Tag: AV-amplifiers

Pioneer VSX-2021 review: full AirPlay support and apps that are ahead of the rest


Techradar: Pioneer’s VSX-2021 is a receiver for the Apple generation. It’s all but intrinsically linked to the company’s wares with iPhone/iPad control Apps, dedicated music sharing for multiple iPods, remote control of the latest OS devices and full AirPlay integration. Even the user manual and set-up navigator are fully interactive iPad Apps. (more…)

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Yamaha RX-V367 review: a rock-bottom price and decent sound excuse this AVR’s lack of HD decoding

 

Techradar: With a price that dips below £200 from some online retailers, the Yamaha RX-V367 is the cheapest AVR in our roundup and solid evidence that you don’t have to pay through the nose for 3D-readiness.

Support comes in the form of four HDMI v1.4 inputs and one output, which is generous enough to fit your 3D player, Sky box and games console, leaving one for future expansion. The look is classic Yamaha.

A moody black finish and sharp angled lines are the order of the day (it also comes in titanium and silver) while the front panel is a hive of activity, with buttons, displays and sockets aplenty.

Most noteworthy are the ‘Straight’ button, which bypasses the unit’s listening modes, and four Scene macro buttons. On the back, there’s evidence of cost-cutting in the shape of springclip terminals for the centre and surround channels and no iPod dock connection or surround back pre-outs.

But the lineup of other sockets is useful, with four digital audio inputs being a highlight. There’s no on-board HD audio decoding, though, which means Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks have to be decoded by your player beforehand. This isn’t a major problem if you trust your deck’s own abilities, but does make you wonder how the others managed it at a similar price.

Redeeming factors

Yamaha makes up for this with an obscene amount of sound modes and virtual surround processing, plus the YPAO auto calibration that makes it a cinch to optimise.

The lack of onscreen menus is a shame, but the logically structured front-panel display makes it easier to set up than you might expect. And, aside from a few undersized buttons, the remote is also terrific.

In general, there can be few complaints about the RX-V367′s sound quality for the money, although it inevitably lacks the sonic polish that turns a good receiver into a great one. The sound is dynamic and detailed; the receiver digs out the subtleties during Avatar’s many rainforest scenes, filling the soundstage with distant cries and swirling ambience.

Fluid rear-channel steering and crisp separation makes for an absorbing listen. Voices are prominent and cleanly detached from the rest of the action, while punchy bass response lends decent depth to the explosions and gunfire during the Battle for Pandora scene.

However, this scene also exposes brightness in loud high-frequencies that betrays its budget price tag. But if you can tolerate this and work around the lack of HD audio decoding, then the RX-V367 makes a decent purchase.

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Yamaha RX-V567 review: sensibly-featured and delivers the goods from movies but lacks grunt

 

TechRadar: The 7.1-capable RX-V567 from Yamaha – a company that has played a pivotal role in popularising home cinema – is not the most affordable model in its line-up, but at £400 still looks like a bit of a bargain.

The problem is, almost every other AV brand is aggressively targeting this end of the market, so does it do enough to stand out?

Need input!

It certainly gets off to a good start, with connections on the V567 including four HDMI 1.4 inputs and seven analogue AVs – including one on the front panel. Each is ‘fixed’ and has its own remote selection button, although you can marry the audio associated with one of these inputs to an HDMI (which also support 3D, the audio return channel, and CEC device-control).

This is useful if, for example, your set-top box cannot deliver 5.1 via HDMI but has a digital audio output. It can also be tied in with Yamaha’s ‘scene’ function, which is an array of four customisable buttons. Pressing one of these selects a specific source and soundfield.

The latter is a Yamaha speciality. Its 32-bit DSP chip is combined with 24-bit/192kHz Burr-Brown DACs. You can choose from 17 soundfields, all of which are modelled on ‘real-world’ venues.

The V567 covers all of the essential surround sound formats and codecs, although Dolby Pro- Logic IIz and its ‘height’ channels are conspicuous by their absence (something which Sony has specced on its similarly-priced STR-DH810).

Hi-fi enthusiasts will appreciate the V567′s compatibility with stereo/multi-channel PCM and DTS 96/24 soundtracks. If you’re using a universal player with an HDMI output, then DVD-A and even SACD/DSD content can be enjoyed.

