in the main room when desired. The SC-57 also has 7 HDMI inputs, 2 HDMI outputs (one with Audio Return Channel), a multichannel input and output, and plenty of stereo RCA jacks for any setup.

Unlike the SC-27, there are no longer exposed heat sinks on the bottom of the case, but instead there seems to be a small fan off to the side of the case to keep the amps cool. I never heard this fan while in use, and the receiver sits right behind my head, so I can't imagine this will be a problem for anyone. Otherwise, I think the SC-57 has all the connections that anyone could need.


Setup and Calibration of the Pioneer SC-57 Receiver

After unpacking the SC-57 I hooked it up to my Mythos STS surround system and a pair of Paradigm Sub1 subwoofers, along with a selection of Blu-ray players and projectors. My first task was to run the MCACC auto-calibration, which should free me from having to enter all the information about the speakers manually, as well as provide phase and time correction to the whole system. My system had changed a lot since I last used MCACC, and I have used a selection of other room correction systems since then. It seems that MCACC really hasn't changed in the two years since I last used it, which leaves it behind the times in a couple of ways.

First, MCACC offers no correction for the subwoofer channel at all. It not only does not do dual subs, but it doesn't even do a single subwoofer. More and more subs do include their own EQ systems, or you can buy an external one, but the SC-57 is in the same price class as receivers that offer Audyssey MultEQ XT32, which does dual independent subwoofer calibration. Along the same lines, MCACC also only supports a single crossover for all channels. My speakers all have very different crossover points that I like to use: 120 Hz for the surrounds, 100 Hz for the center, and 60 Hz for the fronts. MCACC leaves me with having to choose a spot somewhere in the middle which will produce a poor frequency response curve from speakers that should be crossed over higher, as well as causing the amplifiers and speaker to work harder to try to hit those lower octaves. This is once again something available on other receivers in the price range, and another thing I really think Pioneer needs to improve upon.

Once I did calibrate my system using MCACC, I was able to check the results using either the on screen GUI, or an included software package. The distances and levels all looked to be spot on, which saves me a lot of time. I've taken some screen captures from the MCACC software so you can see the effect that MCACC had on group delay for my front channels, which was practically eliminated. The automated MCACC setup measures only a single location, as Pioneer believes that you most often use your system alone, so it is optimized for a single position instead of attempting to optimize for a larger location of seats.

Setup of the inputs themselves was fairly straight forward, as I assigned my components to their correct HDMI or analog inputs and proceeded to rename them. Pioneer would benefit here if you could do this setup and assignment either with a web browser, or with their iOS App. Using a keyboard, physical or on screen, to input names and assign inputs would make the process even quicker and easier for everyone. Most companies don't offer this either, but with everything being so connected it would be an easy way to improve the setup experience. Now that everything was ready to go, it was time to see how the Pioneer could perform.


The Pioneer SC-57 Receiver In Use

For the first few days with the Pioneer, I had just recently moved and the screen for my theater hadn't arrived, so I used it just for music playback for a little bit. The new Pink Floyd SACD remaster of "Wish You Were Here" has just arrived and it was as good as anything to test out the updated Class D amps. When people that haven't heard Class D in a long time talk about it, they will say the sound is thin, brittle, harsh, and even abrasive at the top end. This might have been the case a few years ago, but it was not the case with the Pioneer. The solo guitar that opens the title track on WYWH came through clear and detailed, but without any harsh edge to it. Once the rest of the band came in, the SACD surrounded me listening chair, but I had no trouble locating where everything was supposed to be in the mix. Bass was clear and tight, and the top end sounded crisp but not harsh. When given wonderful material to play, the Pioneer did a good job with it.

For most of my music listening now, I go completely media free using either my networked music server, or Spotify. The Pioneer has its Home Media Gallery function that allows for playback of audio from your DLNA devices, which includes my Synology NAS. With support for most common audio formats, including 24/96 FLAC files, my entire library was available for me to play back through the Pioneer. The 24/96 version of Alison Kraus & Union Stations most recent album "Paper Airplane" sounded fantastic. I used Ethernet for all of my streaming so I can't be sure how much buffer there is in the Pioneer, but I had no issues with skipping or other glitches. Cover art came across correctly as well, which had been an issue on the SC-27. The sound was again big with a huge soundstage, clear presentation with instruments, and a very smooth sound.
For Spotify, the Pioneer does not have a native app for it, but I can use AirPlay with my iPhone to listen it quite easily. Once I launch Spotify and begin to play back something, I can just send it to the SC-57 with a couple button presses and then control the volume and playback straight from my phone. This was sending the audio over WiFi twice (from the Internet to the phone, then from the phone to the Pioneer) but I didn't have any issues here, and it was great. Unfortunately Spotify only does lower bitrate audio when streaming to an iPhone, but MOG and others could do 320 kb/sec audio for AirPlay if you wanted something better than background quality. AirPlay didn't sell me when it was first announced, but after using it over the past few months, it's a really nice thing to have.

