Can an AV Receiver that does everything truly excel at any of them?
What is the Pioneer SC-LX57?When I started selling AV Receivers at the turn of the century (which makes me sound appallingly old), AV Receivers seemed fairly complex things. They supported multiple formats and for someone used to stereo amplifiers with a row of inputs, they seemed incredibly complex. When I look back at these amps however, they are almost laughably simple by comparison to today’s efforts. The big difference between these older models and today’s AV receivers is that originally, a receiver was designed to be a device that you attached sources to in order to get audio to five speakers and a sub (and it was just five speakers and a sub). Advanced students (for which I really mean people with a lot of games consoles) might use the video switching.
AV Receiver mission creep began a few years into this. We gained extra channels and extra decoding formats, component video switching and auto setup. Then came video scaling, DVI, Firewire and finally HDMI. We now have AV receivers sprouting network functionality, internet radio streaming services and app control. All of these functions have been added but the price we pay for the receivers has effectively stayed put. We are asking for more amps, more decoding and more features for the same cost. Does something have to give?
Pioneer has been as involved in this process as any other manufacturer- indeed they have frequently been innovators in adding new features. The SC-LX57 you see here comes in a box liberally peppered with logos and supported formats. This is an AV Receiver that literally does everything except provide a watertight enclosure to do the washing up in. Compared to the AX3 that I used as part of what might have been my favourite ever AV system, it is astonishingly sophisticated. Can this technological marvel deliver on the many promises it makes?
Pioneer SC-LX57 DesignThe 57 is the most affordable of a trio of Pioneer AV Receivers that culminates in the flagship SC-LX87. All three are 9.2 capable THX certified monsters with pretty much every decoding format under the sun supported. Although notionally the smallest and simplest of the three, there is precious little that the LX57 won’t do or handle. No less than nine HDMI connections are fitted and the 57 supports 4k passthough (although it can ‘only’ scale incoming video to 1080p) and these inputs can be routed to two different outputs for a spot of multiroom use or for separate screen and projector installs. A smattering of legacy connections are also fitted which can be assigned to inputs as required.
These inputs support all the Dolby and DTS options you might realistically expect and send this signal to nine Class D amplifiers that generate a fairly significant 190 watts each. One area which shows at a glance that this power output might not quite as ferocious as it first appears is that the measurement is taken into 6 ohms. This is par for the course in terms of AV Receiver measurement in 2014 but it does mean that when compared at a glance to older AV receivers that quote into 8 ohms, they can seem extremely powerful when in fact power is no greater or on occasions actually lower when measured in the same way. I don’t want to single Pioneer out for this when everyone is at it but if you are looking to upgrade to a new AV receiver from an older model, you may find the figures a little perplexing. This being said, 6 ohms or not, the LX57 is not going to find many speakers a struggle.
This is barely scratching the surface of the LX57’s capabilities. Naturally, there is an auto setup and EQ function in the form of Pioneer’s proprietary MCCAC system that has been progressively honed and evolved since its initial release. As well as decoding for multichannel sources, there is a separate ESS Sabre DAC for decoding audio and an ‘audio scaler’ that can upsample incoming material to 32/192kHz. You want more? The 57 is a USB DAC, supports Spotify Connect, has internet radio access and a completely bespoke control app for iOS and Android so you don’t have to use anything so tedious as a remote control. It even has eco modes to try and run the LX57 in an environmentally sound way although I’m not sure where the Venn diagram of keen cinephiles and committed environmentalists intersects exactly.
There are two omissions in the vast spec though. The first is that Bluetooth is not fitted as standard and you will need to spend £50 or so on an optional Bluetooth module for this. The second is that all of the trick streaming and networking features of the Pioneer are not supported by an internal wireless fitment. Instead Pioneer supplies the AS-WL300 wireless adapter which for an innocuous black box ranks as one of the most intimidating devices I’ve ever been sent for review. In theory, this little device bolts into the Ethernet socket of the LX57 and draws power from the amp and parks it on your network. In practice, the instructions supplied for putting it on the network are only marginally simpler than the ones for the Large Hadron Collider and there will be swearing during the installation phase. Pioneer UK supplied me some much better instructions for installing it and I did get it working but I’d hesitate to call it slick.
The app is far and away the best means of controlling the Pioneer.
It is important that you do get it working though because the app is far and away the best means of the controlling the Pioneer. Fast, slick and very intuitive, it knocks the remote which is not really any of these things into a cocked hat. The app can make use of multiple screen and expandable menus to control the huge functionality of the LX57 very effectively whereas the remote needs to make do with endless button cycles on a collection of small and not desperately well marked buttons to do the same thing. The app makes the difference between the LX57 being pretty slick and a bit of a clunky mess.
Beyond the remote, the rest of the Pioneer is rather more appealing. The LX57 is a big lad - all three of the big models share the same basic chassis – but the clean styling with most of the fascia buttons hidden behind a fascia flap make for a handsome unit. The display is clear and easy to read and the relatively restrained use of blue LEDs (surely this is a trend that is going to come to an end at some point?) is to be commended. The build is good and all the controls, connections and casework have been assembled to a very high standard. The 57 feels the same at the 87 (which has also passed through this parish) and while this makes for a solid feeling £2,000 amp, it makes for a great feeling £1,200 one.
