The test bench for our Pioneer Elite SC-57 review included an Oppo BDP-95 Universal Blu-ray player, Marantz SR6005 AV receiver, Aperion Audio Verus Grand towers, Aperion Audio 633 Concert HD system, an iPhone 4S and Pioneer PL-61 turntable with Ortofon OM-5E cartridge.
For all the bells and whistles the SC-57 offers, we knew that the meat of our review would end up being centered on whether or not its D3 amplification really was as remarkable an improvement as Pioneer would have us believe. In order to make our determination, we pitted the SC-57 (in two-channel Pure Direct mode and standard stereo mode) against the Anthem Integrated 225 and Marantz SR 6005 in a sort of three-way stereo shootout.
Lest anyone get all riled up over what they think is an unfair comparison, we wanted to put it right out there that we were well aware the 110-watt-per-channel (wpc) Pioneer multi-channel A/V receiver with all its additional electronics stood little chance of sounding quite as good as the Anthem integrated with double the power and a fraction of the electronics.
We went into the comparisons looking to see how close (or different) the SC-57 would sound next to our favorite integrated amp and how much more powerful it really was than our mid-level receiver. The testing took several hours over the course of several days and made for a few uptight neighbors, but it was totally worth it.
The verdict is in: The Pioneer SC-57 really is a big leap forward for high-powered digital amplification and, perhaps just as importantly, a big hop in the right direction for what could become Pioneer’s new signature sound.
Not only did the SC-57 sound great on its own merits, it also got surprisingly close to matching the natural, transparent and muscular sound of the Anthem integrated. The fact that we had to spend so much time picking apart the differences between an A/V receiver and an excellent two-channel integrated is a pretty big endorsement on its own. We had expected for the receiver’s limitations to reveal themselves rather quickly, but it does such a great job of presenting dynamic, powerful sound with little coloration that it made our job a lot more difficult.
The SC-57 doesn’t just sound good for a Class-D digital amp, though. We think it sounds more natural, lively and just a tad warmer than any previous Pioneer Elite receiver. It struck just the right balance for us.
The advantages of the SC-57’s power reserves were audible while listening to music, but became even more obvious once we switched over to DTS Master-HD tracks on Blu-ray disc. As we compared the Pioneer to our Marantz SR6005, we found the two receivers were pretty evenly matched, save a few differences in the treatment of high frequencies. However, when both receivers were pushed to higher SPLs and taxed with explosive scenes that used all 5 or 7 channels, the Pioneer’s pure brawn shone through in a big way. The level of support to each channel sounded evenly matched and we’re pretty sure our ears would have bled long before any audible distortion would have come through. We have no doubt the SC-57 has the brute strength needed for even the largest home theaters.
We really came to like this receiver over the course of our testing, but there are a few quirks worth mentioning. First, we’re not into the remote control at all (save the fact that it is backlit). It doesn’t have a good hand-feel, the buttons are really small and several buttons serve multiple purposes with little indication as to what changes the buttons function. The volume control also seems to be in an odd place; a fact which had us constantly looking at the remote and reminding us that we just didn’t care for it.
Our second gripe is that there is no obvious way to turn MCACC off completely. If not by way of a button on the remote control, we would like to have seen a clear and obvious way of turning off the EQ, reverb and other MCACC settings not related to the essential distance and level settings.
Finally, we found that the SC-57 was a little slow with some tasks. It seemed as if switching between inputs took unnecessarily long and navigating through different menu tiers was a sluggish was well. Sometimes we found ourselves wondering if we had actually missed a button until the receiver finally executed our command.
The Pioneer Elite SC-57 compares nicely with the Denon AVR-4311ci and the Yamaha RX-A3010, all of which are similarly priced. In terms of sound signature, we’d have to put the Denon on top with the Pioneer a very close second and the Yamaha just behind. In terms of raw power and the ability to drive speakers to ear-splitting levels without distortion, the Pioneer is a clear winner with the Yamaha at second and the Denon just behind. In terms of features and flexibility, we feel like the race is too close to call amongst the three, especially since it really comes down to personal need.
Pioneer has made a genuine advancement with its D3 Class-D digital amplification. The new technology provides for extremely high power delivered over extended periods of time with very little distortion. The fact that D3 uses less energy and generates less heat is a bonus, but the real benefit here is that the digital amplification that brings all these benefits no longer sounds artificial. We don’t know what Pioneer did exactly, but it is plainly obvious that it has worked.
What we have in the case of the SC-57 is a super-powerful, very musical sounding receiver that should satisfy those who value listening to music as much as they do blasting the latest blockbuster movie. While this receiver caters well to those with really large listening spaces, we think just about anyone could find something to appreciate about this receiver.
- Extremely powerful (THX Ultra 2 Plus)
- Great sound
- Great iPhone/iPad integration
- Excellent video processing
- Cluttered remote
- No zone 2 remote
- GUI needs work
- Complicated operation