Review of the Pioneer VSX-1021-K 7.1 A/V Receiver
Last month my 13-year old Sony 5.1 receiver finally quit. The very same receiver that had been the hub of my home theater since the dawn of the DVD era. I was bummed to have it break since I wasn’t really in the market for a new receiver. The Sony DVD player that was just as old died a couple of years ago and the XBOX took over as my stand-alone DVD player. I hadn’t looked up receivers in years, so I had no idea what kind of new options I would be in store for. So I got online and started doing some A/V Receiver research to see what I could find. After several weeks of debating between a Sony, a Denon and a Pioneer unit, I finally decided on the Pioneer VSX-1021-K 7.1 A/V Receiver. Long story short, I give this unit 5 blazing stars. It is awesome and so far has performed flawlessly for the last several weeks with everything I throw at it. I couldn’t be happier with my purchase and highly recommend this unit for anyone looking for a fully-capable A/V receiver at a great price.
This is definitely one of those best bang-for-your-buck kind of items. I bought the VSX-1021 for $299 with free shipping from Newegg.com. They sell this thing for that price almost every weekend, while the usual price is $549. Amazon sells it for $399 any day of the week. They pack a load of features into that kind of price – 90W x 7, MCACC, AirPlay, 2 Zone, DTS-HD, DD TrueHD (plus all the usual decoding schemes), 5 HDMI inputs, 1.4a HDMI switching (3D), 2 coax and 2 optical inputs (all assignable), onscreen setup menus, DLNA, Ethernet port (upgradeable firmware, huge bonus), iControlAV2 (app for iPhone/iPod that is super cool), assignable input labels (including skipping inputs all done with your iPhone/iPod), downloadable calibration files, plus a whole lot more. Ultimately here’s some of the things I really like:
AirPlay – hands down best invention ever. As someone with several iPods and iPhones in the house, as well as multiple PCs and a huge mp3 collection maintained in iTunes, AirPlay is a dream. The simplicity is typical Apple, but a testament to the genious behind its invention, my 7-year old daughter can start a song on my iPod Touch and have it playing through the stereo seconds later without a hint of difficulty. Additionally, using the Remote app, I can play any song from my larger PC library that isn’t on the iPod straight from iTunes to the VSX-1021. The sound quality is as good as any of the mp3′s I own and AirPlay works effortlessly without missing a beat. While it does an optional Wi-Fi adapter you can purchase, I have the unit hardwired to my 100Mbs LAN which works great. The onscreen album art is a bit lack luster, but who needs the TV on anyway when you’re just listening to music?
HDMI Switching – OK so just about any bottom-end receiver has HDMI switching, but this is first time for me I’ve been able to hook up ALL of my devices to the receiver and literally run ONE cable to my TV. The DVR, the HTPC, the XBOX and the Blu-ray are all connected to the VSX-1021 via HDMI and the TV is permanently set to one input. For you married guys out there, this is a huge score on the WAF. I used to have all the audio running to the receiver on all the video to the TV and everything had to be set just right for sound and video to be all working. While being able to assign names to the inputs helped in the past, it didn’t simplify the process. Now it’s so easy I can’t believe I ever messed with it the other way. I’ve got specific names assigned to each input (which is a piece of cake to do with the iControlAV2 App) so ‘XBOX 360′ is exactly what it says it is and there you go, rocking out to Guitar Hero in seconds. Of course if you’re still old school and don’t like the idea of running video through the receiver, there are 2 coax and 2 optical inputs which are assignable.
I have had no issues with the video or audio over HDMI to the receiver. While the VSX-1021-K does have various video processing options, I’ve got them all turned off, so as to pass the direct video on to the TV without any additional processing. I did mess with them a little bit, but honestly don’t see a whole lot of value in using the receiver as a video decoder/enhancer/corrupter. Besides the manual suggests that if any of the video options make the picture look worse, to just turn the features off. So that’s what I’ve done. The only reason to use them would be if you’ve got a non-HDMI input (composite or component) that you want upscaled to 1080i/p. I haven’t tried out that option.
iControlAV2 App – While you can do a lot with the remote and the onscreen menus, this cool little app for iPad/iPhone/iPod is great. You can easily select inputs, change sound modes, turn the volume up/down mute, and pretty much anything else with a simple touch-based GUI. Kids got the movie too loud in the other room? Just open up iControlAV2 and dial it down a couple of notches. The mere fact that Pioneer has even created a useful app for their receivers just shows that they’re on the cutting edge of today’s technology. The fact that it works, shows they know what they’re doing.
MCACC – This is Pioneer’s auto speaker calibration routine. I haven’t had a chance to tweak my setup much other than to just run one sweep, but it worked great and definitely gave the sound the needed bump in the right places. You get 6 different memories and various different calibration modes – all of which can be manually tweaked afterwards. I love the fact that once the calibration is complete, you can “log into” the receiver from your PC and download the calibration files and view the response plots of your room. It’s pretty handy for letting you see what kind of changes are being made and why. You can actually set up the entire receiver from your PC through a series of menus, though it’s not very user friendly and seems to be written more for a total novice A/V person. I walked through the first portion of it and then quit. That part of Pioneer software engineers could do some work on. But it’s not a deal breaker, just don’t use it.
Those are just a few of the reasons why this receiver is so great. But I’ve written a lot and probably not said very much. All in all, this receiver is awesome. I can’t believe the technology in 13 years. I expected just something simply just to get my home theater back up and running, I didn’t even realize all the great conveniences I was missing out on. Now I don’t think I can live without them. Pioneer has been a brand that has been with me since I was a little kid, but with my recent experience with Sony products, I couldn’t go back to them. I’ve got quite the Sony Mortuary going on in my garage right now (DVD player, CD player, tape deck, VCR, discman, receiver, and TV) which have all since been used and consumed. I can only hope that this new Pioneer receiver lasts at least 13 years, though I wonder what kind of great features I’ll be missing out on then?