Pioneer SC-LX76 9-Channel AV Receiver Review

It's not quite Pioneer's flagship but you wouldn't know it looking at the specs!

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18

Highly Recommended
Pioneer SC-LX76 9-Channel AV Receiver Review
SRP: £1,449.00

Introduction

When we reviewed Pioneer's flagship receiver the SC-LX86 at the end of last year, we discovered a well design and great sounding amplifier that eschewed pointless gimmicks in favour of useful features and an impressive performance. When first un-boxing the SC-LX76 we wondered how it differed from the flagship, since it had exactly the same accessories and design. Running through the relative spec sheets we also struggled to find many differences and whilst there are a few, the SC-LX76's capabilities remained impressive. Just like the SC-LX86 it includes 9 channels of amplification and there's tuning by the engineers at Air Studios. Unlike the more expensive receiver, the SC-LX76 has THX Select2 Plus certification rather than Ultra2 Plus, which is designed for larger rooms and this difference in emphasis is also reflected in the power output, with the SC-LX76 rated at 180W per channel rather than 190W and the SC-LX86 using a better power transformer.

Aside from that the SC-LX76 includes just about every feature found on its bigger brother, including 11.2-channel pre-outs, which allow you to take full advantage of the latest sound formats like Dolby Pro Logic IIz and DTS Neo: X. There is also built-in video processing along with the ability to pass both 3D and native 4K. In terms of home networking, the SC-LX76 comes with a wireless LAN converter, DLNA certification, Apple's AirPlay, MHL compatibility, built-in AM/FM tuner, Internet Radio, lossless file support and remote apps for both iOS and Android. In fact the only features that seem to be missing from the SC-LX76 when compared to the flagship, is the USB-DAC for directly connecting your PC and multi-channel analogue inputs. Otherwise it's the same set of specifications that made the SC-LX86 so impressive and considering the SC-LX76 can be picked up online for around the £1,250 mark, that's starting to look very attractive. Let's see just how attractive...

Design and Connectivity

The SC-LX76 shares exactly the same styling as the more expensive SC-LX86, with a minimalist black brushed metal facia and a suitably industrial level of build quality. The entire chassis has the heavy, solid and well-engineered feel that you would expect from a premium product and measures 435 x 185 x 441mm and weighs a hefty 17.7kg. The front facia layout is fairly standard but that is in no way a criticism and for those that like their AV kit understated, the SC-LX76 certainly won't disappoint. On the left hand side is an input selector dial and on the right is the master volume control and aside from the on/off button there are no more controls visible. In the middle is the main display and beneath that a drop down flap behind which you will find various controls and front connectors.

The display itself is sensibly laid out and informative but, as always, the more informative the display the smaller the characters, making it difficult to read at a distance. The display can be dimmed or even turned off, with is useful if the SC-LX76 is to be positioned within view or at the front of the room. Under the drop down flap there is 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.

Pioneer SC-LX76

At the rear is an impressive set of connections, including seven HDMI inputs (eight if you include the one at the front) and three HDMI outputs including one for zone four. There are speaker terminals for the 9-channels of built in amplification, along with 7.1 multi-channel inputs and a full set of 11.2-channel pre-outs. Other connections include outputs for zones 2, 3 and 4, 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, two 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. Compared to the more expensive SC-LX86, the only missing connections are the USB-DAC and multi-channel analogue inputs, which can be useful for some people.

The provided remote control is made of black plastic and is both comfortable to hold and comprehensive in terms of the buttons available. There are controls for input selection and volume, along with audio and video parameters, the home menu and navigation. There are also controls for the other zones, the built-in tuners, for controlling a connected iDevice and for accessing other features. Although the remote does have a backlight, the buttons are quite small which means we still found it difficult use in a darkened room. Pioneer offer an optional omni directional RF remote control with a built-in display screen and an RF adapter that allows you to control up to four other IR devices. However the remote app, which we'll discuss later, is superb and free, thus makes any shortcomings on the standard remote fairly moot.

Setup and Menus

In terms of setup, the SC-LX76 offers a wide selection of possible speaker configurations including using the full 9-channels, either as 7-channels plus either height or width or 7-channels with bi-amping. You can also use 7-channels with an alternative set of front speakers or a second zone and 5-channels with front or width speakers and a second zone. There's even the option to run 5-channels with two zones or 5-channels with bi-amped front and rears or bi-amped front and centre. Whichever configuration you choose will largely depend on factors such as the practicalities of installing up to 9 speakers and 2 active subwoofers in your room! However, once you have wired the speakers up and attached the various sources and displays, you can then run through the setup process, which is relatively straightforward considering the potential complexity.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

