Many cool technologies are trickling down to the entry-level home theater components. 3D Blu-ray players with Wi-Fi, for instance, cost less than $150 while networked-enabled AV receivers are priced less than $500. With prices this low, it could be pointless for you to spend a lot on a high-end AV receiver especially if you have a 5.1-channel system and you don’t intend to expand or set up additional systems in other rooms. AV receivers like the Pioneer VSX-823-K offer plenty of good features and perform well when connected to the network. But there is still a large crowd that care a lot about audio quality, flexibility and expandability. The Pioneer SC-68 represents itself as the flagship model and while it isn’t exactly as new as any of the receivers Pioneer announced this 2013, you may be able to find some stores selling it for lower prices. It is also packs a lot of punch to the point that some of the very minor outdated features no longer matter.

Pioneer Elite SC-68

Pioneer Elite SC-68

Design

Pioneer keeps their SC Elite design language so consistent that the flagship model has the same external characteristics as the rest of the Pioneer SC Elite receivers. There are two protruding panels on the front with the panel on top serving as the large info display with golden accents. The bottom panel with the Elite logo flips down to reveal all of the functions you can use from the front panel as well as the available connection ports. The Front A/V inputs are as complete as you can get with an HDMI port, USB port and composite video inputs that are normally excluded from mainstream models.

You can really see the premium side of the SC-68 by looking at the back. Starting things off, many of the connectors are gold-plated so they are not subjected to corrosion and provide a good connection for longer periods. 7 HDMI inputs and 3 HDMI outputs take over the top portion of the rear side. There are also more sets of component and composite inputs and outputs highlighting the huge support for multi-zone setups and very large home theater systems. Finally, the bottom left corner of the rear side is what custom installers will appreciate as it contains the RS-232C serial port as well as a pair of IR serial remote inputs and single output. The 12 volt triggers are assignable as well.

Below is the back panel layout. Click on image to enlarge for a clearer view.

Pioneer Elite SC-68 Back Panel

Pioneer Elite SC-68 Back Panel

Features

The Pioneer SC-68 is a Class D3 9.2-channel home theater receiver which puts in the same boat as the SC-65 which costs about $900 less. But the SC-68 pushes the power output even more to 140 watts per channel with an estimated power consumption of 370 watts which translates to even better audio performance. Unlike the SC-65, the Pioneer SC-68 is also powerful enough to support bi-amping to the center, surround and B-speaker in addition to the front channel.

The SC-68 also goes beyond THX certification thanks to the extra power as this particular model is the only current Pioneer receiver to get the coveted THX Ultra 2 Plus certification. This is the kind of certification that studio professionals and filmmakers would appreciate. When you combine this with DTS Neo:X support, you can go as far as 11.2 channels for your 3-D surround sound experience. While there are other competing home theater receivers that get THX certification, the Pioneer SC-68 also has the AIR Studios Monitor certification award. This award shows that a highly renowned recording company evaluated this particular AV receiver and made the necessary changes to get the approval. London-based AIR Studios is best known for creating popular motion picture soundtracks using cutting-edge equipment so this award is a huge deal.

The Multi-zone support of the SC-68also surpasses the rest of the Pioneer Elite receivers. Zone 4 takes over as the HDMI output while the Zone 2 and 3 are available for creating separate sound systems in other rooms. You can alter the volume, balance controls and tone for a more customized multimedia experience. Plus, each of the zones feature its own on-screen display for easy management. Custom home theater installation is perfect with the Pioneer SC-68 since the presence of the RS-232 bus connection allow compatibility with various entertainment systems including AMX, Control 4 and Crestron.

Like other high-end receivers, the SC-68 features the Advanced Qdeo Video Processing technology to allow legacy sources to upconvert to high-quality HD sources. It also has a technology called Advanced Video Adjust which makes extra enhancements to the image quality. When or if you decide to upgrade to a 4K display, the Pioneer SC-68 is ready to handle those video signals.

In terms of networking features, the SC-68 gets the same treatment as the rest of the Pioneer network-enabled receivers but they are still worth mentioning. AirPlay support is a big deal because it allows current and older iOS devices to stream music to the receiver. The USB port lacks the Apple Lightning support that newer models have but AirPlay still remains as a choice if you have an iPhone 5 or iPad Mini for instance. HTC Connect is also a new addition for the newer models allowing HTC Smartphones to stream wirelessly in a similar fashion. Fortunately, the Pioneer SC-68 can have this feature too through a firmware update. You may also stream music online if you enjoy services like Pandora, vTuner and SiriusXM.

If you have a smartphone or tablet running iOS or Android, you may also download the free iControlAV2012 app to control the receiver anywhere in the home as long as a Wi-Fi signal is present. The interface is intuitive and more interesting than the standard physical remote control. Of course, the SC-68 has its own friendly on-screen GUI in case you wish to use the remote anyway. If you prefer a direct connection from your Android device and it supports MHL, you can use the adapter to connect the device directly to the front HDMI port. Unfortunately, MHL 2.0 isn’t supported which is a new feature for 2013 models.

Bottom Line

You can’t go wrong with Pioneer Elite receivers if you’re looking for outstanding, transparent sound quality. The Pioneer Elite SC-68 epitomises this concept with its excellent audio performance. It is a well thought out and superbly engineered product that lives to its designation as a top of the line receiver that any audiophile will enjoy.

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