My ears have truly been blessed by me finally breaking down and buying a new receiver for my home entertainment system. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had surround sound in my theater up until this point, but it was a Home Theater in a box deal, which didn’t provide the ideal listening environment. It also required a warm up period due to a HDMI handshake issue that was taking close to 20 minutes just to get a signal from one of my HD devices. I made it longer than I thought with this inconvenience, but I finally threw in the towel on my old Onkyo HT-R667 and made a trip to Best Buy to pick up the heralded mid-range Pioneer VSX-1020. Man have I been missing out!
First off, I can’t tell you how nice it is to just enter my man cave, turn on the TV or one of the other HD devices hooked up to my theater, and actually have it turn on without waiting the mandatory 20 minutes for my receiver to warm up. I almost want to give myself a medal for lasting as long as I did with my failing Onkyo receiver. Typically if a device acts like this I would usually lose my patience and go buy a new one ASAP, or take a more hands on approach and bash it to pieces with a bat. I guess I just couldn’t let go of a device that was only 2 years old and semi-broken, but now that I have the new Pioneer VSX-1020 installed in its place I want to give myself paper cuts in the webbing of my fingers for waiting so long!
The VSX-1020 from Pioneer is a HD receiver boasting 7.1 channels of surround sound with 770 watts of total power. It also boasts the latest in HDMI technology with the new 1.4 HDMI standard, and it also supports 3D pass through for the new wave of 3D HDTV’s hitting the market. This thing is built for the next era in HD entertainment, and shouldn’t be considered out dated for at least another week or two. For the reasonable price of $549.99 the Pioneer VSX-1020 is packed with goodness. It has all the pretty certifications (THX) and current audio standards (Dolby, DTS, DTS Master HD, etc) that any HD theater setup would need. Not to mention this little guy is full of various ports, sporting 6 HDMI inputs, 2 optical audio, iPod/iPhone, USB (You can hook up flash drives and HDD to listen to music, look at pics, or watch movie files), component, LAN (Internet Radio), composite, Sirius Satellite Radio, and more! The VSX-1020 also has multi-zone capability if you would like to have another room in your house wired for surround sound, or you could get bi-amp speakers and create a 9.1 channel listening environment. Holy auditory goodness!
As you have probably guessed by now the Pioneer VSX-1020 is no slouch when it comes to hooking up HD gear to it. With the 6 HDMI inputs you shouldn’t be hard pressed to find an open port for your next man toy. I’m a big fan of how they laid out the HDMI inputs as well. Pioneer generously included one of the 6 HDMI inputs on the front panel of the receiver for quick access. This makes it very easy to plug in your HD laptop, projector, camcorder, or your buddy’s HD gaming console. As simple as it sounds it truly is ingenious to have that port in the front. Who wants to pull out their receiver every time they need to hook up a temporary HD device and risk pulling a wire loose? Love it! My system is purely HDMI based, so I haven’t had the chance to check out the optical inputs and others, but from the way the HDMI inputs look and sound I have no doubts that the other ports perform the same way.
Setup is not difficult, especially if you’re only using HDMI based devices. For me it was as simple as disconnecting my old receiver and plugging the cables back into the Pioneer. The VSX-1020 even has a specially labeled BD input for your Blu-ray devices such as the PS3, so now I know I’m getting the most out of my Blu-ray device. Once the physical setup and unpacking of the receiver is complete there’s not much left to do to finalize your 7.1 surround sound setup. Pioneer includes a microphone that you can plug into the front panel, which when ran in conjunction with some software (MCACC) built into the receiver, will automatically adjust your sound settings for each speaker based on the acoustics of the room you are in. It’s pretty amazing technology if you’re not a full on audiophile and just want to easily configure the way your speakers sound. All of this can be done on a nicely built in GUI, which can be viewed on your TV by using the Pioneer’s remote, so you don’t have to worry about hitting various button combinations on a remote to toggle your receiver.
I found the GUI to be very intuitive and easy to navigate. Not only does it allow you to run the MCACC setup to automatically tune your system, but you can also manually set up the levels for each channel, rename inputs, store up to 6 different audio configurations, disable unused inputs, and reset your device to its factory settings. It was a dream to use compared to receivers without a GUI, and it enabled me to get a great sound for my man cave with a few simple presses of a button.