The menu system uses a revised graphical user interface that has been designed for easier use and includes 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 that whilst the user interface was certainly clear and concise, it did seem rather dated, especially when compared to much of the competition. The Home page on the SC-LX76 has six sub-menus - Advanced MCACC, MCACC Data Check, Data Management, System Setup, Network Information and Operation Mode Setup.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

The first sub-menu is Advanced MCACC takes you through the acoustic calibration process using Pioneer's proprietary software MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration) and the second sub-menu is MCACC Data Check allows you to check those calibrated settings in detail. Both these sub-menus will be covered in more detail in the Audio Performance section. The third sub-menu is Data Management allows 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. This allows you to use alternative settings to match different sources that you're listening to or different seating positions.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

The fourth sub-menu is Setup and this includes Manual SP Setup which allows you to manually set the type of connection used for the surround back terminals and the size, distance and overall balance of the connected speakers. Input Setup allows you to specify what is connected to the digital, HDMI and component video inputs, whilst OSD Language allows you to change the GUI screen's displayed language. The Network Setup covers connecting the SC-LX76 to your network, whilst HDMI Setup synchronises the SC-LX76 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.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

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.

Features

The SC-LX76 possesses a fairly impressive array of features, starting with the sound quality which includes AIR Studios Sound Tuning and THX Select2 Plus certification. Pioneer has designed the amplification to be as transparent as possible, so the SC-LX76 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 770W of power output. The amplification also uses a higher efficiency design, better energy consumption and lower heat generation. There is also Hi-bit audio signal processing designed to improve the performance of the 32-bit DAC hardware, along with a digital filter giving you a choice of Slow, Sharp and Short.

Pioneer SC-LX76

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 down to the millimetre. There is also a precision quartz lock system (PQLS) designed to eliminate distortion caused by timing errors, jitter reduction, advanced and auto sound retriever which are designed to help restore compressed audio, and auto level control to equalise volume level differences between tracks when listening to an iDevice or other source.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

In terms of audio format support, the SC-LX76 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 DTS: Neo X is the world's first 11.2-channel sound format that uses both height, width, side and rear speakers to create a totally enveloping sound field. Pioneer also include their own Wide Surround Mode to create a wider soundstage using width speakers, as well as a virtual speaker option that can create virtual height, width and back speakers thus allowing you to experience virtual 11.1-channel sound from a 5.1-channel setup. There is also Dolby TrueHD Loudness Management which is designed to stop volume fluctuations when switching channels or input sources.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

The SC-LX76 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 your iDevice directly to the receiver using the USB connection on the front and you can playback digital audio and video. There is 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. The SC-LX76 is also DLNA certified allowing you to connect with your home network and use it as a digital media player and as a digital media renderer. As well as a built-in AM/FM tuner, the SC-LX76 also has Internet Radio (vTuner), which means access to literally thousands of global channels and if you find any good ones, you can save them to your favourites.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

Pioneer offer the iControlAV2012 app, which is not only excellent but freely available for both iOS and Android, offering a simple and intuitive interface for controlling the SC-LX76. 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. The latest version even allows you to draw EQ curves with your finger and load and view MCACC measurement data. Another cool feature of the app is Sound Explorer which allows you to adjust sound parameters and shows the description and status for each setting. Pioneer's iControlAV2012 app is easily one of the slickest and best looking remote apps we have seen to date.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

Video Performance

The SC-LX76 includes an extensive set of video processing features, some of which are actually quite useful. First of all Pioneer have sensibly avoided including pointless 4K upscaling but the SC-LX76 can pass-through a native 4K signal which means the receiver is future-proof, to a degree. It can also pass 1080p/24 and 3D content as well as support Deep Colour and x.v.Colour. When it came to handling standard and high definition content, the SC-LX76 delivered an impressive performance, deinterlacing 480i, 576i and 1080i signals and scaling up to 1080p/24/50/60 over both component and HDMI. We were pleased to see that the SC-LX76 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. There is a function called stream smoother and numerous noise reduction features for reducing macro blocking and mosquito noise on highly compressed video content.

Pioneer SC-LX76

Pioneer has 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 two HDMI outputs, you can also use the SC-LX76 to feed a signal to two different displays - perhaps a TV and a projector. The on-screen video menu is somewhat uninformative and rather annoying to navigate and use. Thankfully the excellent remote app comes to the rescue once again, allowing you to access all the video settings via a well-designed user interface. This not only makes choosing and setting up all the various video options easy but also allows you to check the setup on one simple page.

