Can an AV receiver combine power with control and finesse?
The classic AV receiver has been undergoing a period of change recently, with manufacturers keen to turn their surround sound amplifiers into digital hubs.Is that necessarily a good thing? After all, what really matters is that an AV receiver can connect to a number of sources and deliver quality surround sound. All the other bells and whistles tend to be more about marketing than providing genuine added value. The inclusion of all these new features is understandable as receiver manufacturers attempt to compete with the growing streaming and soundbar markets. However, what's important is that in trying to remain relevant, the manufacturers don't lose sight of what makes a great AV receiver.When it comes to surround sound, nothing beats a proper AV receiver for delivering a full, cohesive and immersive audio experience. So what should always remain important is the amplification, the audio decoding, the digital to analogue conversion and the room equalisation. The flagship Pioneer SC-LX87 certainly has all of these key factors in place and a host of other features as well. So the real question is, how good does the LX87 sound, how well are the other features implemented and do they add real value? Let's set this big Pioneer up and find out.
Design and ConnectionsThe LX87 definitely looks the part, combining the classy looks of Pioneer's black brushed metal facia with a heavyweight level of build quality. The chassis has a very solid construction, measures 435 x 185 x 441mm and weighs a hernia-inducing 18.1kg. The layout is classic AV receiver with an input selector dial on the left hand side and the master volume control on the right and, aside from the on/off button, there are no more controls visible on the front. In the middle is a large, easy to read display and beneath that a drop down flap behind which you will find various additional controls and connections.
The LX87 looks gorgeous, is built like a tank and has more connections than you could ever need.
These additional connections include a headphone socket, a jack for the setup microphone, a USB port for connecting an iDevice and an HDMI input with MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) capability. There are also navigation controls and buttons for accessing the home page, audio parameters, video parameters, THX, additional zones, the built-in tuner and direct iDevice control. The buttons are tactile and solid, whilst the input dial and master volume control offer a pleasing level of resistance when turned, reinforcing the overall feeling of a quality product.
At the rear are more connections than you could ever need, including eight HDMI inputs (nine if you include the one at the front) and three HDMI outputs. There are speaker terminals for the 9-channels of built in amplification, along with 7.1 multi-channel inputs and 11.2-channel pre-outs. Other connections include outputs for zones 2, 3 and 4, a USB-DAC In (B-Type), phono in, composite video in/out, component video in/out, optical digital in/out and coaxial digital in/out. There are also aerial sockets for the built-in tuners, IR connectors, 12V triggers and an RS232 connector for serial control.
Finally there is an Ethernet port, along with a USB charge port for the included AS-WL300 wireless converter and a port for the optional AS-BT200 Bluetooth adapter. The provided remote control is made of black plastic and feels somewhat dated and unintuitive to use. There are controls for input selection and volume, along with audio and video parameters, the home menu and other features. Although the remote does have a back light, the buttons are quite small which means we still found it fiddly and difficult use in a darkened room.
MenusThe menu system uses Pioneer's standard layout with dedicated screens for each function, along with an onscreen display that shows the current status. The OSD also allows you to change the audio and video parameters on-the-fly. We found the user interface to be very outdated and sometimes rather confusing to use. The home page on the LX87 has six sub-menus - Advanced MCACC, MCACC Data Check, Data Management, System Setup, Network Information and Operation Mode Setup.
The first sub-menu - Advanced MCACC - takes you through the acoustic calibration process using Pioneer's proprietary software MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration), whilst the second - MCACC Data Check - allows you to check those calibrated settings in detail. The third sub-menu is Data Management, which enables you to store up to six MCACC presets, allowing you to calibrate your system for different listening positions or frequency adjustments for the same listening position.
The fourth sub-menu is Setup and this includes manual speaker setup and input setup, along with a choice of OSD Languages. The Network Setup covers connecting the Pioneer to your network, whilst HDMI setup synchronises the LX87 to other Pioneer equipment supporting control over HDMI. Finally, Other Setup allows you to customise other settings such as auto power down, volume, software updates and multiple zones, whilst MHL Setup changes the settings related to MHL.
The fifth sub-menu is Network Information which provides data on your network connection and the final sub-menu is Operation Mode Setup which is designed to help those users who find it difficult to master all the different functions and settings. In this sub-menu you have a choice Expert, where users can set all the functions by themselves and Basic, where only certain basic settings can be operated. However, Pioneer might want to consider making the setup easier and more intuitive.
The menu system is decidedly outdated and setup is sometimes less than intuitive.
Set UpIn terms of the rest of the setup, it's initially quite straightforward, with the LX87 having plenty of HDMI inputs to connect your sources to and a host of legacy connections if needed. It's a simple task to wire up the speakers and the LX87 is quite flexible in terms of speaker configuration, although despite the 11.2-channel pre-outs, the LX87 can't process more than 9 channels, even if you add extra amplification. In terms of the networking features, if you connect using an Ethernet cable, the process is fairly routine but things were slightly more difficult with the provided wireless adapter.
