Pioneer SC-LX501

The ‘LX’ range of home theatre receivers from Pioneer are the company’s premium models. Indeed, the US versions are marketed under the ‘Elite’ sub-brand. The SC-LX501 is the entry-level model among this premium range.

Equipment
The advantages of Class-D amplification, as used here, include relatively high power for low weight, thanks to the technology’s excellent efficiency, plus support for four-ohm loudspeakers without significant compromises, a relatively rare feat with modern home theatre receivers.

So the Pioneer SC-LX501 receiver offers seven channels of Class-D power. How much power? Normally we’d just dutifully copy the power claims from the manual into the specification box opposite and describe here, in text, any reservations we might have. But which to choose? The single claim that Pioneer makes in the box with the Australian version of receiver is so silly we couldn’t bring ourselves to do that. Someone might see it there and believe it.

So we put it to you here and ask, how useful is this? “Maximum power output (1 kHz, 4 Ohms, 10%, 1 ch Driven) – 320 W per channel”.

The 10% there is total harmonic distortion, a shocking figure, but allowing this when doing the measurements allows a higher figure for power power. One would even be entitled to draw the conclusion that this receiver is unable to deliver a low distortion performance, which isn’t true. We note that distributor Powermove’s website quotes a more sober 180W, at 1kHz into 6 ohms, 1% distortion, 1ch driven. Yet there’s also a spec sheet downloadable locally which quotes figures up to 560W! Considering them all, we’d suggest that a realistic claim for comparison purposes would be 120W per channel, two channels driven, into eight ohms. But really this is a lesson in companies being able to quote a wide range of power figures by varying the criteria chosen.

Ultimately the numbers are irrelevant. It’s how well the receiver performs, and what you can do with that power. Here the seven amplifier channels can be allocated in the usual range of ways: as 7.1-channel conventional surround systems, for 5.1 with a second powered zone, for 5.1 with the front stereo speakers bi-amped, or for 5.1.2, with the final .2 being two overhead (or Dolby Atmos-enabled) speakers as height channels.

Note the only line-level outputs on this receiver are for the subwoofer, so you can’t add additional amplifiers to boost things to a fuller Atmos or DTS:X implementation. But 5.1.2 still delivers impressive results, both with Dolby Atmos and with Dolby Surround processing of stereo and multichannel sources. (We gather DTS:X is to be added with a future firmware update.)

Pioneer SC-LX501

The receiver offers seven HDMI inputs, one on the front panel and three with support for HDCP 2.2, ensuring they can be used with Ultra HD Blu-ray. Some analogue audio and older style digital audio inputs are provided. There is also one input each for component and composite video, though no matching inputs for either — the receiver converts these to HDMI output.

There’s also a proper phono input for a turntable, along with an earthing point.

A good set of network features are provided with the unit: Tunein internet radio, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Pandora and Deezer, plus Music Server and Apple AirPlay functions.

A number of additional network features are slated for inclusion via future firmware updates: GoogleCast support, plus the FireConnect multiroom system. Unfortunately neither of these was available at the time of review; we’re particularly keen to try FireConnect, which is a new third-party multiroom platform which has plans to include video in the future (see www.avhub.com.au/fireconnect).

The unit is supplied with a printed 34-page ‘Basic Menu’. The full manual is available online at a provided link, in the form of a series of web pages. You can download a PDF, but this is merely the web pages printed out to 139 pages of PDF, rather than a well-structured manual. There’s no table of contents or internal links, but you can search for words within it.

Performance
As many brands do nowadays, the receiver starts up the first time with a wizard to guide you through things. (Somewhat weirdly, our TV reported the video format of the wizard as 720p at, er, 62 hertz! If it really was at this odd frequency, our TV had no trouble locking on to the signal.) Rather than the clunky Pioneer menus of old, this one had a nicely formed modern font.

The wireless network function can be set up in the conventional way (select a detected network and enter the password) or by importing the settings from an iOS device. We’ve used the iOS set-up process on plenty of devices, and we’re coming to the conclusion that if you know your network password, the traditional method is actually faster. It was certainly fast with this receiver. Dual-band (2.4and 5GHz) Wi-Fi was supported. Part of the wizard also offered the option of setting up a second zone.

The receiver implements Pioneer’s long-standing MCACC automatic speaker and room calibration system. The tones it runs are relatively unusual and it takes a bit longer than some systems, but essentially the system works the same way. The levels and speaker distances were pretty much perfectly determined, although the speaker sizes were a touch random. The results should be checked and manual adjustments made where required. Also, at the end it might be worth checking in the Audio Adjust part of the main System Setup menu. There’s a deeper menu called ‘Dolby’ and this had ‘Loudness Management’ switched on by default. This is different to Dolby Volume, apparently some kind of dialogue normalisation for Dolby TrueHD. We’d at least start with this turned off.

