If you are looking for a serious AV receiver below $500, the new Pioneer VSX-920-K should be on your shortlist. The VSX-920-K is one of Pioneer’s new lineup of 3D ready receivers for 2010. It has the latest features that will not only future proof your purchase but also give you excellent high definition picture and sound.
At just $399, this 7.1 channel receiver occupies the sweet spot in terms of features and price.
Latest Update: The Pioneer VSX-920-K is Now on Sale at Amazon.com
Design & Connectivity
Pioneer retained the sleek glossy black finish for the new VSX series. There’s a large info display in the center along with a row of buttons for tuner controls and speaker selection. To the left is the power button with the input selector below that and the large master volume on the right.
You will be glad to know that Pioneer has included playback and control features for the iPhone and iPod. This is indeed a very unique feature for new Pioneer receivers. A standard iPhone/iPod Direct Control port and a USB port is included on the front panel for this purpose, and a dedicated cable is included as well.
Also on the front panel is a standard phone jack, a mini 3.5mm jack for the setup mic, and a set of composite video and audio inputs.
On the back panel you get a good number of connectivity options. There are 4 HDMI inputs and one output, 2 component video and 4 composite video inputs, and 3 digital audio inputs – one coaxial and 2 optical. 7 pairs of speaker terminals are conveniently located near the top for easy connections. In addition there’s an extra set of speaker terminals for use in a second stereo system in another room, or as the height speaker in a Dolby Pro Logic IIz setup.
There is a Sirius radio input port and also a connection port for an optional Bluetooth adapter (model: AS-BT100) which costs $99.
For a mid-priced receiver, the Pioneer VSX-920-K comes with a strong set of features. It supports the latest HDMI 1.4a specification that is the required standard for 3D playback. Power output is rated at 110 watts per channel which is identical to other higher models in the VSX series. On-screen menu has been upgraded to a nicer looking full color GUI. Sirius Satellite radio compatibility is available through a dedicated port, and auto setup is accomplished with Pioneer’s proprietary Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration system (MCACC) that takes into account ambient noise, speaker size and distance.
If you already have a Pioneer blu-ray player and spend a good portion of your time listening to music in your home theater system, you will be glad to know that Pioneer has included their PQLS (Precision Quartz Lock) system in this receiver to synchronize the clock between them to reduce the effects of jitter. Without jitter the music will have more rhythm and pace with less harshness.
The VSX-920-K also comes with the Anchor Bay ABT1015 chipset that does a fine job of upconverting everything from your cable box to your VCR to the native resolution of your display.
Here’s a summary of the VSX-920-K’s features:
- 110 Watts output for each of the 7 channels
- HDMI ver 1.4a specification for next generation of 3-D video playback.
- Supports high-definition audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
- Dolby Pro Logic IIz adds front “height” channels for a more immersive experience.
- 1080p upconversion via Anchor Bay ABT1015 chipset.
- PureCinema processing for 3D noise reduction and Y/C color separation.
- Precision Quartz Locking System (PQLS) utilizes the digital clock in the A/V receiver to exactly synchronize the signal passage from a compatible Pioneer Blu-ray player. This creates absolute synchronized and jitter-free playback of all advanced audio formats. The VSX-920-K features two-channel PQLS for jitter-free CD playback.
- Works With iPhone Certification – you can enjoy music with iTunes album art, movies, downloaded TV shows from iTunes, photos, web content such as YouTube. An included USB/composite video cable makes connecting your iPhone to share your favorite media easy – and your iPhone charges automatically when connected. Unlike other receiver lines, there’s no need to buy a separate dock to enjoy your iPhone with your home theater. This included cable also works with most generations of iPod Classic, Nano, and iPod Touch. Pioneer’s iControlAVR (downloaded separately via Apple’s App Store) gives you total control over your home theater sound.
- Bluetooth Ready – you can add a Pioneer AS-BT100 Bluetooth adapter (sold separately) to release your music stored on your iPhone, Blackberry, or Android smartphone as well as other Bluetooth-enabled sources like laptops.
- Advanced Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration system (MCACC) provides a near studio-quality, multi-channel listening experience customized specifically to your listening environment.
- Advanced Sound Retriever (AIR) enhances audio playback of compressed audio such as WMA, MP3 and AAC to near CD quality sound. This technology also enhances the audio quality of SIRIUS Satellite Radio and can realize an upper limit frequency of 20kHz with compressed audio playback for surprising audio richness and clarity even from “lossy” digital audio sources.
- Auto Level Control equalizes volume level differences between tracks playing from an iPhone or iPod or during television programming.
Setup & Performance
Setting up the VSX-920-K is an easy process. The manual comes with comprehensive instructions and information which makes it easy even if you have not set up a home theater system before.
This receiver is best matched with efficient medium sized speakers. Large power hungry floor standers should be avoided.
It is strongly advisable to use the Auto MCACC setup. It takes into account ambient noise, speaker size and distance, and tests for channel delay and channel levels. Using a series of test tones, it optimized the speaker levels and equalized the room acoustics for an even frequency response. The process took no more than 15 minutes to complete.
After running in the receiver in the system for about 100 hours with continuous playback of video and audio material, the sound was impressive. It was better than what we expected from a receiver at this price range. On CD playback we encountered none of the ‘tiny’ and ‘hard’ digital sound that used to plague entry level receivers.
Picture quality was equally impressive. On the Sherlock Holmes blu-ray where there were plenty of soft shots and dark shadows, the VSX-920-K did a commendable job of rendering the gray and black levels with fine contrast. Robert Downey Jr’s dark coat, black hair and black hat makes the job difficult but the 920-k was able to define those in great detail. Skin tones were warm and the colors looked natural in the 19th century Victorian setting.
On the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, Downey’s rapid fire chatter came through clearly in the midst of explosive action sequences. The surround speakers provided both subtle and aggressive sound cues that aided in delivering a convincing sound-field that made me turn my head on a few occasions in the movie. The LFE output from the subwoofers added reality to the pounding hooves of the horses and added good weight to the thunderous eruptions. The audio performance complemented the intensity of the movie well. This really made the movie experience more enjoyable.
Pioneer has made great strides in design, build quality and performance of its products in recent years. In the case of the VSX-920-K receiver, they have clearly over delivered. Never before has a receiver been available with such features and performance at this price point. It is made to last through the next evolution of home theater entertainment and offers you a great movie experience at home.
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