Top critical review
19 of 28 people found this helpful
Not as flexible as it appears
on May 15, 2013
A major disappointment--and waste. The receiver has terrific audio and video processing power, but it is available for use only in one zone. To advertise the product as allowing "advanced multi-zone configuration" seems dishonest to me. Common components, such as a DVD player, cannot take advantage of the receiver's 192kHz/32 bit audio DAC and be played outside of Zone 1.
At first glance, the SC-1522 seems an incredible buy for an extremely versatile piece of equipment. It seemed such a bargain that I was ready to abandon my plans to buy a separate preamp/processor and power amplifier. Among its appeals were its 192kHz/32 bit DAC, Qdeo video processor, and multizone operation. The DAC, at least, promised a major audio upgrade for my DVD player and Squeezebox Touch. In fact, sound and video outputs for Zone 1 were markedly superior to what I experienced previously. Unfortunately, and what will cause me to return the receiver, is its inability to down-convert HDMI, optical, and coaxial (in other words, all digital) inputs for output to Zones 2 and 3 (see page 35 of operating manual). For me, the audio quality in Zones 2 and 3 is at least as important as it is for Zone 1.
That said, I'll list what I see as a few pros and cons of the receiver:
1. Robust construction. Jacks on the back panel are solidly mounted. They are not gold plated, but it is debatable if this has an impact on sound and video. If you have concerns about conductivity or corrosion, there are several products that can keep the contacts clean..
2. Large number of digital input options, including 7 HDMI, 2 coaxial, and 2 optical inputs.
3. Ability to rename inputs as they show on the receiver's display panel.
4. Both speaker level and preamp outputs for each channel. This allows at-will use of external amplifiers as well as a seamless mix of passive and powered (or active) speakers, whether as part of a Zone 1 multichannel system, or in Zone 2 or 3.
5. High-quality audio and video upscaling. Digital audio sources played with greater depth and less edginess than I experienced with the built in DACs of my DVD player and Squeezebox. Every video source--from cable to streamed material via Roku--was sharper and brighter on my plasma screen after being fed through the Pioneer.
6. Ability to handle relatively low-impedance, high-current loads. The amplifier has ratings for 4 ohm speakers--many competitors will cite only 8 ohm specs. A few specify 6 ohm loads, implying, through omission, that the amp is not stable when faced with 4 or 2 ohm loads. (I should note that dedicated power amplifiers usually have an advantage over receivers when handling low impedance speakers. However, this is no longer something that buyers can take for granted. As part of an effort to reach lower price points, there are a number of multichannel power amplifiers on the market that have very unimpressive specs for 4 ohm loads.)
7. High-quality amplification. The receiver performed extremely well with my B&W Nautilus 805s. According to the source material and the different components preceding it, the speakers can sound hard and fatiguing, or muffled and withdrawn. With the SC-1522, the 805s sounded neutral and revealing, without showing a need to exaggerate every defect in a recording. For the first time since I have owned the speakers, I could describe their sound as dynamic and engaging. If, however, you feel that the amplifier section is lacking, but you like the switching and processing functions of the receiver, the unit is an attractive purchase as a budget, digital preamp.
1. The above mentioned benefits of the 192/32 DAC and Qdeo video processor are available only to Zone 1.
2. Bass management crossover options are limited to 200, 150, 100, 80, and 50Hz. I suspect that many sat/sub systems would do better with a 120Hz option, a large number of two-way stand mount monitors would be better at 60Hz, and some full range systems would do best with 40Hz. I ended up connecting my REL subwoofer in parallel with my 805s (which I set as "full" range speakers), bypassing the bass management system entirely. The result was very satisfying.
3. Every complex piece of equipment involves a learning curve, but the plastic, cramped Pioneer remote seems friendly only to those who own other Pioneer equipment. There is not, for example, a direct, named button for a media player such as a Roku box or Apple TV, items that users are far more likely to own than, for example, a BD recorder. The remote also seems exceptionally fiddly when you try to enter remote codes for other A/V equipment. Finally, turning on and off Zone 2 and 3 seems a needlessly complicated operation.
4. I appreciate the solid metal faceplate of the receiver, but the plainness of the slab, along with the giant plastic dials for volume and input, give the receiver a brutish, rather than minimalist appearance.
5. I don't question that the receiver has ample power to drive a wide range of speakers to a very loud volume. As mentioned above, it provides sufficient current for 4 ohm loads. But it is frustrating that Pioneer provides such limited and confusing specs for the output of the amplifier section. At least some of its competitors state continuous and peak output and distortion per channel will all channels driven, at a full frequency range of 20-20,000Hz. I am surprised that, in the $1000+ market, Pioneer can get away with providing 1kHz output at 1% distortion.
6. Despite what some say is Pioneer's conspicuous bias toward Apple products, it would have been kind if Pioneer provided its setup CD in a Mac OS format. Similarly, firmware updates should be available directly through the ethernet link, or in a form friendly to Mac users.
Summary: In its overall build and operations, the SC-1522 feels like a quality, but not luxury product. Discounted to the $600-$1000 price range, the receiver is a killer deal--if your main concern is a large, single room home theater. However, if you are thinking of the receiver for its multi-zone capabilities, I recommend you consider very carefully whether the unit genuinely meets your needs.
6/8/13: A correction: The receiver does allow firmware updates through its ethernet connection.