- Written by Chris Heinonen
- Published on 16 November 2009
The first movie that I used to evaluate the Pioneer was Watchmen: The Directors Cut.
While I did not enjoy the movie as much as I had expected to, none of that was due to the picture or audio quality. The Pioneer was very active during the movie, with extensive use of the surrounds throughout. The balance of sound was wonderful, with clear vocals from the center channel that were not over-powered by the front or surround speakers, no matter how loud or quiet I had the volume set. The Pioneer never strained during heavy action scenes, and I never had to adjust the channel level settings, which I always have had to do with Audyssey in the past. The SC-27 did a fantastic job with this film, and every other film I threw at it.
To see how well the MCACC correction performed with music, I put on the recent Beatles Mono Remasters and listened to various tracks, both with MCACC and without from the listening position that it was calibrated for.
Without MCACC, the mono recordings were anchored right between the speakers with a fairly narrow and compressed soundstage. All of the instruments and vocals seemed to be layers right on top of each other and coming from the same point, resulting in a little bit of a muddled sound. As soon as I enabled MCACC the soundstage grew far wider than it was without it.
The recordings were still mono, but now they were taking up the whole soundstage instead of being anchored at a central point between the speakers. The separation of vocals and instruments was much clearer as well, which each sounding like they were an individual instrument instead of just like sounds that have been layered on top of each other. It was a much more drastic difference than I expected to hear as I'd assume that a mono source only using the front speakers would benefit the least from advanced room correction, but I was very happy with the results. If I was to keep the Pioneer around permanently, I would setup the 6 MCACC memories for different locations that I like to sit in so that I could always have the best sound at my current position by just switching which memory I was using, as it made that much of an impact on the sound.
Next I fired up Sigur Ros's album, "ágætis byrjun".
With songs that swell from quiet to a large, full orchestra, this album was certain going to put a lot of stress on the Pioneer and it's ability to handle large scale dynamics. The Pioneer took this challenge and was able to present the small, quiet passages with great detail and accuracy, and then when the music grows the Pioneer didn't strain or clip no matter what the volume level. I never heard any negative artifacts from the Class D amplifier compared to a classic Class AB design, and when I checked the heat level of the SC-27 it was much lower than I was used to with my Onkyo. The soundstage that was presented to me was as wide and deep as I was used to, and when listening to "Reckoner" from Radiohead, the sound and location of the opening cymbal was clear and detailed. Perhaps not as airy and detailed as it was with the Marantz Pre and Amp that I had just reviewed, but the Pioneer costs 40% of that combination.
The streaming audio capabilities of the Pioneer were a feature that I was highly looking forward to. I currently use my PlayStation3 for streaming audio from my home network, but that requires using a different remote, and turning on an extra piece of gear compared to just streaming it through the receiver. The receiver also is the first that I've been able to use that features built in support for FLAC decoding, which is a very nice benefit as I have all of my music ripped to FLAC at home, and this way I don't need to change the format of it, or setup a server to transcode the music before it gets to the receiver as I need to with the PS3.
Unfortunately, it seems that the Pioneer suffers from many of the same flaws with it's DNLA support that other receivers and processors that I have tested do. I stream my music over a wireless connection (802.11g) and that has caused no issues with my PS3 at all in the past. However, the Pioneer does not seem to have a large enough buffer and on any FLAC songs that I would play I suffered from multiple audio pauses while it had to rebuffer the song.
Since the PS3 can stream a WAV file that requires twice the bandwidth of a FLAC song without drops, I think the Pioneer just needs more memory to buffer the audio to prevent this. I also could not find way to quickly search or jump to an artist on the Pioneer. If I wanted to listen to a song from Radiohead or Massive Attack, that meant I had to scroll through hundreds of other artists before I could locate them, which was much more inconvenient that getting up to play the CD. I would really love to be able to use the Pioneer as my source for networked music, but unfortunately I just can't in the current version. Perhaps they will address some of these in a firmware update, or the next revision of their receivers will include a larger buffer and a better way to access music (as these are networked, an iPhone application to play music and internet radio would be a wonderful extra). As it is currently, I'll go back to considering a Squeezebox or Sonos system if I decide to replace my PS3.
To continue to test the media streaming, I went from a wireless network in my living room to an Ethernet over PowerLine setup from Monster Cable (review forthcoming), and with the improved connection quality, the Pioneer had no issues streaming WAV or FLAC files at all. The navigation issues remained, but the sound quality was great with not a single audio drop from that point on. If you wish to stream lossless audio on the Pioneer, I'd recommend using a hardwired connection and not a wireless bridge. I also tested how well the Internet Radio features worked with the new networking setup, and was fairly impressed with them. Since I moved away from Seattle over 5 years ago, I've missed being able to easily tune into 90.3 kexp and listen in my living room.
I can stream it online, but I enjoyed having it on in the background and the Pioneer made that easy. I could tune to the station very easily using just the front panel of the Pioneer, and it was quicker than using the on screen display I found, as the cursor would move more quickly.
The iPod connectivity, which I thought would be a very nice feature on the Pioneer, was a little bit of a hit and miss proposition. While it worked perfectly with my first generation iPod Nano, it did not want to work with my iPhone 3G at first. I hooked it up to the iPod cable, the Pioneer would display "Loading" on the display, and it would sit there. Since the iPod Nano came up almost instantly, this was strange but I gave it 20 minutes and nothing happened. I changed inputs, came back, and still it was stuck on the "Loading" screen. Frustrated by this since I had to remove my iPhone from it's case to test the feature, I gave up for a while.
A couple of weeks later, I decided to test this feature again and try to get it to work. I hooked the cable to my iPhone and once again was stuck at the "Loading" screen. Unsure of how to correct this, I unhooked the Video cable from the iPhone cable, and it was still loading. I removed and reconnected the cable to the iPhone, and suddenly it worked.
The interface was just like the interface used for the Home Media Gallery feature, including the album art from the iPod. My Beatles Remasters played straight from the iPhone in their full Lossless quality, but I wasn't fully happy with a couple features of this. First, the interface is pretty slow to scroll through albums or artists, just like the Home Media Gallery, and much slower than scrolling through them on the iPhone directly. Second, when I went to look at albums, my Podcasts were included in the list as well instead of being in their own Podcast menu as they would normally be.
To me, if you are going to add an iPod/iPhone interface, you should try to mimic the user experience of the iPod as much as possible and not change how things are categorized and organized. While it was quite nice to have all of my music available to me on the Pioneer, and with a pure digital connection as well, if Pioneer could speed up the interface (which is much too slow), and copy the menu format of the iPod more directly, I would enjoy the use of it more. Additionally, if I had a large music collection on a device like an iPod Classic, then it would suffer from the same library searching issues as the Home Media Gallery function.