Pioneer Elite SC-27 A/V Receiver Page 3

in Dolby Digital 5.1 was replaced by a spaciousness that rivaled the best Cineplex. It was impossible to tell if the very slight bit of compression and brittleness I heard even on the Dolby TrueHD Matrix soundtrack was intrinsic to the source or caused by the load the five Revels presented. But in either case, it was as good as the best I’ve ever heard in my room, hence my five-star Performance rating.

Say you want to watch the amazingly beautiful Curse of the Golden Flower late at night. You don’t want to disturb others at home, but you still want to be able to hear the dialogue track clearly. (Notice I didn’t say understand it—the best-sounding track is uncompressed PCM 5.1 Chinese.) Try Pioneer’s ALC, which stands

for Auto Level Control—not Automatic Language Converter. Or try the Optimum Surround mode. Both of these modes level out the sound with real finesse. The owner’s manual mentions a Midnight setting, but it doesn’t appear when you cycle through the Audio Parameters menu.

As with most AVRs, you might have to squint at the front panel to see the changes you make in the surround modes. The Pioneer’s amber lettering is large enough that I could recognize what was happening from 14 feet away if I knew what to expect. But if your distance vision is even slightly better than mine, you’ll be able to read the front panel just fine.

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “10,000 Miles” on the Fly Away Home Blu-ray was even more melancholy in Dolby TrueHD when decoded by the SC-27 than it was when I first heard it years ago on DVD. When Jeff Daniels awakens in his daughter’s hospital room, every father’s nightmare, the hospital sounds cascade into the scene. The subsequent rain storm that greets father and daughter when they arrive at his farmhouse in Canada are completely immersive—and addicting, for lack of a better term. The SC-27 outdoes my reference AVR—and not by a small margin, either—when it comes to a convincingly holistic soundstage. I was constantly aware of (but not distracted by) how effectively it brought out subtle details, behind me and around me. And it did all of this with just 5.1 channels of audio. The math should be the same when it comes to decoding Dolby TrueHD, so I have to lay the difference down to the quality of the components and the performance of the ICEpower amplification section and MCACC room equalization, which—shazam—really works!

If you’re looking for high-resolution audio that conveys all the subtlety available in today’s uncompressed multichannel soundtracks, you don’t need to look any further than the Pioneer Elite SC-27. It’s the first AVR or surround processor I’ve used with room equalization that I found good enough to keep engaged in all modes. It can run two-channel music directly, with no processing if you prefer. However, the various proprietary Stage processing modes are preferable in most situations; they greatly enhanced my enjoyment.

If you go large and pick up the BDP-320 Blu-ray player with PQLS, you’ll actually get that subtle sonic improvement to two-channel music you used to imagine you got when you spent big bucks on speaker cable. At $2,200, the Pioneer Elite SC-27 is the kind of AVR bargain you richly deserve.

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