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Pioneer SC-LX89 9.2 Channel AV Receiver Review

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A touch of Class D

by Steve Withers May 17, 2016 at 7:44 AM

  • SRP: £1,799.00

    What is the Pioneer LX89?

    The Pioneer SC-LX89 is the company's latest flagship AV surround sound receiver and includes nine channels of built-in Class D amplification that can deliver over 200W per a channel. This new high-end model builds on the strengths of the previous generations of Pioneer receivers to deliver a superior performance with the new immersive audio formats. The LX89 supports Dolby Atmos and, thanks to a future firmware update, DTS:X and, unlike previous models, the 11.2-channel pre-outs provide the option to run a full 7.2.4 Atmos/DTS:X configuration. The receiver also includes HDMI 2.0a inputs and outputs with HDCP 2.2 and support for 4K 60p at the full 18Gbps bandwidth.

    Pioneer have finally integrated both WiFi and Bluetooth into the receiver and the LX89 includes support for Spotify and AirPlay, along with an asynchronous USB port. The receiver uses SABRE DACs and can handle resolutions up to 192kHz/32-bit as well as native DSD. The LX89 uses custom audio components with improved sound tuning certified by Air Studios and a new power supply. There is also an improved user interface and input labelling, along with a new setup app and the latest iteration of Pioneer's MCACC Pro room calibration system. That's an impressive set of features and specs for a receiver that costs £1,799 as at the time of writing (May 2016), so let's see if the Pioneer SC-LX89 can live up to its potential.

    Design

    The LX89 doesn't deviate from previous generations of Pioneer AV receivers but there seems little point re-inventing the wheel. Their basic receiver design has served the company well for years, which means you get the standard layout, with a large volume dial on the right hand side and a large input dial on the left. Under the input dial there is an on/off button and between the two dials there is a large glass section where the informative and easy to read display is located. That's it as far as the front panel is concerned because all the connections and controls sit behind a drop-down flap situated beneath the display. This gives the front panel a very minimalist appearance and combined with the black brushed metal finish, it's an attractive looking receiver, or at least as attractive as a black rectangular box can be.

    The LX89 combines power and looks in equal measure, with an understated design and solid construction.

    Pioneer SC-LX89
    There are some nice design touches including a blue light around the power button and a matching blue light in the middle of the glass section, beneath the display. Also in this area there are blue indicator lights that show if the MCACC Pro EQ is on, when an HDMI input is connected and when there's a wireless connection, there's also an indicator that lights up when the rest of the display is turned off by using the dimmer adjustment control. Once you add in the silver trim around the dials, you have a receiver that is both understated and classy; although if black isn't to your tastes there's also the option of a silver finish instead.
    Pioneer SC-LX89
    The LX89 is built like a tank with solid construction and engineering, so the input dial and master volume control offer a pleasing level of resistance when turned, reinforcing the overall feeling of a quality product. The receiver measures 435 x 185 x 441mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at a hefty 18.1kg.

    Connections & Control

    If you drop down the flap at the front of the LX89, you'll find navigation controls and buttons for accessing the home menu, audio parameters, video parameters, additional zones, the built-in tuner and direct iDevice control. If necessary you can set up and control the receiver from this panel and all the buttons are tactile and solid, adding to feeling of a flagship product. Along with the controls there are some additional connections include a headphone socket, a jack for the setup microphone, a USB port for connecting an iDevice and an extra HDMI socket which is labelled Input 5.

    The LX89 has all the connections you'll need and the HDMI 2.0a inputs/outputs are suitably future-proof.

    Pioneer SC-LX89
    The majority of the connections are at the rear and here you'll find seven HDMI inputs (eight if you include the one at the front) and three HDMI outputs. The LX89 includes HDMI 2.0a inputs and outputs with support for HDCP 2.2, Ultra HD, Rec.2020 and HDR (High Dynamic Range), however not on all of the HDMI ports. Pioneer have only included HDMI 2.0a on the HDMI inputs marked BD, HDMI 1 and HDMI 2 and on all three HDMI outputs, a fact that isn't made clear unless you actually test the inputs or trawl through the manual. We're not sure why Pioneer didn't just use HDMI 2.0a on all the HDMI ports but the rest of the inputs (3-7) are HDMI 1.4. The naming convention for the HDMI inputs is also rather confusing with BD and HDMI 1 to 4, 6 and 7 at the rear and HDMI 5 at the front. In addition, HDMI 7 supports MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) and the HDMI 1 output supports ARC (Audio Return Channel).