Audio Performance

The SC-LX76 includes Pioneer's proprietary Advanced MCACC system which includes a custom microphone for automated setup and acoustic calibration. The first sub-menu in the Home menu is Advanced MCACC, which takes you through the acoustic calibration process using MCACC (Multi-Channel ACoustic Calibration). Within this sub-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 effectiveness. We used points from the three listening positions, as well as additional points at different heights in front and behind the listening positions.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

Once you have completed the auto calibration process, the second sub-menu MCACC Data Check allows you to check the calibrated settings on the SC-LX76 in detail through a series of menu screens. The first shows you the Speaker Settings, including the number of speakers, their crossover frequency and their configuration. You can use this to check that the settings made by the MCACC software are correct, as these are applied to all the presets. The next data screen is Channel Level and this allows you to check the levels that all the channels in the system have been set to by the MCACC software. If you need to, you can manually change the levels to adjust the overall balance of the system using an SPL meter. Then there is the Speaker Distance screen which shows all the delays set for each speaker by the MCACC software, depending on their distance from the main listening position. Again you can manually adjust these distances by taking the measurements yourself and these adjustments can be made in increments of 0.01m.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

The next screen is Standing Wave and this shows the low frequency response of the room graphically and the available filters. Standing waves occur when, under certain conditions, sound waves from your speaker system resonate mutually with sound waves reflected off the walls in your listening area. This can have a negative effect on the overall sound, especially at certain lower frequencies and depends on speaker placement, your listening position and, ultimately, the shape of your room. The Standing Wave Control uses filters to reduce the effect of overly resonant sounds in your listening area. During playback of a source, you can customize the filters in the Standing Wave Control for each of the MCACC presets. The next screen is Acoustic Cal EQ Professional which shows the different equaliser settings used for the main frequencies to correct for the room itself. This setup minimises the unwanted effects of room reverberation by allowing you to calibrate your system based on the direct sound coming from the speakers. The final data screen shows the Group Delay, with the delay in milliseconds for each speaker both before and after calibration.

Pioneer SC-LX76
Pioneer SC-LX76

So how does the SC-LX76 sound? Well perhaps not surprisingly, it sounds very similar to the SC-LX86, which is no bad thing. It isn't quite as powerful as its bigger brother but in all honesty it has more than enough under the hood to fill the average UK lounge or even dedicated home cinema. The class D amps and 9-channels of amplification were certainly cable of driving some fairly large speakers and the overall soundstage had plenty of dynamic range. It's a safe bet that anyone buying the SC-LX76 will be primarily using it for multi-channel sound tracks and in that regard, the Pioneer won't disappoint. The SC-LX76 can create a wide front soundstage, with some precise imaging of effects, whilst still keep dialogue clear and firmly anchored to the centre speaker. The surrounds meanwhile are both energetic and well integrated, creating a suitably immersive soundfield.

We watched our recently purchased Blu-ray of Zero Dark Thirty and found that the SC-LX76 perfectly reproduced the film's aggressive and very directional soundtrack. Whether it was gunshots, voices, crowd noises or helicopters, the SC-LX76 placed the effects within the soundstage with accuracy and precision. The soundtrack for Zero Dark Thirty also has its fair share of explosions and the SC-LX76 was able to deliver the lower frequencies without swamping the rest of the soundtrack. Instead it just delivered the necessary impact when needed, even during the most active scenes. Overall the bass was well integrated, supporting the other channels and providing an exciting and visceral experience. We then moved on to Life of Pi and found that SC-LX76 was able to handle even this highly complex soundtrack, perfectly complementing the 3D visuals. Whether it was the storm sequence, the tiger's roar or the subtle sounds of the ocean, the SC-LX76 took them all in its stride.

We have found ourselves to be recent converts to the added benefits of width speakers and so were pleased to see the SC-LX76 offered an extra two channels of amplification for this purpose. Our home cinema is relatively narrow and thus the addition of a wider front soundstage helps to envelope the listener, whilst also aiding front to back pans. This wider soundstage boasted impressive dynamics, not just during action scenes but in quieter scenes too, creating a truly immersive and convincing atmosphere. The wider soundfield was strong, focused and cohesive, perfectly matching the widescreen images from our 2.35:1 projector screen. We tried both the DTS Neo: X and Pioneer's own width algorithm and found that we preferred the overall experience with DTS Neo: X. We currently only have one Blu-ray with a DTS Neo: X 11.1 soundtrack - The Expendables 2 - and whilst we couldn't take advantage of all 11 channels we found the 9 that were available to be highly effective.

When it comes to stereo and multi-channel music, the internal DACs do a great job of converting the digital signal to analogue and as a result there’s excellent definition in the bass, while vocals sound clear and direct. As we found with the SC-LX86, the musical performance could sometimes sound a little clinical, especially with stereo music, lacking the warmth and musicality of the Anthem receivers for example. There are also built-in digital filters which allow you to switch the Pioneer’s sound between ‘slow’ (soft and warm), ‘sharp’ (solid and tight), and ‘short’ (quick and forward). We would recommend that you experiment with the different settings to find which you prefer but note that enabling the receiver’s Pure Direct mode is the only way you can bypass the filters.

