I began my serious listening with stereo music running full-range (without subwoofer assistance) via my compact two-way main-channel monitors. Here the VSX-60 acquitted itself with high honors. Clean studio recordings such as Ray Charles’s Genius Loves Company (an HDtracks.com high-rez download) reproduced with impressive punch and clean, dynamic character, even at levels close, or perhaps equal to, control-room reference. The clarity and air of the finger snaps on “Fever,” for just one example, made it easy to judge these tracks as “better than CD” in overall quality. Sampling my growing high-rez catalog (like the Ray Charles, mostly 96/24 FLAC fi les) confirmed the impression, leading me to conclude that the Pioneer’s D/A conversion and amplification are both capable of substantial resolution.
The VSX-60’s generous amplifier power impressed me repeatedly — especially given its modest 21-pound weight. Some of Pioneer’s flagship receivers employ IcePower Class D amplification. The VSX-60’s literature mentions only “Direct Energy” design with no elaboration. A little poking around on the Web reveals this to be (I think) a different, proprietary Class D topology. I wondered whether the new model had quite the depth of dynamic heft, especially through the lower octaves, of the last IcePower Pioneer I sampled (the impressive SC-07, from early 2009), but long-term auditory memory is notoriously valueless, so I can’t give much weight to this impression.
In any case, seven channels of legit power in a 21-pound receiver package is an accomplishment, and moving on to multichannel material did nothing to change my mind. A Chesky SACD I listened to of drummer Jimmy Cobb’s quartet demands tremendous dynamic range to reveal the gamut from barest brush stroke to full snare-plus-band accent. The Pioneer VSX-60 receiver had it.
Film sound fared equally well. The Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol Blu-ray’s Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is certainly a suitable sample, and while not exactly Shakespeare, the M:I franchise has, like its eternally boyish star, at least aged better than many. The VSX-60 had enough oomph to spare to make the audience jump when the “gotcha” sound effects fi red off, and it did a very fine job with the heavily surround-dependent soundtrack. The musical score — which is very active in the surrounds — sounded unfailingly clean and rich.
Tom Cruise’s latest franchise move was also an excellent opportunity to exploit a less obvious feature of the Pioneer — a simple one, yet one that I valued highly. X-Curve lets you dial in high-frequency roll-off beginning at about 2 kHz in 0.5-dB increments. And believe it or not, that’s all it took in my setup: Just a half-decibel made the difference between a Mission that sounded noticeably bright, and one with a reference film-sound balance.
Pioneer’s inclusion of Marvell Qdeo video processing led me to expect fi ne video performance, and that’s what I got. The VSX-60 passed all of our standard checks for upscaling and deinterlacing on both HDMI and component inputs, so lower-rez sources should be visually improved when viewed on a 1080p TV. That setup may take a bit of study, as the Pioneer has a lot of video parameters. Beyond the standard Brightness, Contrast, et al., there are four different video noise-reduction controls and several other enhancers, most of which will be best left off when viewing high-def material. A feature called Stream Smoother (I believe this is a preset combination of various other video-processing functions) is intended for use with streaming videos. I tried this on a few YouTube clips, and have to allow that it did make truly bad video, like early clips of Jimi Hendrix from European TV, subtly less horrid.
Audio, too, gets a whole bagful of DSP tricks. Auto Sound Retriever is meant for restoration of bit-reduced music; its effect is certainly audible enough, increasing brightness and transient “snap,” but whether that amounts to “retrieval” I couldn’t say. Dialog Enhancement boosts center-channel level; if front-height speakers are connected, there are also a couple of levels that mix some sound upward, shifting the sonic image from an under-TV center speaker up onto the screen. (Though this comes at a sacrifice in directionality and tonality, and kind of defeats the purpose of the center speaker — i.e., a single, point-source original for dialogue.)
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