Although the CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association) Expo has emerged as one of the world’s leading home theater shows, some of the coolest products I saw at CEDIA 2007 were actually targeted specifically toward music lovers. When I visited Pioneer’s booth, for example, I was surprised to find that alongside the expected plasma televisions, A/V receivers, and the like, the firm was introducing an affordable yet purist-oriented set of Elite-series stereo components; namely, the SX-A6- J and SX-A9-J stereo receivers, and the matching PD-D6-J SACD/CD player. When I asked a company spokesperson about the thinking behind the new components, the reply was simple and direct (just like the components, themselves): “We felt it was time to rediscover our 2-channel ‘roots’—time to get back to the pure pleasure of listening to music in stereo. And besides, clean, simple stereo systems are a better fit for some applications than surround- sound systems would be.” Amen to that, brother. This review takes an opportunity to sample Pioneer’s Elite SX-A6-J receiver and PD-PD-J SACD player to see what they can do.
The SX-A6-J is a handsome, beautifully built receiver that proved a joy to use. Pioneer obviously puts a lot of thought into the industrial design of its Eliteseries components, and that extra attention to detail pays off in the form of a component that is not only pleasing to the eyes and ears, but that is intuitive and “feels right” in day-to-day use. The core sound of the SX-A6-J conveys a good measure of midrange and treble subtlety and detail, plus bass that is pleasingly rich, full, and very nicely weighted. The receiver is perhaps not the last word in clarity or definition at either the highest or lowest frequency extremes, but there is a smooth, warm, relaxed quality to the SX-A6-J’s sound that makes it easy to listen to for hours on end.
Frankly I didn’t realize quite how good this little Pioneer really was until I ran my admittedly very high-end reference Musical Fidelity kW SACD player through it. What surprised me was that the SX-A6-J captured many of the deep, inner subtleties of the Musical Fidelity player’s sound, much as a more expensive component might have done.
Naturally, the 60 Wpc Pioneer does not have quite the same dynamic clout or authority that a more powerful unit might have, but within its performance envelope, which is certainly adequate for driving speakers of moderate-tohigh sensitivity, it does just fine.
The receiver’s moving magnet phono section proved a pleasant surprise in that it offered smooth though slightly reticent highs, a heaping helping of midrange clarity, and remarkably authoritative bass. In fact, I’d say the built-in phono section was as good if not better than some standalone units I’ve heard that sell for a significant fraction of the SX-A6-J’s price.
The built-in AM/FM tuner was a bit of a disappointment in that it did not seem particularly sensitive or selective, and when tuned in to some of the reference quality FM stations in my area, it tended to sound somewhat veiled or muffled with a touch of excess bass emphasis. What was missing, I felt, was the sense that better receivers often give of being perfectly “locked on” to the broadcast signal, so that you can even evaluate the quality of the musical material the station is playing. But the good news, however, is that unlike many traditional stereo receivers, the SX-A6-J supports XM connectivity, so that—if you buy an XM subscription and Connect & Play antenna—you can tap in to the big “music server” in the sky. I have only one practical nit to pick, and it’s this: the SX-A6-J deserves much higher quality speaker binding posts than it presently has, and it should really have two sets of posts per channel. Here’s the deal: A receiver this good should be used with high-quality speaker cables, but the current speaker posts make it hard to use beefy cables, which are typically terminated either with spade lugs or banana jacks.
SACD/CD Receiver Performance
While the PD-D6-J is a good SACD player, I think the real reason to consider owning one would be its performance on conventional CDs. What sets the player apart is the distinctive Legato Link Pro processing feature mentioned above.
When you listen to CDs through this player with Legato Link processing turned off, they sound quite good, but—as with many players in this price range—there’s a sense that upper midrange and higher frequencies sound somewhat “flat,” two-dimensional, or lacking in low-level textural detail. But press the LEGATO LINK button on the remote and everything changes for the better. Highs suddenly become subtler, more detailed, and more fully formed while small, delicate treble spatial cues combine to give the overall sound a noticeably more three-dimensional “feel.” In short, Legato Link processing really works, taking an already good player to the next level, giving it a touch of sonic sophistication normally associated with more costly CD players.