Initially we really struggled to get the WiFi adapter to connect to our network and this was frustrating, if only because we're used to things just working in this day and age. The provided setup information for the wireless adapter was lengthy and rather baffling but thankfully I managed to get more detailed instructions from Pioneer that made the process slightly easier. However it was still a long way from being plug-n-play and the resulting user interface is as outdated as the rest of the menu system. If Pioneer wants to add more internet and network functionality, they need to make the process easier and more intuitive.
It's a simple task to wire up the speakers and the LX87 uses Pioneer's proprietary Advanced MCACC system which includes a custom microphone for automated setup and acoustic calibration. The Advanced MCACC submenu takes you through the acoustic calibration process using MCACC and within this menu, you can choose between a Full Auto MCACC, Auto MCACC, Manual MCACC and Demo. We chose to perform a Full Auto MCACC setup and calibration, taking advantage of the full eight measurement points to improve the accuracy and using different heights to achieve a better average.
Once you have completed the auto calibration process, the second sub-menu MCACC Data Check allows you to confirm the calibrated settings on the LX87 in detail through a series of menu screens. Here you can take a look at the speaker settings, the channel levels and the speaker distance. There's also a standing wave screen which shows the low frequency response of the room graphically, along with the equaliser settings used for the main frequencies and the group delay, which shows the delay in milliseconds for each speaker both before and after calibration.
FeaturesThe LX87 includes an impressive array of features, starting with AIR Studios Sound Tuning and THX Ultra2 Plus certification, which is the highest level of THX certification. The LX87 uses direct energy HD amplification with digital class D amplifiers and a high-power simultaneous multi-channel drive, which allows you to simultaneously drive 9 channels at 850W of power output. Other audio features include full band phase control to adjust for phase lag in a multi-channel speaker setup, standing wave control to decrease resonance and help prevent inaccurate EQ-setting, and precision distance setting.
There is also a precision quartz lock system (PQLS) designed to eliminate distortion caused by timing errors, jitter reduction, along with an advanced and auto sound retriever which are designed to help restore compressed audio. In terms of the audio processing, the LX87 uses ESS Sabre32 Ultra DACs, allowing for all audio to be upsampled to 32-bit/192kHz, and the Pioneer can even handle this resolution natively. So there's no denying the audiophile credentials of this powerful AV receiver and it's good to see that Pioneer are still putting sound quality first.
The internet features may be limited and the WiFi adapter difficult to setup but the remote app is a thing of beauty.
In terms of audio format support, the LX87 can decode DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD, and also includes Dolby Pro Logic IIz and DTS Neo: X. The latter two formats allow for the inclusion of height or width speakers, whilst Pioneer also include their own Wide Surround Mode to create a wider soundstage using width speakers. There is also Dolby TrueHD Loudness Management which is designed to stop volume fluctuations when switching channels or input sources.
The LX87 also has DSD (Direct Stream Digital) via SACD or USB drive and can play back up to 192kHz/24-bit high resolution FLAC and WAV files, along with MP3, WMA and AAC compressed music files. You can connect a PC directly to the LX87 using a USB connection which includes an asynchronous transfer mode and you can connect your iDevice directly to the receiver using the USB connection on the front, allowing you to playback digital audio and video.
There's also Apple's AirPlay which allows users to have complete access, control and playback of their entire iTunes library, including song information and album art. On top of that you also get HTC Connect for streaming from certain HTC devices and Spotify Connect for sending music directly to the pioneer from any device running Spotify on the same network. The LX87 is DLNA certified allowing you to connect with your home network and use it as a digital media player and as a digital media renderer. There's also a built-in AM/FM tuner, along with Internet Radio (vTuner), which means access to literally thousands of global channels and if you find any you like, you can save them to your favourites.
Whilst the user interface and internet functionality might seem a little dated, Pioneer's iControlAV2013 app is superb. It's freely available for both iOS and Android and offers a simple and intuitive interface for controlling the LX87. You can use the app to control functions such as volume, input, mode, balance, level control for subwoofer and centre speakers, PQLS, phase control, virtual speakers and auto sound retriever. Album information and the receiver's input/output status can also be displayed. It allows you to draw EQ curves with your finger and load and view MCACC measurement data. Overall Pioneer's remote app is well designed, slick and effective, which does make you wonder why the rest of the interface isn't as good.
Video ProcessingThe LX87 includes an extensive set of video processing including 4K upscaling and 4K pass-through, as well as support for 1080p/24, 3D, Deep Colour and x.v.Colour. When it came to handling standard and high definition content, the LX87 delivered an impressive performance, deinterlacing 480i, 576i and 1080i signals and scaling up to 1080p/24/50/60. We were pleased to see that the LX87 also had no problems detecting both 3:2 and 2:2 cadences, as well as scaling standard definition content without introducing unwanted artefacts or jaggies.
Pioneer also included a feature called advanced video adjust which directly affects the video signal, you need to choose PRO to make sure that the video signal is being passed through untouched. The Picture Adjustments sub-menu includes various image controls such as Contrast, Brightness, Chroma (Colour), Hue (Tint) and Detail (sharpness feature) but it is best to leave all these controls in their default zero or off positions. Thanks to the inclusion of three HDMI outputs, you can also use the LX87 to feed a signal to two different displays and a second location.
