Pioneer VSX-1021 A/V Receiver

Price: $550 At A Glance: iControlAV2 app for iPod/iPhone/iPad • AirPlay, Bluetooth, DLNA • Internet radio, browser control

I’d like to begin this review with drugs, guns, and money.

I have a recurring dream about sitting on the New York City subway late at night with two shady-looking guys who have a gym bag sitting between them. They get off the train without the bag. Panic-stricken, they try to get back on, but the doors close in their faces. Alone on the train, I open the bag to find packets of white powder, gleaming gunmetal, and wads and wads and wads of good old American green. I get to my stop and carry the bag home. Donning latex gloves, I carefully remove the drugs and flush them down the toilet. The guns I leave on the doorstep of the local police precinct while wearing a Donald Trump mask to evade detection by security cameras. With the cash, I proceed to live the good life, buying iPods for every member of my family, touring the capitals of Europe, writing the Great American Novel, and pinching goddesses from Charlie Sheen.

The Pioneer VSX-1021 is a little like a gym bag bulging with drugs, guns, and money. In other words, it’s like a series of unexpected windfalls. You read its spec sheet in growing disbelief that $550 can buy so much. Just as I flushed the drugs and kept the money, you may not want to use every feature it offers. But there’s something for everyone, especially if you’re an Apple fanboy.

Changing of the Guard
Pioneer has two A/V receiver lines, the regular Pioneer line and the upper-crust Pioneer Elite line. The VSX-1021 is one of four models in regular Pioneer’s 2011 lineup, all of which have 21 in their model numbers. Prices run from $350 for the VSX-821 to $550 for the product reviewed here. Last year’s lineup, the 20 series, had five models running from $229 to $749, so it appears that Pioneer is concentrating more on the middle of the line.

The VSX-1021 is rated at 90 watts into 8 ohms with two channels driven—compare that to our measurements. You should mate it with high-sensitivity speakers. The feature roster, not power, is its strong suit.

Exuding Pioneerness, the AVR excitedly began telling me about its bag of tricks as soon as I turned it on. The front-panel display went into demo mode, scrolling features like the Times Square Zipper. Here they are without benefit of copy-editing: “3D READY...iPod iPhone iPad digital playback...iControlAV2 Fun control with your iPhone/iPad”—this app also turned out to be compatible with the iPod touch—“vTuner Enjoy Internet Radio Stations...DLNA 1.5...Play your PC music files...Air Jam.” In its exuberance, the demo mode forgot to mention iTunes playback via AirPlay and the AVNavigator browser-based instruction manual, which provides wiring diagrams, room correction graphics, and other useful stuff.

The front panel is highly functional, with big knobs for volume and input selection, buttons that control a variety of listening modes, and a front-panel USB jack that’s Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad certified. That means you can use the helpfully supplied Apple-approved white cable to plug your iThing directly into the front panel without a cumbersome dock. The cable includes composite video. Pioneer’s Website says this is the “industry’s first A/V receiver designed for iPad.”

This AVR is armed for iBear. With iControlAV2, Pioneer’s free second-generation iPod/iPhone/iPad app, you can control volume, input, listening mode, and numerous other things. This supplements a remote that’s simple and adequate. The A/V receiver is Apple AirPlay compatible when used with either an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection. If you prefer the latter, you’ll need the optional AS-WL300 adapter ($149). AirPlay lets the AVR stream music from iTunes with onscreen metadata and album art.

And that’s in addition to Bluetooth compatibility: Add the AS-BT200 adapter ($99), and you can share music and create playlists for up to four Apple devices using the free Air Jam app. Bluetooth will also work with Blackberry and Android smart phones, as well as some laptops. Oh, and there’s also DLNA 1.5 certification, which lets the AVR pull music from a router-connected PC or network drive. DLNA was absent from last year’s top-line regular Pioneer model, which cost $250 more than this one.

As you delve into a Pioneer A/V receiver, you come to appreciate its interface’s color graphics and context-sensitive help. Pioneer’s auto setup and room correction system is called MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration Circuit). As usual, it ran without incident. I chose the THX Speaker setting as the easiest way to instruct the system to set my speakers as small with an 80-hertz subwoofer crossover (although the AVR itself is not THX certified).

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SunriseGatefield's picture

Great review, Mark, thanks!

Your review reflects my experience with the VSX-1021-K (so far--I've had it for about a month-and-a-half) in all respects save one: the availability of AirPlay out of the box. I was pleasantly surprised--shocked, really--that I had to do nothing but plug the ethernet cable into the 1021 to get AirPlay to work. Once I turned it on, it just showed up as an available device in iTunes and my iOS devices (an iPad and two iPhones). "It just worked", as the folks at Apple like to say. My household is exclusively Mac, and you were using a PC, I gather. Also, my wireless router is an AirPort Extreme. Perhaps that could be the difference?

Thanks again for the review!

grtgrfx's picture

Good review, though weighted on the side of gee-whiz features and a little light on accuracy of sound and quality of video reproduction, but I saw a confusing section which I'd like elaboration on. The reviewer stated that he listened to a classical multichannel SACD through the Pioneer.

Now, it's possible that Sony has changed their licensing requirements for SACD, but I clearly remember needing analog multichannel audio inputs on my AV receiver (which the Pioneer lacks) to play SACDs because SACD content wouldn't play over digital cabling. Sony demanded this analog-only cable spec to avoid content piracy with their proprietary format. If that's unchanged, I don't know how Mark could have listened to anything other than stereo reproduction from his SACD player.

It'd be great if there was an editorial response on this issue, and thanks!