Pioneer SC-LX901 11.2 Channel Network AV Receiver
Prefer to read the PDF? Click below to download our in-depth review of the Pioneer SC-LX901 11.2 Channel Network AV Receiver. Otherwise, read on.
I love my home theatre gear as much as the next guy or gal. Although I have wondered (and my wife has probably silently hoped) if I would lose that passion after working in the industry for some time.
Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case and there’s still that same old excitement, whether I’m adding a new piece of equipment to my own home theatre, or there’s a card in the letter box announcing the arrival of some new gear to review.
While it’s rare to find two people in the hobby with the same gear in their equipment rack, we all share the same goal; to create the most cinematic experience as possible in our own home.
At its core, that means two things; the biggest and best possible picture and sound that we can afford and or accommodate.
Being an ISF Certified Calibrator, I get to see a lot of home theatres and much like their owners, they’re all unique. Regardless of their varied approaches and design, it’s obvious they have all had a lot of time and care put into them.
However, a common oversight I see in ‘DIY’ home theatres is matching big beautiful speakers (and often multiple subs) with mid-range AVR’s.
While the AVR may be ‘capable’ of driving good speakers, they usually don’t possess enough power to bring out the full potential of good speakers or create the dynamics needed to achieve that BIG home theatre sound.
Pioneer’s answer to this is their recently released SC-LX901 AV Receiver. Sitting at the top of their premium ‘LX’ range of receivers (known as Pioneer’s ELITE range in the US), with an RRP of $4,599 the SC-LX901 truly is a flagship AVR.
It provides the latest in surround sound decoding (Dolby Atmos and DTS-X) in the 7.2.4 channel format (Front: left, right & centre Surround: left & right Surround Back: left & right Overhead: left right and 2 subwoofers), a total of eleven channels of amplification. While most AVR’s require two channels of external amplification to drive a full 7.2.4 setup (four overhead speakers), the SC-LX901 has all the
required amplification onboard.
The SC-LX901 has a comprehensive range of network features, including Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and the newcomer, Google cast (Chromecast).
On the video front the SC-LX901 supports Ultra HD video (4K/60p/4:4:4, with HDR and BT. 2020 support) upscaling, through its HDMI 2.0 (HDCP 2.2 compliant) inputs.
What’s in the box?
Except for the Air Studios and DTS-X logos, the SC-LX901 is identical to my own SC-LX59, housed in a black aluminum chassis with the front of the unit sporting a brushed metal finish.
Both the input and volume dials are located to either side of a large LED display, each accented by a smaller silver ring. Except for the power button, all the other controls and inputs are located behind a pull-down flap.
Moving to the rear things take a radical departure from my own SC-LX59. All terminals are gold plated and the upgraded heavy-duty speaker binding posts are of the same as typically encountered in quality separates (pre/power combinations).
There are seven HDMI inputs (inputs 1-5 HDCP 2.2), with the first four being assignable. There’s also 2 HDMI outputs (input 1 featuring ARC control), which are selectable. Ultra HD pass through is supported (HDCP 2.2) and the SC-LX901 can scale 1080p to Ultra HD.
Legacy connections aren’t overlooked with assignable coaxial and optical inputs, as well as component and composite inputs. The SC-LX901 offers 11.2 channel pre-outs (should you wish to add external amplification) and connections for two (independent) subwoofers. Network connection can be accomplished either wirelessly or by Ethernet cable.
While dual subwoofer inputs have become commonplace in AVR’s, their inclusion is no guarantee that the subs will be setup correctly. Most lower price units tend to favour an internal ‘Y’ splitter, which results in both subs being treated as a single entity for calibration (level distance and
EQ). Unless subs are at equal distance from the primary listening position and share identical acoustical properties, the AVR is never going to accurately level and EQ the LFE signal. The SCLX901 however, treats each sub as an individual entity, calibrating each subwoofer independently.
The remote control provided with the SC-LX901 is identical to the remote that comes with the VSX-1131. By relegating access to less commonly used features to the on-screen menu, Pioneer have created a remotecontrol with a far cleaner layout, larger buttons and more space between the buttons. While I like the design of the remote, I hoped for something more ‘substantial’ at this price point.