    There are speaker terminals for up to eleven channels, although only nine can be used at any one time, along with 7.1 multi-channel inputs and 11.2-channel pre-outs with independent dual subwoofers. The speakers terminals use some unusual naming conventions including Top Middle and Extra 1, which don't always make it obvious which speaker terminals you should be using. Other connections include outputs for additional zones, 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. We're glad to see that Pioneer have finally integrated both WiFi and Bluetooth into the receiver itself and there are two aerials that are attached at the rear for the purpose of connecting directly with your wireless network or a Bluetooth device.
    Pioneer SC-LX89
    Pioneer have made some minor changes to the design of the provided remote control, simplifying it slightly although it still suffers from an excess of small fiddly buttons. It remains rather plastic in nature and unintuitive to use, with a colour-coded multiple component control system. All the controls you need are present, including buttons for input selection and volume, along with audio and video parameters, the home menu and other features. However it never feels like a remote that is fit for a high-end receiver and it could definitely do with some work in terms of its ergonomics. The limitations of the controller are brought into sharp relief when compared to the excellent iControlAV5 remote app, which is freely available for iOS and Android devices.

    Features & Specs

    The LX89 is as feature-packed an AV receiver as you're likely to find, with an impressive array of specifications. As with previous generations, the LX89 includes AIR Studios Monitor Certification but interestingly, it is no longer THX Certified. The receiver uses direct energy HD amplification with digital Class D amplification, so it has plenty of muscle with Pioneer claiming 220W into 6 Ohms. That number is based on driving one channel but the LX89 also includes a high-power simultaneous multi-channel drive, which allows the receiver to simultaneously drive nine channels at 850W of power output - which should be enough for most systems. The LX89 also uses advanced direct construction, with a rigid trans-stabiliser and an insulated dual chassis. It uses a 3D frame space construction to reduce resonance, a low leakage flux power transformer and an anti-standing wave insulator.

    In terms of the audio processing, the LX89 uses low-jitter ESS Sabre32 Ultra DACs (ES9016), allowing for all audio to be upsampled to 32-bit/192kHz. The receiver has DSD (Direct Stream Digital) via SACD or USB drive (2.8MHz, 5.6MHz) and can play back up to 192kHz/24-bit high resolution FLAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless and WAV files, along with MP3, WMA and AAC compressed music files. You can connect a PC directly to the LX89 using a USB (B-type) connection which includes an asynchronous transfer mode and you can connect your iDevice directly to the receiver using the USB connection on the front. There is also gapless playback for AIFF, Apple Lossless, WAV, FLAC, AAC, MP3 and DSD.

    In terms of audio format support, the LX89 can currently decode Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Surround, as well as DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-ES and DTS Neo:X 11.1. Pioneer will also add support for DTS:X and DTS Neural:X with a future firmware update. In terms of future-proofing, as we mentioned previously there is support for HDMI 2.0a with full Ultra HD 4K 50/60, HDCP 2.2, HDR, BT.2020 and 4:4:4 subsampling at 18 Gbps. The LX89 also includes a video scaler (1080 to 4K) with Super Resolution, Triple HD Noise Reduction, Advanced Video Adjust and Stream Smoother; although we would recommend bypassing all this and just sending the video directly to the display without any processing. As mentioned earlier the LX89 now includes built-in WiFi (Dual Band 5 GHz/2.4GHz) and Bluetooth (Version: 2.1 + EDR, Profile: A2DP/AVRCP, Codec: SBC/AAC).

    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 LX89 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.

