- Written by Chris Heinonen
- Published on 20 December 2010
I started out using the Pioneer just with my Squeezebox Touch to listen to some music and see if I still enjoyed their MCACC room correction as much as I remembered. With a wide variety of music, ranging from Natalie Merchant to The Beatles and Radiohead, I found that MCACC really added to music sources. The soundstage got a bit wider and deeper, but without losing clarity and focus as I find it does with other room correction systems. The bass was a little tighter than without MCACC enabled, and overall the music benefited from it. With all other room correction systems, I find that I just want to play back my music in a Pure Direct mode to bypass all of the equalization and settings they apply, but with MCACC I always find that it's beneficial for stereo.
Looking beyond the room correction, the music itself sounded quite good coming from the Pioneer. Female voices from Norah Jones and Natalie Merchant sounded very smooth and natural, and the instruments with Norah Jones had a good amount of detail and air around them. As I moved between using the Squeezebox Touch as a source, or the Touch hooked up to a DAC-2 from Wyred4Sound, I could clearly hear the difference between the two sources. With the Pioneer the delineation between them was clearer than it was with my usual Onkyo receiver, though not as well defined as with the Wyred4Sound integrated, though that is a $2,000 stereo only component.
Moving onto films, I went with my recent favorite scene for demonstration material, the airplane crash in Fight Club. Cranking the volume up to levels beyond what I normally listen at, the Pioneer came through and handled the scene quite well. The sounds of air rushing all around me filled the room, and there was no clipping that I could hear coming from any of the speakers. The Pioneer kept me completely immersed in the film and did nothing to distract from the enjoyment, but just enhanced it.
One of the main features in the VSX-32 that people would be interested in is the video scaler, which uses technology from Marvell. As virtually any display that you buy now is 1080p, the ability to convert everything to that resolution (including HDTV and other signals) is more and more important, especially since the scaler in the display often leaves much to be desired. I tested the scaler with two main sources, my TiVo HD sending HDTV signals in their native format (1080i, 720p, and 480i) as well as my Oppo BDP-83, sending various test patterns at different resolutions to see how the Pioneer could handle them.
The TiVo worked quite well in all of my testing. While it didn't lock on as quickly as the VXP scaler I previously used, it did a very good job of scaling to 1080p by not introducing artifacts, and handling 2:2 pull-down quite well. Sometimes I would lose a cadence lock for a second or two (this is more easily visible on ESPN or other channels with a scrolling ticker, where the text will show jagged edges instead of smooth when the lock is lost), but it would quickly recover and it was only apparent when looking at the ticker.
Using the Oppo to send patterns from the Spears and Munsil test disc, the VSX-32 did a very good job with everything I sent it, at 1080i or 720p resolution. Tests for 3:2 and 2:2 cadences, and film mixed with video all passed with the Pioneer set to 1080p60 output. When set to 1080p24, the Pioneer also did a wonderful job converting all content it received back to 24p. With film, this came out looking exactly like it did when my Oppo outputs native 24p, but of course with video it comes out looking a bit strange as it's converting from 30 or 60 frames per second down to 24.
The Pioneer also passed Whiter-than-White and Blacker-than-Black signals without clipping them. People might think this is not important as content should not exist in these areas of the video signal. However, I recently attended a training class where I could see that on actual Blu-ray material that data does exist here due to color-space conversion. If your receiver is cutting it off, you're losing shadow detail, or highlight detail, but you will not with the VSX-32. The only thing I wish that the VSX-32 scaler had is an option to convert everything to 1080p60 except in the case of seeing 1080p24 content, where I want that to pass through. That setting would work great for 99% of users I believe, where it will scale HDTV, video games, concert and TV Blu-ray discs and other material correctly to 1080p60, but let film content pass through untouched.
To see how flexible the Pioneer and it's 12V trigger were, I setup a system that was as complicated as most people are likely to encounter at any time. I wanted to use the VSX-32 for surround material, but use a dedicated 2 channel amp in the case of stereo material, and also use an external amp instead of the internal amps inside of the Pioneer. Since I was able to configure the Pioneer to use the 12V triggers on a per-input basis, this was not hard for me to setup. When I selected a 2 channel source (CD, Squeezebox Touch, Internet Radio), one 12V trigger would fire, which turned on my stereo amp automatically. If I used an input that was designed for multichannel audio, such as my SACD player, Blu-ray player or TiVo, then the second 12V trigger fired as well, turning on my multichannel amp. As soon as I went back to a stereo input, the multichannel amp would turn back off automatically as well. While not a common setup for people, it let me know that you can start with just the VSX-32, but easily customize it to situations you need, such as firing up an external amplifier, or having a projection screen automatically lower when a video input is selected. This really makes it a receiver that can grow with you as your system expands.
One issue that I had with the SC-27 last year was that the iPod interface didn't want to work well with my iPhone 3G. Sometimes it worked great, and sometimes it didn't work at all, and so I stopped using it. This time, the iPod interface had no issues at all with my iPhone 4, which was great since the Pioneer iPod interface allows you to send the digital bitstream of your music instead of the more common analog line out. If you happen to keep your music in Apple Lossless format, this lets you carry around a bit-perfect collection of your songs, and utilize the far better DACs inside of the Pioneer than the one inside of the iPhone or iPod. The on screen interface is simply a carbon copy of the iPod interface, so there is no learning curve in using it at all.
The VSX-32, much like many new components this year, has an App available for the iPhone to control it. These let you control the most common features of the receiver from anywhere in the house, including the input, volume, and listening modes. Where these really would work well is if you were using the receiver for a secondary zone, which often would be far away from where a standard IR remote could control it. It also makes it very easy for multiple people to be able to control the receiver, as many households have multiple iPhones or iPods in them. The one thing that you can't do is turn on the receiver, which is a major downside of all the current control applications. Being able to do so makes the Secondary Zone work much better, as you would not have to trek across the house to turn it on. It would also be very easy to just turn on the receiver and use the radio, or Internet radio, without needing the remote at all. However, the app does still work very well for what it can do, and it's free.
Pioneer also sent along the optional Bluetooth module for the VSX-32 which I tested out with my iPhone 4. Once I paired the two, I could send the audio from my phone straight to the receiver, without needing any physical connection. While I initially thought this was more of a novelty than a useful feature, I quickly found that it was better than I expected. With the NPR Music application, I was able to listen to the new albums from Sufjan Stevens and Belle & Sebastian before they were released, and I could stream them straight to the VSX-32 for listening in my living room, without getting up from the couch. Listening to new music that I had loaded up on my phone was much easier than before as well, and it was all controlled from the iPhone instead of through the Pioneer, so my display could remain off. Walking around the living room with my phone in my pocket, the signal was perfect, and continued that way when I was still within 20 feet and one wall away. Once I moved further away, or put more walls between myself and the receiver, the connection started to break up, or fail completely. With the amount of content that I listen to on my iPhone, this is a feature I'd really consider buying on my next receiver.