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Pioneer SC-LX85 AV Receiver review: Pioneer SC-LX85 AV Receiver

For core functionality, the Pioneer SC-LX85 is a powerful, effective brute of a receiver.

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Stephen Dawson
stephendawson.jpg
Stephen Dawson

Stephen Dawson became entranced by computers while a policeman in the 1980s. He turned to writing reviews of computer software in the early 1990s, later shifting over to reviewing home entertainment equipment. He has published more than three thousand reviews in a wide variety of magazines, newspapers and online outfits.

5 min read

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.

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8.3

Pioneer SC-LX85 AV Receiver

The Good

Plenty of raw power. Excellent audio performance. Excellent video performance. Brilliant iOS/Android control app.

The Bad

Rather expensive. Disjointed control functions. No fast list-navigation function.

The Bottom Line

For core functionality, the Pioneer SC-LX85 is a powerful, effective brute of a receiver.

Connections

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.

Set-up

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.

Sound

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.

Video

The receiver has very classy video processing, including excellent upscaling and progressive scan conversion for all sources. You can even exercise manual control over the progressive scan processes involved via the "Video Parameter" key on the remote.

This key does not invoke an on-screen menu, though. Nor does the Audio Parameter key. You make those adjustments while paying attention to the front panel of the unit. The "Home Menu" screen gives you access to an on-screen display with more fundamental settings, but this simply replaces whatever video was showing, rather than overlaying it. All this is a bit disjointed and primitive. It isn't really a problem, but it might take a while longer to learn how to take full control of the unit, compared to receivers with better-integrated control systems.

iOS devices

Your iPod/iPhone/iPad will work very nicely with this unit. It comes with a USB/composite video cable designed for iPods. Using this, the unit can play its contents, and show video from those supporting it (albeit with the limitations of such low-resolution content).

However, if you have a network-aware device, then Apple AirPlay is the way to go. This push system allows you to take control of the receiver from, say, your iPhone, and make it play the music that you want (again, switch off that "Restorer" process).

That's probably the best way to access such content, because Pioneer provides no way of navigating rapidly through the long lists with which new media formats are usually encumbered. It took a considerable time to scroll through the DLNA listing of 441 albums that are held on our computer, and through the very long lists of internet radio stations supplied by vTuner, and, indeed, through iPod menus for a physically connected device.

The unit is said to support FLAC, but only via DLNA; not from USB, which seems strange. What is supported from USB are JPEG photos, with are displayed at the same dreadfully poor-quality levels as on the Marantz and Denon receivers. Did all three companies get their JPEG renderers from the same source? Aspect ratio wrong? Check. Jaggies showing regardless of output resolution? Check.

Overall

But, again, we must stress that such features as photo display aren't what a home-theatre receiver is all about. For core functionality, the Pioneer SC-LX85 is a powerful, effective brute of a receiver. The iOS app to control it is also particularly nice.

If it could navigate through lists of content in a reasonably effective way and provide FLAC over USB, it would also be among the best for new media.

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