The Short Form
|Price $1,599 / pioneerelectronics.com / 800-421-1404|
|Excellent video conversion, Internet-audio streaming, and extensive auto-setup/EQ features are icing on the cake in this high-performance receiver.|
|•Outstanding audio/video performance
•1080i or 1080p scaling to HDMI from all video inputs
•Onscreen displays over HDMI
•4 full-function HDMI 1.3a inputs
•Accurate auto-setup and extensive EQ and processing options
•Plain-Jane onscreen displays
|•7 x 40 watts rated output
•4 HDMI v1.3a 1080p-capable inputs
•Transcodes composite-, component-, and S-video to HDMI; deinterlaces 480i; scales up to 1080p (480i/p signals) or 720p/1080i
•Onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHd, DTS-HD Master Audio
•Ethernet port for streaming audio from PC or Internet; USB input
•Sirius/XM satellite radio-ready
•Optional iPod dock
•16 5/8 x 7 3/8 in; 37 1/2 lb
|Pioneer's latest receiver produced uniformly excellent bench results: Linearity and S/N were close to perfect on both PCM and Dolby Digital signals, while distortion and frequency response were nearly as good (the latter, in particular, on 96/24 PCM). Power output was generous in 2- and 1-channel tests, and the 94TXH was happy enough driving 4-ohm loads. With 5 and 7 channels driven, and its clamping circuitry in full effect, it fell well short of 100 watts per channel, but the result was still better than some receivers of similar ratings we've seen, and in any event, this is of no real-world consequence.
Relatively high distortion detected in the subwoofer output when driven by 6-channel and 2-channel signals was unusual and not caused by waveform clipping in the usual sense, but rather a kind of squeezing/tilting of the signal that I associate with digital arithmetic errors (see full lab results online). My conjecture is that there's an error of some kind in the summing routine that adds "small" channels' low-passed signals. The odds of this having any effect on sound are virtually nil, and I certainly heard none in my listening tests.
Full Lab Results
The Pioneer's conversion of my HD-cable component video to HDMI looked outstanding. I could reliably identify no differences in comparing the two connections to my 52-inch Samsung LCD; 1080p Blu-ray, of course, passed through entirely untouched. The receiver's onscreen displays came up fairly quickly even on HDMI, and sources switched and synced with reasonable efficiency.
Phew. And there's still a lot to mention. The Pioneer's full panoply of Dolby Digital and DTS surround modes sounded terrific. It also decodes internally the new higher-rez formats Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio - though I couldn't confirm this without a late-generation player on hand that could output those signals. I can say that the clip of Appalachian Spring from Dolby Labs' Sound of High Definition demo Blu-ray Disc sounded fabulous, even in "just" Dolby Digital Plus.
Pioneer's Media Gallery accesses audio files in MP3, AAC/MP4, or FLAC format (plus PCM/WAV) arriving via Ethernet from your networked computers (as long as they have Windows Media Player 11) or from a USB drive or dongle plugged into the receiver's front-panel port. Believe it or not, my XP machine is too antique to run WMP11 (gimme a break: mine is a Mac shop!), so I tried USB only. Media Gallery also delivers Internet radio, which worked fine, accessing a well-balanced list of preaddressed streams, including several dozen good college stations. But there's no obvious way to key in a URL of your own choosing, and nothing in Pioneer's documentation was of any help on this.
Both Sirius and XM satellite radio can arrive via third-party add-on kits. My XM mini-tuner worked fine, and the Pioneer's big, readable onscreen display of XM data stays put while you listen: nice. I found the sound of satellite radio as good as usual (or bad, depending on your point of view) and as variable as always with channel and time of day.
In sharp contrast to most other high-end receivers today, the 94TXH's onscreen display is plain black-and-white text - no fancy, translucent, high-def displays here. Perhaps Pioneer is spending those dollars on things like a meatier power-supply or premium video-processing silicon; if so, you'll hear no argument from me.
The preprogrammed/learning remote control, commanding as many as 10 components, is a fairly pedestrian button-remote. (There's a single-line LCD readout to display current mode and provide programming feedback.) But it gets the job done with a decent layout, reasonable key-spacing, and colored graphics. However, it requires shift-key combos for some common commands (including selecting XM, which I found a pain), and there's no illumination, just glow-in-the-dark keys. A $1,600 receiver deserves better. Another gripe: It would be nice if the 94TXH let you mix presets, so you could have your favorite stations (however they arrive - FM, satellite, or Internet) in a single "favorites" register. But you can't. You first have to change the input (even though all three are built-in, more or less), then choose the preset register, then select the number.
Otherwise, everything was smooth sailing. All of the Pioneer's myriad options worked - and in general, worked very well indeed.
So there you have it. Or not - because there's still more. The receiver includes Neural-THX Surround, as well as Pioneer's "Sound Retrieval" audio processing, said to improve sound quality to data-compressed MP3s (I can't say I heard any Lazarus-like reanimation, but then I rarely do). Furthermore, the receiver can integrate an iPod with full control and onscreen display via the company's IDK-80 dock ($99). It can also handle two additional zones (one powered by the surround-back speaker outputs), each with independent IR-control inputs and 12-volt triggers. And there's an RS-232 port.
It's all good, but the core of the Pioneer Elite VSX-94TXH remains its very solid audio and video performance, which can stand toe-to-toe with that of today's competing flagship-class A/V receivers. If you're looking for a receiver that does it all - and a fair bit more - and one that sounds and looks good, you may well have found it.
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