    The LX89 includes an impressive list of features including support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

    Setup

    Although the LX89 has an updated menu system, something that was long overdue, it's still not the easiest receiver to setup. Pioneer have introduced the Start-up Navi App, which is freely available for iOS and Android, which takes you through setting up the LX89 but you will still end up looking in the manual at some point. The LX89 is very flexible in terms of speaker configuration, perhaps a bit too flexible, with no fewer than 15 preset configurations, although if you want to run a full 11.2 immersive audio configuration you will need to add two more channels of amplification.

    Still at least you can now run a full 11.2-channel setup, previous Pioneer receivers could only process a maximum of 9.1 channels despite having 11.2 channel pre-outs. The speaker terminals aren't very well identified but essentially if you only plan on using one pair of overhead channels, either physically on the ceiling or via upward-firing speakers then use the terminals marked Top Middle. If however you plan on using front and rear overhead channels, again either physical or upward-firing speakers, then you will use the Extra 1 terminals and the Extra 2 pre-outs for the additional two channels of amplification.

    In terms of the networking features, you could use a wired Ethernet connection but it's easier just to use the built-in WiFi. We found creating wireless and Bluetooth connections very straightforward and a massive improvement on previous generations, where the process was almost impossible at times.
    Pioneer SC-LX89 Setup
    Pioneer SC-LX89 Setup


    The LX89 uses Pioneer's proprietary MCACC Pro system which includes a custom microphone for automated setup and acoustic calibration. MCCAC Pro has been refined to allow for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X setup and includes Full Band Phase Control, Auto Phase Control Plus/Phase Control Plus, Standing Wave Control, 3D Time Axis Measurement, Precision Distance, Subwoofer EQ (4 Band) and a Bass Management System for Dolby Atmos enabled speakers. No one could accuse Pioneer of not being thorough when it comes to their room EQ system but it can border on being over-complicated at times, especially when you start to tinker with the setup manually. The MCACC Pro submenu takes you through the acoustic calibration process and within this menu, you can choose between a Full Auto MCACC, Auto MCACC, Manual MCACC and Demo.
    Pioneer SC-LX89
    Pioneer SC-LX89

    We tested the LX89 with and without room EQ and when using MCACC we chose to perform a Full Auto setup and calibration, taking advantage of the multiple measurement points to improve the accuracy. Once you have completed the auto calibration process, the MCACC Data Check allows you to confirm the calibrated settings on the receiver 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. Finally you can save your various room EQ settings using the Data Management feature.

    Testing

    We tested the LX89 using the built-in amplification for 7.2.2-channel and 5.2.4-channel setups for Dolby Atmos and we added two more channels of amplification in order to run a full 7.2.4-channel Atmos configuration. All these setups used actual overhead speakers, rather than upward-firing alternatives. We also tested the receiver using regular 5.1- and 7.1-channel configurations, with and without the Dolby Surround up-mixer engaged and we tested music using a straight two-channel configuration. We conducted all these tests with and without MCACC room equalisation being applied. We used a combination of the Samsung UBD-K8500 and Panasonic DMP-UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray players, along with the Oppo BDP-103EU Blu-ray player as sources and we connected the LX89 to a JVC DLA-X5000B projector. We sent full 4K 50/60, HDCP 2.2, HDR, BT.2020 and 4:4:4 subsampling at 18 Gbps from our the Ultra HD Blu-ray players and via our Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator to confirm the capabilities of each of the HDMI inputs and outputs.

    Pioneer SC-LX89 Video Review


    Sound Quality

    Movie Soundtracks


    So how did the LX89 sound with movies? Well unsurprisingly considering it's a Pioneer, the receiver had plenty of power resulting in a big and open soundstage with headroom to spare. This meant that the LX89 could deliver real impact when it came to movie soundtracks, producing a surround experience that grabbed your attention. However it never sounded brash and there was a surprising amount of subtlety as well, resulting in an experience that took full advantage of all the nuanced detail to be found in modern film soundtracks.

