Pioneer SC-07 Listening Tests
I've been waiting to sink my ears into a new ICE enabled Pioneer receiver so, as you could imagine, I was more than eager to partake in detailed listening tests. Unless otherwise stated, all listening tests were conducted with MCACC turned Off and with my main speakers bi-amped and the receiver configured for 5.1 audio. For two-channel listening, I disabled the sub as I wanted to hear just how well the Pioneer could render complex bass passages with my speakers running full range.
Two-channel Music Listening (Bi-amp Mode)
I selected highly dynamic and bass intensive musical content to ensure I was giving the amp section of the SC-07 a good workout. I started out with Dianne Reeves Never too Far and worked through a collection of music on my Yamaha MusicCAST server.
The bass in Track #2 "Never Too Far" will sound muddy on an improperly set up or mediocre system. With the SC-07 in bi-amp mode powering my T-30LSE system, I found it to sound incredibly snappy and articulate in the upper bass region. Stereo separation was good, but not quite as distinct as I heard when directly comparing against the Yamaha RX-Z7. While both receivers were doing a bang up job powering my reference speakers, I felt the Pioneer had a slight edge in bass reproduction, especially in slam, but the Yamaha sounded more effortless, particularly in the upper frequency range. Dianne's voice had less of a sting to it on the Yamaha. At lower listening levels, I felt the SC-07 was a tad more laid back in the vocals than the Yamaha, but I preferred the more in-your-face sound that the Yamaha was rendering.
I decided to compare the sound of the SC-07 with and without MCACC engaged. With it engaged, the vocals seemed incredibly focused, almost too much so in that Dianne's voice seemed to penetrate into my skull. The penalty of course was a slight collapse in width and depth of soundstage. It almost felt like I was experiencing a pseudo headphone effect with MCACC engaged. Depending on your listening preferences this can be a desirable attribute. I personally preferred the more natural sound I heard with MCACC disengaged.
I threw on some Fourplay, and Ann Hampton and found similar results each time. Both receivers sounded excellent, actually better than I expected, but with a slight edge in low end for the Pioneer and a cleaner more natural midrange and high end for the Yamaha. As the volume level increased, the Yamaha seemed more composed in the upper harmonics.
Multi-channel Music and Home Theater
HD DVD: Pat Metheny - The Way Up
I know HD DVD is dead, but my love [CD1] of Pat Metheny isn't, so I still use this disc and keep my obsolete Toshiba HD-A2 player on hand for this very reason. Listening to the opening track is very moving. Between Pat's guitar solos and Antonio's amazing drumming, it's sonic heaven for the musically literate who prefer lumps in their jazz. The SC-07 did a wonderful job and providing me with the surround envelopment I am so used to hearing in my reference system when playing this disc. The receiver was dead quiet when it should be and loud and dynamic when called upon. Unfortunately, this recording is a bit lower in level than most DVD's I've listened to. I found a point where I was pushing the volume level up and it simply wouldn't go any louder. Granted it was balls to the walls loud, but I craved a bit more volume that I was used to hearing from my Denon reference gear. The SC-07 simply couldn't do it and I found the receiver adding an edginess to the sound quality that I never heard on my reference gear when playing this disc. Granted, my Denon separates combo is nearly seven times the price of this receiver, it's still important to note, you get what you pay for. Considering my room is nearly 6,000 ft^3, it was proving a bit too much for this receiver on my mostly 4-ohm speaker system.
I toggled MCACC On/Off and really didn't hear a night and day difference. I have noticed that the negatives of most room correction system calibration results are somewhat washed away when listening to multi-channel sources. At times, I thought I preferred MCACC On as I felt it provided a more seamless blend of my speakers which enhanced the envelopment effect.
DVD: Genesis - When in Rome
It was like a dream come true. After a 15 year sabbatical one of progressive rock legends, Genesis, came back in full force, well sans Gabriel/Hackett, to perform one last time on the big stage. Although this is a standard DVD, video and DTS audio quality is quite good. The concert was recorded in Rome to an audience of 500k people and shot with HD cameras. I started out with "Dukes Intro". What a powerful song and the SC-07 seemed to enjoy filling my theater room with the wonderful medley of a true classic. Next up was "In the Cage". Mind you these are all +10 minute songs I was listening to, but the time just seemed to fly by. Bass was very well rendered and I felt like I was front row engulfed by Chester's drum kit at times. The SC-07 didn't run out of gas on this disc but instead did a nice job of rendering its dynamics to my liking.
HD DVD: Polar Express
An appropriate movie for this time of year, Polar Express always seems to get you in that Christmas mood. The scene where Tom Hanks does the hot chocolate chant with the children on the train was nothing short of a surround sound marvel. The amount of detail and precision panning throughout all of the channels really makes you appreciate the high definition formats not just for their video, but for their superior audio quality thanks to Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master audio. This disc was recorded in DD+ but it still put on a great demonstration of how good surround sound can get when it isn't compressed to the nth degree.
I also popped in Phantom of the Opera on HD DVD which is recorded in Dolby TrueHD and simply sounds amazing. The power of the organs during the theme song was moving and it had me recalling the live Broadway play of this production I went to a few weeks ago at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts center. Although, the live production wasn't even close to the fidelity I was hearing in my theater room. The SC-07 was filling my room to near concert levels and doing a commendable job of it as well. I did feel, however, that my reference gear reproduced the same passages with more finesse and composure, but again we aren't comparing products at even close to the same price points.
Suggestions for Improvement
The Pioneer SC-07 has quite an impressive array of features, including the ability to decode all of the latest surround formats. I did however, find it lacking in some areas when directly compared to its competition that I'd like to see improved upon in their next generation product.
- Better parts usage on reconstruction filter for ICE amplifier module (see measurements notes)
- Beefier power supply capacitors and larger transformer to ensure it can better handle sustained 4-ohm loads
- HDMI video processing
- OSD overlay with uninterrupted audio
- More comprehensive OSD menu that includes access to video processing features
- Better quality microphone for MCACC setup
- Bass management for multi-channel inputs
- Multi-Zone remote should be included
- Please have a detachable power cord for easier installation flexibility (plus this will appease tweakers that like to add their own esoteric power cables to bring out the chocolate in their midrange)
Back in the 70's and 80's linear amps were doing some very similar things as the ICE power module unit in question. What was found was this caused slew rate limitations giving what is still known as slewing induced distortion. This was observed on in band impulse response testing. Contrary to some beliefs one does not need a DC to light bandwidth to NOT have slewing induced distrotion but one must have a near flat response to 20 kHz independent of power for the load the amp is designed for.
Too see audio go back in history and make the same mistakes all over again is just a bit disheartening.
Even though a lot of people there disagree with you (and still do) they (like I) appreciate your review and your posts there.
What I did not agree with is how you announced your last post on that thread and said you were done with it. Why not continue to defend your review? You never got any personal attacks or insults.
I don't need to "defend" my review that has objective measurements done by the most advanced and industry standard Audio Analyzer with a test in accordance to how the FTC has measured amplifiers for the last 30 years. There are people that would like to believe full bandwidth power tests are irrelevant and I'd say more power to them (no pun intended), but there are those that also believe in testing products to their limits and ensuring they are getting an amplifier that can deliver maximum full bandwidth power into low impedance loads. I am not on a quest to change peoples minds. I do however test all amplifiers under the same test conditions and hold the same criteria regardless of amplifier classification. You will see soon a review of a Class D amp that can deliver full power bandwidth into 8, 4 and 2 ohm loads as an example as well as a series of articles on this very topic.