With stereo listening, I was previously a huge fan of MCACC and what it did for the soundstage without losing details or muddying the soundstage. This time the effect was not nearly as drastic, but that does come with a couple caveats. Since I last had an SC-series receiver, I've moved into a room that is far better designed for audio, and allows me to have a speaker layout that is much more optimal than before. In this case, there is much less for the Pioneer to correct than there had been before. With any room correction system, the less they have to do, the better it is. I still think that MCACC is a very good room correction system if you want to do serious stereo listening, though it's advantage over Audyssey has vanished with the release of MultEQ XT32.

Once the screen and projector were installed, it was time to test the SC-57 with some multichannel films. No soundtrack this year might be any better for a home theater than that of Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon. The film might be cheesy and full of ridiculous dialogue, but it serves better than anything for showing off what a home theater can do. The sound effects of Shockwave's Driller surround you and would bring across the terror of the scene if it weren't a bit ridiculous at the same time. Through all of this I would push the Pioneer to reference levels and my ears would give in from the extreme levels far before the Pioneer would.

Going back to titles I have watched countless times, such as Cars and Cars 2 (parents with young sons out there understand this), the Pioneer brought the details across, and even revealed things I had missed in all of my prior viewings. The race sequence in Porto Corsa in the 2nd film would put you right inside of the racecars with the sounds of the scenery flying by me. Both father and son enjoyed sitting down and watching the movie, with the Pioneer keeping us pulled in.

All during my use, the SC-57 made me sometimes wonder why I go through the extra cables and expenses of separates in my system. The sound was fantastic, and I found myself wishing that Pioneer would sell the amp section on its own so I could experiment with it and my regular processor. The amp section really is second-to-none on the receivers that I have tested over the years, and the Class D nature also means that it is efficient and you can move the receiver without help. I did feel that it reduced the output of the subwoofers a little too much, though I was able to adjust that with the controls on the subs themselves after running MCACC.


The Pioneer SC-57 Receiver On the Bench

We will start with the video test results for the receiver bench. For all HDMI data, the Pioneer SC-57 performed perfectly. Resolution and detail were kept correctly, and even the scaling wound up looking nice. With component video there was a bit of chroma and luma detail roll-off so it didn't pass those tests, but there were no issues that would render component video unwatchable.

When using the SC-57 as a preamp by using the pre-out jacks, it performed really well. The 1 kHz THD+N numbers were very, very low, and the rest of the tests came through with very good numbers as well. This helps us to isolate the performance of the amplifier section from that of the receiver as a whole, since it gives us an idea what the overall noise floor is in the machine.

Now tested using the Class D amplifier section as well, the SC-57 still did well. With a 1 kHz sine wave, THD+N was right around 0.008% with both 4 ohm and 8 ohm loads, and with 2V or 4V of output. Lesser receivers will start to show signs of strain on this test, so it is a good start for the Pioneer.

With the 10 kHz THD+N tests, the results are not quite as good, but still very good overall. There is a spike at 30 kHz that leaves as little at 55 dB of headroom for the fundamental. 30 kHz is well beyond the human hearing limit, but that can still lead to distortion if a tweeter is straining to try to reproduce it in addition to the 10 kHz primary note. Looking only at the first harmonic, which itself is not audible to most people, we see around 85 dB of headroom available to us. Unlike the 1 kHz tests there is a very noticeable increase in noise once we double the power output.

The 19 kHz + 20 kHz IMD test shows that we have very noticeable peaks on the sides of both tones, with around 60 dB of headroom overall.

The 60 Hz + 7 kHz IMD tests showed better results than the prior ones. There were no A+B or A-B peaks visible, and headroom was right around 85-90 dB in all versions of the testing.

Frequency response showed difference values, based on the load the amplifier encountered. With an 8 ohm load, we had a ride of 0.7 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, but with 4 ohm loads we had a fall of just over 1.0 dB across the same range. A bit peculiar, but those were the bench results.

Finally on the THD+N tests, most of the values stay below 0.02% but past 1 kHz we see a ramp up to a peak of almost 0.2% in 8 ohm and 0.4% into 4 ohm right after 10 kHz, and then a quick fall off again. This corresponds to the differences we saw with the 1 kHz and 10 kHz THD+N tests at the start of this section.


Conclusions about the Pioneer SC-57 Receiver

Two years after I first heard them, I still really love the sound of the Class D Pioneer receivers. They are fast, clear, and detailed with strong bass, but not thin or brittle at the top as many people think Class D must be. As good as the amp is, I think Pioneer does have some improvements they can make with their room correction by adding subwoofer equalization and multiple crossover points. They also could really improve their iOS application to move it from nifty feature to actually useful supplementary control, but most companies also need to work on this.

In the end, the SC-57 was a wonderful sounding receiver that has virtually all the inputs and features anyone could be looking for. The small reservations I have shouldn't deter anyone from going to evaluate what is still my favorite receiver in this price class and the one I'd recommend to people looking for something with enough features and power that they won't feel the need to upgrade anytime soon.