    We kicked off with some excellent 5.1 mixes such as Interstellar, where the LX89 showed what it could do with multi-channel audio even when using the minimum number of channels. It produced a surround experience that drew the viewer in to the action on screen, combining well placed effects with the soaring organ-based score. The Interstellar soundtrack often juxtaposes the silence of space with the enveloping nature of the sounds heard by someone who is essentially inside a tin can. The soundtrack also makes full use of dynamic range, as shown in almost the first scene as Cooper dreams of his test flight crash. The LX89 handled these changes in volume with ease, surrounding you with the emptiness of space before making you jump out of your seat when something dramatic happens.

    We then moved on to another test favourite of ours, the opening of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. If you've read other AV receiver reviews then you'll know we use this Blu-ray a lot but it helps to be intimately familiar with specific scenes, so that you can judge how it sounds on various systems. If the room and the scene are the same then any differences are the result of how the receiver handles the content and, in the case any EQ system, the room itself. The LX89 did a wonderful job of presenting what is a masterclass in sound design. The scene opens on a close-up of Caesar, his breathing emanating from the centre speaker. There's rain gently falling all around which becomes more apparent and immersive as the camera pulls back. In the background the choral score gradually rises and the surround field is filled with sounds of the apes making their way through the trees as they stalk their prey. Once the apes attack the deer they are hunting, the entire soundtrack bursts into life with effects, creating a massive shift in dynamic range.

    It's the receiver's ability to handle all the subtle sound effects at the beginning of the scene, whilst also effectively handling the sudden explosion of sounds in the latter part that demonstrates both its subtlety and dynamic range. The LX89 was capable of picking out all the nuanced detail as well as delivering a sledgehammer when needed and it's something that Pioneer have always done well in our opinion. We found the test sequences just as effective with and without MCACC engaged but, in our room at least, we found that it was able to balance out the bass a bit better when used. With MCACC EQ on the entire surround field opened up a bit and the overall balance was slightly better, although tonally our system is already well balanced. It tends to be at the lower end where any room EQ system has its work cut out and whilst MCACC isn't as good as Anthem's ARC or Dirac Live in this regard, it is at least as effective as Audyssey or Yamaha's YPAO.

    The LX89's ability to handle bass was put to the test with the help of San Andreas and its Dolby Atmos soundtrack. This film has a staggering amount of bass energy as San Francisco and most the US west coast gets hammered by a mega earthquake and the Pioneer delivered all the destruction with great aplomb. The receiver drove all eleven speakers powerfully and integrated them effectively with the two subwoofers to fully energise the room and place you smack in the middle of the action. At times you felt as though your entire house was actually in the middle of an earthquake but the receiver still managed to balance all the bass with plenty of surround effects positioned carefully around the room. The overhead speakers were also handled well and a scene where a character is trapped inside a limo that is being slowly crushed was particularly effective with sounds coming from directly above.

    The LX89 includes Dolby Surround which up-mixes non-Atmos soundtracks to take full advantage of all the additional speakers. Normally we would avoid such a feature but we actually do find that it is quite effective at drawing out overhead effects in films that don't have a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, to create a more immersive experience. For example the opening of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes benefited, with the rain appearing to fall down from above as well, creating an even greater sense of envelopment. The LX89 also includes a number of DSP modes such as Action, Drama, Advanced Game, Sports, Classical and Rock/Pop but in general we would avoid these as we've never really seen the point of this kind of processing. However there are those who swear by them, so you can always experiment and see if they enhance your listening experience.

    Overall we found that the LX89 was a great performer regardless of whether we were listening to 5.1, 7.1 or a full 7.2.4 soundtrack and its ability to combine both power and a degree of subtly resulted in an enjoyably visceral experience.

    Music


    The LX89's ability to deliver a big and powerful sound, whilst at the same time retaining a degree of subtlety held it in good stead when it came to music. The high quality nature of the receiver's DACs mean that it can handle any two-channel source, and even some multi-channel sources, that you might care to throw at it. The Pioneer acquitted itself admirably, producing a sound that was clean and precise, thus bringing out all the nuanced details. Some might accuse the LX89 of being slightly clinical in its delivery with music but that will probably be a matter of personal preference and we found that the Pioneer's transparency suited our system.

