This equipment review is published in the Jan-Feb 2016 edition of Australian Hi-Fi. The full review text written by Andrew Ryland appears below, but for full specifications, graphs and independent laboratory tests (conducted by Newport Test Labs) and the test report written by Steve Holding, download the PDF of the original magazine pages using the red button on the right.

Pioneer SC-LX89

Pioneer’s new flagship AV receiver, the SC-LX89, is like a Swiss army knife—although it’s bristling with useful tools that will enable you to deliver better-than-cinema-sound in your own home, all those tools are tucked away out of sight, but are able to be easily deployed when required. Is there anything this receiver can’t do? If there is, it certainly wasn’t obvious to me. What was very obvious to me is that this receiver has taken the best from both Pioneer’s previous AV receivers and also from Onkyo’s previous AV receivers (the two companies merged in 2015, with Onkyo holding the majority of shares) and merged them in a totally harmonious way.

The Equipment
In my reviews I usually prefer to introduce each feature on the product I am reviewing, then explain how that feature works, then compare its operation with similar—or identical—features available on competitive products. I quickly realised that if I tried to do this with the SC-LX89, this review would have ended up approaching the length of a novel by Tolstoy and the editor puts strict limits on the word counts of my reviews. So you’ll instead have to use the break-out box on page 32 to identify if this new AV receiver from Pioneer has the features and/or facilities you need, and I will cover in this review just some of the receiver’s most important and/or noteworthy features before commenting on its performance.

Pioneer SC-LX89

On the input side, the Pioneer offers a very large number of analogue and digital audio and video options… so many, in fact, that whoever prepared Pioneer’s brochure missed mentioning a few of them, one omission being forgetting to mention that it has multi-channel analogue line inputs. Importantly, it has a phono input, so you can connect your turntable (moving-magnet cartridge), as well as high-level analogue line-level inputs. It also has digital audio inputs: optical (×2), coaxial (×2) and USB (×3). It’s absolutely brimming with HDMI inputs: in addition to the one on the front panel, there are a further seven inputs on the rear panel, plus a trio of HDMI outputs. The HDMI circuitry supports 4K/60P/4:4:4/24-bit video and HDR signals, and is compliant with the latest HDCP 2.2 copyright protection standard. I can’t see why anyone in this day and age should be using anything other than HDMI for video, but if you are, this Pioneer offers ‘retro’ component video and composite video inputs and outputs so you won’t be left stranded. Similarly, most people listen to Internet radio these days, and that’s possible with the Pioneer, but it also has ‘retro’ FM and AM tuner sections built in, so you can listen to good old-fashioned terrestrial radio stations (with presets so you can instantly recall your favourites).

In addition to listening to ordinary two-channel stereo sources, for which Pioneer offers two high-fidelity circuit options which basically link the input directly to the output, adding only gain and a volume control, multi-channel is available via direct input, as well as all flavours of Dolby, including Atmos 7.2.4ch*, 9.2.2ch*, 7.2.2ch, and 5.2.4. (additional amplification is required for the asterisked configurations), and all flavours of DTS including DTS-X.

Those wanting to stream audio and/or video to the SC-LX89 will be spoiled for choice, whether they want to do so wired or wirelessly, because it has dual-band Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth, MHL, HTC Connect, DNLA (1.5), and is pre-setup for Spotify, vTuner, iRadio, and Pandora.

Pioneer SC-LX89I was perfectly happy to operate the Pioneer with the neat and compact infra-red learning remote control that comes with it: It’s nicely laid out, doesn’t have too many buttons and works perfectly. However, if you prefer your remote to be a little more ‘high-tech’, you can load Pioneer’s iControlAV5 app onto your iDevice or Android device. In addition to totally controlling the SC-LX89, this app also allows you to quickly and easily stream music stored on your phone to the SCLX-89 via its ‘Push Player’ feature. It also has such friend-impressing features as being able to make front/back and side/side channel balance adjustments by tilting your mobile. Needless to say, it’s a free download.

As with most multi-channel AV receivers, if you’re not using all the available channels (such as if you only need a 5.1-channel home theatre set-up) you can use the Pioneer’s ‘spare’ channels to create a multi-room (multi-zone) system via its HDZone, Zone2 and Zone3 controls. Flexibility is further enhanced by the Pioneer’s ability to be controlled by AMX, Control4, and Crestron home automation systems.

In Use and Listening Sessions
The first thing I recommend you do before installing the SC-LX89 is pull out all the little blocking plugs in the Pioneer’s otherwise perfectly banana-capable speaker terminals and fit all your speaker cables with banana plugs (the trick is to use a plasterboard screw as a plug removal tool). This will make installation quick, simple and safe, with no chance of accidentally shorting any speaker wires. Otherwise you could be making up to 18 speaker connections in a very confined space. Pioneer could have made our lives even easier by placing the speaker binding posts on industry-standard 19mm centres, so we could have used dual-Pomona banana plugs, thus halving the number of plugs we had to insert, but alas it didn’t. If you don’t like banana plugs, your only other option is stripped wire, because Pioneer’s terminals are (sensibly, IMO) completely insulated.

