Pioneer VSX-1124 AV Receiver Page 2

Luc Besson’s 3 Days to Kill plunges Kevin Costner’s ailing assassin into Paris—or as I think of it, Paris!—with plenty of mordant humor and a soundtrack that’s dynamically varied in the best way. The receiver integrated challenging high-level action scenes with slower, quieter, character-based scenes like the marbling on a fine cut of steak. Rather than experience peak moments as interludes of stress, I relished them as part of a story well told. Bass effects were heavy but the sub EQ kept them from tipping into bloat.

The Purge starts with a disturbing use of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” as the backdrop to mock-news-reports about a society that uses an annual day of mayhem as an escape valve for social tensions. Music is one thing this receiver does well, and it was unsettling to hear a fragile slice of it juxtaposed with street violence. Subsequent in-home combat came complete with a security gate that came down with a resounding thud and loads of clattering gunplay. Again, the receiver mingled action sequences with dialogue, hushed but clear enough, and held the story together.

Prisoners is a serial killer epic with star turns by Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. It sustained 153 minutes of my attention with moody effects including plenty of enveloping rain and thunder—effects to which I’m emotionally susceptible when it fills the room. The receiver scrupulously measured out subdominated effects that underscored ruminative moments of impending threat.

Sang and Sparkled
What little the VSX-1124 left out of a Lang Lang piano concerto CD was negligible. His traversals of Prokofiev 3 and Bartók 2 for Sony Classical, with Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, sang and sparkled. The receiver delivered rock-solid imaging and didn’t neglect the depth dimension. The bottom end was neatly proportional, though when I switched the receiver into pure direct mode, turning off the sub and redirecting bass to the left and right channels, the presentation lost some of the weight I know is possible with my stand-mounted reference speakers (full-range-capable performance costs more). Still, I could close my eyes and almost believe that the piano and orchestra were in the same room—only the customary room noise broke the spell. I thought to myself: This is exactly how I want this music to sound. What a step-up receiver or boutique amp might have made of it was the furthest thing from my mind.

The John Pizzarelli Trio’s Live at Birdland lit up the receiver’s DSD indicator. A true 5.1-channel SACD, it placed the bandleader’s vocal in the front center channel, exactly where it belonged, and applause in the surrounds. I will never condone the practice of underusing the center channel in the mix to compensate for the possibility of a badly matched center speaker. The Pioneer delivered a warm, natural, yet lively presentation, with firm, tuneful bass and irresistible swinging momentum.

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake’s short-lived duo tour is preserved in Live from Manticore Hall. Much as I love my Peachtree/Era desktop system, the Pioneer/Paradigm system handled this CD better, with richer tone color and better overall focus. Lake’s voice is no longer the silver trumpet it once was, but it’s still a formidable instrument on songs like King Crimson’s “I Talk to the Wind,” and the receiver’s handling of vocally crucial frequencies let me relish its masculine grace and depth.

Having reviewed receivers for generation after generation, I’d say this product category has been enjoying a golden age, and while I don’t want to bum everyone out, I can’t help wondering how long distinguished manufacturers like Pioneer can keep it up. The global economy is a tumultuous place, and all the good reviews in the world weren’t enough to save Pioneer’s world-beating Kuro plasmas. Now the brand is going through major corporate changes, with a private equity firm taking a majority stake in a combination of Pioneer’s and Onkyo’s AV businesses. Will future Pioneer receivers be as brilliantly executed as this one? Only time will tell.

This leaves the UHD-conscious consumer with a dilemma. Should you buy into this receiver’s expertly fine-tuned sound while you still can and accept that it lacks HDCP 2.2 digital rights management, potentially a requirement for future 4K content? Or should you wait for the next model year when HDMI support will probably include HDCP 2.2 across the board? It’s a tough call, and the extra-cost approach to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi also diminishes the value proposition. But I’m happy to testify that the VSX-1124 is a top-performing receiver at a competitive price point. For readers who want a great receiver and can’t afford to pay much for it, that may be reason enough to buy it.

Audio editor Mark Fleischmann is also the author of the annuallyupdated book Practical Home Theater ( ).

