Pioneer Elite SC-55 and SC-57 Home Theater Receivers

Pioneer Elite SC-55 Home Theater Receiver - Front View
Pioneer Elite SC-55 Home Theater Receiver - Front View. Photo (c) Pioneer Electronics

Introduction to the Pioneer Elite SC-55 and SC-57 Home Theater Receivers:

Pioneer has rounded out their 2011 Elite Home Theater Receiver line-up with two entries: the SC-55 ($1,700) and SC-57 ($2,100). Both receivers incorporate just everything you could possibly need in a home theater receiver. Here is a look at the features they have in common (which are many), as well as look at their differences, and some things that they don't include that may affect your buying decision.

Amplifier Characteristics:

Starting off with the basics, the Pioneer SC-55 and SC-57 are both rated at 140 Watts-per-channel into 8-Ohms via its nine internal Class D power amplifiers. Pioneer's 3rd generation Class D (D3) amplifiers provide a quick response and recovery time, less energy consumption required to produce more power output, improved heat dissipation by repositioning the heat sink, reducing the circuitry required in the signal paths, reduced distortion levels, and a preamp mode that shuts down power to amplifier channels that are not being used (this is especially practical when using two more channels in preamp mode). In addition, Pioneer has garnered Air Studios Certification to insure its Class D amplifiers are up to task from any audio source. Needless to say, both the SC-55 and SC-57 can fill just about any room with great sound.

Audio Decoding and Processing:

The SC-55 and SC-57 feature audio decoding for Dolby Digital Plus and TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby Digital 5.1/EX/Pro logic IIx, DTS 5.1/ES, 96/24, Neo:6.

Dolby Prologic IIz:

The SC-55 and SC-57 both Dolby Prologic IIz processing. Dolby Prologic IIz offers the option of adding two more front speakers that are placed above the left and right main speakers. This feature adds a "vertical" or overhead element to the surround sound experience.

DTS Neo:X:

The SC-55 and SC-57 also incorporate DTS Neo:X.

DTS Neo:X is an audio processing format that can extract 9.1 or 11.1 channels of surround from 2/5.1/6.1 or 7.1 sources. For the SC-55 and SC-57 Pioneer has chosen to DTS Neo:X in a 9.1 or 9.2 channel configuration. What is interesting is that both the SC-55 and SC-57 both have a set of 11.2 channel preamp outputs, but only up to 9.2 channels can be operated at a time, which can be selected based on your listening preference for given source material. You can use DTS Neo:X with an incoming 5.1 channel signal in several setup options using the 9.2 channel configuration option:

A. Add surround back and front-height speakers to bring out ambient, non-directional sounds.

B. Add surround back and front-wide speakers to provide a more expansive soundstage

C. Add front-height and front-width speakers to create an immersive space without having to install rear speakers.

Loudspeaker Connections and Configuration Options:

Speaker connections on both the SC-55 and SC-57 consist of color-coded dual banana-plug-compatible multi-way binding posts.

The SC-55 and SC-57 can be used in a full 9.2 channel configuration, or in a 5.2 channel setup in the main home theater room, with simultaneous 2 channel operations in up to two additional rooms.

If you want to use 9.2 channels, you can still run additional 2-channel systems in additional rooms (referred to as Zones) by using the Zone 2 or Zone 3 preamp outputs. In this setup you will have to add an amplifier(s) to power the speakers in Zone 2 or Zone 3.

For the main zone, speaker connection options are provided for a front left and right channel Bi-amping setup or for height and/or wide channel speaker setup when using Dolby Pro Logic IIz or DTS Neo:X. If using DTS Neo:X processing a 9.1 or 9.2 channel speaker configuration is required. When setting up your speaker configuration, go into the SC-55 and SC-57's settings menu to reassign the amplifiers for option that best fits your speaker setup.

Audio Inputs and Outputs:

Both receivers have five assignable digital audio inputs (two coaxial and three optical audio inputs. Two additional analog stereo audio connections are provided for a CD player and CD or Cassette audio recorder. Both units also feature a dedicated input for a phono turntable. There are also two subwoofer line outputs. In addition, both the SC-55 and SC-57 provide a set of 11 channel analog audio preamp outputs.

Video Processing:

On the video side, both receivers also feature 1080p video upscaling for all video input sources using QDEO video processing by Marvell and "Stream Smoother" technology, which is designed to compensate for compression artifacts present in video signals that are streamed from the internet. Video Parameter Adjustments are are also included for fine tuning motion response, video noise reduction, details, as well as brightness, contrast, hue, chroma, and black level. This is very practical as you don't have to change your TV's picture settings for other components connected to your TV that do not go through the SC-55 or SC-57.

Video Inputs and Outputs:

The SC-55 and SC-57 offer a total of seven (6 rear/1 front) 3D-compatible HDMI inputs and two outputs, as well as three component inputs and two outputs (the second output is for Zone 2 use). There are four composite video (which are paired with analog stereo audio inputs), plus a front panel composite video input.

Apple Airplay:

The SC-55 and SC-57 incorporate Apple iPod, iPhone, and iPad compatibility.

