Pioneer’s VSX-920 receiver is part of the company’s new range of receivers which support full Blu-ray 3D. Despite the relatively low price, it also offers extraordinary connectivity features to a wider world of music.

Pioneer VS-920 AV Receiver

EQUIPMENT

As with the other receivers here, the VSX-920 of course offers audio decoding for all modern standards — including Dolby Pro Logic IIz and the highest specifications of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. To deliver these it has seven power amplifiers, with the usual configuration options for outputting the two surround back channels to the front for bi-amping, or to the front height speakers for DPLIIz, or indeed to a second zone. Most of the speaker connections are proper binding posts, but two sets of spring clips are also provided for auxiliary use, so you can relatively easily switch from one state to another if you have all the speakers connected.

Unfortunately this is one of those receivers where comparable power output figures aren’t given. The headline amount set out in the manual is 150W, but that’s at a ludicrous 10% THD, into six ohms at 1kHz only. I presume it is one channel driven. The ‘rated power output’ is 125W, but the criteria remain the same except the THD is 1%. The ‘FTC power output’ is 65W per channel across the full audio bandwidth into eight ohms at 0.2% THD, but is only stated for the front stereo pair. I suspect that it would be conventionally specified at 7 x 65W within those parameters.

And having said all that, a separate ‘Total Harmonic Distortion’ figure is given as an excellent 0.06% from 20 to 20,000Hz into eight ohms at ... 85 watts per channel! Make sense of that if you can.

The receiver has four HDMI inputs, as well as Ethernet and USB, and also a proprietary port for Pioneer peripherals. There’s no support for S-Video here.

Its remote control has a learning capability, and is also preprogrammed for hundreds of other devices. If the receiver is connected to your home network and you have wireless available, then you can download a free app to an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, which also acts as a remote control. This has some cool features that make use of the accelerometer built into those devices. Fun — though really, the functions controllable are so constrained, it’s far easier to just use the normal remote.

 

PERFORMANCE

Operating the receiver took some experimentation because the features were spread out over several keys. An on-screen display is provided for the basic set-up function — this replaces the underlying video rather than overlays it — and two dedicated keys provide access to audio and video functions. These produce information only on the front panel display.

Pioneer VSX-920 AV Receiver

Auto set-up using Pioneer’s own Auto MCAAC system produced a lot more test tones than the norm, and it worked well, delivering a smooth sound producing a very accurate sound field. The receiver supports automatic audio delay with those displays which have this information programmed into them. If you are inserting a manual delay to line up sound and vision, note that Pioneer does it as frames (you can adjust in one tenth of a frame intervals up to ten frames delay).

Pioneer has included a bunch of fancy video processing features from no lesser name than Anchor Bay Technology into the receiver, including control over progressive scan conversion and picture noise reduction, though these mostly apply only to 576i video being delivered from an analogue source. HDMI inputs can be deinterlaced and upscaled, but for 50Hz material at least, this is only in a most rudimentary video style (bobbing, without any motion adaptive component), leaving still pictures jiggling up and down slightly, and all sorts of visible artefacts. Leave the video function set to ‘Pure’ to allow it to pass through unmolested.

The receiver doesn’t implement the Audio Return Channel provided for by the HDMI 1.4 specification, but it does support the usual Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) functions of HDMI. So you can use an optical digital audio cable to feed the TV’s sound to the receiver and generally control it through the TV.

The in-built internet radio worked well enough, but to deliver good value takes a fair bit of work from the user. That’s because it does not use a portal from which various stations can be selected, but simply has a list of 24 preset stations. If you find that Venice Classic Radio or KVSC 88.1 FM isn’t to your taste and you’d like to replace one or the other with an different station, the work commences. You need to find the url for the station that you want (e.g. ABC Classic FM is http://www.abc.net.au/streaming/classic/classicfm.m3u), select one of the slots, and replace the existing station with your preferred one. You can do this by using the remote control, or by typing on a computer keyboard plugged into the front USB socket.

