As an SACD1 player, the PD-D6-J emphasizes the warmth, tonal richness, and treble smoothness of which good SACD recordings are capable, which is a good thing. The only tradeoff, however, is that on SACDs the Pioneer tends to slightly round off highs and to smooth over very low-level upper midrange and treble details. This characteristic gives the player unfailingly smooth and easygoing SACD sound, but at the expense of leaving behind a layer or two of low-level information that could otherwise add a lot to the music. Still, I think most listeners would prefer an SACD player whose fundamental sound is right and whose sonic drawbacks are mostly “sins of omission,” rather than the thin, brittle, “edgy” sound some affordable SACD players tend to exhibit.
“Time Rebel” from Jacob Young’s Sideways [ECM] proved a perfect vehicle for showing off the SX-A6-J’s strengths as a receiver as well as the PD-D6-J’s prowess as a CD player. The track highlights first a sumptuous trumpet solo and then a rich, round jazz guitar solo set against soaring cymbal accent notes that seem to hover for a split second, then float upwards toward the ceiling. Through the Pioneer pair, the track sounded pleasingly rich and clear to begin with, but really took off once the player’s Legato Link processing switch was engaged. Suddenly, the higher harmonics of the trumpet, and especially of the cymbals, took on a life of their own, making the sonic images of the instruments pop into sharp 3D relief, while shimmering reverberations from the cymbals rose up to fill a greatly expanded soundstage. The beauty of Legato Link processing is that it appears to be a “do no harm” system that improves sound quality without imposing garish artifacts of any kind. And the strength of the Pioneer receiver, in turn, is that it offers enough subtlety and refinement to let you hear the difference.
The track “Speak” from Nickelcreek’s This Side [Sugar Hill, SACD] reveals both the PD-D6-J’s strengths and weaknesses as an SACD player. On one hand, it captures both the sweetness and agility of Chris Thile’s mandolin as well as the evocative purity of Sara Watkins’s voice (whereas many SACD players tend to put a hard, “glassy” edge on the singer’s voice). But on the other hand, the player lost some of the textural details that should have been apparent when, about three-quarters of the way through the song, an ephemeral swirl of whispering voices appears in the mix behind Watkins’s vocals. However, when I played the same track through my reference SACD player, which was connected to the SX-A6-J, the receiver proved more than capable of resolving the echoes and edges of those whispered voices. The fact is that the receiver is the more revealing of the two Pioneer components.
1For newcomers to the hobby, the acronym SACD stands for Super Audio CD—a digital disk format that offers significantly better than CD-quality sound. While you typically won’t find SACDs at most bigbox retail outlets, the format has been widely embraced by audiophiles so that you can find a wide selection of SACDs from reputable, online music-minded retailers such as Music Direct (www.musicdirect.com).
Pioneer’s SX-A6-J make a good entry point to the world of high-performance stereo components; its two greatest strengths are its amplifier and phono section (the tuner, though workable, seems more of an afterthought). The matching PD-D6-J SACD/CD player is a much better than average CD player whose Legato Link processing feature gives it a measure of sophistication that is rare at this price. Its strengths as an SACD player—tonal richness and smoothness—are undercut to a degree by a tendency to smooth over low-level sonic details.