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REVIEW: Pioneer SX-890 Receiver

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Model: SX-890
Category: Receiver
Suggested Retail Price: $105
Description: AM/FM Stereo receiver (60 wattsX2)
Manufacturer URL: Pioneer
Manufacturer URL: Pioneer

Review by Tuneman on April 09, 2004 at 07:36:25
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I have been a big fan of Pioneer’s electronics for as long as I can remember. They have been pretty much on the cutting edge of consumer electronics for the past 20 years. I have had a few Pioneer receivers in my day; all using discrete output devices. I was not too sure what to expect from the SX-890 when I found out that it utilizes IC’s instead of discreet output devices. I have read some good things about IC’s and some bad things about them. I thought I would take a chance and demo the SX-890 for a few days to hear if it was worth buying. I started out in the store with a set of Paradigm Monitor 11’s (v.2), a Sony DVD player (I forget the model) a cheapo IC and some Monster XP. I put on my copy of Shania Twain’s “Up” the red album and began my demo. I put on “The Na na Song” and let it rip.
I was impressed how well controlled the bass was on the 11’s with the SX-890 driving them. I thought about buying a set of 11’s once after extensive demoing until I heard the Studio 60’s and 100’s, so I am familiar with how they should sound if they are to sound good at all. The 11’s sounded a bit too forward, leaning toward in your face sounding, so I switched the Sony DVD player for an older Mac CD changer (I forget the model). This did the trick and things went back to sounding a little more balanced. I listened to a few more songs on the CD and then switched to the radio. Even with no aerial, it pulled in a few stations clearly. I am not a big fan of FM radio so I quickly switched back to the CD player. Next up to bat was Sting’s “Ten summoner’s tales” I listened to “Fields of Gold” for a while. It was at this point that I thought I should take the unit home for a proper demo.
I started out with my set of Boston Acoustics CR-8’s a Pioneer DVC-503, a set of Monster 550I’s and Monster XP. The first song I played was Bach’s Toccata in D minor for organ. The SX-890 never struggled even when I cranked the volume up to the 12 O’ clock position, although my ears told me that it was just a bit too loud and I turned it down. Now this song seems to really push an amplifier when you try to recreate a realistic volume at a distance of 10 feet. The deep organ notes blended nicely with the rest of the song. The midrange sounded realistic, well as realistic as I have heard the CR-8’s sound with that song. The only time the CR-8’s sounded better with that particular song is when I drove them with a Yamaha CA-1010 with my DIY volume Attenuator and my Pioneer DVC-503 DVD player.
With that being said, I shall move on to how well the SX-890 could crank out Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love”, my acid test for just sheer volume without distortion. The needles were pegged at 60 Watts, as Celine’s voice screamed, reaching a SLP of 116dB @ 5 feet away. Now I rarely ever listen to music this loud, but I wanted to hear if the SX-890 could really fill a room with sound and not get distorted. It passed the test, as I did not hear any sonic anomalies outside of the CR-8’s woofers bottoming out, which I had to turn the bass control knob back 3 clicks to eliminate. Outside of that, the sound was very serviceable with the trademark 70’s Pioneer sound, which I define to be a bit heavier on the bass than other receives of this era. The highs never really glared and remain focussed.
I thought I might switch gears and listen to some Alan Jackson for awhile at a quieter volume gave a few songs a quick listen, as I have not heard the “Drive” album in a while. I played, “Where were you (When the World Stopped Turning)” The SX-890 handled this song nicely. The twanginess of the pedal steel guitar, which can get lost sometimes came through clearly. The mandolin blended quite well with the violins and bass. Since I was in a country music mood, I thought I would try out Toby Keith for a while. I tried “Me too” first on the greatest hits album. Again I focussed on the pedal steel guitar and how it sounded against the rest of the song. It sounded natural and its steely quality was not too strident. The subtle details came out and the cymbals on “Me too” sounded crisp as I listened for a while.
