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Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen
Amazingly thin slimline design
Four 4K UHD HDMI inputs
Only 2.0 channels
No line outs (mono sub out only)
No A/B speaker output
The Pioneer Elite SX-S30 offers expansive wireless and HDMI connectivity, and the winning combination of a fantastic slimline design paired with great sound more than makes up for the handful of missing features.
The Pioneer Elite SX-S30 is a slimline two-channel receiver that packs a lot of features into a surprisingly small package. It’s about a third of the height of most full-sized receivers while still incorporating just about everything you could possibly need out of a two-channel receiver. There are a few notable omissions that I’ll get into later, but the SX-S30 is quite a remarkable little package.
Specifications don’t always measure up to reality, so I recently took an SX-S30 home, unplugged my current receiver, and put Pioneers slimline’s to the test.
The SX-S30 is remarkably streamlined in a field that grows increasingly complex each year, with a brushed-metal face that sports just three adjustment knobs and a handful of buttons. The knobs control bass, treble, and volume, and the buttons are limited to the on/off function and a direct button that switches off all sound processing. Other than that, all you’ll find on the front of the unit is a headphone jack, USB port, and a display.
The front-facing USB port is a really nice touch, although I found the wireless connectivity to be so convenient that I can’t see plugging in a USB stick for music very often. The inclusion of the headphone jack is a little odd though, as it’s a standard 3.5mm output rather than a 1/4 inch jack.
The SX-S30 is remarkably streamlined in a field that grows increasingly complex each year.
The back of the unit is similarly uncluttered, which isn’t surprising due to the fact that this is just a two-channel receiver. The issue is that it’s a little too uncluttered, as the SX-S30 is missing a number of outputs that I’d really like to see in an otherwise rock-solid receiver like this. I’ll dig into specific features later on, though.
Taken overall, the design of the SX-S30 is fantastic if you’re looking for a streamlined receiver that’s small enough to fit just about anywhere.
The SX-S30 is easier to set up than most receivers I’ve worked with, mostly because there are fewer wires involved with a two-channel receiver. It’s pretty much ready to go right out of the box, but the default settings aren’t ideal.
To really complete the setup process, you’ll need to hook the receiver up to a television or monitor via an HDMI cable, and also plug in the included calibration microphone. I found the overall process to be exceedingly fast and easy, and I was listening to music over my network in just a few minutes.
There are some pretty hard limits on what the SX-S30 can accomplish in terms of sound, seeing as how this is just a two-channel receiver. That means it isn’t a great choice for your living room home theater surround system, but I did find that it works well with both music and for television and movies despite the lack of a center channel and the inclusion of a subwoofer pre-out. The latter is accounted for by something Pioneer calls Phase Control, which works some magic behind the scenes to compensate for phase lag on the subwoofer.
For my listening test, I started by accessing my digital music library over the network connection and loaded up The Outlaws’ Green Grass & High Tides. The guitars were crisp and punchy, and the vocals clear as crystal. Interested in how the unit handles lower frequencies without a sub plugged in, I switched to Johnny Cash’s Hurt, and found the man in black’s vocals to be deep and sonorous.
Next up, I connected my phone via Chromecast and streamed Cat Power’s Cross Bones Style over the wireless connection. As long as I didn’t get out of range, Chan Marshall’s haunting vocals came through loud and clear over the ringing guitar and popping drums. The wireless worked quite well overall, although I’d recommend streaming from a device that you can leave in place while you’re streaming.
Connected to my television and Fire TV Cube via HDMI, I found the audio quality to be remarkably good when watching movies and TV shows. I still prefer a receiver with a center channel if given the choice, but the SX-S30 does quite well with what it has.
In addition to traditional and network inputs, the SX-S30 can also play audio over the USB input. If you have a collection of high definition audio files, you can listen to them over the network or using the USB port.
The SX-S30 is priced very attractively, but it doesn’t feel like a budget unit. The price is definitely informed by the lack of a handful of important features, and the fact that it’s just a two-channel receiver, rather than the build quality. From the look of the brushed-metal front, to the smooth operation of the control knobs, this unit feels like it’s built to last.
The Pioneer SX-S30 packs a ton of features, and some great hardware, into a tiny package, and that’s the unit’s greatest strength.
