Overview of Pioneer Elite SX-A9 Stereo Receiver
In a world seemingly dominated by multichannel home theater receivers, it’s good to know that Pioneer hasn’t abandoned two-channel music enthusiasts. The Pioneer Elite SX-A9 is a new stereo receiver from the company’s upscale Elite group of products. Its high fidelity features and price take it out of the entry-level category, but its sound quality easily justifies the cost as I learned when I tested the SX-A9 in my two-channel system.
The SX-A9 is a sleek looking component with a clean, nicely-shaped front panel finished in a brushed-silver or slate grey color. It has a bright LCD display and the volume control and input selector have a solid, high quality feel.
The Pioneer Elite SX-A9 is designed with performance features for two-channel critical listening. Although it’s a stereo receiver, it’s designed as a dual-mono component with twin transformers (power supplies) and amplification circuits. The dual-mono construction is like having two separate amplifiers and allows the receiver to respond to the power needs of each channel independently and can improve channel separation and soundstage performance. The dual toroidal transformers are more efficient than standard laminated power supplies and offer quieter operation with lower stray magnetic fields resulting in reduced interference and making them ideal for audio applications. The SX-A9 incorporates Pioneer’s Wide-Range Linear Circuit for frequency response ranging from 5Hz to 100kHz through the receiver’s line inputs. I have long been a proponent of amplifiers with wide bandwidth frequency response because of their ability to reproduce the subtle harmonics that make music sound live. Direct Construction with symmetrical signal paths also provides cleaner audio output. It has become commonplace for stereo receivers to eliminate any digital circuits in order to prevent noise and interference and the SX-A9 is an analog only component. Instead, any digital decoding is left to a CD or DVD player preserving the analog signal purity in the receiver. According to Pioneer, the receiver was designed in cooperation with audio engineers at Air Studios in a collaborative process to achieve the best listening experience.
Beyond performance features, the Pioneer Elite SX-A9 includes useful convenience features. The SX-A9 is XM Radio Ready equipped with a special input for the subscription-based satellite radio service. After adding an optional XM tuner, the receiver’s front panel display shows the current XM station and station category (sports, talk, news, etc.). XM stations can also be stored in the receiver’s 30 AMFM preset station memory. Playing music from your computer is easy with the rear panel USB interface and the Pioneer Sound Retriever feature helps restore the sound quality that is typically lost in compressed audio files. The SX-A9 comes with a small easy to use (and hold) remote control with all the essential control features. It’s not a lighted remote, but with fewer adjustments and controls than a home theater receiver, it’s not really necessary.
Pioneer Elite SX-A9 Audio Performance
I listened to the Pioneer SX-A9 with my reference speakers, Paradigm Reference Studio 100 tower speakers and the new Pioneer PD-D6 CD/SACD player
. Immediately I noticed excellent vocal clarity, exceptional resolution of subtle details and in particular, a deep, layered soundstage. In James Taylor’s “Line ‘Em Up” from his Hourglass SACD (Sony Music), the background vocals had better presence and clarity than I’ve ever heard in that recording and the soundstage had three-dimensional depth that accurately placed the background vocals behind the instruments and lead vocalist. Holly Cole’s vocals in “I Can See Clearly Now” from her “Don’t Smoke in Bed” CD (Capitol Records) sounded natural and uncolored with a strong in-room presence. The receiver’s Direct listening feature slightly improved high-frequency response, but sounded good without the feature engaged. Direct bypasses all unnecessary processing and turns off the front panel display to obtain the purest analog signal. Bass performance was also very strong with good extension.
I live in a somewhat rural area and found the tuner performance and signal reception to be very strong. It was able to pull in distant stations easily.
While listening to some demanding music at a high volume level, the receiver went into protection mode. I repeated the test several times and the condition persisted when the orchestra reached a crescendo with tympani drums and cymbals. My Paradigm speakers are rated as ‘compatible with 8 ohms’ so I suspect their low sensitivity of 91dB require more power than the receiver's 55 watts (8 ohms).