Pioneer VSX-43 7.1 Elite A/V Receiver


Setup and Use of the Pioneer VSX-43 Elite Receiver

I decided to set the receiver up for a 7.1 audio experience instead of my normal 5.1 setup. It always gives me an excuse to hook up the extras pair of speakers I have squirreled away in my closet. I hooked my Revel S12 surrounds using bare wire connections to the VSX-43, while using banana connectors for the mains and center channel. Not to fault this particular receiver, but the binding post are pretty closely packed. Most receivers are closely packed in the back because real estate is of a premium. However, once you do the wiring, how often might you need to re-configure this? Probably never. I plugged my Oppo BDP-103 directly into the receiver so that the VSX-43 could process my audio and allow me to see if the video was being affected in any way (it was not). I also connected my Mac Mini via HDMI so I could listen to the Pioneers' DAC and processor. From there, I connected the receivers HDMI output directly to my 50' Samsung DLP. (My speaker system is the Revel Concerta F12s, C12 and S12s with a Velodyne in-wall sub. My HDMI cables are from Kordz and my main speaker cables are the Zu Audio Julians).

Once all of the initial setup was completed, I ran MCACC to check for any short comings in the auto setup and EQing. A mic is supplied with this unit, as well as a quick guide on how to run the auto program. You can not access MCACC unless you select the receiver "mode" button. The program then takes you to a GUI that allows you select various parameters. I found the GUI to be well laid out, but very basic in its display.

White on black, no color, no picture of a room with speaker setup so you can "see" which speaker is actively being EQed. I understand that you probably do this only once and then forget about it anyway, but as an "Elite" receiver, I was expecting a bit more of an interesting GUI. In any case, the MCACC performed it test tones through the speakers and calibrated the output and distances quite accurately. I always double check these settings with a SPL meter and tape measure. My Velodyne sub had to be tweaked a bit, but subs usually do not play well with any auto EQ program I have encountered. I preferred the EQed system sound as opposed to the "direct" unprocessed sound, but your mileage may vary.

I felt that MCACC filled in the mid range better in my room. From the remote, you can toggle through various audio surround, direct (unprocessed) and stereo modes so you can compare the mode that sounds the way you like best. There is also an AUTO mode that will select an audio output based on the input signal, so even your spouse doesn't have to fool with it.

I downloaded from the App Store (Apple) the Pioneer Contol App. Be sure to download the 2013 version, as the 2012 or older versions will not work with this receiver. So far, I have found most Apps to be essentially useless as they only do a few basic things, such as volume and input switching.

This one was no different. I don't know how you may feel about using your mobile device to control things, but to take it out of your pocket, turn it on, select the App, wait for it to load just to adjust the volume, doesn't work for me. I would rather just pick up the remote and hit the volume button and be done with it. I know everyone is "doing it", but this is not a feature that improves the overall listening experience, in my opinion.

Now, something that I did find cool was going into my iPhone and selecting some music. The Airplay icon appeared next to my volume settings at the bottom of the screen on my iPhone.

Once pressed, it asked if I wanted to select the VSX-43. After selecting it, my music played flawlessly through the receiver. If I adjusted the volume on my iPhone, the volume on the receiver displayed accordingly and visa-versa. The Bluetooth worked just as well. I could not try the Android version, but am sure it functions just as smoothly.

Plugging my LAN cable into the back and getting into the network mode allowed me to listen to Pandora (you need to set up a free account with them first). vTuner allowed me an almost unlimited selection of internet radio stations. My favorite (you can make a "favorites" list, too, by the way) was Linn Radio which streamed 320 kbs of classical music into my room. The sound quality was excellent. If I did not know it, I would have thought I was listening to a CD. Of course, not all streaming stations have that high of a bit rate, but you have plenty of stations to choose from, so you can afford to be picky. Gosh, I would consider this receiver just for the network capabilities alone if I were an avid streamer! I wish it had Mog or Spotify, but Pioneer has to draw a line somewhere. I did not expect streaming and playing from my phone to be so much fun, but it was. Yes, it was a modicum of convenience over sound quality, but the convenience was pretty sweet all the same. The actual tuner worked well too, but AM/FM is just so passé.

For evaluating some movies, I choose recent films I have reviewed with 7.1 soundtracks: Prometheus and Lincoln. Both films offered top notch dialog and surround effects. Lincoln contains a surprisingly rich surround experience that the VSX-43 presented without issue. The dialog was crystal clear and when the scenes in the hallowed halls of Congress came on, you could hear all the subtle shuffling and murmurings of a room full of angry senators in great detail. Prometheus offered not only stellar picture quality, but a wonderful use of the surrounds. My favorite demo scene in this film was during the wind storm. Rocks, sand, dirt and wind swirl around you and you can clearly hear debris hitting the ship and glass faceplates of the space suits. It was all presented in its frighteningly realistic glory. This is a movie that really knows how to utilize 7.1 surround! My impression? The VSX-43 performed very well in a theater environment. It did not mess with the video and delivered an excellent sound experience.

Though I played a lot of music with the VSX-43, some of my best demoed material was Steve Wilson's The Raven That Refused to Sing on Blu-ray. The whole mix is ingenious and demanding…not only on the listener, but the equipment. The Pioneer kept pace with the more aggressive passage while keeping the maelstrom of sound open, clear and quite listenable. I have listened to this disc several times and still hear new things with each listening session. I think I prefer the hi-rez 5.1 PCM track over the DTS-MA track, too. From the gentle sounds of an acoustic guitar to the crashing of drums, soaring electric guitars and bottomless bass, the VSX-43 never sounded pinched or strained. I pushed it pretty hard, too. After the show, I placed my hand on top of the receiver and found it to only be moderately warm to the touch. I was expecting it to be on fire, but in this case, only the music was aflame. I played a few hi-res samples from HDTracks and felt the sound was close to what my pre/pro was able to offer. I did not notice any coloration or messing with the audio signal by the Pioneer. The VSX-43 can handle all the standard sample rates and everything up to and including 192 kHz. Roxy Music's Avalon (DVD-A) provided a good test for instrument placement and voices. The 5.1 surround track retained all of the detail I was used to hearing. Bass was tight and the overall effect of the music was quite mellow and relaxing…as it should be.

Any performance weaknesses that I can see with the VSX-43 might be in the area of power. Speakers that dip down into the 4 ohm region might tax the VSX-43. If you have a large room and want fill it with the life sized sounds of a full orchestra, you might want to consider the bigger siblings in the Elite series. The VSX-70 runs about $200 more and provides more features and more power. The SC Elites then start moving into class D3 digital amplification and offer far more sofisticated auto-EQ. Bottom line, you can pick from quite a selection of options in the Elite series.