While this appraisal of the VSX-52 must unavoidably be mostly about features (which the Pioneer has more of than Uncle Ben does rice grains), let’s not gloss over the meat and spuds of audio and video prowess. The new Pioneer showed me plenty of both, even on squeaky-clean high-rez matter such as the occasionally amusing feature-length cartoon — sorry, CGI film — Rango. (The fast-approaching conflation of CGI and live-action is truly mind-boggling, and a little creepy.)
The Pioneer displayed plenty of power for the flick’s occasional big-audio action sequences, and the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack reproduced with pristine clarity and dynamic snap. Visually, Rango is reference-grade as well. I viewed a few scenes in standard-def from my player’s component-video output and let the VSX-52’s Qdeo video mill grind away, upconverting to 1080p. The results were of course not nearly as gob-smacking as the straight 1080p experience, but the visuals were still stunning, retaining, for one example, most of the detail, texture, and hues of the title character (a chameleon), and I experienced nothing I could qualify as conversion error or artifact.
A more serious-minded test of the Pioneer’s audio chops arrived via a recent recording of A Concord Symphony, the orchestration of Charles Ives’s Concord Sonata by the late composer Henry Brant (my much-admired undergrad composition teacher). This was Henry’s spare-time project for much of his life, and it’s a masterpiece of its kind — not the music as Ives would have written it had he conceived the sonata as an orchestral piece, but the extant work, refracted through Henry’s reverently Ives-ian but peculiarly Brant-ian lens. And it’s heard on a superb-sounding, full-surround SACD from Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS Media). Among my S+V readers, all the Ives disciples (both of you) must own this disc.
For its part, the VSX-52 did the Concord’s business without a stumble, sigh, or complaint. My system sounded gloriously full with the distinct tenor of Davies Symphony Hall (the San Francisco orchestra’s home) on every one of the massive brass assaults, and the amazing transparency of the orchestration — a Henry Brant hallmark — glistened through every multi-tonal, texturally dense episode. At true in-hall levels, with transient peaks easily cresting 110 dB SPL at the listening seat, my moderately insensitive speakers were probably stressing the Pioneer’s five active channels to pretty near their capacity, yet I heard no sign of it — a strong vote of confidence. And since the
VSX-52 was doing its own DSD-PCM and digital-to-analog processing, these kudos apply to its digital-audio machinery as well.
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