The first thing I need to get out of the way here is the power rating, which is massaged to make it look better than it really is. According to Pioneer, this unit outputs 85W per channel, but that’s measured at 4 ohms, 1kHz, with a fairly generous 1 percent total harmonic distortion (THD) allowed, with just one channel driven. Measured more realistically, the wattage would end up lower than that. And since there’s no preamp out, aside from the subwoofer output, you’re pretty much stuck with that the built-in class D amp can give you.
Since I’ve already gone over my listening experience with this unit, it should be obvious that I wasn’t too bothered by the fact that this unit probably outputs closer to 40W per channel if it was measured with low distortion and both channels driven at the same time at 8 ohms instead of four. It’s a bit of annoying marketing on Pioneer’s part, but the receiver works well enough, and that’s what matters.
From the look of the brushed-metal front, to the smooth operation of the control knobs, this unit feels like it’s built to last.
While the SX-S30 doesn’t have any sort of preamp outputs, it does have just about everything else you could ask from a two-channel receiver. For connectivity, it has an Ethernet port and two fold-down antennas, and that’s in addition to the coaxial FM antenna input. It also has a single HDMI output that’s compatible with ARC, and four HDMI HDCP 2.2 outputs for your video devices.
For analog inputs, you get two standard inputs, designated for a Blu-ray or DVD and a cable or satellite input, and a third that’s dedicated to phonograph input. You also get a digital audio input over coaxial and another over optical.
Speaker outputs are limited to the left and right channels and the subwoofer pre-out.
The Pioneer SX-S30 is a connected device, and most of its special featured revolve around that fact. It uses Pioneer’s FireConnect system, which allows you to stream over Bluetooth, the wired network connection, and Wi-Fi, play music from a USB drive, and also connect to both Apple AirPlay and Google Chromecast. Some of these features are available out of the box, and others require a quick firmware update.
For connectivity, the SX-S30 features the A2DP/AVRCP Bluetooth profiles with support for SBC/ACC codecs, dual-band 5GHz/2.4GHz Wi-Fi, and a high-speed Ethernet port. I found the Ethernet port to be the most reliable, but Bluetooth worked well enough as long as I was careful to keep my device in range and not obstruct it. It would be even better if it supported the aptX Bluetooth codec, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker.
I found the Ethernet port to be the most reliable, but Bluetooth worked well enough as long as I was careful to keep my device in range and not obstruct it.
With an MSRP of just $449, you won’t find a better receiver that’s as thin and svelte as the Pioneer SX-S30. The great price reflects some features this unit is missing, like preamp outputs, and it’s also a function of the fact that it’s just a two-channel receiver. It’s still priced quite well for what it is, but the fact is that this is not a surround sound receiver, which is a large part of why Pioneer can come in so low on the MSRP.
In an attempt to compare apples to apples, I’m going to pit the Pioneer SX-S30 against the Marantz NR1200. These are both slimline two-channel receivers with robust wireless connectivity, so they both serve the same purpose of providing basic receiver functionality that can fit into spaces where standard receivers won’t.
The first difference between the SX-S30 and the NR1200 is that the NR1200 is a bit taller. The Pioneer unit is just barely over three inches, and the Marantz receiver stands at 4.25 inches. The Marantz is still a fairly thin receiver compared to the rest of the pack, but the Pioneer unit definitely takes the edge here if space is a concern.
These units are both pretty similar in terms of functionality, but the Marantz has a more powerful amplifier. Most notably, it’s rated at 75 watts measured at 8 ohms, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, with 0.08 percent THD, and driving both channels. These numbers are much more realistic than the SX-S30, which claims 80 watts at 4 ohms, 1 Hz, 1 percent THD, and just driving a single channel. The Marantz also has an edge in terms of outputs. It provides both preamp outputs and A/B zone speakers, which are both features that the SX-S30 lacks.
While the Marantz has a number of features that the Pioneer unit lacks, the Pioneer is both thinner and less expensive. If you have extra space to work with, and room in your budget, then the Marantz NR1200 is a decent choice. Otherwise, the Pioneer SX-S30 does a fantastic job at an affordable price point.
This is a great little receiver for limited-space applications
The Pioneer SX-S30 packs a ton of features, and some great hardware, into a tiny package, and that’s the unit’s greatest strength. This is a fantastic little two-channel receiver if you’re looking for something you can use in an area where space is at a premium. It lacks some key features, like preamp outputs, and it isn’t suitable for use in surround sound systems, but that’s probably not a concern if you’re in the market for a two-channel receiver in the first place. If you’re in the market for a slimline two-channel receiver, you won’t do better for the money.