Another worthwhile feature is that analogue video sources (up to 1080i for component) are converted to HDMI, so only one cable is needed. Conversion quality is excellent for a low-priced unit – 480/576p, 720p and 1080i/p conversion can be selected, but upscaling of HDMI isn’t permitted – it’s switching only.

The V567 may lack USB or networked audio, but a dedicated rear-panel socket readies the V567 for an optional iPod dock or Bluetooth receiver that can wirelessly stream music stored on devices like multimedia-savvy mobiles.

Already built-in is switchable enhancement for compressed audio sources. Yamaha claims this signal processing will restore depth and dynamics.

The V567 is easy to set up; the well-organised menus cater for speaker configuration, input-trimming (to eliminate volume ‘jumps’ after switching), lip-sync adjustment and Pro-Logic IIx decoding tweaks amongst others.

The V567 also features YPAO auto-calibration. We recommend carrying out speaker and level setup before using it, otherwise some odd errors can result. There’s also a user-controlled graphic equaliser allowing you to boost or cut each channel over seven different bands.

Performance

The V567 turns in a very creditable performance, certainly from movies. On a DVD of Avatar, the wildlife sounds of the night-time Pandora jungle are conveyed with awesome detail. The closing battle also fares well.

Steering is superb, as revealed by the missiles zinging between speakers. Switching to the hi-res soundtracks of Blu-ray, specifically Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, demonstrates that the V567 can cope equally well with even subtler details.

With music, matters aren’t so clear-cut. In some of the DSP modes, bass passed to the subwoofer sounds unpleasantly monotonal. There’s also an overall muddying of the soundstage that can be tamed, but not entirely eliminated, by engaging the ‘direct’ mode.

Our Tech Labs also rate the V567 poorly in terms of raw power, with a measurement of 20W-per-channel into 8Ω with five channels driven. That’s still enough for a small-scale setup – exactly the target market for a low-range AVR of this ilk – but should be taken into account when you’re drawing up your audition list.
 

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Pioneer VSX-920 review

Techradar: Pioneer is probably the coolest brand in home cinema. Its sleek, cosmetically finessed designs and cutting-edge performance make the rest of the herd look positively industrial. So how do you go about making a sub-£500 receiver cooler than a penguin’s toes?

The answer is simple: pack it with features and make it the first affordable machine to hit the market that can be fully controlled from an iPhone or iPod Touch with a dedicated app.

While the company’s engineers will be keen to point out some of its other finer qualities, such as the seven channels amplification, stereo PQLS jitter elimination and Dolby ProLogic IIz for example, it is the VXS-920′s homage to Apple’s handheld goodies that really catch the attention.

Not only can the device be controlled by an iTunes app, but it also connects any later generation iPod via USB (without an optional dock) and gets closest yet to turning it into a dedicated home server.

But that’s not all: it also takes a digital audio output from the device to decode within its own DACs for superior performance, and allows searching by cover art on screen, while using the supplied USB + RCA composite video lead. This is all controllable from the Pioneer’s own interface, enabling you to hide the iPod away out of sight.

On the downside, the iPhone/ iTouch control feature isn’t quite as slick as it could be straight from the box. You need to connect the VSX-920 to a wireless router via a hard-wired ethernet cable, and the iPhone/iTouch communicates with the receiver via Wi-Fi to the router and through the network.

A direct Bluetooth link up would be far better, and you can purchase the AS-BT100 adaptor for just such a scenario, although at nearly £100 it does add 20 per cent to the cost.

Able decoding

On the flip side of that argument, if you wanted to use the Pioneer’s extensive vTuner web radio features, including the 24 programmable station presets, chances are you would be connected to your ethernet connection anyway.

Slightly annoying for me, is the fact that, although I have run ethernet to the home cinema room, my 120-year-old walls are built with iron-loaded bricks that comprehensively stop the strongest Wi-Fi signal getting through from the office. In that case, iPhone/iTouch control just won’t happen without the Bluetooth module or, without temporarily moving the router into the same room at the Pioneer.

