The Pioneer SC-LX83 is the Colin Firth of AV receivers. Lauded on a global scale over the past 12 months, people break out into spontaneous applause whenever it makes an appearance. So imagine our excitement when its replacement, the incoming SC-LX85, broke cover at the IFA trade show. We copped an earful of this £2,000 AV receiver, which will go on sale in September.
As with its forebear, build quality is impressive. The SC-LX85 is reassuringly heavy, with a solid, unyielding chassis. Power users will be impressed by the wide range of inputs and outputs available. All HDMI ports are 3D-compatible and support audio-return-channel hardware.
New is an HDMI standby-through feature. This routes any sound and vision from connected set-top boxes and sources through the AV receiver to a TV, without the need to power the SC-LX85 up.
Pioneer seems increasingly keen to woo Apple users. Making its debut on the SC-LX85 is AirPlay. With very little effort you can stream your iTunes music collection from a Mac or PC, or directly from any iOS device, such as the iPhone or iPad. Tablet users should note that the front-panel's digital iPod connection also has the ability to charge an iPad. Not many AV USB connections have the voltage to do this.
The SC-LX85 is also compatible with Pioneer's funky Air Jam app. Used in conjunction with an optional Bluetooth adaptor, it permits four Bluetooth devices to be paired to the receiver. Once connected, each user can queue up songs to create a collective playlist.
Pioneer has substantially reworked this model's network-streaming abilities. The new 'home media gallery' is DLNA v1.5 compliant and offers wide file format support, including MP3, WMA, WAV, AAC, Ogg and FLAC. As well as quick access to Internet radio stations via vTuner, the receiver will also retrieve and display any album art available on a PC or network-attached storage drive.
The SC-LX85 will also work with any smart phone that supports Universal Plug and Play or DLNA media servers and renderers. With a DLNA app, you can select music from a server using an Android phone or tablet and 'push' it directly to the AV receiver to play.
To make the most of compressed audio sources, there's an 'advanced sound retriever' onboard to restore depth and improve clarity. Not only does this work on MP3s and the like, it can also be applied to low-bit-rate Internet radio stations, which is handy.
But, for all its network savvy, the SC-LX85 doesn't have integrated Wi-Fi, although Pioneer does include a dedicated Wi-Fi adaptor in the box.
While we love these network niceties, surely the main reason you would shell out two grand for the SC-LX85 is sound quality. Last year's SC-LX83 was a sonic wow, and we've no reason to suspect the SC-LX85 will be any different.
Under the lid are nine channels of amplification, giving 810W of continuous power. The AV receiver also sports THX Ultra 2 Plus post-processing, and has been sound-tuned by the golden-eared audio engineers at Air Studios. Suffice it to say we don't think this particular amp is likely to run out of pep midway through the next Jason Statham slugfest.
There's support for all the requisite surround-sound formats, including height and width newcomers DTS Neo:X and Dolby Pro Logic IIz. And, if you don't have a nine-speaker set-up in your home cinema, you can always configure the unit to give you 5.1-channel sound in one room and stereo in another.
To help set the SC-LX85 up, there's an advanced version of Pioneer's MCACC room calibration tool, which equalises levels, corrects phase and sorts out a room's acoustical nasties.
Rather cleverly, this can now be used in conjunction with a video adjustment feature, which offers preset filters to match different display technology (plasma, LCD or projector). Distance data acquired during the MCACC set-up process is borrowed to optimise levels of picture enhancement and noise reduction. Only time will tell how effective this will be, but we appreciate Pioneer's vision.
Our brief hands-on session at IFA with the Pioneer SC-LX85 has left us salivating for more. Pioneer has taken what made the original SC-LX83 so great and spread it liberally with Apple-flavoured jam. The result looks ridiculously tasty.
Edited by Charles Kloet