Pioneer Elite SX-A9 Stereo Receiver Review

The front side of the Pioneer Elite SX-A9 stereo receiver
The Pioneer Elite SX-A9 receiver was designed in cooperation with audio engineers at Air Studios in a collaborative process to achieve the best listening experience. Pioneer

In a world seemingly dominated by multi-channel home theater receivers, it’s good to know that Pioneer hasn’t abandoned two-channel music enthusiasts. The Pioneer Elite SX-A9 is a stereo receiver from the company’s upscale Elite group of products. Its high-fidelity features and price lift it out of the entry-level category, however the overall sound quality easily justifies the added cost. Pioneer audio engineers have wisely included performance features that truly enhance pure two channel listening.

Performance Features

The Pioneer Elite SX-A9 packs performance features for two-channel critical listening. Although a stereo receiver, it’s designed as a dual-mono component with twin transformers (power supplies) and amplification circuits. The dual-mono construction is like having two separate amplifiers, allowing the receiver to respond to the power needs of each channel independently, thereby improving channel separation and soundstage performance. The dual toroidal transformers are more efficient than standard laminated power supplies; this offers quieter operation with lower stray magnetic fields, resulting in reduced interference, which is ideal for audio applications.

The SX-A9 incorporates Pioneer’s Wide-Range Linear Circuit for frequency response, ranging from 5 Hz to 100 kHz through the receiver’s line inputs. We've long been proponents of amplifiers with wide bandwidth frequency response because of their ability to reproduce the subtle harmonics that make music sound more realistic.

It has become commonplace for stereo receivers to eliminate any digital circuits in order to prevent noise and interference – the Pioneer Elite SX-A9 is an analog-only component. So instead the SX-A9 doing any on-board digital decoding, that job is left to a CD or DVD player, This preserves the analog signal purity within the receiver. The direct construction with symmetrical signal paths also provides cleaner audio output. According to Pioneer, the receiver was designed in cooperation with audio engineers at Air Studios in a collaborative process to achieve the best listening experience.

Convenience Features

Beyond performance features, the Pioneer Elite SX-A9 includes useful convenience features. The SX-A9 is a sleek looking component with a clean, nicely-shaped front panel finished in a brushed-silver or slate grey color. It has a bright LCD display, and the volume control and input selector have a solid, high quality feel. The SX-A9 is XM Radio ready, equipped with a special input for the subscription-based satellite radio service. After adding an optional XM tuner, the receiver’s front panel display shows the current XM station and station category (e.g. sports, talk, news, etc). XM stations can also be stored in the receiver’s 30 AM/FM preset station memory.

Playing music through a computer is easy with the rear panel USB interface. Pioneer's Sound Retriever feature helps restore the sound quality that is typically lost in compressed digital audio files. The SX-A9 comes with a small, easy-to-use (and hold) remote control with all the essential control features. It’s not a lighted remote, although it’s not really necessary due to fewer adjustments and controls versus a typical home theater receiver.

Pioneer Elite SX-A9 Audio Performance

We tested the Pioneer SX-A9 with a pair of Paradigm Reference Studio 100 tower speakers and a Pioneer PD-D6 CD/SACD player. One can immediately notice the excellent vocal clarity, exceptional resolution of subtle details, and, in particular, a deep, layered soundstage. In James Taylor’s “Line ‘Em Up” from his album Hourglass, the background vocals have better presence and clarity than we’ve ever heard in that recording. And the soundstage has a three-dimensional depth that accurately places the background vocals behind the instruments and lead vocalist.

Holly Cole’s vocals in “I Can See Clearly Now” from her Don’t Smoke in Bed album sound natural and uncolored with a strong in-room presence. The SX-A9 receiver’s Direct Listening feature slightly improves the high-frequency response, but it still sounds good without the feature engaged. Direct Listening bypasses all unnecessary processing and turns off the front panel display in order to obtain the purest analog signal.

Bass performance is also very strong with excellent extension. Even in somewhat rural areas, we found the tuner performance and signal reception to be quite capable, able to pull in distant stations easily. While listening to some demanding music at a high volume level, the SX-A9 receiver went into protection mode. We repeated the test several times. noting how the condition persisted when the orchestra reached a crescendo with tympani drums and cymbals. The Paradigm speakers are rated as ‘compatible with 8 ohms’ so we suspect their low sensitivity of 91 dB require more power than the SX-A9 receiver's 55 watts (at 8 ohms).

Summary

Aside from the glitch with the protection circuit, the Pioneer Elite SX-A9 is one of the best two-channel receivers you can buy. It’s a very musical-sounding receiver with smooth, natural, and well-balanced tonal qualities. Its broad and deep soundstage, mid-range clarity, and detail are exceptional. It would make a great receiver for a mid-priced two-channel system when combined with moderately-efficient speakers (95 dB or higher). It would also make a good choice as a zone receiver for a multi-room audio system.

Specifications

  • Power Output: 70 watts per channel, 4 ohms, 0.2% THD, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 55 watts per channel, 8 ohms, 0.2% THD, 20 Hz - 20 kHz
  • Frequency Response (CD, Tape, Aux, USB): 5 Hz - 100 kHz
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 16 9/16” x 4 7/16” x 14 7/32”
  • Weight: 23 lbs, 13 oz.