Pioneer has been a household name in electronics for quite some time, particularly for audio equipment. They introduced their Elite series of audio receivers several years ago as their premium product, but recently upgraded it a big step up from previous generations. They’ve improved both the audio performance and the feature set so these Elite receivers can fill your home with music as well as deliver surround sound that will really enhance your home theatre experience. Here is a taste of why they are so good.

Elite Models

You will find several different models with the new Pioneer Elite line—a couple of “VSX” models and four “SC” models. The SC models are their top-of-the-line receivers but the VSX line is no slouch either.  The main difference between the two is that the VSX models use Class A-B amp design whereas the SC uses Class D3 amps. Both sets models have a very similar set of features, but as you move up the line the audio quality continually gets a bit better. Having said that, even the VSX entry-level models sound awesome.

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The baseline model in the SC series is the Pioneer SC-81 and it also of very impressive quality. The feature set is so robust that it would be the envy of most households. For instance, it is a multi-zone 7.2 channel receiver with plenty of power at 560 Watts. It has lots of connectivity with 7 HDMI in ports, and 2 HDMI out ports as well as 2 digital in ports and lots of wireless options I will describe below.

The SC-85 to SC-89 models all are 9.2 channel units, that continually increase in power output. The SC-85 is 760 Watts while the SC-89 gets up to 850 Watts. They also have a few more connections, but the SC-81 has plenty. For instance, the SC-85 and SC-87 both have 8 HDMI in ports and 3 HDMI out ports as well as 4 digital in ports and 2 digital out ports. Unless you have a fairly complex HT system, the number of connections with the SC-81 should suffice quite nicely. Future Shop carries the SC-81 and SC-85, but not the SC-87 and SC-89.  I think this is a smart move because although the SC-87 and SC-89 move slightly up in audio quality, the degree of improvement is not worth the increased price. 

Comparing the SC-81 and SC-85, they are very similar regarding audio quality and feature set, sharing most of the same features. However, there are two noteworthy differences between the two. Both are multi-zone receivers, but the SC-81 supports two zones while the SC-85 can support three separate zones. The other noteworthy difference is that the SC-85 has Dolby Atmos, whereas the SC-81 does not—more on that later.

Audio Performance

The audio performance of the Elite series is a step up because of a few key engineered design improvements. An important element is the use of Class D3 amplifiers, which provide more simultaneous power to multi-channels while ensuring that the sound reproduction is extremely clear with a full sense of realism. The Class D3 amplifiers that they use in all the models are 4 ohm certified. What that means is that they can safely drive low-impedance speakers without distortion.

receiver-back.jpgAudio performance is also enhanced by the ability of the receiver to automatically calibrate itself using their Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System (MCACC). The nice thing about this system is that it can calibrate all 9 of your channels based on the speakers you are using and how they are placed in your room. It uses a microphone to listen to the sound and balance the speaker output perfectly.


The Pioneer Elite SC-85 model has Dolby ATMOS capability, which is the next generation of surround sound. It essentially takes surround sound to an entirely new level—it is engineered to basically add another dimension to the sound making it even more lifelike. It generally requires some ceiling mounted speakers as the sound needs to permeate throughout all levels of the space. Dolby Atmos is particularly effective for action movies where it literally can deliver the feeling of motion with the sound so you get a fully immersive effect. 


The other thing to keep in mind for Dolby Atmos, is that it isn’t enough to have an Atmos receiver. You will also need to equip your system with Dolby Atmos enabled speakers as well, with at least two of them as overhead speakers.


One of the greatest features of the Pioneer Elite series is the tremendous variety of connectivity options. In addition to the large number of HDMI ports mentioned above, and the optical connections, it has a variety of wireless options—more than you will find in just about any other receiver. In addition the HDMI ports are all HDMI 2.0, which supports 4K UHD high-resolution at higher frame rates, plus it will do 4K pass-through.

In terms of wireless options, these receivers all come with WiFi so you can easily connect to your home network. In addition, they come equipped with both Airplay as well as HTC Connect for Android. Airplay allows you to wirelessly play music directly from all your Apple devices, and HTC Connect is specific for wirelessly connecting to HTC Smartphones. If that isn’t enough, you can also use Bluetooth to stream music from any Bluetooth enabled device.  They even are Windows 8 compatible so you can stream directly from any PC or Mac.

In addition, the receivers all have USB ports conveniently in the front, so you can plug in a flash drive with your favorite music or other content on it. Use that USB to plug in your iPod or iPhone directly to the receiver and it will charge your device while playing whatever playlists you choose. You can also use it to plug a Roku stick into the receiver and use it to stream content to your TV. The convenience of all these connectivity options will make this receiver to truly be the hub of your home entertainment system.


In addition to all the great features mentioned above, the Pioneer Elite series is loaded with even more capabilities. Although it comes with a very extensive learning remote control to manage all its capabilities, you can also download a free IOS or Android app to use your Smartphone or Tablet to control it. I don’t know about you but I always prefer a touch screen interface to a pushbutton remote.  It is just easier and more convenient way to control your system.

The receivers have over 60 AM/FM presets so you can program every station you could imagine listening to, plus the built-in Internet radio lets you stream content directly to your receiver from just about anywhere on the planet. Just another reason an app remote is so much nicer than a pushbutton, so you can easily find whatever Internet radio stations you want.

True Home Entertainment

Most people consider their big screen TV as the centre of their home entertainment system but I see the receiver is the true centre. Not only can it control the content that appears on the TV, you can use it to play music throughout your home. Getting a higher end receiver like the Pioneer Elite series will make a very noticeable difference in your home. Not only will it sound fantastic, it has the convenience and capability to play a huge variety of music for any occasion. Impress your friends, but more importantly impress yourself with an audiophile quality receiver and you will enjoy being at home that much more.

Tom Brauser
I love to try new technologies and I have a practical approach to techie stuff - it has to be easy to use and make my life better. I have my house fully wired, with a surround sound system in my family room for music and TV viewing, but also drive music throughout the house as well as outdoors. I Internet stream content on all my devices at home, which provides a huge variety of entertainment to enjoy.