The VSX-74TXVi is a THX Select2-certified AVR with seven channels of amplification. In a 5.1 system, the back-surround channels can be used to bi-amp the front left and right speakers or power speakers in a second room.
This unit and the slightly less-ambitious VSX-72TXV are the first Pioneer AVRs with HDMI switching, providing two HDMI inputs and one output along with multiple instances of all the other A/V connections. Not only that, all analog video signals are converted to digital and sent from the HDMI output, allowing a single-cable connection to the display. However, signals are not upconverted in the process; what goes in, comes out.
Also new to Pioneer AVRs is a dedicated iPod port. Simply plug the included cable into the port and the iPod’s dock connector, and the AVR’s remote controls the iPod. The connection even charges the iPod’s battery.
Another new feature is an XM satellite- radio tuner. All you have to do is buy an XM Connect and Play antenna and a service subscription, and you can enjoy over 150 channels of music, talk, sports, and other programming on your home system.
I’ve always appreciated the i.LINK (FireWire) input found on some Pioneer AVRs (including this one), which allows certain DVD-Audio and SACD players with such an output to send high-resolution, multichannel digital audio to the receiver over a single cable rather than via six analog interconnects. DVD-Audio players with an HDMI output can also send high-rez, multichannel audio that way, but because the Pioneer implements HDMI 1.1, it cannot receive SACD bitstreams via HDMI; that requires version 1.2 (or higher).
The VSX-74TXVi provides the latest incarnation of Pioneer’s advanced Multi-Channel ACoustic Calibration (MCACC) system, which automatically sets the channel levels and delays, speaker sizes, and equalization using the included microphone. The onscreen menu system is simple but clear and easy to navigate. Not so nice is the non-illuminated, universal/learning remote, which resembles a cluttered calculator with tiny, multifunction buttons. On the plus side, it provides direct input-access buttons.
I’ve used MCACC in previous generations of Pioneer AVRs to good effect in my theater room, and the VSX- 74TXVi was no exception. The result was a smooth, even response throughout the frequency spectrum.
DVDs sounded uniformly excellent, from music-heavy films such as Topsy- Turvy and Moulin Rouge to more conventional fare such as Master and Commander and The Mask of Zorro. In all cases, music was rendered beautifully with good tonal balance, dialog was clear, and explosions and more delicate sound effects were reproduced with equal aplomb.
I listened to some tracks from the new CD by my avant-garde acoustic trio, Many Axes, which I mixed and mastered, so I know it very well. The Pioneer beautifully rendered the instruments, including various wood and clay flutes, a wide variety of percussion, and tinkly wind chimes, all of which sounded true to the master.
AIX Records produces some of the very best DVD-Audio multichannel recordings available. Among my favorites are Voices Unbound by Zephyr, a 12-member vocal ensemble, and Gathered Around by the Steve Huffsteter Big Band. The sound quality through the Pioneer was exceptional with nothing at all to complain about. The same goes for SACDs such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, with all those whirling surround effects, clean and clear bells and gongs, and ever-changing synth textures.
Connecting an iPod to the dedicated port produced similarly positive results, at least in the context of compressed audio. However, controlling it from the Pioneer’s remote was far less pleasant than the iPod’s own user interface.
Overall, the sound quality is nearly equal to the VSX-59TXi, which lists for neary three times as much. It’s not as good as the best I’ve ever heard, but it’s remarkable for the money.
Integrating iPod and XM support is a natural extension of the AVR paradigm, as is HDMI switching. Add i.LINK connectivity and effective automatic setup, and you’ve got a blockbuster that’s hard to beat at this—or even a much higher—price.