The box also includes a CD-ROM (with full user manual), microphone for MCACC setup (Pioneer’s automated speaker setup) and a quick start guide.
While having favoured Pioneer’s NAVI app in the past to setup their AV Receivers, given the updated user-interface in their 2016 range I decided to use the onboard setup guide. Firing up the SC-LX901 for the first time I was greeted with a much easier to use (and far better looking) GUI that guided me through every step of the setup process, from wiring speakers and connecting source components, right through to calibration.
The SC-LX901 has nine rows of speaker binding posts - right, left, centre, side surround, rear surround and presence speakers). While Pioneer has opted to place the speaker binding posts top/bottom (red above black), rather than in single row across the back, they are placed further
apart, and as a result there’s plenty of room to work. There’s also a ‘plastic protector’ on the back of the AVR around the binding posts to help prevent contact with the chassis and thereby prevent possible shorts. Regardless, it’s always worth taking time and care to connect speaker cables
carefully and avoid any potential problems.
The SC-LX901 is equipped with Pioneer’s Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System (MCACC Pro) software. With the supplied microphone, MCACC can detect the speaker layout (5.1, 7.1 etc.), size of the speakers (small/large), set channel levels, crossovers and apply room and speaker phase correction. It’s worth taking the time to do the calibration, as it provides some very tangible benefits in terms of audio performance. While the setup guide will tell you to place the microphone on a stand in the centre of the listening area, ignore it and place it on a proper stand
(not the couch) at head-height in the primary listening position.
As the 901 will calculate measurements such as speaker distance and delay, unless you perform the calibration from your listening position, the 901 will not perform to its full potential.
One of the hallmarks of the MCACC Pro calibration software is its ability to create a uniform sound field. While I have upgraded some of my home theatre speakers since reviewing the SC-LX59, it’s still fair to say it’s a bespoke combination of speakers. However, with calibration the 901’s presentation was spot on, placing me right in the centre of a uniform sound field. Weather it was the front or the rear speakers that were delivering the action, I never had that sense of ‘oh that’s coming from that speaker’, but was placed in the centre of the action, with sound emanating from fixed points in space.
The SC-LX901 delivered both clear and natural sound dialogue. It didn’t matter if it was a dialogue driven scene, or one of the more frenetic action scenes in 2013’s Wolverine BluRay, voices always remained clear and never get lost in the mix. As I have come to expect from Pioneer’s AVR’s the 901 provided a beautiful sense of detail, whether it was outside traffic noise or the subtle environmental noises and wind chimes found in the quieter moments of the soundtrack. As compared to my own SC-LX59, the 901 was both a little more ‘neutral sounding’ and a bit more detailed. The SC-LX901 did deliver a ‘bigger’ sound than I am accustomed too.
Unfortunately, DTS-X decoding wasn’t available during my time with the 901 (Pioneer’s distributors have assured me it’s very close) I could have sworn my height speakers were working and had to check them to be sure.
Forgoing the benefit of external amplification, I wasn’t surprised to discover that the SCLX901 could not deliver the same level of dynamics from its onboard amplifiers. What did surprise me was how close it came. With my speakers connected directly to the SC-LX901 and my favourite demo scene fired up, the 901 effortlessly filled my room with sound that possessed a strong sense of dynamics. While the amplifiers in any AVR are going to struggle to compete with a dedicated power amplifier, the 901’s performance was excellent and more than up to the task of creating that BIG home theatre sound.
The SC-LX901 provided a detailed and impressively sized sound stage that should easily fill most listening rooms. While it shares many of the features of its cheaper siblings, the SC-LX901 can create a BIG cinematic sound, with a sense of dynamics that more modestly priced counterparts
just can’t match.
If you’re looking for a ‘one-box solution’ that’s going to show you what your home theatre speakers are truly capable of, take a serious look at the Pioneer SC-LX901.
Pioneer is distributed in Australia by Powermove Distribution.
As the owner of Adelaide based 'Clarity Audio & Video Calibration', Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
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