Pioneer SC-LX57 SetupThe Pioneer was used with my resident Mordaunt Short Mezzo and Tannoy TS2.12 setup and the Dali Zensor 5.1 system along with a Cambridge Audio 752BD, Sky HD Box and an Arcam airDAC. It was placed on my network where it found my NAS drives without incident. ARC was tested via a Panasonic GT60 plasma. Material used included Blu Ray, DVD, broadcast TV, iPlayer and Netflix as well as lossless and high res FLAC and services such as Spotify and Grooveshark.
Pioneer SC-LX57 Sound QualityThe review sample had clearly done some running before it reached me as evidenced by the… interesting settings it had remembered and the outer carton which looked a little like it had been buried for a short time. Setup was a breeze. The Pioneer is clearly and logically laid out at the back, the terminals are well spaced and accepted 4mm plugs without incident. The auto setup process is noisy and interminable but then again so is everybody else’s. The results obtained are in keeping with the known distances and room modes I have on file for the room. The Pioneer was also able to differentiate between and adapt the settings for the Mordaunt-Shorts and the Dalis. What it couldn’t do was give me the 60Hz crossover that the Dalis were happiest with and instead forced a choice between 50Hz and 80Hz which is not the level of fine adjustment I’d really like.
Minor niggles aside, there is a great deal to like about the way that the LX57 goes about its business. Returning to my test benchmark Unstoppable, the Pioneer manages to provide exactly what this disc needs to shine. As you might expect, there is a vast amount of power to hand to handle trains smashing into one another and suchlike but where the Pioneer shows some real flair is in terms of the ability to handle the nuances of the soundtrack - the unexpectedly delicate score, the continuous news commentary and mass of industrial and mechanical sound effects are all well captured.
The generation of an excellent and believable soundfield is also an area that the Pioneer excels at. The really significant difference between it and my long term Cambridge Audio 751R is that from the same five speakers, there is a much more joined up and immersive soundstage. What I found most impressive about this is while you might expect this from the ‘HD’ formats, the Pioneer is able to do the same thing with plain vanilla Dolby Digital and even Pro-Logic II. It doesn’t all go the Pioneer’s way though; excellent though the Class D amps used in the Pioneer are, there is a slight lack of fullness compared to the old hat (and vastly less efficient) amps used in the Cambridge Audio.
This immersion is very welcome and tends to make even the most ordinary TV an event in the way that less capable amps can struggle to do. When combined with the refined and involving Dalis (which are probably a little cheaper than you might normally partner with an amp of this type but still responded extremely well) the result was a system that managed to be easy to listen to but involving at the same time. It might be possible to have too much of a good thing though. Even though these Class D Pioneers are markedly less aggressive than some of the company’s older models, I suspect that you wind up with a bit too much of a good thing if you matched them with very bright speakers.
The generation of an excellent and believable soundfield is also an area at which the Pioneer excels.
The stereo performance of the LX57 is not as strong as the multichannel presentation but still more than respectable. The UPnP board managed to find my music collection and access it without serious issues but I found that it wasn’t as fast or capable as attaching the Arcam airDAC via standard analogue connection. Turning all the processing off and leaving the Pioneer to run as a straight two channel amp removes some of that impressive expansiveness from the performance but this is still no slouch in this regard. It has to give some ground to dedicated stereo amps but it is more than good enough to be enjoyable and the performance via Spotify Connect is more than up to most people’s requirements as is the internet radio access.
None of the vast functionality feels as perfectly well implemented as it might via a separate device but - via the app especially - it is simple enough. None of it ever feels truly intuitive though. A case in point is using the audio return channel from the Panasonic GT60. ARC works well - Dolby Digital from Netflix sounds convincingly full bodied like other surround formats - but actually setting it up is an unprepossessing combination of menu settings and then finally working out that with ARC activated, the ‘TV’ input becomes the ARC channel. Nowhere in the manual does it say - “The ARC is accessed via the TV input when activated in the settings menu”, you effectively have to figure it out yourself. As reviewers, the setup of device casts a longer shadow than it does for owners as we set more things up but the LX57 never feels as well thought out as it might. Like anything, once you get your head around it, it works well enough and most owners aren’t going to try and put it back in the box a week or so later.
- Expansive and detailed sound
- Huge spec
- Handsome and well built
- Horrible Remote
- Infuriating wireless adapter
- Can lack a little warmth
Pioneer SC-LX57 AV Receiver ReviewSpending some time with the SC-LX57 has been an interesting and generally rewarding experience. I spent some time last year with the flagship LX87 and while I loved the performance, I felt that some of the issues with the interface resulted in an amp that had enough niggles in the operating system that I didn’t always feel it justified the asking price despite the excellent sonic performance - something is wrong when it takes less time to unbox the amp, make the connections and run the setup than it does to connect and install a wireless adapter. In one sense, nothing has changed with the LX57 - it is still saddled with a piece of hardware that is immensely frustrating but necessary to make control of the amp as good as it should be.
What has changed for me is that the LX57 offers huge amounts of the performance of the flagship - indeed my notes look like a carbon copy of those for the LX87. Given how much less the LX57 costs - and at the time of writing, it can be had for less than £1,000 - I feel that I would be better able to accept these control foibles for such a refined, powerful and above all capable amplifier. The Pioneer SC-LX57 is a jack of all trades but it does almost all of them exceptionally well and the result is a very capable foundation for a great AV system.
Value For Money9
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