Review: Pioneer VSX-1021-K

Once connected, the iControl AV2 app lets you browse and access your iTunes library using your preferred Apple gizmo. The app’s interface on the iPad is polished, and a huge upgrade from the physical remote.

There’s a big volume knob front and center, where it belongs, and a collection of source icons below. On the side are menus where you can go and dial in the sound to suit your room and system.

My iTunes and other music libraries on my laptop popped right up when I started the iControl app, and I was off and running. When I pulled up long lists of albums and artists (50 GB or so), the scroll had a lag that was slightly bothersome, but the names slowly appear as it communicates over Wi-Fi.

Over the course of a week using the 1021, I experienced occasional delays using the iControl app, and it lost its connection to my router on several occasions, but recovered quickly. All in all, though, it’s a slick app that allows for quick, easy access to multiple music sources, and gives you a glimpse into the world of high-end, multiroom AV systems and their customized visual remotes. So go ahead, pretend you’re Puffy for a day.

I don’t normally listen to internet radio stations, but when they’re a quick click away, the idea becomes more tempting. While browsing the myriad countries and stations, how could I resist nuggets like “4U Rock N Metal” and “Brasilia Super Radio.” Sound quality varies wildly, as you’d expect, but many stations come in plenty crisp and clear. Anyhow, it’s way more fun than spinning the dial-o-crap — aka FM radio — in the minivan.

Another nifty wireless feature is the Air Jam app, which lets you connect up to four Bluetooth devices. When connected, you and friends can make collective playlists that are viewable on one another’s devices. As with Wi-Fi access, there’s a Bluetooth adapter you need to buy (for $100) to make all this collaborative magic happen.

In terms of video support, Pioneer’s receiver can handle five HDMI inputs (using the HDMI 1.4a spec), and also accommodates non-HDMI video sources. After hooking the supplied iPad–iPod adapter cable into the USB slot on the front of the receiver, I was able to use the iControl app to play Toy Story 3 and several TV shows, which all looked good passing through the receiver’s video processor.

However, it would’ve looked better using a component connection, rather than the RCA composite video input that the cable and receiver employ. And hopefully, future versions of the receiver will allow for AirPlay video streaming, so you can do away with the cable altogether.

To make the most of your sound system, the VSX-1021-K comes with Pioneer’s Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration system, which uses a microphone and test tones to customize the output based on your listening environment. If you’ve got a seven-speaker surround system, this is an important step. In a 2.1-channel scene, I can do without it, and so can you.

To evaluate its sound quality, I cruised everything from jazz to hip-hop to metal in my music collection, and the results were solid across the board. The unit is designed to be a versatile AV receiver — handling web radio, digital music and DVD soundtracks alike — and lets you select from a long list of surround-sound settings for the type of music or TV you’re listening to. You get the standard presets: sports, sci-fi, classical, rock–pop and so on.

I was pleasantly surprised by the detail I heard in Ahmad Jamal’s “Toulouse,” a demanding track with lots of shifting dynamics, a circus of percussion in the background, and some chunky, tight bass lines for good measure. The receiver was equally adept in handling Big Boi’s wall of sound and thundering bass in the extra-salty track “Tangerine.”

Pioneer has a history of offering good-bang-for-the-buck AV gear, and the VSX-1021-K is no exception. At 550 clams, you don’t have much to complain about here, especially if you have an iPad, iPod or iPhone to use as a remote. The 1021 lets you play content from these devices with relative ease, using an iControl interface that is sharp, intuitive and easy to navigate.

See Also:

  • get-gadget Test 2007: Home Audio: Pioneer Elite VSX-91TXH
  • Pioneer Drops Plasma Display Manufacturing — Is Project Kuro at Risk?
  • AV Receiver Is NASCAR Loud, Ballet Beautiful
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