My Thoughts on the VSX-1021
Up until now I've been living with a limping-along Kenwood Soverign VR-5090. It was definitely showing its age. The lack of HDMI was really getting to be a problem. About a week ago it started completely breaking down and stopped detecting audio properly; instead of detecting digital audio it would default to analog inputs and simply not play anything. Time for a new receiver. I am no audiophile but I can tell the difference between high quality audio and an undersampled MP3. That said, most of my comparisons will be with respect to my old VR-5090 as that's what I was coming from.
I settled on the VSX-1021 because the feature set was strong, the 1020 had some pretty impressive reviews, and because after getting burned by the Kenwood Soverign line I wanted some solid tech that didn't really represent being an early adopter again. Yes the 1021 is brand new, but it's very similar to the 1020 which is a fairly well-tested design.
Notes on my setup:
5.1 Home Theater + 2nd Stereo zone
HDMI Set Top Box that plays 720P and 1080i
HTPC with Blu Ray
Handful of video game systems, some HDMI, some ComponentAudio
IMO the audio is solid. Certainly strong enough for my home theater system, stays smooth and gets as loud as the wife will let me make it. I wasn't thrilled with the results of MCAAC so I've tweaked calibration by hand... I'm still tweaking to find that perfect balance, but that's not an issue with the receiver.
I've put the system through its paces with a variety of DVDs, CDs, and digital music and I'm well satisfied with the results. Again, I'm no audiophile, but it's certainly on par with the 5090 paid quite a bit more for 10 years ago.Video
Mixed results. Handles clean signals just fine, but I'm not thrilled with any of the video processing features it is capable of. Every option seems to insert a great deal of noise in solid color/muted or out of focus backgrounds. I've pretty much turned any video processing feature the unit provides off and let my television handle the signals it receives as it sees fit. Even then I swear there's more noise in the signal than my 5090 used to allow. I'm no expert but I'm not as satisfied as I'd like to be here.Set Up
Let's get this out of the way early: Setup is a bear. The software included is extremely limited, didn't work in Chrome, and I wasn't satisfied with the results once I did have it running. The manual is terrible, not to mention incomplete (I found a separate page floating around in my box explaining Airplay, it wasn't in the manual at all).
The system assumes to know what kind of devices you will connect. Instead of having 'VIDEO 1' 'VIDEO 2' 'VIDEO 3' and 'AUDIO 1' 'AUDIO 2' 'AUDIO 3' inputs it has 'DVD', 'BD', 'DVR' etc. HTPCs and Video Game systems are not considered. This leads to the Navi software to being nearly completely useless as it asks "Do you have a DVD" - no. "Do you have a Blu Ray" - No. Do you have anything else? Yes. Everything I had fell into the 'anything else' category which it only had very generic instructions for.
So the HTPC became the DVD input and the Playstation became the Blu Ray, the Xbox the DVR. You can rename all these inputs in software, but when it comes time to program a Harmony remote you had better have taken notes.
Moreover, the inputs are linked. When you switch to DVD the system outputs video from the DVD inputs and audio from the DVD audio inputs. The Kenwood 5090 made no such connection. I could set it to run Video 3 and Audio 2 if I wanted. This made watching TV but playing the radio (something I enjoy for sports games) or playing a video game while listening to digital music much easier. I haven't yet found a way to get all the setups I had in the past to work.Features
Probably the big one most people are interested about. Airplay takes a little getting used to, but I'm convinced that's more Apple's doing than it is the receiver's fault. That said I like it quite a bit. Especially due to the 2 Zone limitations (More on that later). A little info on my setup. I have used DD-WRT to convert a router into a wireless bridge for my home theater setup. Basically this means that I have all of my home theater components wired to a network component that connects to a 2nd wireless router that connects to the cable modem.
The end result is that as far as the 1021 is concerned, it has a wired connection to the network.
With that setup, any computer on my network with the latest version of Itunes is capable of setting the 1021 as one of its speakers. The little airplay button appears in the bottom right corner of itunes. This happens as long as the 1021 is on. It does not
have to be in HMG mode, however as soon as music starts the 1021 will switch to HMG mode. Where I have had difficulty is I can't seem to get my remote to control the receiver when it is running airplay. Normal play/pause are treated as receiver commands (Play acts as Phase control for example). If I put the remote in HMG mode commands push it OUT of airplay and to the HMG home screen. Music stops until I stop and restart airplay on the computer. There doesn't seem to be a 'Back to Airplay' function on the remote or HMG screen either. Frustrating but works great if you leave it alone.
I've only played a bit with this as I don't own an iPhone or iPad and borrowed a friends to test the system with. Works very well. No hiccups like I've described elsewhere. I hope Pioneer releases an Android version but I kind of doubt they well. This device has an 'apple exclusive' feel to it.
The Zone 2 support is disappointing. This is primarily because there is no down-conversion from digital sources. Sound that enters the 1021 via HDMI or digital signals (Optical or Co-ax) can not be broadcast to Zone 2. This was something the 5090 did seamlessly and I assumed the 1021 wouldn't have a problem with it either. At minimum I'd expect a setup that reduces both zones to stereo play but at least allows sound to be sent. In effect this means that I can't stream sound from my HTPC to zone 2, unless I use airplay which limits me to only that which iTunes plays. VERY disappointing.
Beyond that, Zone 2 support is decent. The interface is intuitive (something I can NOT say about the 5090) and straight forward. One interesting hiccup though: If I want airplay in zone 2, but not in zone 1 I have to:
- Initiate Airplay from a PC
- This puts Zone 1 into HMG mode with music playing.
- Start Zone 2 and shift it to HMG
If I want Zone 1 to be doing something different I can change it now, but it MUST be in HMG playing Airplay when I set zone 2 to HMG. If Zone 1 is not in HMG and I shift Zone 2 away from HMG, the receiver stops handling the airplay signal. Shifting zone 2 back to HMG will result in no sound. Shifting zone 1 to HMG will display the HMG home screen (which gives me the option of playing internet radio or files from USB).
In other words, if both zones go away from HMG, the receiver drops Airplay and won't pick it back up until you restart Airplay from the computer. The computer thinks it is sending airplay to the receiver, so you actually have to deactivate it, and reactivate it to get music playing again.
The HMG main screen allows you to listen to music off of connected devices and networked computers. I can't seem to get it to connect to my computers. It sees them, but gives me an 'not authorized' message for each. The manual does not indicate how you give authorization. Frustrating. The internet radio option is nice and well stocked, but I can't seem to add a particular station I'd like to add. Perhaps this is my fault, I could be doing something wrong. Still the Manual is unclear.Odds and Ends
The system is slow. The receiver takes about 5 seconds to power up before it will respond to commands. Switching between HDMI components can take up to 5 seconds (usually less, but sometimes this long) while the screen is blank but audio plays. Shifting between signals of different resolutions suffers a similar delay. Be careful if your cable box is configured to deliver whatever the station is broadcast at because if you change channels from a 1080i to a 720p source the simple channel change could cost you several blank screen seconds.Conclusion
So there's my review. I know it probably comes across as heavily negative, but I figure that most 'Reviews' supplied by groups like CNet and other AV web sites are really highly positive feature lists (read: Commercials). I'd like to make sure people know what to expect from both sides. In conclusion the 1021 is a good but not great piece of tech. It does the job nicely, but some of the features feel a bit half-baked and the manual is terrible. Fight through that and it's a good receiver at it's core. Just don't expect all of the wiz-bang features to be as well worked out as you'd like.