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?
The Dreaded UE22 Error – 3/17/2017 Update
This receiver had been a workhorse in my home theater for over 5 years when just a couple months ago an error message popped up on the display which blinked “UE22”. This message was followed by a loss of audio/sound from the speakers. Leaving the receiver on for a few minutes would usually kick the sound back in but the error message remained. Eventually the sound petered out completely leaving the receiver completely useless. A quick Google search revealed that I was not alone. An incredibly lengthy thread over at AVS Forum details the vast number of folks who have run into this same problem. Fortunately Pioneer/Onxyo has stepped up and began offering free repairs of existing models or discounted pricing on newer refurbished models. I contacted Pioneer via email firstname.lastname@example.org and received an immediate response to send a picture of the error code, SN and proof of purchase and they would look into it right away. I was later contacted by Jhonatan.Romero@us.onkyo.com and was offered either free repair of my existing unit or an upgrade to a VSX-1130 $212.00. While the upgrade was tempting and the newer unit offering 4k support definitely would have future-proofed my ultimate plans to upgrade to 4k, I decided to hold off and just go for the repair for now. They shipped me a box with a pre-paid label and off the unit went for repair.
It was only about 2 weeks later that today the unit showed back up on my doorstep. I think it came back in the same box with the same newspaper packing I had thrown in with it when I shipped it. I did receive my exact same unit back as others had mentioned which I was glad. I haven’t had any other problems with the unit and I feel like I’ve taken really good care of it otherwise. I spent an hour or so tonight re-hooking back up all the speakers and cables and turned it on and it works great! No more UE22 error code and as far as I can tell it sounds perfect. I still need to go through and re-run the MCACC but otherwise it’s working fine. Time will tell I suppose how long it holds up. So hats off to Pioneer for standing by their products even when the warranty had long since been expired. Free shipping both ways on the return and they didn’t delay one bit. Everything went as smooth as it could have. So if you’ve got this receiver and you’ve been plagued with the UE22 error code, use either of the two emails I listed here and Pioneer should be able to get you up and running again. I don’t know for how long they intend on honoring this repair/exchange so don’t delay if you’re receiver is acting up.
Now after all that, the really interesting story behind this whole fiasco can be traced back to a faulty IC manufactured by Texas Instruments, a device that Pioneer was made aware of later in 2012 that this part was eventually going to fail. Shortly after the release of the VSX-1021 (and other similar models), TI issued PCN #20120919000 to Pioneer stating that they had discovered a problem with several family of ICs and while they had a fix coming there was definite catastrophic failure on the horizon. This actually isn’t that uncommon in industry believe it or not. The issue at hand they stated simply as “Premature Aging”. This notification was to let Pioneer know that they had purchased devices that were affected and would have a revision to the product available in the next 6-12 months. Obviously at this point the majority of their inventory was already out in the real world so there wasn’t a whole lot Pioneer could do about it other than “wait and see”. There’s a couple of links in the PCN that detail the issue so it appears as though it was a fairly well understood problem by TI. The more the part was used, the quicker it aged. The higher the voltage on Vdd, the quicker the part aged. The faster the device clock frequency, the quicker it aged. Pioneer may have considered that based on typical usage by the customer and the way the part was implemented into their design, that perhaps the effects of the aging either would never manifest or if they did it would be so far down the road that most people would be ready to upgrade anyway. Based on the number of posts over on AVS forum and the time of when they started popping up I’d venture to say that that timeframe ended up being around 4-5 years. For my unit it was at exactly 5 years. And I use this receiver non-stop. It gets turned on at 7 in the morning and stays on until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. I’d say that’s heavy usage and I probably waste a lot of electricity since we’re obviously not watching that much TV, the receiver just stays on all day anyway.
So the IC in the Pioneer unit is part of the DA8xx/DH8xx DSP family of devices and more specifically the D810K013BZKB4 part (reference designator IC9002). This is a DSP device that by the looks of the schematic is pretty much responsible for ALL of the sound processing in this unit. The IC is part of the D-Main Assy (Digital Main Assembly). It is believed (and confirmed by nulland from AVS) that Pioneer as part of the repair program is replacing the entire D-Main Assy with updated TI chips. This makes sense seeing as how 5 years later it would be unreasonable to expect TI to even have existing stock of any of the old devices, let alone be still selling them to its customers. For Pioneer its more cost effective to just replace the whole main board. While in fact I probably received a board that came out of someone else’s unit from a few weeks, or months prior, where they had already removed and replaced IC9002 in the D-Main assy and after some form of retest goes back on shelf ready to be installed into another failed receiver. My main board will go into the same repair cycle and someone else will probably get my old board with a new TI chip in a few weeks. This device is in a BGA (ball grid array) package which means it takes special soldering machines that provide controlled localized heating to properly remove and replace the device without damaging the entire board or the IC itself. It makes sense to do all that as a separate operation to the repair and return of just my unit.
Anyway, I’ll post a link to some of the information from TI of a similar premature aging issue they encountered on a different family of parts. The links in the original PCN appear to all be broken. I sent an email request to TI for the information but they never responded. Based on their analysis and subsequent solution to this issue however, I believe that the issue has been permanently fixed and we can expect at least another 5 years, hopefully more, of good use out of this receiver. So thanks again to the folks at Pioneer for making things right. I’m a fan once again.