Pioneer VSX-832 A/V Receiver Review Page 2

I pushed the Pioneer more on dynamic, full-range material like Keith Richards’ excellently produced and largely sweetener-free Main Offender. Here, I sensed the receiver beginning to sound a little hard on top and a bit loose on the bottom (as is typical of most middling-power models), but this didn’t become evident until I had reached levels substantially higher than I would choose voluntarily. And with typical loudspeakers a couple of decibels more sensitive than mine, and in a typical room a bit smaller than my 3,100-cubic-foot studio, I don’t imagine many listeners would encounter so much as even this.

With the receiver’s Atmos update still pending at this point in my audition, I cued up a few movie scenes and listened to the Pioneer’s “virtualsurround” presentation, which is what you get from the 3.1.2 configuration with no discrete Atmos (or DTS:X) decoding available. This ghost-surround-speaker array did fairly well—about like what I hear from the best sort of surround soundbar but with better front-stage width (and dynamics and tonality, of course) and slightly better “rear-ness,” though still not enough to deceive even a moderately experienced ear into perceiving a full surround environment. The surround effect worked over a respectably wide area, enough for two- or even very friendly threeacross seating, but it could be heard to vary in strength and “surround-ness” as I moved my head left or right a foot or so, as is usual from such faux-surround processing. In its favor, the Pioneer contributed much less of the phase-y, comb-filter coloration on surround-intensive scenes than I’ve heard from many other virtual-surround solutions. In truth, very little indeed. But, as you’ll read below, the real test would come later, when Pioneer finally pushed out the 3.1.2 Atmos upgrade.

1017piorecc.rem.jpgIn the meantime, though, I reconnected my usual side surround speakers and rebalanced the receiver for conventional 5.1-channel playback. I began with the Ultra HD remaster of demo classic The Fifth Element, inserted it into my new-to-me Ultra HD Blu-ray player, and hit the “go” button. The Atmos soundtrack, dutifully stripped to its 5.1 TrueHD base, sounded pristine in all regards. (The disc looked pretty snappy, too. The receiver throughput the film’s 4K/24 without a single glitch or hesitation. I can’t comment on its handling of HDR formats, however, as I’m not yet equipped for them. Note to Santa: 4K projector, please?) The movie’s opera scene sounded bell-clear and beguiling as usual, and the five-channel Pioneer had dynamic reserves to spare for the final two chapters’ comic mayhem, allowing it to fill my fair-sized studio to near-cinema levels.

Atmos Lite
Once Pioneer delivered their longpromised Atmos 3.1.2 firmware (and in the nick of time, from the editor’s perspective, I might add), I doubled back to the 3.1.2 setup to give it a whirl, once again losing the side surround speakers for a pair of Atmos elevation modules up front. After downloading the update files and transferring these to a USB thumb drive, the receiver updated without issue.

The new firmware reorganized a few of the Pioneer’s surround modes (PLII departs in favor of Dolby Surround/Enhancer modes), but I was mostly interested in the 3.1.2channel Atmos performance. So for expediency’s sake, I first cued up Dolby’s own Atmos demonstration disc, which has a broad palette of sharply produced samples. Clips like the “Leaf” and “Conductor” trailers carry a number of clear, up-over-and-across cues that display Atmos’s more obvious virtues dramatically. And these were now perfectly evident via the Pioneer: the top-down spiraling of a leaf; the overhead, lateral twittering of birds. But they were neither as high, nor by a fairly long chalk, as front-to-rear deep as I’ve heard from my full, 5.1.4-channel Atmos setup (with physical surround speakers and both front and rear height pairs). That said, the 3.1.2 setup demonstrated a distinct gain in spaciousness and overhead-ness, but nothing wrapped around further than about 70 or perhaps 80 degrees lateral to the screen: pretty good, and cinematically very useful, but nothing like the full 360-degree panorama my full setup engenders.

Pulling my listening chair forward a good 2 or 3 feet—almost within 6 feet of the screen, closer than my left-right pair are spaced apart—improved this to fully 90 degrees or perhaps even a bit more, but nothing I could characterize as full surround. Still, auditioning selected scenes from Atmos films including Inferno and Deepwater Horizon, I rated this a distinct improvement to what I had heard prior to the Atmos update, and not just in overhead effects. Ambience was bigger and clearly more enveloping, and delicate effects like birdsong or rustling leaves seemed simultaneously more defined and more ethereal. Honestly, after five minutes of watching, I forgot about what was missing: The sound was plenty dimensional and involving enough to draw me into the story. If you can’t afford the cost of, or are unable to obtain the necessary interior decorating permissions for the nine-speaker real thing, I judge the VSX-832’s “Atmos-Lite” (my phrase, not Dolby’s!) a qualified success.

Extras and Ergos
The VSX-832 is one of the less costly stream-ready receivers I’ve tried. Yet surprisingly (and pleasantly so), it demonstrated just about the quickest and most responsive DLNA (home-network streaming) client I’ve encountered. This was straightforward and fairly basic in features, but its speed in moving across directories and folders—if not in actually commencing playback—was quite rewarding. And the Pioneer streamed everything I sent its way without a hiccup: Uncompressed, Apple Lossless, FLAC, and DSD files played without a hitch, as did (of course) MP3s and MP4s.

Pioneer endows this AVR with the company’s Sound Retriever audio-processing extra, a DSP enhancement said to “improve the quality of the compressed audio”—though how exactly this is to be achieved (without recourse to the original, uncompressed bitstream) is never specified. I’ve frankly never heard much improvement from these features, whether Pioneer’s or those of most competing brands. In any case, engaging the mode here induces a slight overall volume boost, which makes meaningful comparisons difficult.


On the other hand, the receiver does include two features I heartily endorse. One, invoked by an “AV Adjust” remote key, pops up a context-sensitive menu of on-the-fly items, including tone controls, MCACC/equalization selection, and (most usefully, in my book) channel levels for center and subwoofer (but not, alas, for height or surround). The other feature, in response to the remote’s “i” key, pops up a similarly instant Information display (otherwise known as the Reviewer’s Friend), showing the currently selected input and output path, signal formats, listening modes selected, and sampling frequency, both audio and video.

When it comes to hands-on operation, the VSX-832 is perfectly livable. The remote is small, basic, and not illuminated, but its sensible layout and ample spacing make it easy to learn and use. Pioneer even builds in a web server, so you can set all the receiver’s parameters from a desktop or handheld browser by simply typing its assigned IP address in its address bar. (I don’t know how many other inexpensive receivers allow for the same, but I’m betting it’s not all of them.) Pioneer says the VSX-832 is also controllable by the Pioneer Remote App for iOS and Android, though I didn't see this mentioned in the manual or on their website.

I like Atmos—and I like it best in at least its 5.1.4-channel guise—but I can also recognize the imperative for something more attractive, and more practicable, to a wider spectrum of buyers. In this light, I understand Pioneer’s (and Dolby’s) choices—which reduces the number of speakers required to enjoy some semblance of height effects, and—critically for some environments—eliminates the need to run speaker cables to the back of the room. More important, though, I applaud this receiver’s affordability, its wide and up-to-date video- and audio-mode compatibility, and its very solid sonics and audio power.


javanp's picture

That's the answer to life, the universe, to everything. And is also the answer to the question "how many of the past 45 AVR reviews have been 'top picks'?"