Later, after Jaguar Paw has felled his antagonist with a mighty blow from his captured Mayan battle hatchet, the Pioneer caps the scene off by masterfully reproducing the deliberately overblown, reverberant “thud” of the stricken opponent’s body crashing to the ground—a sound that is quickly mirrored (and given greater finality) by the sudden and unexaggerated sound of a violent thunderclap heard as a rain forest cloudburst begins. Like all great receivers, the SC-27 can shift gears effortlessly from reproducing small, delicate sounds to hammering out gigantic, high-powered effects.
Are higher priced receivers such as the SC-27 really worth the extra money they cost? Once you listen to a really demanding and revealing soundtrack like this one through the Pioneer, your answer will be a resounding “yes.”
To see what the Pioneer could do with first-rate surround sound material, I put on the haunting title track from Sara K’s Hell or High Water [Stockfisch, multichannel SACD]—a beautifully recorded and mixed album of jazz-inflected folk music. “Hell or High Water” is a bittersweet song, sung from one lover to another, wistfully conceding that “…the love that ran between us has grown cold/that’s alright, no one’s to blame/it’s just time to go.” To capture these dark, mixed emotions, Sara K uses sparse instrumentation: a tin whistle, ocarina, and percussion played by Beo Brockhausen, fretless bass provided by Hans-Jörg Mauksch, and acoustic guitar played by the late Chris Jones. Against this simple yet evocative musical backdrop, Sara K’s breathy vocals rise like an uncertain beacon of hope, balanced precariously between what has been lost and what might yet be gained.
The Pioneer does a fine job with each of the backing instruments, capturing the taut and richly textured “mwaaah” sounds Mauksch’s sustained fretless bass notes, the ancient and almost otherworldly sound of Brockhausen’s tin whistle and ocarina, and restrained but exquisite intricacy of Jone’s guitar lines. But it’s Sara K’s voice that really pulls us in, with its elusive mixture of pain and sorrow, strength, inner grit, and hope. What I mean to say is that the Pioneer crosses the fine line between getting the general shape and outline of notes right to go even deeper—to retrieve the small sounds and dynamic swells that express the emotion behind the notes. And that’s a big part of what makes this receiver special.
But it also offers one other quality that, once experienced, quickly becomes addictive; namely, absolutely killer surround sound imaging. Many receivers can place sounds in roughly the correct quadrant (right, left, right rear, left rear, and so on), but frankly that doesn’t impress me much. What I want, and what the Pioneer delivers in spades on the Sara K track, is a really seamless, holographic presentation where the walls of the listening room melt away, the speakers seem to disappear, and you feel yourself transported to a different space where the music unfolds all around you. The SC-27 was able to take me there, as few other receivers have.
Pioneer’s SC-27 is a superb receiver that offers in equal measures compelling power, finesse, and highly advanced technical feature that will not easily be outgrown—all a fair (though by no means cheap) price. But perhaps the most important point is that the SC-27 has its priorities straight: its main emphasis is on achieving a rare level of sound quality that makes it a joy for music and movie playback.
Pioneer Elite SC-27 THX Ultra2 Plus-certified A/V Receiver
Power output: 7 x 140 Wpc @ 8 ohms
Decoding formats: Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital Dolby Pro Logic IIx. DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-EXPRESS, DTS ES, DTS, DTS 96/24, Neural-THX Surround, WMA-9 Pro, HDMI SACD Transfer and HDMI DVD-Audio Transfer modes, plus 14 other proprietary Pioneer surround sound processing modes. The receiver also supports the following digital audio formats: LPCM, WAV, MP3, WMA, AAC, and FLAC.
Video inputs/outputs: Composite video (5 in, 1 out); S-Video (5 in, 1 out), Component video (3 in, 2 out), HDMI (6 in—1 on front panel, 1 out), Ethernet (1 in), USB memory (1 in), iPhone/iPod USB (1 in)
Audio inputs/outputs: Phono (1 in), stereo analog audio (4 in, 1 out), 7.1-channel analog audio (1 in, 1 out), digital audio (7 in—4 optical in, 3 coaxial in; 2 optical outputs), HDMI (5 in, 1 out), Ethernet (1 in), USB memory (1 in), iPhone/iPod USB (1 in), Sirius satellite radio (1), XM satellite Radio (1), AM/FM Radio tuner (1), headphone (1)
Other: Auto calibration mic (1), RS-232C (1), IR (1 in, 1 out), 12V trigger (2)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 7.92" x 16.56" x 18.12"
Weight: 40.69 pounds
Warranty: 2 years, parts and labor