For the longest time, I haven’t been happy with my TV’s sound. Who is anyway? There are several options to get around this. You could get a soundbar/soundbase, which I have in my bedroom. But this can often mean a compromise in sound quality for music listening (though it’s more than acceptable for movie watching). Plus, I still need to connect my turntable, run my music from a USB key, and listen to Australia’s Boom Radio from TuneIn.
In order to do all that, I need to invest in a full-fledged receiver. But if I’m only using two channels and a subwoofer output, it means the rest of the amplification, processing, and extra features such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, remain unused. What’s more, in a spot like my bedroom rack, I don’t have the space for a full-fledged receiver since it’s already full of other devices, including my cable box, Apple TV, laserdisc player (remember that?), turntable, and CD player. And in my living room, I want the rack to look clean, without the presence of a big receiver.
Fortunately, Pioneer released the Elite SX-S30 2-channel network receiver, which provides all of the features you’d get from a, say, Pioneer Elite SC-LX701 (which I use in my home theatre), but at a third of the height and almost a third of the price, while still offering the same audiophile quality.
The SX-S30’s specifications are astounding: four HDMI 2.0a inputs (with the obligatory HDCP 2.2, of course), a S/PDIF input, Toslink input, two analog stereo inputs, and a phono input with built-in pre-amp for a Moving Magnet turntable. It offers access to streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify, TIDAL, and Deezer via both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, as well as TuneIn Radio for enjoying over 100,000 Internet radio stations, including free broadcasts of music, sports, news and talk shows from around the world.
Being that it is a network receiver, the SX-S30 is also equipped with Apple AirPlay and Pioneer’s new FireConnect whole-home-audio (distributed audio) capabilities. The latter allows you to enjoy Bluetooth audio, front-USB audio files, and Internet radio from the FireConnect-compatible Pioneer receiver to an optional FireConnect compatible Pioneer wireless speaker(s) located in other room(s). Firmware updates scheduled for some time this spring will also allow for built-in Chromecast capabilities and DTS Play-Fi technology.
To complete its set of audiophile features, the receiver also plays HiRes audio files up to 5.6MHz DSD (Direct Stream Digital), and up to 192 kHz/24-bit WAV, FLAC, AIFF, and/or Apple Lossless files from a USB device or via wired or wireless network.
Differentiating the Pioneer Elite further is that it uses Class D3 amplification – Pioneer’s third generation switching amplification strategy – for the most uncoloured and unforgiving sonic honesty, along with Pioneer’s lauded MCACC automatic room tuning.
Pioneer’s implementation of Class D, based on ICEpower modules, made its debut in the Elite SC-09TX, which cost around $8,000 back in 2008. A later and lower-priced ICEpower version was included in the SC-05 (which I used to own), and again in 2012 with the SC-65 (again, which I used to own), which saw the first introduction of D3. Class D, in general, is more energy efficient than the Class AB used in most receivers because it dissipates less energy in the form of heat. Pioneer claims D3 uses 44% less energy than its previous version of Class D, and 50% less than Class AB, while providing a wider dynamic range and supporting speaker impedances down to (based on my tests) 2Ohms! Of course, the amplifications section still ran warm during all my tests, but not anywhere remotely hot as Class AB, or worse, Class A.
The amp also benefits from a newly designed heat sink, more direct signal paths, eliminating EMI filtering, feedback loops, impedance selectors, and current limiters. Pioneer says this reduces colouration, ringing, and noise, especially at high frequencies. And from listening tests and readings using sweep tone then measured with my Real Time Analyzer, Pioneer’s claim holds true.
As someone who craves sonic accuracy, I need a receiver that can create the optimum acoustic environment. This MCACC system was developed with the expertise of professional recording studios at AIR Studios in London, England. With the included custom microphone, the system automatically compensates for differences in speaker size, level and distance, and equalizes response to AIR Studios’ target frequency response, which I can further tweak for more improved accuracy.
A subwoofer is usually a no-no when it comes to two-channel listening, since it will create phase differential that is nearly impossible to fix. Not with this receiver. Pioneer came up with an innovative solution for the phase lag between the subwoofer and the main channel speakers caused by the network filter. It’s aptly called Phase Control, which compensates for the delayed bass to improve sound synchronization.
Hooking Things Up
The four HDMI inputs, connected using Pixelgen Design’s THX UHD-certified HDMI cables in my setup, were used for my Oppo UHD BD player, Rogers UHD cable box, Apple TV (which hopefully will receive a UHD treatment come September 2017), and Sony PlayStation 3, which I use mostly as a music server instead of a gaming system. I sat my Pioneer PL-30 turntable nicely atop the receiver and plugged it into the Phono input of the unit. Additionally, I plugged a 64GB USB key filled with .WAV CD rips of my entire Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra, Kylie Minogue and Disney music collection to the front USB jack.
Running a pair of Pioneer Elite Andrew Jones Atmos tower speakers (only connected to the main speakers, of course) and PSB SubSeries 300 subwoofer, my set up was almost complete. Finally, I ran MCACC room correction, since the system is located in a general living area adjacent to my kitchen and dining room where the acoustic properties are far from optimal. The MCACC system worked beyond my expectations, considering the acoustic challenges. I have worked with MCACC for nearly two decades and I know its efficacy, but it has always been in a dedicated or a semi-dedicated listening area, never in a horrible space like this. If your speakers are a little bass-shy, the amp in combination with MCACC will infuse more heft into proceedings.
I played my go-to track, Judas Priest’s Ram It Down, using Pioneer’s PL30 turntable and the receiver’s built-in pre-amp. You can hear an immediacy to the receiver’s delivery that won’t fail to impress. Low frequencies, even when the subwoofer is disabled, sound powerful, really driving home the delivery of the chorus in Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me (Japanese release, dual-disc, 180 grams, first pressing). Vocals sound expressive and confidently showcased, while the highest frequencies are smooth, informative and well-behaved. Imaging is surprisingly wide. The widest I’ve ever experienced in this living room, in fact, again thanks to the receiver’s MCACC prowess. The built-in phono pre-amp is surely not as good as my McIntosh phono, or my “ugly-duckling” Rek-O-Kut MK4 budget-yet-reference-quality phono pre-amp. But it’s still mighty good.
The same sonic prowess was showcased when I played any CD (including Michael Buble’s latest album Nobody But Me and the soundtrack to the animated film Trolls) on my Pioneer Elite BDP-09 Blu-ray player that is now relegated as my reference CD player; both using an analog connection in order to experience the player’s Wolfson DAC running in dual-differential mode, S/PDIF or even using an HDMI connection.
Regardless of the type of music I played, or music source I used, even with movie playback in two-channel, the SX-S30 presented everything in great stride and delivered sonic bliss that is unmatched for the asking price of $729. What great value.