Today, Pioneer Electronics introduced its first batch of AV receivers for 2013. All four models are in the Pioneer line using class-AB amplification; the new Elite AVRs, some of which use class-D amps, will be announced over the next few months.
Starting at the most affordable end of the line, the VSX-523 ($250) offers 5.1 operation with an honest 80 watts/channel (20Hz - 20kHz, 0.08% THD, 8 ohms) and the features expected in all AVRs today—Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding as well as all the lossy codecs, automatic room correction (using Pioneer's MCACC), 3D compatibility, and four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output with Audio Return Channel (ARC).
Like all the new AVRs, this one provides HDMI standby passthrough, which lets you use an HDMI source, such as a Blu-ray player or cable box, and TV without having to turn on the AVR. You can even select the source with the receiver's remote. New this year is 4K passthrough (at 24 and 30 fps) and DSD bitstream playback from SACDs via HDMI.
In addition, the 523 is certified "Made for iPod, iPhone, iPad" via the front-panel USB port. However, it cannot charge a full-size iPad, which requires more current than the 523's USB port can deliver. Also, this entry-level AVR has no networking capabilities, so no AirPlay or DLNA.
Next up the food chain is the VSX-823 ($400), which offers the same power rating and features (with six HDMI inputs instead of four and the ability to charge a full-size iPad) and adds wired and wireless networking, including AirPlay and DLNA as well as Bluetooth (with an optional adaptor) and HTC Connect, which lets you play audio wirelessly from Android devices. Music-file playback via LAN and USB includes AIFF, WAV, Apple Lossless, FLAC, MP3, WMA, and AAC. Even better, it can play AIFF, WAV, and FLAC files at up to 192kHz/24-bit resolution, and all lossless formats can be played with no gaps between tracks, which is especially helpful with concert recordings.
Also new this year is an MHL 2.0 input on the front panel (which counts as one of the AVR's six HDMI inputs). This allows audio/video playback from Android devices at up to 1080p/60 with 3D as well as faster battery charging with 1 amp of current. (MHL 1.0 supports up to 1080p/30 with no 3D and only half an amp of charging current.) The 823 is not certified by Roku, but Pioneer maintains that the Roku streaming stick works just fine plugged into the MHL input.
Finally, the 823 can be controlled with Pioneer's ControlApp for iOS and Android devices. In addition, this app consolidates all media sources on the network and can push that content to the AVR without having to use the devices' native apps, making things much simpler. Even better, up to four instances of the app can be running simultaneously.
The VSX-1023 ($500) provides 7.1 channels with all the features of the 823. If you have a 5.1 speaker system, you can use the extra two channels of amplification to power speakers in a remote zone or bi-amp the front left and right speakers in the main zone. Even better, you can select independent sources for the two zones.
Perhaps most exciting is the VSX-1123 ($600). The power output is bumped up to an honest 90W/channel in this 7.2-channel AVR, which provides eight HDMI inputs (including one MHL on the front) and two independent HDMI outputs, one of which can be assigned to the main zone or a second zone. In fact, the 1123 can accommodate up to three zones—the main 5.1 zone, two speakers in a second zone, and HDMI to a third zone, and all can have independently selected sources. (Of course, you'll need some sort of extender or balun system to run HDMI to a distant zone.)
In addition to 4K passthrough, the 1123 offers 4K upscaling with the Marvell Qdeo video processor. On the audio side of things, this AVR provides DTS Neo:X, which expands soundtracks to 11.1 channels using Pioneer's Virtual Speaker technology. And in addition to playing DSD bitstreams from SACD via HDMI, the 1123 can also play DSD files directly from a USB memory device.
The 1123 implements an advanced version of MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration), Pioneer's proprietary room-correction system. Advanced MCACC employs a 3D calibration method that adds the time axis to level and frequency, resulting in more precise measurements. Other enhancements include speaker polarity check and a graphic display of the before/after results that can be saved on a PC.
Available only for the 1123 (and, presumably, for the upcoming Elite models as well) is the AVNavigator app for Mac, Windows, and iOS. It provides a setup wizard and fully interactive user manual—when you click on a keyword, the corresponding control is activated in the AVR, and when you activate a control on the AVR's remote or front panel, the manual jumps to the corresponding page.
The VSX-523 and 823 are available now, while the 1023 and 1123 will be available in a couple of weeks.