Or you can enter the unit’s network address into a web browser on your computer. This brings up the list, so you can just paste in the addresses and hit the ‘Update’ button to make them take.

Of course, you have to find out the urls first, which isn’t always easy.

For the purposes of this review, Pioneer supplied its optional AS-BT100 Bluetooth adapter ($119). This plugs into the proprietary port at the rear of the unit and allows remote delivery of sound from a source device supporting the A2DP or AVRCP profiles for stereo music. I tried it out with a current model iPod Touch, and this worked quite well. The music delivered actually sounded quite adequate, given that it was compressed in the first place.

But if you have an iPod and you don’t need ten metres of portability, then you can just use the included cable to plug it into the front USB and composite video sockets. (The latter is only required for playing back videos.) Scrolling through lists involves the usual tedium with no shortcuts. But you may be able to switch using a key on the remote, or a dedicated key on the front panel, to ‘iPod Control’. This switches off the control and information feed between the units, handing over full control to the iPod’s own interface. Only the music keeps on coming.

At least, that’s what happens if you have an up-to-date iPod, such as the iPod Touch I used with Bluetooth. But my 5th generation iPod operation was limited (the pause and stop keys on the remote wouldn’t work) and the ‘iPod Control’ switch became inoperative.

The front USB can also be used for other iPod devices. In addition to music, it can display photo slideshows, complete with transition effects and background music, but the output resolution was only 576p, rather than 1080i or 1080p. The music player supported WMA (but not WMA Lossless), MP3 and WAV.

Brutally ignoring the impedance requirements of the receiver, I connected it to my system which has four-ohm speakers at the front and three six-ohm speakers for centre and surround. Despite running only five speakers, when I turned the level up very high (in order to test a particularly massive subwoofer), the amplifier emitted an almighty crack at one point in the movie soundtrack (OK, it was while the world was blowing up, but the crack wasn’t on the disc). I backed things back down rapidly after that.

I’d be inclined to look for higher sensitivity loudspeakers with sensible six to eight-ohm impedances to use with this receiver. Within those constraints, it sounded excellent.

One of the functions provided under the audio adjustment key, and given a dedicate key of its own, is the ‘Sound Retriever’ function. The other brands have something similar, and this function purports to “compensate for the loss of data upon compression”. In other words, to try to restore what has been lost in lossy compression. With the other receivers, the circuits are virtually inaudible in their effect. This one isn’t. It changes the sound very significantly in a way that is fairly unpleasant. It sounded as though high frequency boost was added, pushing forward the level of cymbals, adding a bit of zing, and sometimes sibilance to the human singing voice. It also seemed to bring up the lower midrange a little (in fact, the whole level was bumped up noticeably, but these areas more than others). It was splashy. And best switched off.

 

CONCLUSION

Pioneer seems to have aimed this receiver at providing as many of the latest facilities as it could manage, and accompanying them with mid-level home cinema performance. The main problem with the latter is that, like the Denon but unlike the Yamaha, it cannot be enhanced in power due to the lack of preamplifier outputs.

Having said that, the built-in amplifiers are good if used with the right loudspeakers: I’d suggest speakers with a sensitivity of 91 or 92dB and eight-ohm nominal impedances. With those, this receiver opens up a wider world of content in a way somewhat similar to receivers costing a thousand dollars more.

VERDICT

  • Good sound performance when auto calibrated
  • Extraordinary digital connectivity for this price point
  • Zone 2 support

  • A little light power-wise
  • Can’t upgrade the power amplifier
  • No Audio Return Channel


SPECIFICATIONS

Quoted power: No sensible specification given, but likely 7 x 65W into 8 ohms @ 0.2% THD, 20-20,000Hz
HDMI: 4 in, 1 out
Other specifications: See p44
Warranty: Three years

CONTACT

Contact: Pioneer Electronics Australia
Tel: 1800 988 268
Web: www.pioneer.com.au