Pioneer brings you Susano, the Shinto god of wind and storms, now raging within the enormous enclosure of this 10.2-channel AV amplifier.

Over the last few years Pioneer has offered some quite high-end home theatre receivers, but the Pioneer Susano SC-LX90 is in a class well beyond that. It is also different in not being a receiver, but an amplifier — that is, it does not have a radio tuner built in. Aside from that, and one other item, this is about as fully functioning and capable a home theatre powerhouse as you’re ever likely to come across.

EQUIPMENT

According to Wikipedia, Susano is the god of sea and storms in the Japanese Shinto religion. This, presumably, is where Pioneer derived the name. The Wikipedia article, while interesting, doesn’t offer much of a clue as to why a home theatre amp would be so named. Perhaps Pioneer feels that this unit can whip up a storm.

That may well be the case.

Still, before getting inside the unit, I must remark upon its looks. Over the years the fashion for home entertainment equipment has changed... from a brushed-silver aluminium front panel to a brushed-black aluminium black panel… and back again. At the moment some brands offer both. The Susano is different. Its front panel — and a large one it is at that, measuring 247mm tall — is finished in piano-gloss black, simply lovely to look at, and being complementary to other products from Pioneer’s prestige LX range, including its top-notch plasma TVs and Blu-ray players.

In the middle of this frontage is a display, but not the usual LED one. Instead, it is a colour LCD screen measuring 110mm wide and 63mm tall, basically in widescreen format. This shows full menus, including the set-up one. By default this shows signal information, identifying which channels are being delivered by the source, and such things as the bit-rate for Dolby Digital, the sampling frequency of the digital sound, the dialogue normalisation setting and so on. But by using a button on the front panel, you can switch this to show the video source (so you can watch your DVDs on the screen), or the source overlaid by the signal information. This really lovely little feature is diminished significantly by the fact that it only works for analogue video inputs, not HDMI ones. The receiver is huge, heavy, and fully loaded with amplifiers. Ten of them in fact. You get five configuration options for the speakers. ‘Normal’ provides for 7.1 channels, except that the two regular surround channels receive an ‘array’ treatment, in which each gets two speakers (that means nine of the amps are used). ‘All Ch Bi-Amp’ delivers 5.1 channels, with two amps for each channel. There is no active crossover, though, so all frequencies are delivered to each driver, leaving the loudspeakers’ passive crossovers do their usual jobs. ‘Front Bi-Amp’ gives you six amplifiers for the front three channels and a single amp for each of the surround and surround back channels. Then there are two ‘7.2’ channel settings, one of which releases two of the amps for a second zone, while the other allows for a ‘B’ set of stereo speakers.

Each of the amplifiers offers 140W, and Pioneer says that the receiver can deliver maximum power from all of the channels at the same time. The amplifiers use Bang&Olufsen’s IcePower technology, which is a particular type of digital amplifier. That allows a lot of power to be generated with high efficiency, reducing wasted heat.

The unit has excellent connectivity, including Ethernet, two iLink inputs (for use with some older premium Pioneer DVD players to carry multichannel sound), an RF digital audio input suitable for LaserDisc, and six HDMI inputs! There is also a phono input, along with all the necessary analogue audio and video ones. There is a front-panel USB input, plus a rear-panel connection for iPods. A cable is included for this, but it is a no frills affair, lacking the dock provided by some companies.

Decoders are provided for every audio standard capable of being communicated over HDMI, including the latest DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD, and even Direct Stream Digital from SACD.

You get the regular collection of outputs, plus an extra HDMI one, so you can switch between the two.

PERFORMANCE

Some aspects of setting up this receiver were confusing until you realise that there are actually three different set-up menus. There is the regular one that covers most things, and then there are also ‘Audio Parameter’ and ‘Video Parameter’ menus. The main setup menu appears on the connected display, but the other two don’t. Several of the set-up menu’s options are devoted to the automatic calibration system provided, called MCACC. This worked very nicely and provides a range of special features — EQ and adjustments for room reverberation and phase. The Video Parameter menu couldn’t be invoked when I was feeding an HDMI signal, so it appears only to apply to analogue video inputs. Indeed, the unit apparently won’t do anything at all to HDMI video signals, simply transmitting them unaltered through to the display. That is unfortunate, because the video processor’s performance with analogue signals was excellent.