Needless to say, the machine decodes all the major HD audio formats, has 1080p video scaling of any input, whether analogue or digital and offers v1.4 HDMI connections. The latter render this receiver 3D-compatible on account of its higher bandwidth and, more significantly, enable audio back haul that lets you amplify, for example, off-air broadcast TV without any extra cables.

The latest MCACC room EQ software is fitted as standard and you can now save the data to USB stick for display on a PC rather than having to connect directly. Setting up an AV receiver is just no fun these days; you just connect the mic, press a single button and it’s all done and dusted. That’s probably a good thing.

The supplied remote has a rather lacklustre design, but there is a good selection of fascia controls for when the vagaries that befall handsets happen. However, the iPhone/iTouch app more than makes up for the remote’s lack of cosmetic charms in the hand.

Once downloaded to my iPhone via iTunes, it connected absolutely automatically through my wireless router. No networking headaches or configuring your DNS protocol, just an immediate connection. Result!

The iControlAV App is pure class, too. It offers four screens covering basic control functions, phase and PQLS control, dialogue and bass enhancement and channel balance. The latter sums up the grace and creativity of the software, being a circular tilting table with a rolling ball representing the position of maximum sound. Roll it front left and the emphasis is front left, and so on. Great fun to play with, although I admit probably a bit redundant once you are fully set up.

There are also some beautifully animated tutorials on such topics as group phase delays, which will certainly appeal to the enthusiast.

Boom, shake the room

With the MCACC and Phase Control engaged, the audio is about as lacklustre as the standard remote control, if I am honest. The sound is rather too smooth and shut-in with mid bass doing a good impression of swamping the mix, despite the MCACC’s complex reverb and standing wave calculations.

As the ship passes overhead following the opening credits in Serenity (Blu-ray/True HD) the bass is huge and heavy-handed causing me to leap for the iPhone App volume control to back down the horses. Unfortunately, doing so made the ensuing dialogue too quiet so I had to punch it back up.

Starting again in Pure Direct mode, with all the fancy EQ systems disengaged, really cleaned up the sound, particularly the mid bass. Exactly the opposite result to what you would expect. Re-running the opening sequence of Serenity, the echoing, metal-walled facility where river is kept, is neatly portrayed with a good sense of both space and containment.

After the escape, The Operative’s voice is wonderfully cool and foreboding, with the sword effects cutting through the quiet scene with precision. But the VSX-920 still struggles when the going gets tough, being rather too laid back to excite at low levels, and not having the power or drive to deliver the goods at high volumes.

The classical music track, which accompanies Serenity as it flies through space, is clean and etched into the soundstage, only for the roar of the engines and the ensuing chaos of the nearby crash-landing to turn into a congested mishmash of effects. I really could not find a volume at which the VSX-920 was truly happy, and neither did it conjur any magic to really impress me with action flicks.

With less demanding material, namely a night in with Shrek, plus both its sequels back-to-back, with a bottle of Sandhurst vineyard’s finest, the Pioneer is much more at ease. It conveys Myers’ comedic Scots accent with all its quirks, and the feel-good score throughout the original Shrek has a good foot-tapping quality.

Voices are accurate, if a little trapped inside the centre channel speaker, and there is no shortage of rather heavy-handed LFE. The soundstage is still not exactly massive, and open sky forest scenes have nothing like the sparkle and natural ambience the best sub-£500 receivers can offer.

Style over substance

The VSX-920 is not going to win any head-to-head performance shootout at £500, but you can’t fault its appeal as the hub of your home entertainment. The iPod integration is great fun, and once the album artwork has loaded (this took several minutes for my stuffed 80Gb model), it stays put as long as the machine is connected.

The searching for a song by cover art is a neat touch, and I could easily see users leaving their old iPods connected to the receiver as a fixed server when they upgrade to a new Apple iteration.

Again, sound from both the iPod and net radio fell foul of the Pioneer’s rather thick balance, making me check that my iPod’s own EQ wasn’t set to ‘bass enhancer’, as there was so much mid-bass bloom.

You have got to look at the VSX-920 as more of a lifestyle product for those who prefer gadgets and convenience above extracting the last few n’ths of sound quality. The network and iPhone/Touch/Pod features are wonderful toys, but when you are sitting down to enjoy a movie, they don’t count for much.

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