We have recently been listening to David Bowie's back catalogue and the SC-LX76 did a great job of reproducing Bowie's vocals, whether it was the higher pitched delivery of Young Americans or the full-on epic delivery on "Heroes". The Pioneer also handled the acoustic numbers with a degree of subtlety but was equally as adept with the strings and pianos of more complex songs like Life on Mars?. If that wasn't enough, the SC-LX76 was more than happy to step up to the plate when the Spiders let rip on more rockier tracks like Panic in Detroit or Suffragette City. We found that the SC-LX76 was also able to reproduce the demented majesty of Station to Station and was particularly impressive when replicating the cold soundscapes on the album Low. In fact, from jazz to funk to dance to pop, at some point Bowie has dabbled in just about every genre and the SC-LX76 was able to keep up with The Dame's ever changing tastes.

Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Nine channels of amplification
  • Comprehensive connections
  • Full set of 11.2 pre-outs
  • Impressive video processing
  • Attractive design
  • Robust build quality
  • Flexible setup and configuration
  • Impressive remote app

Cons

  • Slightly clinical with music
  • Menus look a little dated
  • Internet functionality is limited
  • Buttons on remote are too small

Pioneer SC-LX76 9-Channel AV Receiver Review

Pioneer's SC-LX76 displays the same minimalist elegance as their flagship model, with a black brushed metal facia that is pleasingly free of any unwanted clutter. The build quality is excellent, the entire chassis has a beautifully machined look and the controls have a well-engineered feel. The SC-LX76 uses the standard AV receiver layout, with two dials either side of an informative display and a drop down flap below. The display is well designed but some of the characters are quite small making it hard to read from a distance, although there is also an OSD. Behind the drop down flap are a number of useful controls, along with a USB port for an iDevice and an additional HDMI input with MHL compatibility. At the rear there is a very comprehensive set of connections including another seven HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs. The remote is well made and comfortable to hold but the small size of the buttons makes it hard to use in a dark, despite the inclusion of a backlight.

As we would expect from a modern receiver, the SC-LX76 offers a flexible selection of speaker configurations, from basic 2-channel to the full 9-channel output with width and height speakers to any number of variations in between. The inclusion of 9-channels of amplification means the receiver can also run up to three extra zones, as well as bi-amp the front, rears or centre if you so wish. There's even a complete set of 11.2 pre-outs for those that wish to take full advantage of new audio formats like DTS Neo:X. Thanks to a helpful wizard, setup is straightforward and there is a choice of basic or expert, depending on how comfortable you are with the myriad functionalities. Pioneer's MCACC proprietary auto calibration software is very effective, allowing for a high degree of accuracy and flexibility. It's also quite informative, providing a helpful selection of data screens in the menu system, allowing you to check the settings and room EQ. The menus themselves are informative and easy to navigate but they do feel a little dated in places compared to much of the competition.

Considering it isn't the flagship model, there's no complaining about features offered by the SC-LX76, which would put many more expensive receivers to shame. There's digital class D amplification coupled with a high-power simultaneous multi-channel drive to deliver the 9-channels of amplification. There's AIR Studios Sound Tuning and THX Select2 Plus certification, along with support for all the main audio formats including DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD, as well as Dolby Pro Logic IIz and DTS Neo: X. The SC-LX76 also includes DSD (Direct Stream Digital) via SACD or USB drive and you 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 even connect a PC or iDevice directly to the SC-LX86 using USB connections at the front and rear. The SC-LX76 includes Apple's AirPlay and is also 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 even a built-in AM/FM tuner and Internet Radio (vTuner), although the online capabilities are somewhat limited compared to much of the competition. Pioneer also offer a free remote app for both iOS and Android which is superb, providing a very well designed and highly effective control interface.

In terms of its video capabilities, the SC-LX76 sensibly avoids 4K upscaling but does include native 4K pass-through, thus providing a degree of future-proofing. The receiver can also pass-through 1080p and 3D and includes some very effective detinterlacing and scaling along with a number additional picture controls. When it comes to its audio performance, the SC-LX76 is just as capable as its big brother, the SC-LX86. In fact there seems very little to differentiate them, although the more expensive receiver has the edge in terms of power. However the SC-LX76 is capable of a very accomplished multi-channel performance, delivering film soundtracks with both energy and detail. The front soundstage is wide and enveloping, with precise imaging and the surrounds are active and well integrated. With two-channel music the SC-LX76 falls into the usual trap of being a little clinical and perhaps lacking in the subtlety found on the very best AV receivers.

Overall the Pioneer SC-LX76 is an extremely capable receiver combining looks, build quality, features and performance at a very competitive price. We were very impressed with the SC-LX86 and given how close the lower priced SC-LX76 comes in almost every regard, we were equally as impressed - Highly Recommended.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
9

Connectivity

.
9

Build Quality

.
9

Value For Money

.
9

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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