Pioneer Elite SC-05 A/V Receiver Real-World Performance

Real-World Performance
Movies are my passion, so I couldn't wait to put the SC-05 through its cinematic paces. The first disc in the queue was Disney's fabulous Blu-ray release of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, which boasts an exhilarating Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack. Danny Elfman's award-winning score shows off a full-bodied midrange along with crisp highs and tight bass, which the Pioneer handled with ease. The track incorporates many discrete effects creating the illusion of characters moving around the room, and the AVR's decoder and ICEpower amplifiers were well up to the task.

Another exceptional TrueHD soundtrack is on the Blu-ray release of The Matrix Reloaded. The highway chase scene places you right in the middle of the action with vehicles careening all over the road, and the SC-05 didn't break a sweat. It was able to convey a clean 360-degree soundfield with rich ambiance and never sounded stained or fatigued.

One of the best-sounding Blu-ray soundtracks of 2008 is the DTS-HD Master Audio track on The Incredible Hulk, which features impressive dynamics with foundation-shaking bass. As expected, the SC-05 passed the test with flying colors, with tight bass and distinct highs, especially during the climactic battle in the third act.

As with the flagship SC-09TX, 2-channel performance was outstanding—whether from SACD, DVD-Audio, or CD. The title track from Billy Joel's An Innocent Man SACD is one of my favorite recordings, and the SC-05 provided excellent imaging across the front soundstage, making it difficult to localize the right and left speakers. My M&K speakers never sounded strained for power, even with their heavy 4-ohm load.

Pioneer sent me a BDP-05FD Blu-ray player in order to test the PQLS technology for CD audio playback. I listened to The Eagles "Hotel California" from Hell Freezes Over to test this feature and found minor differences in the sound quality with PQLS on and off. Is it better? Marginally, but without double-blind testing, the placebo effect could be in effect. Still, I wouldn't call the sound with PQLS off bad by any means, just different.

As with other ICEpower amplifiers I've tested, the SC-05 was a little bright when I first fired it up. Once it got warm, it lost its harshness and became more neutral. So if you want to do some critical listening, give it a few minutes to warm up—your ears will thank you.

I really love the Home Media Gallery for its convenience—although I really missed the LCD screen on the SC-09TX. In any case, the AVR's ability to stream WMA lossless audio files made sampling music a breeze. And its ability to display JPEG photos stored on a networked computer allowed my wife and me to take a stroll down memory lane without having to crowd around the computer screen or firing up my Xbox 360 and listening to its hideously loud CPU fan.