Sure, the setup of the Pioneer VSX-1020 is simple and intuitive, but how does it sound? At only 770 watts of total power this receiver makes the most of every watt. I would imagine if I had a better set of speakers that were THX certified the sound would be even better, but considering I’m using some older Onkyo 110w speakers I’m not disappointed at all. I thought my surround sound was good while using my old Onkyo receiver, boy was I wrong! I truly was hearing sounds in a 3D space. The best way I can explain it is by using a video game.
For example, I threw in TFU2 (I’m a glutton for punishment) knowing if anything this game at least delivers a great soundtrack to test my new system. This is where the realization that I’ve been robbing my ears of joy by not having a better receiver really sunk in. Imagine how things sound when you spin around in a noisy room. With each turn you can hear the sound as if it were spinning around the room with you. With each spin certain sounds enter the right ear and then leave through the left. This exact feeling is re-created perfectly when I would take Starkiller and spin him around the room like he was some sort of Jedi ballet dancer. It was unreal to hear the sound in the game traveling around my room with each spin, and this signified to me that I had a true HD receiver.
Not only did the Pioneer perform well with HD gaming, but it also shined when it came to watching HD sports and HD movies. Luckily it was a college football Saturday yesterday, so I could test the Pioneer out with my favorite sporting event. Just like it did with gaming, the Pioneer added a whole new level of ear satisfaction when it came to watching TV. There are so many different settings and ways to listen to what you’re watching on TV that it borders on insane. I found myself pressing buttons on my remote over and over to see which surround profile or Dolby Digital setting I liked best. Honestly, unless you’re a trained pro I doubt you’d even be able to tell what the actual difference is between each of these settings, but having options isn’t a bad thing. The nice thing with the Pioneer VSX-1020 is that you can also change your video settings if the device is hooked up to the receiver using the HDMI inputs. You can switch between 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p, and pure all with the touch of a button. For anal folks like me this is a blessing and a curse, because I found myself constantly flipping between various audio and video settings to find the elusive ideal setting for my warped brain. Like I said though, I’d rather have the options than none at all.
I’d really like to tell you that there’s some stuff to b*tch about when it comes to the Pioneer VSx-1020 receiver, but it would be a lie. My biggest complaint is the remote. It is loaded with buttons that most people will never use, and even though it can be programmed to learn your other device’s remotes behavior, I found the process to be cumbersome, so I gave up. I also don’t like how I can’t re-program some of the buttons on the remote to control my inputs. For example, I only used the HDMI inputs, so on the remote I have to keep hitting the HDMI button to scroll through my devices. I would’ve liked if I could’ve programmed the button reserved for DVR/TV as the button that controlled my DVR plugged into one of the HDMI ports, but no such luck. At least not yet as I haven’t taken the time to Google it. The remote and it’s clunkiness isn’t a negative by any means, but I needed something to critique so you wouldn’t think I was a total Pioneer VSX-1020 fanboy.
If you’re looking for a relatively cheap next-gen receiver I’d highly recommend the Pioneer VSX-1020. It has the most current audio standards and technology with the inclusion of 1.4 HDMI and 3D pass through. It has more inputs than you’ll know what to do with, and it’s easy to setup. With the MCACC microphone you can fine tune your receiver for your room’s acoustics with the touch of a button. This receiver sounds very rich and produces an excellent surround sound environment. I truly believe my HD devices look and sound better using the Pioneer receiver over my older Onkyo one. In fact, the VSX-1020 almost has inspired me to go buy a new 3D HDTV to compliment its skill set, but so far I’ve been able to not act on that inspiration.
If I were giving this thing a rating, considering all that it can do for $549.00 I’d give it a 9/10. The clunky remote is the only thing keeping the VSX-1020 from being perfect. Hopefully this one will last longer than my Onkyo receiver, but only time will tell. What are you waiting for? If you want to experience HD entertainment the way that it is meant to be experienced, you have to pick up a device like this. You’ve been needing an excuse to drop some coin at Best Buy…
The Good: Tons of inputs, MCACC auto tuning, rich sounds, current technology, easy setup, affordable, adaptability
The Bad: Crappy remote, it will make you want to upgrade the rest of your theater setup
E.B. “Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”