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mi6_'s picture

I had been waiting for a review of this receiver, however, I broke down and bought it a week ago not having seen a detailed review like this. Had I waited for your review, I probably wouldn't have bought the receiver after seeing the up -scaling test. I never really use the up-scaling so it isn't a huge concern for me in hindsight.

That's said I have been very happy with it and I'm glad I purchased the receiver. It replaced a 5 year old Yamaha receiver. The sound is nothing short of amazing and the MCACC calibration worked great and was easy to use.

I use it to upscale my cable box from 1080i to my 1080p TV and have noticed absolutely no up scaling issues (though admit I haven't viewed your test material). There is an update available for this receiver that I installed. I'm wondering if you installed the update before conducting your review? If not, do you think the update may have addressed any of the up-scaling issues? Could this also have been a defective receiver? If my memory serves me correctly, last years equivalent Pioneer model faired much better in up-scaling testing.

While I agree this doesn't have HDCP 2.2 DRM, I wouldn't say that is an issue. UHD is still far from being commonly used and I personally don't beleive that it will be common place in the coming years. TV providers still don't even transmit TV signals in full HDTV 1080p (stuck with 720p or 1080i) and the amount of Internet bandwidth needed to stream UHD content is out of reach for most internet users in North America. Just because Sony and Netflix stream in UHD won't make me run out to buy an UHD TV. Even if UHD content somehow manages to become fairly common by then I'll probably be in the market for a new receiver anyhow.

If you are reading this and considering purchasing this receiver I highly recommend it. Amazing sound for not much money and I highly recommend it.

SimboSambo's picture

Hi Mark,

Thanks for a tremendous review as always. Just to expand on sathishdht's question - if a friend of yours was building a new home AV set-up from scratch, and they were deciding between the Sony STR DN1050, the Denon AVR-S900W and the Pioneer VSX-1124, all things being equal (and ignoring the *marginally* higher cost of the Denon), which would you go for yourself? (Don't sit on the fence now...!!)

I'm in precisely that position, and I'm stuck :-)

Thanks for your insight...


Mark Fleischmann's picture
As I said above, I haven't had the receivers together at the same time -- we just don't do that kind of comparative reviewing. So I can only go into previously published facts. The Sony and Denon are both triple wireless, unlike the Pioneer, which has AirPlay but requires dongles for wi-fi and Bluetooth. The Denon is voiced a little warmer than the other two, but you should probably make your decision based on features, since these three have identical performance ratings. Go to the manufacturer spec sheets and decide what you're willing to live without.
Jrod0125's picture

A review of the step up model? Either the SC-81 or SC-82? I know S&V gave a very nice review of the SC-71 last year and I'm wondering how it compares to the newest Elites.

cbetz71's picture

I just purchased this and am wondering if its possible to do a 9.1 setup? I know you can wire 9 speakers,but only 7 channels are driven. if I use the pre out and amp the front speakers,will this drive the remaining 7? also,im a long time sony guy,so I feel like im cheating on her by going the way of pioneer. if you had to choose between the vsx1124 or the sony str dn1050,which would you choose? lastly, there are a fair amount of negative reviews regarding build quality with the pioneer. lots of this or that failed after a few months,and some this or that doesn't work like its supposed to.i realize some of these are user error,but am wondering if you have noticed any of these reports or experienced any issues first hand. thanks in advance.

jdesan's picture

As usual S&V raving about a product that just doesn't work 100% of the time. Check the reviews over at Amazon ( ) This AVR has a lot of features for the price but apparently not very reliable. And so the main reason for my comments here are that it's not a good "features for Price" if they don't work. Pioneer sold to Onkyo? Another AVR I've never liked as they always run way too hot for me. Reviews from Mags are worthless to me as they never include the most important thing and that is does it work for everybody? I've even seen some reviews from S&V " had an issue with such and such, they sent me another one" hey! What does that say about the product. I know you can't live with every thing you review but You should at least check some real world consumer reviews and at least tell us that there are issues being experienced by some. The VSX 1124 is NOT a good deal at any price from what I can see all over the Internet. ( I'm sure this will be edited or thrown out )