Sound QualityBased upon our experiences with previous Pioneer receivers, we had a pretty good idea what to expect and the LX87 didn't disappoint. As the specifications would suggest, there was plenty of horsepower under the hood and as a result the Pioneer produced a very powerful performance that proved ideal for today's soundtracks. If you listen to recent films such as Pacific Rim or Battleship, the levels of bass and the dynamic ranges used are incredible and the LX87 reproduced every room shaking effect with a surprising sense of accuracy. The nuclear explosion in Oblivion was also delivered with all the impact that we know that scene is capable of but, importantly, the Pioneer did so without losing focus on the rest of the mix.
It is often a case with receivers, especially those with beefed up amplification, that the resulting power can swamp the overall mix, replacing real dynamic range with a lack of subtlety and a poorly integrated low end. The LX87 never had any such issues and instead revealed a remarkable sense of control that resulted in an audio performance that was both effective and highly entertaining. The Pioneer was able to reproduce all the detail in the original soundtracks. so that ambient sounds in film's such as The Hunger Games were delivered with a lovely sense of realism. The localisation of effects and the steering from speaker to speaker was also superb, creating an extremely immersive surround experience.
In audio terms the LX87 really delivers with a powerful performance that also manages to be both controlled and refined.
The highly directional nature of the Gravity soundtrack was a good example with sounds moving around the room in perfect unison with the images on screen and the ability to tonally match all the speakers meant that pans were smooth with no obvious difference as they moved from speaker to speaker. The control and detail inherent in the LX87's performance was best typified by dialogue, which was clearly anchored to the centre speaker and remained clear, never getting lost in amongst the rest of the mix. The exception of course is Gravity where people's voices would often move around the room but again, the clarity and precision of the Pioneer meant that the effect was seamless. The LX87's ability to retain all the detail in a soundtrack and represent those sounds within a three dimensional space wasn't just because the precision and clarity of the receiver, there was also a sense of refinement.
It's often the case that receivers that are good with multi-channel soundtracks can struggle with two channel music where the sound can appear rather sterile and harsh. This was not the case with the LX87 whose refined performance delivered a sound that was neutral without ever being fatiguing. As such it was able to handle music just as well as it did the bombastic soundtracks found on most Hollywood movies these days, producing a performance that was delicate despite all the power being held in reserve. The result was that rarity of receivers, one that could deliver female vocals, pianos and strings with a beautiful level of finesse, whilst still being able to add grunt to heavier tracks with more low frequency impact. This makes the LX87 ideal for someone whose tastes combine both multi-channel film soundtracks and content that is more musical in nature.
- Excellent sound quality
- Plenty of power
- Comprehensive connections
- Full set of 11.2 pre-outs
- Impressive video processing
- Attractive design
- Solid build quality
- Flexible setup and configuration
- Superb remote app
- Menus are very dated
- Setup less than intuitive
- Limited internet functionality
- Poor remote control
Pioneer SC-LX87 AV Receiver ReviewPioneer's SC-LX87 flagship AV receiver is very similar to last year's model but that's no bad thing as the LX86 was a great surround amplifier. The new model beefs up the amplification sightly and despite the tendency of all the manufacturers to inflate their power numbers, the LX87 still has enough wattage to drive nine speakers and deliver sufficient dynamic range. The audio support is excellent, with all the major formats covered and support for height and width channels up to a total of 11.2. The design is classic AV receiver but the gloss black finish is attractive and the build quality is excellent. There are more connections at the rear than you could possibly need and the LX87 includes an impressive array of features.
The overall user interface rather lets the side down and is long overdue for an upgrade, as is the remote control, and whilst using a LAN cable was simple enough, setting up the provided wireless adapter proved much more difficult. The unintuitive and outdated nature of much of the internet and networking features is at odds with the superb remote app, which is well designed, slick and highly effective. Pioneer should get whomever designed the remote app to overhaul the rest of their interfaces as well. At least once you have got the LX87 connected to your network and have familiarised yourself with the layout, the Pioneer delivers the goods in terms of handling content and has real audiophile aspirations.
Ultimately it's sound quality that's important and in this area the LX87 was a stellar performer, delivering a fantastic soundstage that truly envelops the listener. The surround sound reproduction was excellent, with a well defined sound field that perfectly integrates each speaker, resulting in plenty of detail and localisation of music cues and effects. The LX87 was capable of a powerful performance but, importantly, it was also well controlled with a nicely integrated low end and plenty of dynamic range. Perhaps most surprisingly for an AV receiver, the LX87 was able to do this without sounding bright or harsh and delivered a sound that was, dare we say it, quite refined.
The SC-LX87 is another excellent AV receiver from Pioneer that combines features and sound quality in equal measure and, minor niggles about user interfaces, remote controls and network connections aside, it delivers an impressive and hugely enjoyable audio performance - Highly Recommended.
Value For Money9
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.