For years, Pioneer has offered both standard- series AVRs, thought to offer good value for money, and more expensive Elite-series models targeted toward performance-minded enthusiasts. Recently, Pioneer surprised us by replacing its entire standard AVR lineup with a handful of dramatically improved, value-priced receivers, such as the $399 VSX-816, whose feature sets remind us of those typically found in Elite models.
The VSX-816 is a 7.1-channel, XM radio-ready AVR that puts out 110Wpc. The receiver supports multizone playback or can assign two channels to bi-amplify the front main speakers. The VSX-816 incorporates Pioneer’s MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration) room EQ system plus special features such as a Dialog Enhancement mode that “localizes dialog in the center channel to make it stand out.” A Sound Retriever mode promises to “bring CD quality-sound back to compressed 2-channel audio.”
Elaborate MCACC test/setup procedures took around 8 minutes to complete, but the end results were worth the wait. We compared MCACC against Yamaha’s competing YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Acoustic Optimizer) EQ system and found that both systems improved the accuracy and tonal balance of our test speakers. However, the Pioneer system went even further, unlocking an extra layer of clarity and openness the Yamaha could not match.
Actually, “openness” and “resolution” are probably the two words that best describe the Pioneer’s sound. These qualities brought alive all kinds of cinematic and music material, enhancing everything from the creaking of the ship’s hull in Master and Commander, to the aggressive snap of Marcus Miller’s bass guitar on “Rampage” from The Sun Don’t Lie [Sony]. The only drawbacks we observed were occasional traces of excess brightness on vigorous treble transients, and bass that sometimes seemed too lightly balanced. But these are very minor shortcomings compared to this receiver’s strengths.
The VSX-816 offers a user interface and remote control that are well thought out. The VSX-816’s sheer performance per dollar is just remarkable. Highly recommended. TPV