Pioneer LX01 £1400
20th May 2008 | 09:28
A stunning high-end system with Dolby True HD decoding
If you own one of Pioneer's gorgeous Kuro plasma TVs and need a home cinema system to match, the Pioneer LX01 is just the ticket.
It comprises a DVD/HDD recorder, a 400W subwoofer receiver, four compact satellite speakers and a display unit that accepts commands from the remote control, enabling you to hide the other components out of sight.
The speakers feature a unique shape, which allows them to deliver an omni-directional sound. This is why there are only four channels as opposed to five - the centre channel is integrated into the front pair.
Pioneer's stylish home cinema system
Behind the style lies a super-talented system with a phenomenal features list, which is inevitably reflected in the price tag. The DVD/HDD recorder boasts a 250GB hard disk, built-in Freeview tuner and the ability to record onto every DVD format - plus 1080p upscaling.
That huge hard disk not only lets you pause live TV, simultaneously play/record and edit recordings, but it also holds your collection of compressed audio and photo files, turning the system into a multimedia jukebox.
You can transfer these from disc, a USB flash memory device or PC running Windows Media Player 10 or later. You can't transfer DiVX video to the hard disk, but you can play files from CD or via the USB port.
Amazing audio talents
Impressive, too, is the ability to rip CDs directly onto the hard disk in lossless LPCM, and, thanks to the built-in Gracenote database, track information is automatically updated.
There are seven recording modes ranging from the highest quality XP down to SEP, offering up to 711hr of HDD recording time - plus 32 manual modes that enable you to record using bitrates in between the seven presets. You can edit chapters, delete parts of a recording, copy them onto DVD at high-speed and much more.
There are two EPGs: the regular Freeview version and Guide Plus, both of which allow you to set the timer simply by selecting the relevant programme from the list - but stick with the Freeview guide, which is much easier to use.
The system's audio talents are remarkable. It decodes Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio piped from a Blu-ray player, as well as Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, while Dolby Pro-Logic and DTS Neo:6 are also present.
The set-up procedure is unusual, but doesn't take long, and the entire system is controlled using a remote that features an intuitive backlit touchscreen with different button arrangements according to function. This is also easy to learn.
The menu system lives up to Pioneer's high standards by boasting a logical layout, attractive design and lightning-fast response.
The most user-friendly feature is the MCACC mode, which automatically sets audio levels to suit the layout of your room.
True to form, the Pioneer's picture quality is stunning.
With DVD playback, the system's 1080p upscaling delivers some of the sharpest and most striking pictures this side of hi-def, easily picking out the fine detail on our Armageddon DVD, even during its many dark scenes.
This delectable detail handling is further reinforced by outstanding colour reproduction, with both strong and subtle tones, while the tightly contained edges and lack of noise also play their part in an excellent picture performance.
Hard disk and DVD recordings look similarly stunning, particularly in the highest quality XP or next-best SP mode. The deck captures strong colours and fine detail from Freeview broadcasts without compromise, resulting in rich, engaging images that look identical to the source.
Thankfully there's very little noise, and the deck keeps pace with fast movement without excessive breakup or pixellation.
Inevitably the picture quality drops in the lower bitrate LP, EP and SEP modes, but not to the point where they become unwatchable.
Pure audio quality
With a Sony BDP-S500 Blu-ray player plugged into the LX01's HDMI input and Spider-Man 3 in the drive, we were blown away by the quality of Dolby True HD playback.
The crispness and purity of the sound has to be heard to be believed, offering crystal-clear reproduction of even the most subtle effects, while other sonic elements from dialogue to explosions are handled with the same spellbinding clarity.
But lower resolution soundtracks don't get overshadowed by the new-fangled formats. Regular Dolby Digital playback is sensational, thanks to the effective omni-directional speakers, which deliver a cohesive soundstage with enough punch to get you leaping from your seat.
You also won't notice the absence of a centre channel, as the front speakers do a great job of projecting dialogue into the relevant space in between. This is all topped off by forceful bass from the agile dual-drive subwoofers, which complement rather than dominate the other channels.
Hard on your wallet
This is an opulent, full-on system aimed at the style conscious with money to burn.
But even taking its generous feature list, sexy looks and top-notch performance into consideration, the LX01 is still a few hundred quid too expensive, which makes the lack of DVD-Audio or SACD support all the more galling. But if you can afford it, you won't be disappointed