Sugg. Retail: $7000 (CAN)
Distributor: Pioneer Electronics of Canada, Inc.
300 Allstate Parkway, Markham Ontario, Canada L3R 0P2
(905) 946-7427 FAX 946-7425
Reprinted From the Almanac 02 Issue
I reviewed this DVD-A player in the Winter of 2000 (Vol. 19 #3), and had some high praise for the sound quality of the DV-AX10 heard through its companion C-AX10 digital preamplifier. However, that early sample had no analog output, and recognized but did not output sound from SACDs. Well, now we have the production model of the AX10, and it’s impressive not only as an audio player, but as a video one. In fact, this machine incorporates everything that Pioneer knows about DVD audio and video technology except recording (see the DVR-7000 review). Maybe that’s why it weighs 58 pounds!
The front and side panels are also thick aluminum brushed to a golden glow, while the rear panel has an impressive selection of video and audio outputs. On the video side there are double S and double composite outputs (none of which I’ve used), and a set of progressive scan component outs. Analog audio outputs are there for 6 channels (RCA), with a second pair of stereo balanced outputs. There are also 2 coaxial and a single Toslink optical digital output, with a special extra jack to tell the companion C-AX10 preamp to configure itself for a double coaxial 192 kHz signal (with left and right channels separated). I have to confess that I haven’t used the digital outputs yet, either.
And that’s because this player has 6 192-kHz capable DACs, and they’re as good as anything I’ve heard anywhere. It also has a stereo SACD decoder. For video, there’s enough processing horsepower to make the unit run noticeably warm, and produce the best and most line-free progressive scan picture I’ve ever seen. But more on that below.
The AX10 plays virtually every 4 1/2″ optical disc format available: DVD (audio and video), SACD, CD, CD-R, and CD-RW. In order to be able to listen to it in both rooms, through both Newform R645 and Energy Veritas v1.8 speakers, I took advantage of a run of Mogami Neglex microphone cable that I had installed between the two rooms when we renovated this floor of the house shortly after moving in six years ago. I connected the cables to the balanced outputs of the player, the unbalanced ones going to the 6-channel input of the Sunfire Theatre Grand II.
In the listening room I use a Canadian-made FT Audio passive controller with 5 inputs for the analog output of my digital components, which include the Assemblage D2D-1/DAC 2.7 combo, Meridian 518, and HHB/Pioneer D9601 96K professional DAT recorder. And that’s where the Mogami cable ended up, allowing me to listen to and evaluate SACD and DVD music discs in 2-channel mode. I’d used the cable occasionally before, and was pleased that there was no perceptible high-frequency loss or alteration of sound from the roughly 75-foot length of the cable, the higher level of the balanced output helping to keep noise low. In fact, SACDs like Kind Of Blue (see last issue) sounded better than ever before in either room, the Veritas playback having a subtle edge in resolution and naturalness.
When I reviewed the player in its early state, I commented as follows about DVD 96/24: “The chills down the spine took me back to hearing a direct-to-disc recording for the first time, that sense of utter rightness about the sound. And more of this rightness was heard in Remembrances by Jon Faddis (Chesky CHDVD176) than from any other disc. The sound is absolutely natural, the timbres of the brass and winds like they’re in the room.”
”Other notable Cheskys are Livingston Taylor’s Ink (CHDVD179), where his voice, darker and more dynamic than James’, is extremely realistic, and the guitars sound right there. And David Chesky should take a bow for getting everything right on his own Three Psalms for String Orchestra (CHDVD181). These evocatively minimalist compositions are beautifully played and recorded, the brooding cellos in particular having a power that flows out of the speakers. Anyone who loves the music of Paart and Gorecki should hear this music, and own this recording, which is also available on CD.”
I don’t think I need to say more about the stereo reproduction of the DV-AX10 than that. Its multichannel capabilities (DVD Audio only) are also state-of-the-art, with more DACs than any three other players combined. When we encountered it before, all we had were mostly stereo 96/24 DVDs. With multichannel DVD-As, the sound of the DV-AX10 was as good as I have heard from any digital player, entirely dependent on the quality of the recording. However, our Meridian/Assemblage processing/upsampling chain sounded just slightly sweeter and more dynamic with CDs. However, the AX-10 easily bested all the other players under review except the Arcam DV27 with CDs.
And what about SACD? Well, I’ve covered a lot of that in SuperSounds (not enough space here, next issue), but 2-channel SACD is, to my ears, as good as it gets, and I think I’d rather listen to it in my listening room than just about anything else, especially to a great early stereo recording like Bruno Walters’ Brahms 4th, or all those oh-so-natural sounding Opus 3 recordings, also from analog masters. And in coming issues, there’ll also be reviews of the Telarc re-release of some of the 50 kHz Soundstream digital recordings upsampled to SACD. I don’t think one can say that the format is better than DVD-Audio, but I will say that in the first releases, the record companies involved have done a better job with SACD in both stereo and multitrack. I can, and probably will, live without multitrack SACD (the AX-10 plays these in stereo), but the format may take off because of the care taken with remixes. In sum, the sound of this player with all digital formats it plays is entirely satisfactory.
But what I wasn’t quite ready for was the sheer naturalness and clarity of the DV-AX10’s picture, with the best greyscale reproduction I’ve ever seen from a DVD player. This was especially true with anamorphic discs, but even the MGM 2.5:1 letterboxed DVDs also looked very good when scaled and Zoomed by the PRO 710 HD, with minimal line structure and nice sharp edges on images, though with some dot crawl and other motion artifacts. Such letterboxed discs are seriously compromised in resolution, with as much as half of the pixels wasted on black bars at top and bottom. They are, at best, close to 240p in resolution. Motion artifacts were minimal with progressive scan pictures, mostly seen in early anamorphic DVD software, such as Batman; authoring systems have steadily been improving, as has the ability of players like this to wring all the possible detail out of DVDs. The AX-10 can be set to output 480p or 480i, or to choose 480p only for anamorphic DVDs in Auto Progressive mode. I used it in the latter setting because the 710 HD locks into anamorphic Full screen mode when it sees a progressive signal, even if the source is not anamorphic. That means that non-anamorphic discs are also stretched. Pioneer has removed this feature from the new PRO 720 HD set because of incompatibility problems with some progressive scan DVD players, such as the Arcam DV27 also reviewed in this issue. Non-anamorphic discs are scaled in the TV to 480p and still have minimal line structure, if a few more twinklies.
I’ve been watching and listening to DVD, DVD-A, SACD, and CDs on this player for months now, and it has taken up permanent residence as reference. It would be hard to recommend the Pioneer Elite DV-AX10 on the basis of price alone, but if you want the best picture on the biggest screens, it’s one of the less expensive ways to get it.