Just plug in any of those Apple devices using the provided connection cable and you can access iTunes and Apple AirPlay features.

Audio Return Channel:

The SC-55 and SC57 both incorporate the Audio Return Channel feature. The allows, if you can an Auto Return Channel compatible TV, is that you can transfer audio from the TV back to the SC-55 or SC-57 and listen to your TV's audio through your home theater audio system instead of the TV's speakers without having to connect a second cable between the TV and home theater system.

In other words, if you receive your TV signals over the air, don't have to make an extra audio connection from your TV to your home theater receiver to access the audio from originating from the TV - You can simply take advantage of the HDMI cable you already have connected between the TV and the home theater receiver to transfer audio in both directions.

MCACC:

MCACC is Pioneer's built-in automatic speaker setup system. By connecting the provided microphone and following the instructions outlined in the user manual, MCACC uses a series of test tones to determine the proper speaker levels, based on how it reads the speaker placement in relation to the acoustical properties of your room. You may still have to some minor adjustments manually after the automatic set up is completed in order to conform to you own listening tastes. As an added bonus, completed MCACC settings can be stored on a USB flash drive for additional reference.

Remote Control App and Custom Integration:

A downloadable app allows an iPhone to be used for select remote control functions for both the SC-55 and SC-57. Also, for those that want to incorporate either the SC-55 or SC-57 into a custom installation that includes centralized control, both receivers have the necessary connectivity, including assignable 12-volt triggers, IR serial remote in/out connections, and RS-232C PC control interface connection. The SC-55 and SC57 are compatible with Control4, AMX, RTI, Universal Remote, and Savant custom control systems.

AM/FM, Internet Radio, Network Connectivity via Ethernet, USB:

The SC-55 and SC-57 have a standard AM/FM tuner with 63 station presets that can be used for setting any combination of favorite AM/FM stations.

The SC-55 and SC-57 has music streaming and internet radio access (including Pandora, and Rhapsody, Sirius Internet Radio, and vTuner). The SC-55 and SC-57 is also Windows 7 Compatible and DLNA Certified for access to digital media files stored on PCs, Media Servers, and other compatible network-connected devices, and is also compatible with Pioneer's iControlAV2 and Air Jam Apps.

Two USB ports (1 front/1 rear) are provided for a access to digital media files and firmware update files stored on USB plug-in devices, including iPods, iPhones, iPads, and USB flash drives. There is also a rear mounted docking port for additional accessory plug-ins, such as a Bluetooth adapter.

Differences between the SC-55 and SC-57:

As you can see, the SC-55 and SC-57 share a lot of features in common, but there are some differences to take note of. For instance, the SC-55 is THX Select2 Plus Certified, while the SC-57 is THX Ultra 2 Plus Certified and the SC-57 has more flexibile speaker and amplifier assignment options, as well as the addition of "precision distance" which allows you to adjust the distance between the listening position and each speaker (except for the subwoofer) to within a variation of 1/2 inch.

One other difference between the two is that the SC-57 has a set of 5.1/7.1 multi-channel analog audio inputs, which are sometimes handy to have for DVD players or SACD players that do not have HDMI outputs, but do have 5.1 channel analog outputs for sending a surround sound signal to a home theater receiver.

Feature Omissions

Although both the SC-55 and SC-57 are definitely welcome entries into the high-end home theater category, there are omissions that you should take into consideration.

There are no S-Video inputs or outputs. This is a connection option that increasingly being eliminated from many new home theater receivers.

Another omission, which is surprising, given the emphasis on network and the internet, is the exclusion of a PC monitor connection. This means that unless your Laptop or PC has an HDMI output, you cannot use the standard VGA connection to pass PC monitor signal through the SC-55 or SC5-57 to a TV.

Another interesting observation is that although the SC-55 and SC-57 both employ Marvell QDEO video processing, Pioneer seems to have elected to forgo Marvell's 4K video scaling capability and top it out at 1080p. This is not a deal breaker, as there is very limited access, currently (2011-2012), to 4K capable video displays. However, I hope that Pioneer is using Marvell's 4K capable processing chips and has left the door open for a future firmware update to unlock Marvell's 4K scaling function, if that becomes a factor in the near future, especially when you consider that several other manufacturers using Marvell QDEO video processing chips are already offering this feature in their receiver lines.

One last omission is that while the SC-57 has a set of 5.1/7.1 channel analog audio inputs, the SC-55 does not provide this connection option, which is disappointing on a $1,700 priced home theater receiver.

My Take

As you can see, Pioneer has topped off their 2011 Elite Home Theater Receiver line-up with two, very similar units, the SC-55 and SC-57. Both have just about everything you could possibly need in a home theater receiver, from solid audio and video processing to an abundance of features specially designed for today's emphasis on incorporating the internet and home networking.

However, despite this, there are features that are missing that are usually included in home theater receivers at these price levels, and the $400 price difference between them may be a little high based on the number and type of differences there seem to be.

For more details that I wasn't able to include here, check out Pioneer's official product pages and documentation for the Elite SC-55 and SC-57 home theater receivers.