Pioneer’s top receivers have more going on than any others I can think of, so they are necessarily complicated. The provided menus are sensibly organized, and the receiver’s remote, though dense, proved surprisingly usable. (Its red illumination helped, despite the small key lettering.)
However, onscreen displays are confined to the main setup menus, plus the Home Media Gallery screen for streaming audio and photos, and calling up either invokes a pause of several seconds (the former case mutes HDMI-carried audio). Nor are there any pop-up telltales for volume or channel levels, surround-or listening-mode changes, or anything else.
The Pioneer boasts dozens, perhaps scores, of additional features, many quite cool, that I’ve no option but to gloss over or omit altogether here, but Apple’s AirPlay demands mention. Apple’s proprietary, encrypted, wireless play-forward system worked perfectly the very first time: The VSX-52 switched to its Home Media Gallery input directly when I invoked AirPlay from my Mac’s iTunes window by simply clicking on the AirPlay icon, and the sound was indistinguishable from that delivered by playing the same music files directly. (Pioneer’s AirPlay is audio-only; unlike AppleTV, it does not receive video streams.)
In addition to AirPlay access, the Home Media Gallery offered the usual Internet radio smorgasbord and, of course, playback of audio streamed over a home network. This worked perfectly first time via my Mac’s DLNA server, including reproduction of my high-rez 96/24 FLAC files — something several much pricier receivers have failed to accomplish — although 176.4- and 192-kHz files tended to data-choke my network, and thus glitch audibly. (Pioneer specs the VSX-52 as 192/24 FLAC-able; I suspect my router was the culprit.)
I can’t close without mentioning Pioneer’s second-generation iPhone/Pod/Pad app, AVC2. This delivers full remote control of the receiver, including some cleverly ergonomic solutions and a bunch of extras ranging from the silly to the silly but cool, such as the four-way balance page that silkily adjusts front/rear/left/right balance in response to your rolling a virtual ball around an orb on your i/Thing’s screen.
Despite all its “stuff,” Pioneer made the VSK-52 perfectly usable: There are effective automation helpers like Optimum Surround mode so that the “just press Play” crowd can join the party, though they may need some help at setup time. And they should seek it out, because this is one highly capable, highly flexible receiver. (There are at least as many features again that I’ve left unmentioned. Seriously.) I don’t like components that pack on the doo-dads at the expense of A/V fundamentals, but the VSX-52 is not one of these. Its fundamentals are sound (and vision!), and owners who diligently sort through the extras for those they find truly useful, be they few or be they many, will most certainly find their money’s worth.
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