I thought I might see how well the SX-890 stacked up against my KA-87 integrated amp (rated @ 100 watts @ 8 ohms) so I unhooked the unit and put the KA-87 back into the system. The KA-87 has a smaller power supply and filter caps then the SX-890, but it has 40 more watts @ 8 ohms. The first thing I noticed was that the bass was a bit thinner than when I was driving the CR-8’s with the SX-890 and the treble was a tad smoother, but a bit closed in. I used the same songs and rotated back and forth changing only the amplification. The SX-890 had the edge in the bass department. In overall musicality the SX-890 just seemed to win over the KA-87 in that the bass was tighter and fuller sounding, as well as the treble sounding more open. I then put on “Dress you Up” from Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” album. One can never have to many Madonna records, which in my experience have become the benchmark for well-produced pop records. The bass was pretty good at a normal listening volume, which for me is about 75dB and the tone of Madonna’s voice sounded natural, but there was a hint of warmth which turns out to be normal with the CR-8’s. So far not all that bad.
The SX-890 was a bit grainy sounding when I swapped the CR-8’s for a set of Paradigm Titans. The Titans are a bit bright at times and it was not that great of a match with the SX-890, as I found out as I proceeded with my listening. I switched the speaker cable from Monster XP to a Twisted pair 18AWG-zip cord with a 1-ohm resistor in series, which seemed to mellow out the Titans a bit. I am told that this changes the damping factor, by lowering it to resemble a valve amplifier. With this set up, the sound got better and any glare that was there before nearly disappeared, leading me to believe that with brighter sounding speakers the SX-890 does not sound its best when using the Monster XP cable. It benefits from a cable that brings about warmth.
I then thought I might try out my Phase Tech 7T’s on a few songs. The 7T’s are a warmer sounding speaker like the CR-8’s. The 7T’s are fairly easy to drive and are on the warm side. Since I had the 7T’s hooked up to my Yamaha CA-1010 integrated amp/ DIY volume Attenuator I started out my demo with listening to this set up for a few minutes. I hooked up my Pioneer PD-F605 with my DIY braided CAT5 IC and used the speaker cables that I made with 3 14AWG conductors with a single run of CAT5 per leg. I listened to “3AM” from Matchbox 20 first. The CA-1010 (rated @ 90 watts @ 8 ohms) trounces the KA-87 in just about every aspect, so it was time to be even more critical of the SX-890. After I got a sense of the sound I switched the CA-1010 for the SX-890. I played the song again. There seemed to be just a hair more treble detail when I drove the 7T’s with the SX-890. The bass was not quite as good, but it was still good enough for my ears. The midrange was not as transparent with the SX-890 as it was with the CA-1010. The treble was a touch smoother with the CA-1010, but the SX-890 had a bit more of those tiny details I listen for when doing a demo. I then listened to some Beth Hart for a while. I then thought that it could be the volume attenuator that might be to blame for the missing microdymanic details that now seemed to be present with the SX-890. I went back to the CA-1010 and hooked up my Yamaha DSP-100. Presto! There was the missing detail, it came back and sounded better than the SX-890. While the SX-890 did not sound as good as the CA-1010/DSP-100 combo it sounded good enough to be first in line when I rearrange my basement system to drive the 7T’s, as I liked it more than the KA-87, which was scheduled to replace the CA-1010 whilst It undergoes some needed cleaning.
I thought since I was going to use the SX-890 in my computer system that I might try a few MP3’s. I hooked up a set of Paradigm Mini Monitors and played “Fly” from the Dixie Chicks since I ripped the album into MP3 form. I grabbed my CD of “Fly” for a direct comparison. As I suspected there was little detail and the music just sounded compressed.
All in all the SX-890 is fairly typical of a mid-level Pioneer receiver from the 70’s in its character. That is too say a bit heavy on the bass and not as warm sounding as other receivers of that era. While it may lack the refinement of higher level Pioneer Receivers of that era, it still sounds good enough to use for everyday listening if you are careful in selecting speakers and cables.

Product Weakness: Not as refined in the highs as other receivers of this era, a bit heavy on the bass
Product Strengths: solid contruction, big power supply.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Yamaha CA-1010, Kenwood KA-87
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Yamaha DSP-100, DIY passive volume attenuator
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Pioneer DV-C503, Sony CE-275, Pioneer PD-F605
Speakers: Paradigm Titan & mini monitor Boston Acoustics CR-8, Phase Tech 7T
Cables/Interconnects: see review
Music Used (Genre/Selections): See review
Room Size (LxWxH): x x x x x
Time Period/Length of Audition: 3 months
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner
Your System (if other than home audition): see Tuneman's systems

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Topic - REVIEW: Pioneer SX-890 Receiver - Tuneman 07:36:25 04/9/04 ( 0)