    We have been listening to Ben Watt's latest album Fever Dream a lot recently and the LX89 did a marvellous job of reproducing the recording. What initially appear quite simple songs, gradually take on a greater degree of complexity as you listen to them more often. It was a subtle transition that wasn't lost on the LX89 and the receiver's Hi-bit32 audio processing drew out every detail. The Pioneer was very effective when it came to audio upscaling and also when it came to getting the best out of highly compressed sources. So it will prove a great single hub for all your audio, regardless of the quality of the original source.

    The LX89 delivered a big soundstage that had plenty of power but a surprising amount of subtlety as well.

    Conclusion

    9
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Excellent sound quality
    • Dolby Atmos & DTS:X support
    • Powerful performance
    • Comprehensive connections
    • Plenty of future proofing
    • Attractive design
    • Solid build quality
    • Impressive remote app

    Cons

    • Not all HDMI inputs are 2.0a
    • Poor remote control
    You own this Total 2
    You want this Total 2
    You had this Total 0

    Pioneer SC-LX89 9.2 Channel AV Receiver Review

    Should I buy one?


    The Pioneer SC-LX89 is an excellent AV receiver that draws on the company's years of experience in this area to deliver an impressive all-round performance. The LX89 uses the classic design and layout of a Pioneer receiver, with a superb level of build quality and an attractive finish. The front panel is simple with only two large dials and an informative central display, with everything else behind a drop-down flap. There is an extensive set of connections including HDMI support for HDR and HDCP 2.2 but not all the HDMI inputs are 2.0a, so make sure you use the right ones. Although the menu system has had a make-over, setting the LX89 up still isn't exactly intuitive with a large number of potential speaker configurations. The confusing naming of the HDMI inputs and speaker terminals doesn't exactly help either. There is a new setup app to help you and the remote app is impressive but despite having had a slight redesign the provided remote control remains disappointing.

    The LX89 has an extensive set of features that includes Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, along with high quality DACs and support for any high-res audio source you might like to throw at it. The LX89 has built-in Wifi and Bluetooth, both of which are easy to setup and a massive improvement on previous years. The Pioneer also has support for AirPlay and Spotify, along with Internet radio and a built-in AM/FM tuner. The receiver comes with a setup microphone and uses Pioneer's proprietary MCACC room EQ system, which we found to be quite effective. The LX89 has nine channels of built-in Class D amplification, with the option to add two more for a full 7.1.4 configuration, and a new power supply for increased drive and control. The Pioneer certainly wasn't wanting in terms of available power, with plenty of headroom and a big open soundstage. This doesn't come as a surprise for a Pioneer AV receiver but it also managed to deliver a decidedly nuanced sound that made it a great performer with both movies and music. Thanks to its combination of build quality, features, performance and price, the Pioneer SC-LX89 should definitely be on your short list if you're looking for an AV receiver in the sub £2,000 price bracket and comes highly recommended.

    What are my alternatives?


    There are a number of excellent AV receivers currently available, making the choice of which one to buy harder than ever. If your budget is tight, then the Marantz SR7010 is an obvious choice, it isn't as powerful as the LX89 but it's feature-packed, it sounds great and you can pick it up for around £1,199 making it an absolute bargain. The Yamaha RX-A3050 is another excellent receiver, it has the build quality and power of the LX89 and an almost identical feature set but can be picked up for £100 less, making it a very real alternative to the Pioneer. Finally in this price bracket there is the superb Denon AVR-X7200WA, which is more expensive at £2,199 but includes all the features found on the LX89 and more, plus it also has the looks, build quality and power found on the Pioneer. It's a tough choice and when it comes to AV receivers people often have a personal preference but if Pioneer is one of your's, then you certainly won't be disappointed by the SC-LX89.


    The Rundown

    Sound Quality

    9

    Features

    9

    Connectivity

    9

    Build Quality

    9

    Value For Money

    9

    Verdict

    9

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