You can set the output resolution for the analogue-to-HDMI video converter. I fed via S-Video my test signals, which are routinely handled poorly by deinterlacers, and I found that the receiver did a brilliant job, correctly applying film and video-mode deinterlacing as required. It would be nice if the deinterlacing and scaling were also available for HDMI signals delivered at 576i, because the Pioneer likely outperforms the equivalent processing in many (most, actually) displays.

While on the connectivity front, one of the features that the unit offers is the ability to download to a computer the data it uses for its auto-calibration settings. These constitute, in effect, graphs and data showing the reverberation characteristics of your room, and so can be used to do some pretty clever calibration. However, this uses not the Ethernet connection, but an RS-232C connection — perhaps necessary because RS-232C remains the de facto home theatre control standard for installers.

The most important thing about the regular connectivity is that it worked. Indeed it worked perfectly. I plugged the unit into my home network and it configured itself. All I had to do was click on the notification panel that appeared on my computer to allow the unit to access its contents. The unit requires server software — provided usually by recent versions of Windows Media Player. Unlike some other network-capable home theatre units, it does not provide access to internet radio stations (that’s the ‘other item’ I mentioned in the introduction) but did support a fairly wide range of video and audio material, plus still photos.

The MP3 performance was excellent, and it even allows you to rewind, albeit in a somewhat clicky fashion, or perform A-B repeat loops on MP3 files.

HDMI? That was utterly rock solid in performance. There was not one wobble at all during a solid fortnight of use. It fully supported 1080p/24 and 1080p/50 video, as you would expect.

The audio performance was excellent at all times, using a range of loudspeakers. It powered each and every one of them to the limits of their capabilities, with splendid control and authority.

Most receivers have all the negative or black speaker terminals earthed to the case. This unit, as is common with digital amplifiers, doesn’t, so it’s likely that it uses a ‘push-pull’ configuration. That is, instead of producing a momentary 2V at the red, or plus, terminal and nothing in particular at the matching black one, it produces +1V at the red terminal, and minus 1V at the black one. It adds up to the same thing. Except that you should take extra special care in wiring up the speakers to make sure you don’t short circuit any of the black terminals to the case. This isn’t likely to be a problem because they are well designed. Very occasionally there are poorly designed satellite loudspeakers in which the black terminal is connected metal casing. You should be careful not to earth these.

CONCLUSION

Pioneer-Susano-S2The Pioneer Susano SC-LX90 home theatre amplifier is simply excellent in just about every way. Unless you simply, absolutely, must have radio, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Except, now that I think about it, can you still purchase a separate hi-fi tuner for an amplifier? Ah ha! Pioneer sells one: the F208. Sorted.

VERDICT

Pioneer Susano SC-LX90 home theatre amplifier

Price: $10,999

Superb audio performance
Exceptional flexibility
Excellent front panel display

Some of the exciting features aren’t available for HDMI
No internet radio despite Ethernet

RATED POWER: 10 x 140W, 8 ohms, 20-20,000Hz, 0.05% THD. In stereo mode 2 x 200W, 20-20,000Hz, 0.05% THD
INPUTS:
7 x optical digital audio (1 on front), 4 x coaxial digital audio, 1 x RF coaxial digital audio (for LaserDisc); 12 x analogue stereo audio (1 on front), 1 x 7.1 channel analogue audio, 1 x phono, 8 x composite video (1 on front), 4 x S-Video (1 on front, 1 assignable), 5 x component video, 6 x HDMI, 1 x iPod, 1 x Ethernet, 2 x S400 (Firewire/IEEE1394/iLink), 1 x USB (front panel), 1 x calibration microphone
OUTPUTS: 1 x optical digital audio, 3 x analogue stereo audio, 1 x 10.2-channel analogue audio pre-out, 3 x composite video, 3 x S-Video, 1 x component video, 2 x HDMI, 6.25mm headphone
ZONE 2:
Stereo analogue audio, coaxial digital audio, composite video, component video, assignable amplifiers
ZONE 3:
Stereo analogue audio, optical digital audio, composite video, assignable amplifiers
OTHERS: 4 x 12V trigger, 4 x IR in, 4 x IR out, 1 x Pioneer control in, 1 x Pioneer control out, 1 x RS-232C
DIMENSIONS (whd): 440 x 247 x 479mm
WEIGHT: 35.5kg WARRANTY: Three years
CONTACT:
Pioneer Electronics Australia
TEL:
1800 060 852
MYM:
Pioneer Electronics Australia Pty Ltd