Pioneer has cut down the size and number of keys on its IR remote, and we did not miss any of those omitted. A bit more was done via the on-screen interface and, as we’ve suggested, this is rather prettier than in previous years. (Incidentally, when we got to playing network audio and using the set-up menu, the 62 hertz signal reporting went back to 60p.)

As it happened, the main speakers we were using during the review period were four-ohm models, very high quality ones, so the support for low impedances was very welcome. We took the opportunity to watch the Ultra HD version of ‘Suicide Squad’, using the Dolby Atmos sound track. Regardless of what you might think about the movie overall, the sound is a wonderful demonstration of a fully enveloping surround sound and, given the wide ranging soundtrack, music.

It was all delivered with a first-class sense of surround and envelopment, and with a fine musicality. Whatever the actual wattage might be, there was plenty of power on tap for appropriately high levels, with a clean distortion-free delivery.

The receiver also properly passed through the UHD video and was able to overlay its on-screen messages, primarily volume control adjustments,  over the top of the video. These messages can be switched off if you prefer your picture left utterly clean even while you’re making adjustments.

The network music functions worked very nicely for the most part. We used Spotify Connect, TuneIn, Apple AirPlay and good old-fashioned DLNA, using an app to send music to the receiver as a DLNA ‘renderer’, though as a renderer (using a third party app on an Android device to send network music to the receiver) it was unable to deliver music without gaps between tracks. In fact, the gap was a couple of seconds long, initially suggesting to us that the music had stopped. Playing the same music accessed through the receiver’s own menu system was gapless. Likewise, using the Pioneer app provided gapless playback. (For those interested in DLNA intricacies, this suggests that the Pioneer app is simply a controller for the receiver, so that the receiver acts as a DLNA player, rather than a DLNA renderer.) Nor could we get our Digital Media Controller app to send Direct Stream Digital music to the receiver, but the Pioneer app, taking control of the receiver’s Digital Media Player function, could deliver up DSD. Which, not so incidentally, sounded excellent.

The Pioneer iControl AV5 home theatre receiver control app (shown above) is the best. Other receiver makers should take notes. It’s not so much that it looks prettier, it’s to do with more prosaic but useful features. For example, as fine receivers have long permitted, you can rename the inputs on this receiver to something more useful. With this app you can do the renaming in the app rather than fiddling with on-screen keyboards and the remote, and it’s immediately reflected on the receiver’s front-panel display. You can control just about everything, see graphical representations of the wide-ranging settings made during the calibration process, and be presented with detailed information on the incoming and outgoing signal.

Though that last part needs a little fixing up. The status viewer showed ‘analogue’ as the audio input signal when it was clearly receiving digital audio via the network. And it showed 720p as the video while it was in fact passing through Ultra HD 2160p/24 signals. The Android version seemed to be a little cruder than the iOS version, and would not operate in landscape mode.

The wireless connectivity proved to be fast, too, providing plenty of speed for uninterrupted playback of both DSD64 and FLAC files at up to 192kHz and 24 bits of resolution.

Conclusion
Don’t be too distracted by the power claims — the Pioneer SC-LX501 is a fine receiver for those who want a bit of Dolby Atmos (two rather than four overhead speakers) and full support for low impedance loudspeakers, and want good network control and support for network music.

 

Pioneer SC-LX501 networked AV receiver
Price: $2699

+ Excellent loudspeaker support down to four ohms; Very good overall performance; Very good network functions
- No gapless playback as digital media renderer; Confusing power statements

Tested with firmware version: 1030-2010-1101-0000

Power: 7 x something (see main text)

Inputs: 7 x HDMI (3 with HDCP2.2), 1 x component video, 2 x composite video, 4 x analogue stereo, 1 x phono, 2 x optical digital, 1 x coaxial digital, 1 x USB, 1 x Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AM/FM antennas

Outputs: 2 x HDMI, 2 x 0.1 subwoofer, 9 pairs speaker binding posts, 1 x 6.5mm headphone

Zone: 1 x HDMI (redirectable HDMI 2 output), assignable amplifiers, 1 x analogue stereo pre-outs

Other: 1 x IR In, 1 x IR Out, 2 x trigger out,

1 x RS-232C, 1 x calibration microphone

Dimensions (whd): 435 x 185 x 395mm

Weight: 12.0kg

Warranty: Three years

Contact: Powermove Distribution

Telephone: 03 9358 5999

Web: www.powermove.com.au