Pioneer DV-AX10 SACD/DVD-A/CD player

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2001, Pioneer announced the US launch of the DV-AX10, the first of their long-awaited "universal" disc players, previously available only in Japan. Right out of the box, it plays SACD (two-channel only), DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, CD, and CD-R discs. For two-channel operation—which is exclusively how I examined it—and via its easy-to-navigate menus (footnote 1), I set the DV-AX10 to two channels as the default for all modes, including SACD. Except for hybrid discs, which I'll come to presently, the DV-AX10 is, blessedly, a set-it-and-forget-it machine.

A stroll around the deck
The DV-AX10 weighs 53 lbs and is built like a tank. It glows a fierce gold, with scalloped metal sides, and it's certainly larger than your average CD player! Beneath the central display, an "acoustic damping tray," as Pioneer calls it, drops smartly down and out of the way, allowing the drawer to open. The sturdy drawer's motor makes a nice sound—like mid-1950s Scalextric model racing car—when it opens or closes. The outer door also functions as a "double air-lock" for better isolation.

Around back are plainly marked single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) connectors, selectable by switch. Above those are three additional jacks, for 5.1-channel systems, and next to all that are a pair of Pioneer System Control In/Out jacks, two Video Out jacks, a pair of S-video outs, and component-video outputs with a few switch-selectable adjustments. On the far right are the digital outs on TosLink, two S/PDIFs that can pass 24-bit/96kHz signals, and another jack, marked PDIF, for a Pioneer Digital Control Amplifier such as the C-AX10.

Pioneer uses a pair of Analog Devices multi-bit 24-bit/192kHz D/A Converters for two-channel stereo and the front L/R channels, and three more 24/96 DACs for 5.1-channel surround. Dolby Digital and DTS decoding for multichannel DVD-Video playback are also provided. For better or worse, they've also thrown in their Hi-Bit Legato Link Conversion, which can't be defeated.

Of interest is what Pioneer's press pack calls the "high-sampling digital filter," which "removes the cumbersome harmonic distortion and efficiently reproduces only the 192kHz high-sampling frequency." Pioneer has also implemented what they call a Pure Audio Clock Reference, which automatically converts the crystal clock oscillator to either the 44.1kHz "lineage frequency" oscillator (44.1kHz, 88.2kHz, and 176.4kHz), or the "48kHz lineage" one (48kHz, 96kHz, and 192kHz). The circuit turns off the unused oscillator "to avoid unwanted resonance that could lead to sound degradation."

Fortunately, once the DV-AX10's defaults have been set via screen menu input, the CD Digital Direct button can be pressed; this bypasses the DSP and routes the audio signal directly to the output. An improved signal/noise ratio is claimed for this little circuit. To further improve the sound, according to Pioneer, one disables the video circuits by pressing the Video Off button, "to eliminate even the tiniest noise generated by the video circuit." Another button dims the small but informative built-in display, then cycles it off. This display is a model of how a small but informative display for multifunction environments should work, he said, emphatically shaking his jowls. What seemed unique to me was that, among the many chunks of information displayed, standard are the bit rate and speed of whatever's playing, along with an LPCM (Linear PCM) or SACD indicator, whichever's the case. (However, it appears to ignore the track text information present on SACDs.)

Review Context
There wasn't much sense in comparing the DV-AX10's SACD output with that of the $28,000 Accuphase DP-100/DC-101 transport/converter combo. So I tore the fine-sounding Sony SCD-XA777ES ($3000 list or ca $2000 street) from Kal Rubinson's loving embrace and used it as the SACD baseline for this review. Doc R. reviewed the Sony in our January 2002 issue, and what a great player it is! For DVD-A comparisons I used the Toshiba SD-9200 DVD-Video player that K-10 and I use to watch movies. [ripping sound] Hey, it looked cute but very serious up on a Silent Running stand with an isoDome on its rather resonant top plate.

And for CD playback, surely it wouldn't be cricket to compare the $6000 Pioneer with the likes of the $20,000 Linn CD12, I mused, or the expensive dCS 972 or Purcell/Elgar Plus upsampling pair. Happily, the Balanced Audio Technology VK-D5SE CD player was still here (see Follow-Up in the March 2002 issue), so it became the 16/44.1 "Red Book" reference, and deservedly so.

Footnote 1: You'll need a portable TV or LCD screen to set up defaults for most DVD players. Indeed, some players hold their defaults for good, others just until you open the drawer again! I bought a small 7"-diagonal B&W TV from RatShack, part number 16-3004.
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