Pioneer SC-LX86 AV-receiver

The most recent in a long line of top-spec receivers from Pioneer comes to the table positively bristling with state-of-the-art design, style and characteristics. We would expect no less from the SC-LX86, and also Pioneer, of course has all the correct elements to be an actual hub of home entertainment whether your passion is movies, music program video, or streamed content of any form. The question is if the presence of added features, like its asynchronous USB sound input, plug-and- play with iOS apparatus integration and MHL support, means that Pioneer's latest AVR has lost sight of its own home cinema routes.

The answer, thankfully, is no. While brand new home cinema-special technologies happen to be few and far between of late, Pioneer has not been idle buffing its preceding award winning SC-LX85 to new levels of AV shine. The promised nine channels of 190W amplification (quantified into six ohms) remains unchanged, as does this machine's capability to add height or width channels (but, unfortunately, the SC-LX86 does not have any method of running both simultaneously - more on that later).

Rather than embracing a 4K scaler like many if its competitors, Pioneer has gone down a marginally different, and now more important, video course. The SC-LX86 only offers 4K passthrough but does pack in a Video Stream Smoother to enhance low bitrate video, such as YouTube footage and even SD fare. This is very easy for seeing broadcast SD on big screens, as it reduces block artefacts that may be annoying on sports programs particularly. Its advanced video correction menu is complete and draws some data in the MCACC calibration to correct pictures relative to the viewer's distance in the display.

Underneath the hood there is now a 32-bit DAC fed from PCM disc source or a bitstream, the asynchronous USB input, digital inputs or any streamed digital media including AirPlay. The DAC offers different filter settings to tweak the sound. Tagged 'slow', 'sharp' and 'brief', each has a subtle effect that could seem better or worse compared to the others based on how the source material is recorded. As this form of thing sends me into a quandary each time I reach for a disk, a 'conventional' setting would have helped with my sanity if nothing else.

Pioneer's iControlAV2012 remains the master of them all while most AVRs have a management program nowadays. It is, by a huge border, the most pretty, most inventive and fun-to-use program available. In reality, it is almost worth buying a committed tablet pc device just to use as a remote. The interface is definitely lavish to check out and encompasses direct-from-device AirPlay and Air Jam3 support.

And should the program is not bad, the interactive guide is just plain wonderful. Running this on a tablet pc or connected PC, pulls up pages that are applicable as soon as you touch a button on the remote or the AVR. To date this tech remains a fabulous Pioneer exclusive.

As befits a top-of-the-range AV receiver, the SC LX86's accessories are fairly special, also. The only real fly in the otherwise faultless operation ointment of Pioneer is the somewhat bland remote control with its plethora of microscopic buttons. Still, if you own a tablet computer it is redundant anyway.

Overall the SC-LX86 has plenty of promise, even if it's a very light makeover of the SC-LX85 rather than a whole new creature.

Despite all its user interface awesomeness, preparing the SC-LX86 proved to be something of an enigma. You can not have both concurrently although the machine switches between width and height output channels. That is really, really annoying when Neo:X 11.1 optimised phonograph records are now accessible, such as The Expendables 2, and is a trick that the Pioneer's nemesis, the Denon AVR-4520, handles with aplomb.

The MCACC system measures all the standard parameters plus EQ, reverberation, standing wave and phase in a single 10-15 minute execution using an individual mic location - so far, so great. Regrettably, this latest execution was came across by me to be somewhat finicky in its phase measurements. On the very first run it revealed four loudspeakers were out of phase, and I am not that bad at wiring up loudspeakers. By moving the microphone just seven inches forward and running the set up again it suggested three totally distinct loudspeakers were out of phase.

After several attempts speakers in various positions and with the mic I needed to reason the phase measurement was simply too sensitive to room effects. I carried on ignoring the warnings and wondered rather what effect that would have to the effectiveness of Pioneer's sophisticated phase control...

Considering the MCACC effects it was clear that the SC-LX86 also suffers from a failure to incorporate loudspeakers that are efficient in the measurements. To all five of my front channels, the Pioneer applied many AVRs that attempt to balance the speaker levels using a fixed sound pressure level's maximum -12dB cut like it. This fails to take into account my center channel loudspeaker being a great 3dB/W efficient than my chief or width loudspeakers, causing the middle channel coming in way too hot. To be fair to Pioneer this occurs in my set up, but it could so readily be fixed to the volume amount of the front main speakers rather than the usual fixed SPL to measure relative with the option. Sigh.

Directly out of set up the default option of the SC-LX86 is pretty much every sound augmentation set to 'on'. The Pioneer sounds quick and fluid with clinical detailing but rather lightweight overall. By killing off standing waves, removing pretty much any bass node in the area and reducing low frequency reverberation and room blooming, the sound comes across frisky at the most effective and slimmer than a racing whippet. The opening actions fest of The Expendables 2 was delivered as a breathtaking feast of extremely well- crystal-clear conversation yet bass and comprehensive effects was reticent to the point of being self-conscious. Given a handful to bring on the power, the sound got rather sharp and trashy.

While I have little doubt that the EQ system of the Pioneer was delivering a ruler-level output in my own room, the theoretical ideal does not always lead to the sound that is most rewarding. Happily, the EQ Pro menus of the Pioneer are really so comprehensive that there is plenty you can do to tune the sound. Merely using an X-Curve for my room size, trimming HF output by 1dB/octave, immediately produced a cinema sound that is more robust and punchy.

An hour of cutting, the SC-LX86 and tweaking, listening, adjusting and re-adjusting later was demonstrating its true potential. Its complete balance remains clear and intricate, a trait carried forward in the first SC-LX81. Using the added heat from reducing standing wave and reverb control, got it actually gets to the groove. Returning to The Expendables 2's opening sequence, the front soundstage comes alive with all the absolute pace and drama of the scene and low frequency effects are delivered with panache. A gungho additional dB or two on the subwoofer degree gives depth and the sound real body, and with all nine stations driven the Pioneer fills the room with sound.

Wide boy

A wide, broad, wide front soundstage is crafted by this. The Pioneer integrates this changing to height stations and supremely well is no less striking. This pulls up dialogue onto the display and creates three-dimensional sound that is solid at the very front of your room.

Streaming a 96kHz/24-bit file together with the Pioneer in Pure Direct mode, the sound is a revelation in audiophile resolution. The presentation has an airy and light touch that can appeal to audiophiles who like to really analyse their music note. Like the picture sound, it is a little cool and not exactly a bass creature, yet its precision and detail can't be faulted.

So, the SC-LX86 transfers the main AVR collection of Pioneer forwards yet again in modest but highly polished measures. But it probably doesn't matter to you, eh?

Pioneer SC-LX86 AV-receiver photo