Pioneer VSX-1021 A/V Receiver Page 3
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 comes with a full range of magic-inspired effects, some of them loud. For this evening session, I might have used Pioneer’s proprietary Dynamic Range Control, which has been updated to operate with the new lossless surround codecs. Instead, I used the app running on my iPod touch and pushed the volume up and down with the dial graphic. Presumably, this would lose its novelty over time, but I hadn’t reached that point yet.
The Next Three Days is a jailbreak scenario played with intensity by Russell Crowe. The Pioneer did good work with the basic elements of a movie soundtrack: clear dialogue, decent-sounding strings, busy effects. Bass was strong but controlled. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with room correction, the right choice of sub crossover, and a good subwoofer.
In Skyline, an alien invasion story full of low swooshes and thundering effects, the bass gained some weight. It was more aggressive than I’ve ever heard in a system with room correction engaged. I tried the Pioneer’s SWave (standing wave) control, but it had little effect. This soundtrack was cruder and more fatiguing than the others, and I responded, fingertip on app, by continually reducing the master volume.
Budget Receiver Sound
Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, with Benjamin Zander conducting the Philharmonia of London, arrived on multichannel SACD. The 2001-vintage recording was typical Telarc, meaning close to perfection. To my ears, highresolution orchestral material is the most reliable way to judge an A/V receiver’s overall sound. This one was competently balanced but lacked the nth degree of transparency. In other words, it was a decent version of your basic budget AVR. I turned Pioneer’s Phase Control off and on and found that it did indeed produce slightly stronger imaging while leaving the timbre largely untouched.
Edgar Winter’s Jasmine Nightdreams was another curio from my multichannel music collection, a DTSencoded CD released by HDS. The album, from 1975, and surround remix, from 2001, are both period pieces, but it was the mix that was showing its age. Why were maracas stranded in the left surround channel? Was it really necessary to rotate that guitar solo around the soundfield? Here was a heaven-sent chance to use iControlAV2’s Balance feature. I tilted the iPod touch, moving the dot from the center of the round soundfield graphic to a point halfway between center and top. The sound stuttered en route, but I was happy with the result. Surround-mixed elements were still audible but no longer intrusive.
My CD of Robyn Hitchcock’s Tromsø, Kaptein hadn’t arrived at press time, but I did have MP3 320-kbps files of the new album. I used DLNA via the conventional remote and navigated from the Home Media Gallery input to my Lenovo PC to find the artist and album. I could have used the app to follow the same route. The music struck an exquisite balance between Hitchcock’s distinctive voice and the strings that cradled it. Even MP3 encoded, it sounded pretty good. The weight of the room-corrected rhythm section was perfect.
Alternatively, I could have used AirPlay instead of DLNA. The difference is less technical than philosophical: Do you prefer to push or pull? AirPlay starts with the computer or touchscreen and pushes music into the A/V receiver, even to the extent of turning the AVR on, whereas DLNA starts with the AVR and pulls music out of a computer.
With the iPod touch in my hand, I couldn’t resist pressing the YouTube icon and trying out some music clips. The Pioneer OSD offered audio without video, so I watched the device in my lap while I listened to music from the speakers. While the YouTube app was running, I couldn’t use iControlAV2 to adjust the volume, but the iPod’s hard volume buttons did the job just as well.
The Pioneer VSX-1021 is an ergonomic revolution in a black box. By substituting now-common computer and touchscreen literacy for arcane blackbox commands, it does much to improve the tense relationship that’s long existed between A/V receivers and their users. You don’t have to be too old to remember when touchscreen-activated home theater was a custom-installed plaything for the rich. Now it can reasonably be said to be within reach for the masses.