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Pioneer VSX-1014TX THX Select Certified Receiver
Pioneer VSX-1014TX Review

Introduction
I've had my eye on the Pioneer VSX-1014TX for awhile, but had decided against it since it lacks a lip-sync audio delay feature.  But when the Best Buy website had a one day sale price of $399 on the 1014, I thought I'd give it a shot.  I ordered online and picked it up at a local store.

I've been using a Pioneer VSX-D912 for the past year, so the transition to the 1014 has been painless and comfortable.  The only problem encountered was with the size of the VSX-1014.  Measuring in at over 18 inches deep, the hefty 1014 would not sit on the shelf in my entertainment center.  Since my rack is open in the back, I simply cut a 2-inch extension and attached it to the rear of the shelf with a set of mending braces from my local ACE Hardware store.

The build quality is similar to my 912 but larger, heavier, and more extensively ventilated.  The back of the receiver is well laid-out and secured with attractive copper screws. I was very happy to discover that the caps on the speaker wire posts are longer than those on the VSX-D912.  With my old unit, the Dayton banana plugs would hang out about a half inch from the back of the cap, and the weight of the 12 gauge wire caused them to droop in a peculiar manner.  With the post caps on the VSX-1014, the Dayton plugs slide in fully and firmly with no droop.

VSX-D912

VSX-1014TX

The Pioneer VSX-D912 6.1 channel receiver

The Pioneer VSX-1014TX 7.1 channel receiver

Remote Control
I had grown very fond of the remote from the VSX-D912 and expected to be disappointed with the VSX-1014 remote.  Surprisingly, the remote included with the 1014 is not bad at all.  Though my old remote had a more ergonomic design and contour, I've found the new remote to be simple and easy to operate.  I programmed it to operate my television, DVD player, VCR, and CD player using a mixture of preset codes and the learning function.  Though the learning function is extremely handy, it can be frustrating at times.  On more than one occasion it took 5 or 6 tries before it would accept a command without getting an "error" message on the small LCD screen of the unit.  The remote control is not backlit, but for a receiver at this price point I have found it more than adequate.

vsxd912_remote.jpg (21618 bytes)

vsxd1014tx_remote.jpg (19572 bytes)

Remote from the Pioneer VSX-D912
Click photo for larger image.

Remote from the Pioneer VSX-1014TX
Click photo for larger image.

Set-Up
The microphone included with the VSX-1014TX appears to be identical to that included with the VSX-D912.  The familiar noise bursts and tock-tock sounds utilized to set speaker size, distance, and delay took a few minutes longer than the 912 as the more advanced calibration system of the VSX-1014 listened to the frequency response of each speaker in the room and applied equalization.  Using the on-screen display menu I was able to review the settings.  With the help of a Radio Shack sound pressure meter and the receiver's test tones, I made a few adjustments to the front speakers, which the MCACC system had set a few decibels high.  The SVS PB2-ISD subwoofer was set about 5 decibels too low for my tastes (I run it about 3 decibels 'hot') so I adjusted it as well.  I was pleased to find that with the VSX-1014 I could run the test tones on one speaker at a time.  With the 912, the test tones would zip around the room leaving little time to check and set each individual speaker.  MCACC had set all my speakers to "large" with the exception of the rear center channel (I run a 6.1 set-up).  I found this odd since all three of the surround speakers are identical Athena AS-R1 bipole surrounds, but Pioneer does note that this is possible because of room features and placement.  The AS-R1s are only rated down to 80hz, so I reset them all to small anyway.  The speaker distances set by the MCACC system seemed accurate so I left them alone.

Initial Sound Impressions
The first thing I noticed was that the sound from the surround speakers was cleaner and stronger with the 1014 than it was with the VSX-D912.  I have analog cable TV and use the audio out jacks from my television to the receiver.  For watching TV, I find the 7 channel stereo mode (6 channel mode on the 912)  provides the best sound for this set-up.  Right off I could tell the sound from the surround speakers was improved, and the center rear channel was putting out a lot more information than it had with the VSX-912.  The stereo separation was better overall as well.  The "all channels adjust" setting on the auto-eq system really seemed to help the rears blend with the fronts and give a more balanced sound to the system.

