Elsewhere we've looked at Pioneer's entry-level networkable home-theatre receiver,. This one, the SC-1223, is a little more than double the cost, at AU$1,499. Double that price again and you reach the top model in Pioneer's range.
It's clear that even though there are many family similarities, the present receiver is very much closer to the top model than the entry-level one.
For one thing, it uses Class D amplifiers, which can be thought of as digital amplifiers or switching amplifiers. The output transistors are either fully on or fully off (except for the brief instances of switching between states), avoiding the relatively low efficiency states of being partially on or off. The result is much higher efficiency — typically 40 per cent higher than regular amplifiers — with the reduced heat dissipation allowing smaller heat sinks.
Pioneer rates this receiver's amplifiers at 100 watts output into 8 ohms at extremely low distortion levels, 160 watts into 6 ohms at 1 per cent distortion and 200 watts into 4 ohms also at 1 per cent. Into 8 ohms with all seven amplifiers running simultaneously, the receiver is good for 560 watts total, which comes to 80 watts per channel.
Importantly, the amps fully support 4-ohm loudspeakers, so you're pretty free to use whichever loudspeakers you like.
Two of the amplifiers can be set to different functions: surround back, front height, front wide, Zone 2 or a second pair of front stereo speakers. There are eight HDMI inputs (the one on the front supports MHL) and two HDMI outputs. The second one can be set for providing a different program to a second zone or to drive an extra monitor in the main zone. A proprietary adaptor port is available for use with Pioneer's optional Bluetooth dongle. If you want Wi-Fi, Pioneer has an adaptor (AU$149) that plugs into the Ethernet port and derives its power from a USB-like power socket on the back of the receiver.
I'm generally just a touch more careful wiring Class D amplifiers than conventional ones since many have both the red and black speaker terminals electrically isolated from the chassis and earth of the unit. Most conventional home-theatre receivers have the black terminals earthed to the chassis. This receiver has things in reverse: it is the red terminal that is earthed. It should make no difference in practice, but it is a slight peculiarity.
Regardless, set-up was smooth, except (as so often happens) that during the automatic loudspeaker calibration, the receiver decided my centre and surround speakers were Large. They are good but do best without the very deepest bass in them. This receiver gives you options. One allows you to do a full calibration without adjusting the speaker sizes, so I redid it with Large preset for the front stereo speakers and "Small" for the others, so the receiver did its measurements on that basis. One limitation, though, is that the same crossover frequency to the subwoofer is applied for all the "Small" speakers, so those with unusual combinations of speakers may find it a little inflexible.
The HDMI 2 output is set to Zone operation by default. To change it, you have to go deep into the menus to switch that function. Once that's done, you can select output for HDMI 1, HDMI 2 or both (or neither). But HDMI 2 will not show the unit's on-screen display. Neither, it turns out, does HDMI 2 support the excellent video-processing functions provided by the receiver. So make sure your main display is connected to HDMI 1.