Pioneer Elite SC-LX704: A Revolutionary Successor

It’s been 3 years since Pioneer released the SC-LX701; a model so advanced it took 3 years before requiring an actual update to SC-LX704. As for what inputs are available and product dimensions, I’m not going to waste your time talking about the specifications of the Pioneer Elite SC-LX704. From the specification sheet, everybody can recognize the completeness of this unit. 9-channel Class-D3 digital amplification in a receiver, HDMI 2.0b with HDCP 2.3, eARC, full 18 Gbps bandwidth for 4K/UHD 60p/4:4:4 24-bit video signals, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and IMAX Enhanced capabilities, built-in phono preamp, 384 kHz/32-bit ES9026PRO DACs. The list goes on and on. Enough of that. As previously mentioned, if you want to look at the specification sheet, go to their website.

What I will cover, however, are the things I personally find to be of higher importance. I’ll start with the important, and my favourite auto calibration of them all.

As the pioneer of home automatic calibration, the receiver uses the company’s own proprietary technology, dubbed MCACC Pro. There’s a supplied mini-microphone you plug into the receiver and place at the listening position, which collects speaker and room response data from the internally generated clicks and noise bursts the receiver then emits. Pioneer‘s new onscreen prompts and graphics are simple and easily followed. It also provides you with both tabular and graphical corrections thus derived. And whereas Audyssey system collects data from as many as 8 or even 16 different mic positions, depending on the level of MultEQ, the MCACC Pro does all its measurements from only one position at the primary listening position with the OPTION to add more positions to calculate and minimize standing wave. I know enough about psychoacoustics to bless this approach. It is called a sweet spot because it is referring to just one spot. There is no such thing as every seat is a good seat, especially in home theatre setup. The more positions you measure from, the larger the area over which you obtain a picture of room effects you can potentially calculate and thus attempt to correct. This will create an averaging effect which translates to every seat is a mediocre seat.

Taking a step further beyond previous model’s offering, the MCACC Pro now employs an improved Reflex Optimizer designed for Dolby Atmos Enabled speaker modules (in my case, PSB Imagine XA). This new technology optimizes the performance of the up-firing elevation speakers for your listening environment, by aligning the phase of direct and indirect sound, matching the basic tone, and optimizing the upward-oriented frequencies as Dolby target-curve. The result is overall seamless sound with Dolby enabled speakers, allowing the ideal reproduction of three-dimensional surround sound. This is not to say that Dolby Atmos enabled speakers can 100 % replace a true in ceiling speakers, but very close indeed.

What if you want to use it only as a processor? Most receivers at this price level can do that, but the power amplifier section is powered on regardless of your usage. With this receiver, there is a Preamp mode which shuts off the power amplifier section of the receiver. Not only this reduces electrical noise from almost non-existent to literally non-existent, but it saves electrical consumption too. This function is not new to this year’s model, but this is the first year you can toggle this function without doing multiple steps to achieve it. Furthermore, there are three different preamp modes: ALL switches all amplifiers off, L+R switches only front left and right channels off, and L+C+R switches front left, centre and right channels off and leaving the rest of the amplifiers off. If you want, there is a trick to switch more amplification off which is by assigning them as a zone-2 amp but never actually use the zone-2.

Sonically, the SC-LX704 is only an evolutionary improvement over SC-LX701 although it is still rather a distinct improvement in sonic reproduction; and for sure it is as a direct result of the better implementation of MCACC Pro which, oddly, there is no mention anywhere on Pioneer‘s site or any marketing material. Only when I compare the MCACC Pro‘s results to my own calculations, measurements and readings versus last year’s SC-LX701 measurements, I can see the improvements of the MCACC Pro algorithms. How does it translate in the actual performance? Using various Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks from UHD Blu-ray movies such as 2016 version of Magnificent Seven, Resident Evil: Afterlife, DTS Demo Disc 23 I received at CES 2019, and Angry Birds 2 (this one is in IMAX Enhanced mode) played back using Panasonic UB9000 connected using PixelGen Design‘s THX certified HDMI cables, my theatre room (see equipment list at the end of this article) comes alive. The wall and ceiling feel like they have disappeared, directionality is precise yet atmospheric sound sounds diffused as they should.

The built in phono pre-amp sounds quite beautiful too. Not quite audiophile grade, but for something that is included in a receiver, it is amazing. My Frank Sinatra anniversary edition 180 gram vinyl along the polar opposite Sara Bareilles album played back on my vintage Technics SL-2000 turntable with Ortofon Blue cartridge sound as involving with great presence and multi layered as they are meant to be heard. No extra sprinkles of sugar and spice added. Every song, every instrument, every note sounds the way they should.

As much as I am not a proponent of streaming anything, the SC-LX704 boasts the standard laundry list of streaming options including Airplay 2, Roon certification, Works With Sonos, and a plethora more which makes this receiver also a powerful streaming client. WiFi and Bluetooth are available, of course, and Alexa capability is there if you want to use it. If you prefer a wired connection – which is the only type of connection I approve of, the receiver also has an Ethernet hook-up. Streaming services Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, TIDAL, Google Cast, and DEEZER are supported as is the aforementioned Apple’s AirPlay 2.

Sadly, with all the above improvements there are things that are still missing from the equation. THX certification, for example, is still nowhere to be found. Which is a tad disappointing as it used to be included several years ago and is still included with Pioneer‘s mother-company Onkyo. Secondly, the front display still does not show which sound codec is being used, only the input name. Yes, you can press info to check which codec is being played back but from my experience, in setting up countless home theatres in the past 20+ years, users want to be able to see the codec name instead of the input name constantly displayed. Lastly, and this is very important in my book, I can’t cross-pollinate between Dolby and DTS. Meaning I can’t use DTS Neural X processing on Dolby soundtracks nor can I use Dolby Surround Upmixer on DTS content. I contacted both Dolby and DTS, that cross-pollination restrictions are not implemented by them but by the manufacturer. Once Pioneer at least fix the above two out of three problems (and the can be fixed with a simple firmware update), I can move the $2,000 CAD MSRP SC-LX704 from Very Extremely Highly Recommended to a Must Buy status. Oh, and did I mention that the remote control is now far more advanced and improved upon the predecessor?

Equipment Used in This Review:
UB9000 UHD BD Player
Pioneer SC-LX704 Receiver
Pioneer SC-LX701 Receiver (as a direct comparison)
Pioneer Andrew Jones Atmos Enabled Bookshelf Speakers
Pixelgen Design THX Certified HDMI cables
Pixelgen PXLdrive THX Certified HDMI accelerator
PSB Imagine XA Dolby Atmos Enabled Speakers
PSB Image C6 Centre Channel
PSB Subseries 450i Subwoofer
System Audio Aura 30 Tower Speakers
Technics SL-1000 Turntable w/ Ortofon Blue Cartridge