Music
While the VSX-912 is a great home theater receiver, music is not its strong point.  The VSX-1014TX is quite an improvement.  The 912 never made much of a statement in 2 channel listening, but the 1014 provides a solid 2 channel experience.  Toggling between 'stereo' and 'direct' modes, I found that 'direct' provides a much cleaner and richer sound from my Athena AS-F2 floorstanding front speakers.  Direct mode on the 912 never seemed to provide any improvement over the 'stereo' mode.

Audio purists may scoff, but with the under-achieving 2 channel sound of the VSX-912 I preferred listening to most CDs in PLII Music mode.  With the improved performance of the VSX-1014 this may not be the case, but the PLIIx Music mode on the 1014 still provides an entertaining alternative to 'direct' listening for some music.  Again, the stronger and cleaner performance of the surround speakers with the 1014 was apparent immediately.  The new features of PLIIx Music mode are fun to play with, and the 'Panorama' setting adds an interesting element to live performances like the "Steamroller" cut on James Taylor's Greatest Hits CD.

The bass management of the VSX-1014 is a huge improvement over that of the VSX-912.  With the 912 I was never quite able to get a proper subwoofer level for music - it was either lacking or boomy.  The 1014 does a respectable job of blending the subwoofer with the other speakers when listening to CDs.  Using an 80hz crossover, I found I preferred letting the SVS PB2-ISD handle the low stuff by setting all speakers to small.

With the VSX-912 I always listened to music with the 'loudness' function engaged to add some dynamics to the music.  This is not necessary with the 1014, and the 'loudness' function is now only used as it was intended - for low volume listening.  While I preferred the 'all channels adjust' EQ setting for watching television, I found I preferred the 'front align' setting with music, allowing the AS-F2s to do their thing while MCACC equalized the center and surrounds to closer match the sound of the F2s.

Last summer I auditioned a Denon AVR-3805 for three weeks in my home, and I have to admit the Denon is a much stronger performer with music.  The soundstage is bigger, the imaging spot-on, and it is cleaner and more dynamic at both high and low frequencies.  But then again, with tax and the 'optional' set-up microphone, the cost of the Denon was $700 more than that of the VSX-1014TX.

Movies
I have always been impressed with the home theater performance of the Pioneer VSX-D912.  In fact, the main reason I returned the Denon was because its home theater performance was not much better than the little Pioneer, and I could not justify the price based on musical excellence alone.  

I put the VSX-1014TX through the gauntlet of familiar DVDs - Saving Private Ryan, Finding Nemo, and The Fellowship of the Ring to name a few.  Toying with the auto-eq settings, I discovered that the 'all channels adjust' setting gave excellent movie performance - improving the sound of the surrounds and reducing brightness on the front soundstage.  I again noted that bass performance is superior to that of the 912.  The FOTR Moria scenes, for example, pounded my room with greater ferocity than they did with the VSX-912.  The shark, submarine and Darla sequences in Nemo displayed similar improvements in bass response.  The LFE seems not only stronger, but tighter and more controlled.  Surround speaker sound is cleaner and more potent as well.

This was the first time I've tried a receiver with THX processing, and I'm still experimenting with it.  Engaging the THX mode does make action sequences less fatiguing by reducing blare and brightness, but at the expense of some fine details that get lost in the re-eq.  For example, the clang of swords and wooshing of passing arrows in the Fellowship are tamed down to a much more enjoyable level, but at the expense of detail clarity in subtle effects such as whispering winds, spraying water and rustling fabrics.  If the THX re-equalization was user adjustable on the fly (say on a scale of 0 to 9) it would be an awesome feature.

Conclusion
I have read many good things on the forums about the VSX-1014TX, and it has not disappointed me.  I cannot imagine a finer A/V receiver for $399.  Yes, there are features such as lip-sync audio delay and a Pure Direct mode that I would like to have, but for the money spent there is really nothing I can find to complain about in this receiver.

Note:  Pioneer has announced that it will release the VSX-1015TX in April 2005.

My Home Theater page


Links:
Home Theater Forum thread on VSX-1014tx
Perfect Vision Review of the Pioneer Elite VSX-52TX
Home Theater Magazine Review of the Pioneer Elite VSX-52TX 


Questions or comments?  Email me at chas41363a@yahoo.com

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