Pioneer SC-LX85 review

Best home cinema amplifier £1500+. An extraordinary feat, and a true all-rounder Tested at £2000

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

Best home cinema amplifier £1500+, Awards 2011. Pioneer’s best is also its best yet: an extraordinary feat, and a true Award-winning all-rounder


  • +

    Stunning sound quality

  • +

    exceptional specification

  • +

    class-leading usability

  • +

    a supremely well-made unit


  • -

    Requires a little care in system matching

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

£2000 represents a lavish amount of money to spend on a home cinema receiver, especially given the obvious brilliance of the best £500 and £1000 contenders.

All the same, judged purely in terms of its spec, the new Pioneer is a significant step up over its forebear, the SC-LX83.

As befits any receiver in this price class, the SC-LX85’s video processing is state of the art and its input count extensive: one highlight is its seven HDMI inputs and twin outputs, which really ought to be enough for even the most extensive system.

A THX Ultra2 Plus-certified design, the Pioneer also includes 32-bit processing, 32-bit/192kHz DACs and all-new class-D digital amplification, rated at 140W into each speaker.

There are more output channels, too: the LX83 was a 7.1 model in a class where 9.1 was becoming the norm, but the LX85 addresses that, including two more outputs for front-height or front-width speakers, should you want them.

Drives up to 11 speakers… yes, 11
In fact, thanks to its array of preout sockets and the latest DTS Neo X processing mode, the Pioneer can feed 11 speakers with the use of another power amp: the 5.1 set-up most folk use, plus additional pairs of surround-back, front-height and front-width speakers.

Alternatively (and in truth, probably more realistically) the nine power amp channels can be used either to biwire some of your speakers in a 5.1 configuration or to support multiroom listening – or a combination of the two.

Home cinema aside, and as with lesser models in the 2011 Pioneer range, the LX85 also a capable media streamer. It supports AirPlay and DLNA, can handle a wide range of file formats right up to 24-bit/192kHz FLAC and, via an included adaptor, can even join your network wirelessly.

Splash out £50 on the optional AS-BT200 Bluetooth adaptor and you can also use Pioneer’s bespoke Air Jam app, which lets iPhone users create and stream a collective (and continuously updated) playlist into the SC-LX85 via Bluetooth.

And, of course, you also get access to Pioneer’s brilliant iControlAV2 remote app, which endows the SC-LX85 with a slickness that no rival can emulate.

Incredible energy and poise

All that, and the Pioneer sounds quite remarkable, too. Its lightning-quick digital amplification and potent processing ensures sounds are shifted around your head with extraordinary speed: indeed, familiar scenes, such as the dazzling space battles near the finale of Return of the Jedi, take on new intensity when fuelled by the Pioneer’s furious energy.

Clarity is remarkable, too: fed with high-resolution music, the SC-LX85’s faithfulness to the original signal, and the care with which it relays even the most subtle of vocal nuance or instrumental inflection, is astonishing – and characteristic not of a tech-laden surround sound mothership, but a purist, stripped-down audiophile amplifier.

The SC-LX85 is some receiver. Its design encapsulates the current state of the art in home cinema and network music tech, and it balances the often-conflicting needs of music and movie reproduction with unparalleled dexterity. Plaudits to Pioneer: this is its best-ever amp.

Follow on Twitter

Join on Facebook

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

Read more about how we test