During the calibration routine, the receiver emits a series of noise bursts and clicks from each channel in several sequences - some at reference level, which is quite loud (the manual advises sending small children and pets out of the room!) - and then displays the optimized levels and delay distances. Lo and behold, all of these quite closely matched the settings I'd experimentally arrived at for my studio's 6.1-channel speaker setup using a handheld sound-level meter: the level offsets were all within a half decibel, and the delay distances were spot on.
The ACE curves yielded by the Pioneer's four independent nine-band equalizers (front left/right, center, side surround, and back surround channels) were about what I'd expect - with a couple of exceptions I'll get to. Most of the EQ action took place at the bass frequencies dominated by room modes; all channels showed 2 dB or less adjustment anywhere above those frequencies. The full calibration process stores two sets of data: All Channels Adjust attempts to equalize all speakers to the idealized response, while Front Channels Adjust aims to equalize the center and surround speakers to match the room response of the front left/right pair. At any time, you can switch from one EQ mode to the other or defeat the equalization entirely.
This receiver has many more uncommon setup features, but the real question is how it all sounds. The VSX-49TX was an ace performer even without ACE or other DSP "extras." The DVD of Courage Under Fire revealed (besides the ability of skilled actors like Denzel Washington and Scott Glenn to make almost any drivel watchable) the Pioneer's impeccable 5.1-channel performance. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks yielded their full impact on the 'copter/tank shoot 'em ups as well as all the background nuances in quieter scenes. Using a repeat-loop of one of the many downed-copter, firefight flashbacks, I compared the "straight" DTS decoding with the receiver's principal alternatives. Unsurprisingly, I preferred the THX Cinema mode. The whizzing bullets seemed less artificially "hot," and explosions carried less of the fizzy "hair" that always lets me identify them as artificial.
The advantage gained by switching in the ACE feature, however, was less clear-cut in my setup. The All Channels Adjust mode yielded a somewhat brighter overall response, especially in scenes with a lot of action in the surround channels. The Front Channels Adjust mode sounded better to me: it heightened clarity and articulation, though still with a mild brightening of overall tonality.
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