The Pioneer SC-LX85 home-theatre receiver is extremely powerful and versatile in home-theatre work, and enjoys Apple Airplay support. But use of other new media is hobbled somewhat by its poor list navigation.
Pioneer appears to have decided that S-Video as a connection standard is done for, so, even on this premium receiver, it has none of them. Instead, it has seven HDMI inputs (one on the front panel), USB, Ethernet and decent support for component and composite video, along with digital audio. There is also a phono connection for vinyl enthusiasts. Two HDMI outputs make it convenient to connect both a front projector and a direct-view display.
As with many receivers, it is fitted with a number of system-integration connections. Triggers, for example, allow the receiver to switch on other devices (power amplifiers, an automatic projection screen). RS-232C lives on in home theatres as a control standard. This Pioneer receiver has plenty of such connections, including RS-232C, but it comes with a use for that beyond normal integration. Included in the box is an RS-232C RF remote control adapter. Set this up, and you have a remote that goes through cupboard doors. Also included with the unit is an IR blaster. This plugs into the RF receiver. You can put your Blu-ray player and PVR in the cupboard as well, and use your Pioneer remote to control them.
Pioneer has its own speaker-calibration system called MCACC. This also takes all sorts of account of room acoustics, and provides time alignment for various frequency bands, all from one position, rather than moving the microphone around. Running through the full process must have taken close to 10 minutes (fortunately, without user intervention required), rather than the minute or less for the others.
Oddly, it had a habit of leaving speaker systems with all the speakers — including the smaller surround ones — set to "Large", rather than setting some to "Small". This could leave them called upon to cope with rather more bass than they ought to. Fortunately, there are extensive options for you to set some bits of the calibration manually, and others automatically, which is what we did to override the size settings.
Speaking of extensive settings, the options for allocating the amplifier channels to different functions were also plentiful. Indeed, there were nine options, providing for such things as a 5.1-speaker system with two additional powered zones, through 7.1 channels and bi-amplifying the front stereo pair to a full 9.1 system with surround rear and front height running at the same time.
Pioneer has included nine channels of amplification, using Class-D amplifiers. These are rather efficient, so the unit runs relatively cool. We're a bit ambivalent about the raw performance of this unit. Pioneer throws monstrously large figures around for power output using ridiculous parameters. Even its most conservative figure is for the single frequency of 1kHz, rather than the conventional full audible band. That figure is 140 watts per channel.
Our worries about this departure from standard specifications is assuaged considerably by the awarding of a THX Ultra 2 Plus certification to the unit. So long as your loudspeakers have an impedance of at least six ohms, then this receiver ought to handle them. It certainly handled our two different sets of speakers very nicely, with plenty of volume and control.
By default, the unit goes to stereo music for stereo sources, as it should. Just take a moment to switch off the "Restorer" process, which otherwise comes on automatically for playback of AirPlay and other compressed-music sources. It cannot actually restore anything, but it does make the music somewhat brasher in an attempt to seem to be doing so.