Pioneer Elite VSX-42 A/V Receiver Page 2
A volume setting of 60 (which is 75 percent of the maximum setting of 80) proved ideal for serious movie-watching. For the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Blu-ray, this was plenty loud even for the imposing might of the big cannon battle, and yet with a realistic transparency to the variety of debris. In the quieter but no-less-impressive opening scenes, the receiver brought a pleasing fullness and detail, not just to the more obvious creaking below decks but to the crew's snores above that.
Of course, the primary limitation of any budget AVR is in its power reserves, so I wasn't surprised to find that driving the system near the top of its volume range introduced a slightly disagreeable edginess in the quieter moments, while the voices and effects felt noticeably compressed when all hell was breaking loose, and the once-clean discrete mix became something of a mish-mash. Still, I got more than sufficient volume with my efficient Klipsch system before reaching that point.
Back at a more realistic listening level, The Patriot on Blu-ray caught my ear with the fine resonance not only of the gunshots but of the many shouting voices across the soundstage delivered by the uncompressed PCM soundtrack, adding a sense of three-dimensional space to the key scene where Mel Gibson almost single-handedly rescues Heath Ledger from a platoon of redcoats. Here again, it was only as I approached the top of the Pioneer's volume limits that all this subtlety began to disappear and the soundtrack played more like the cliché of a noisy action blockbuster, even though I know from experience that it's better than that.
Switching to music, the remastered Nightfly CD laid bare the endearing foibles of Donald Fagen's voice and the high, airy pitch of the instruments, pleasingly rendered in stereo. Music can be more revealing of an amplifier's limitations than movie soundtracks, and when I again pushed toward the upper reaches of the volume control, I could hear those same delicate highs taking on a grating harshness.
For the new 24-bit/96kHz 5.1-channel mix of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon on Blu-ray, I found that the sweet spot here was nearer the "50" mark on the volume scale, which is where volume was still sufficient but before the lushness of the stellar recording began to reveal some rough edges. With increasing volume, it hit a performance ceiling, audibly flattening out, so that by 60 and above it sounded awfully strained. The high-resolution 2-channel version also on the disc could be played loud at that 60 level without evident distortion, but the slightest bump above that and the music seemed to collapse under its own weight.
The quality of streaming music was limited more by the compression inherent to its rip and/or delivery than by anything the receiver did with it, which is to say that it all sounded fine. The user experience, however, was wonderful, and I had called up my existing Pandora account and was spewing Steely Dan before I knew it, with a standard-definition onscreen interface. The hardest part was the one-time effort of entering my long user name with the up/down arrows. Using AirPlay was a snap, with the VSX-42 promptly showing itself as an available destination on my iPhone and iPad just below my AppleTV.
If you're looking to run a kickin' home theater for music and movies at realistic levels, at a fair price that still manages to bring boatload of cutting-edge features, you should seriously consider the Pioneer Elite VSX-42. Like any budget AVR below the $500 price point, you'll need to be reasonable about how hard you can expect to push it before it runs into the sonic wall. But mated with the right speakers (read: small and efficient), this Pioneer should deliver dependably high-quality performance while providing wired and wireless network connectivity and streaming options that add a host of entertainment possibilities.