There are two types of companies that are manufacturing home theater receivers. The first type is the group of companies that make AV receivers as well as other home theater components and gadgets like Blu-ray players, TVs cameras and other devices. The companies belonging in the second type are more focused on audio equipment. The companies that really focus on audio products really need to target more price points so they can attract serious audiophiles and other people that have studio environments in their homes. Pioneer kind of leans towards the first type because they used to make TV displays and they are simply more popular when it comes to consumer electronics in general. But what is interesting about Pioneer is that they are willing to compete with the few competitors that currently make products for custom home theater installations. The purpose of the Pioneer SC-61 is to bridge the gap between ordinary AV receivers and premium ones.
The easiest way to tell if you are looking at a Pioneer Elite AV receiver is to look for the “Elite” word on the front panel and check the golden color of the Pioneer logo. Other than these small accents, the Elite SC-61 is pretty much the same as other Pioneer SC models. That isn’t to say that this particular AV receiver is poorly made because this 32-pound system features a nice-looking brush metal finish and a panel covering all of the controls and ports so the AV receiver looks more minimal. The layout of the buttons and ports resembles the similarly priced but non-Elite Pioneer SC-1222K model. Beneath the panel, you will find the usual set of ports that you would normally find on an AV priced this much. With a USB port, HDMI phones jack and composite video jack all found on the front, it should be very convenient to plug in virtually any portable gadget that plays audio and/or video today.
Looking at the back of the Pioneer SC-61, you will notice that it looks very similar to the SC-1222K. The key differences are the IP control for custom integration functions and additional IR serial remote input. This shows that the “Elite” models really put custom integration on the spotlight.
Below is the back panel layout. Click on image to enlarge for a clearer view.
If you have tried affordable AV receivers in the past, it is extremely easy to notice how much of an impact a $1,000+ Pioneer AV receiver has on sound quality. The secret behind this big boost lies on the Class D3 amplification which works by driving multiple channels all at once without diminishing the power output per channel. This means that Blu-ray formats can effectively make full use of the specifications of the AV receiver and the quality is most noticeable when using a 7-channel speaker setup and playing back content that supports these multi-channel configurations. What is stunning about this is how efficient this design is. Even though the power output is 125 watts per channel, the AV receiver should have an estimated power consumption of less than 300 watts.
Although anyone buying a custom integrated AV receiver should know how to operate and set up home theater receivers in general, Pioneer still offers a very friendly interface for getting started. It is most ideal to hook up a TV or display to the Elite SC-61 so you can see an on-screen full-color graphical user interface. Reading the user manual isn’t necessary either because the AVNavigator feature takes you through the steps in getting your speakers set up. You can also optimize the sound and calibrate the whole system to make sure that the listening area gets the best audio experience from your preferred setup.
Automatic speaker calibration is a feature that you should find in just about every AV receiver right now but Pioneer’s Advanced Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration (MCACC) works a bit better than other calibration technologies like Audyssey. Although this calibration technology does not make any adjustments to the subwoofer, it does a better job in ensuring that the overall sound quality is lively. More importantly, the interface gives you a nice summary of the tweaks applied to each speaker such as the decibel changes.
The on-screen interface is intuitive enough for anyone to use as long as you have the remote control and you are in front of the screen. But since this is one of the Pioneer AV receivers that emphasize on multi-room setups, it is possible that you may need to make configurations from another room. Fortunately, Pioneer offers a free application which you can download from the Google Play Store or iTunes App Store that can turn any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet into a wireless remote control where you can literally touch the interface and do things like make adjustments to the EQ or select inputs.
The wireless home router makes this all possible although you need to connect the Pioneer SC-61 to the router for this feature to work. Wireless connection to the router will only work if you connect a special Pioneer wireless USB dongle that you can purchase separately.
Connecting the Elite SC-61 to the network has other benefits as well since it supports AirPlay out of the box and is the DLNA and Windows 7 compliant. You can also add Bluetooth functionality too if you buy the required accessory. AirPlay is the main highlight here though because makes it extremely easy to stream audio and video to the Pioneer SC-61. The only catch is that you must have an iPod, iPhone, iPad or any computer with iTunes installed. The Elite SC-61 can also connect to music services like SiriusXM and Pandora so there is always music to enjoy even if you don’t have any to stream.
The Pioneer SC-61 isn’t just about powerful sound and networking though because it utilizes the Marvel Qdeo Video Processing technology. This translates to excellent visuals regardless of the input source. Old video sources can be upscaled to 1080p while 3D visuals should work properly if a 3D-compatible display is hooked up.
If you don’t need the custom integration features, you are better off buying the SC-1222-K model which is priced the same and has the same features without the custom integration. Otherwise, the Elite SC-61 is the cheapest way to get into that domain without sacrificing the powerful benefits that Class D3 amplification offers.
Discontinued by Manufacturer
Update: There is a newer model > Pioneer Elite SC-95