At first glance, the Pioneer SX-10AE may seem worthy of endorsement by David Dickinson. Just £210 buys you a stereo 100W per channel amplifier, AM/FM tuner, Bluetooth connectivity, headphone output and a whole lot of casework. Bargain found?
Bulk for your buck is indeed an easy tick in the box for the Pioneer, and you’d be forgiven for thinking its spec sheet is from a pricier product. But the question is: does it have the quantity/quality ratio of a Grand Big Mac or is it a world-class buffet?
Anyone in the market for a budget stereo receiver will be pleased to know it’s closer to the latter – not least as there isn’t much choice at this price. But as the four-star rating suggests, it doesn’t quite fill us to the brim with satisfaction.
We start our listening with 65daysofstatic’s Wild Light – perhaps not the most generous of albums for a critical test.
Its demanding collection of scuzzy soundscapes, jagged peaks, spiky synths and stirring climaxes is demanding. But the Pioneer’s clear, neutral and enthusiastic character does well to organise is convincingly.
The verve of the glitch synth, drum and guitar maelstrom isn’t lost by the SX-10AE, and it stays clear-sighted even in the densest of sections. Instruments don’t feel as though they’re challenging for space and, connected to our Monitor Audio Bronze 2s, the combo never seems overwhelmed.
While attentive enough, though, it's not so dynamic that every shift in the album’s ever-creeping momentum is communicated.
The presentation is more concerned with the fundamentals than the finer details, but that seems only reasonable – you wouldn’t expect a seat massager and starlight roof in a Ford Ka.
Our most significant qualms, however, concern the Pioneer's lack of timing and weight. Play the percussive tumult that is Band of Horses’ Cigarettes, Wedding Bands and the SX-10AE struggles to seize the rhythmic patterns.
As you’d expect, Bluetooth playback takes away some of the Pioneer’s clarity and expansiveness, and the presentation is a little more contained.
Yet play This is the Kit’s Bullet Proof and it comfortably describes the banjo picking around the balmy vocal. And it’s happy moseying along to the hazy, languid composition of Dream City Film Club’s If I Die I Die.
Switch to the tuner, and the listenable performance is in line with what we’ve already heard. The clarity, coherence and well-projected midrange is imperative for when disc jockeys begin to run their mouths.
Build and features
The Pioneer generously expands on its integrated AM/FM tuner and Bluetooth connectivity with four analogue RCA inputs – labelled ‘CD’, ‘Network’, ‘Line 1’ and ‘Line 2 – for, say, a CD player or a turntable with a built-in phono stage (the Pioneer doesn’t have one - you need the brand’s Bluetooth-less £150 SX-20 for that).
Unsurprisingly at this price, the Pioneer doesn’t have a DAC. However, it does feature A/B speaker switching for anyone who fancies running two pairs of speakers (or biwiring one), a tape loop, subwoofer output and 6.3mm headphone jack.
The latter sits on the front panel, which is of a finish we’d expect at this price - it is home to usefully large controls and a clear, easily readable text display. The remote is also basic-but-practical.
For someone on a budget who’s as attuned to radio as to Bluetooth streaming, Pioneer’s SX-10AE is a fine all-in-one product.
It may not be as versatile a performer across the sonic board as we’d like, but pair it with decent budget speakers like the Dali Spektor 2s or Monitor Audio Bronze 2s and you'll have the makings of very a decent budget hi-fi system.
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