Installing the SC-LX89 is no trivial task given the number of inputs and outputs, so Pioneer has developed an automated way of showing you how to do it; a system it calls ‘Auto-Navi’. This is completely automated if you have a mobile phone, because you can use it to scan the bar-code in the manual. This invokes Pioneer’s ‘Auto-Navi’ system to lead you step-by-step through the process using on-screen prompts. There are two other alternative—manual—options. Once all this is done, the next step is to properly calibrate the receiver and your speakers, which involves using the microphone supplied and Pioneer’s automated set-up system, called the MCACC Pro auto-room calibration system. Again, this is a completely automated process. Despite all this automation, I would recommend that even if you’re technically-minded you should let your dealer install the SC-LX89 in your preferred configuration, and link it to your home network and mobile devices. Once the Pioneer is set-up, it’s super-easy to use, but set-up itself can be daunting, even with all the auto-assists Pioneer has built in.

Although I have mostly been underwhelmed by the movie offerings chosen to promote Dolby Atmos (nothing wrong with Atmos, I just didn’t like the movies themselves), I most certainly approve of the just-released 4K remastered version of Fifth Element, which happens to be one of the best action flix around (it may be set in the future, but it’s not really sci-fi… IMO) but also a fabulous way of demonstrating how Atmos will dramatically improve your listening experience… the sound and FX in this movie are amazing, and the colour is even more glorious than I remember from the cinema release. Plus, of course, the biggest drawcard of this movie: Milla Jovovich’s portrayal of LeeLoo, the perfect human!

Because some may not want to go to the trouble of implementing full 9.2.2 Atmos (too many speakers is the usual cry I hear not only from the ‘burbs, but also from my own kitchen) I also trialled the SC-LX89 in a standard 5.1-channel system with ordinary DVDs as well as Bluray. Though you’re not getting the Atmos experience, the quality of the sound, the tonal detail on offer, plus the enormous amount of power on tap meant that the Pioneer SC-LX89 is to my mind the best AV receiver released during 2015. Using it, you’ll be able to wring the ultimate performance from your existing 5.1-channel speaker system. However, once you’ve heard Atmos in action (and watching Fifth Element will instantly convince you of its efficacy), it won’t be a big step to add an extra two speakers to go a starter Atmos 5.1.2 set-up.

When I switched to using the Pioneer SC-LX89 to process audio signals from CD as well as from my NAS drive (time now to point out that the Pioneer handles all electronic file flavours and formats up to 192/32-bit and DSD5.6) the result was that all the music I heard sounded very clean and true-to-life, with very little noise and no audible distortion. Again, the amount of power available on tap was staggering… the use of Class-D technology has meant that AV receivers are now able to be much more powerful than in previous years. Whereas early-model AV receivers using Class-AB output stages mostly delivered less than 100-watts per channel, Pioneer rates the SC-LX89 at 260-watts per channel. And because Class-D is so energy-efficient, the Pioneer SC-LX89 runs very cool and does not draw much current from your mains under normal operation (and almost nothing when it’s either idling or in stand-by mode).

I was not totally enamoured of the fact that both the front-panel headphone socket (a gold-plated 6.35mm type) and the front-panel USB socket are located underneath the hinged flap on the front panel, because this means that you have to open the panel to plug them in, then leave the panel open while-ever they are plugged in. If they’d been located elsewhere, I could have used them with the hinged flap in the closed position, which I would have preferred. On the plus side, I guess that locating them under the flap will keep them cleaner, and therefore less likely to be affected by dust.

Two new and particularly exciting circuits on the Pioneer SC-LX89 are ‘Full Band Phase Control’ and the ‘Auto Phase Control Plus’. Both are similar to DEQX in that they aim to correct phase aberrations between low and high frequencies: between bass/midrange and treble drivers in the case of the full-band circuit, and between the output of the subwoofer and the main speakers in the case of the ‘Auto’ phase control. The receiver can be used with the circuits active or inactive, so you’ll have your choice, but when you hear the improved focus and clarity that’s possible, it’s my guess that you will leave them switched on. Indeed I would have liked the option of leaving them on when the ‘Pure Direct’ modes were selected, but it appears that if you want a ‘Pure Direct’ signal path, that is what Pioneer is going to give you, so the circuits are disabled automatically when either is selected.

Conclusion
It’s been a long time coming, but I have finally encountered a multi-channel AV receiver that has all the features I’ve been waiting for, plus the performance, power output and sound quality I demand from any audio component … plus Pioneer has thrown in some extra features I’d never heard of which added even more brightly-coloured icing to what was already a very enticing offering. I want one! And if you would too, but find that the range-topping SC-LX89 is a bit beyond your money-jar, take a look at the almost-identical (but even more wallet-friendly) SC-LX79 and SC-LX59 models which, if nothing else, serve to show that Pioneer is out to ‘own’ the AV receiver market. Andrew Ryland