Bringing the Advanced MCACC system into play takes the SC-27’s underlying qualities of clarity and transparency and, on the whole, sharpens their focus even further. Advanced MCACC is a very sophisticated system that measures and addresses multiple aspects of speaker performance and of the room/speaker interface with surprising levels of precision. The system can, for example, measure speaker positions to with about ½-inch tolerances, and then sets channel distances (or delay times) accordingly. Similarly, the system analyzes—and corrects for—problems in both frequency and phase response for speakers in the system, and also tests for problems with standing waves (or room resonances) and then applies programmable filters as necessary to eliminate their negative effects. Finally, the system even checks the reverb characteristics of the room and adjusts the speaker system to compensate.
When all is said and done, Advanced MCACC tunes your speaker system for flat in-room frequency response and smooth, evenly balanced phase response (or group delays) at your listening position. All of the measurements I’ve described above happen automatically when you use the Full Auto MCACC program. Just plug in the included calibration mic, position the mic in accordance with Pioneer’s instructions, launch the calibration process, and then wait as the system conducts its battery of tests and calculates appropriate speaker distance, level, EQ, and phase and reverb compensation settings for you. But for veteran A/V enthusiasts, the SC-27 offers two additional options: the Auto MCACC program, which provides some user customization of the setup process, or the Manual MCACC program, which allows extensive user customization and fine-tuning of the process. True, Auto MCACC and Manual MCACC require a fair amount of background knowledge on the user’s part, but they also help make the SC-27 more responsive to the needs and wishes of technically sophisticated users.
How does the receiver sound with Advanced MCACC adjustments in place? My experience was that all of the SC-27’s core sonic strengths remained in evidence, but that the overall system sound became tighter, more neutral in overall tonal balance, more crisply defined and more sharply focused and three-dimensional. This result is excellent, though it occasionally comes at a price: namely, a slight increase in overall perceived system brightness—at least on some material. This is not too surprising, since my past experience with room EQ systems suggests that when systems are adjusted for truly flat frequency response as measured at the listening position, they can strike some listeners as having somewhat elevated upper midrange and treble response. Even so, I feel the superior clarity and focus that Advanced MCACC provides more than outweighs any minor shifts in tonal balance.
Still, competing EQ systems from Audyssey and from Yamaha do give listeners the choice of applying either flat response settings or settings that dial in a judicious touch of upper midrange/treble roll-off (which subjectively gives systems a somewhat warmer, smoother, and some would say more “natural” sound). Perhaps Pioneer would do well to consider adding the option of a slightly more subdued “Natural” response curve—if only as a pleasing complement to the flat, AIR Studios Monitor-certified response curve it already provides.
I put on one of my favorite test films, Apocalypto, and was thrilled to hear the intensely involving and sharply focused sound the SC-27 produced in the Playback system when playing the disc.
The soundtrack of Apocalypto is impressive from end to end, but the “Warrior’s Death” sequence is a particular sonic treasure trove because it combines tense, rhythmically propulsive instrumental music, rich and vivid jungle noises, dark and strangely slow-paced choral sections, and incredibly closely-mic’d sound of the breaths and footfalls of two combatants who are about to engage in a battle to the death. The passage sounds good even on fairly modest systems, but it achieves altogether higher and more profound levels of impact when you bring the powers of an exceptional receiver such as the SC-27 to bear.
In the “Warrior’s Death” sequence, one soundtrack element I’ve probably heard dozens of time, yet not noticed with the impact I experienced with the Pioneer in my system, is the way the dark, somber choral accompaniment continues to build in intensity as the character Jaguar Paw faces off against his opponent. At the penultimate moment, tension rises to a crescendo as we hear the almost hyper-focused sounds of the two warriors drawing slow, furious breaths as they prepare to charge toward one another. The sounds of breaths being draw might seem like small, inconsequential details, but the Pioneer gives them extra weight and power by making them stand out in sharp relief.