PIONEER VSX-932 AV receiver
Pioneer VSX-932 AV receiver Chromecast, Fireconnect and all manner of new media abilities add versatility to Pioneer’s well-priced Atmos-equipped receiver.
Chromecast, Fireconnect and all manner of networking and streaming in addition to Atmos audio.
We have a soft spot for Pioneer AV receivers, after one of its high horsepower LX range occupied the central position in a reference system for several years. The Pioneer VSX-932 is from the more conventional end of the range, using normal A-B power amplifiers — seven of them — and a set of features pared down to its price, and chosen well.
Indeed it presents just the features I think I’d choose if I had been in charge of the exercise, except for one thing — I’d ask for specifications that allow comparison with other brands of equipment. A headline figure of 130 watts seems impressive, but it’s quoted into six ohms rather than eight, with only one channel running, at only one frequency, and allowing 1% THD! Well, 130W into six ohms converts, holding output voltage constant (which it wouldn’t be, it would be a touch higher) to 97.5W into eight ohms. Knock a few more off to get the THD down from 1% and we might estimate the more conventional rating of this receiver would be 90 to 95W per channel.
That’s nothing to be ashamed of at this price point, especially as this is a proper 7.1-channel receiver. As we’ll see, there are many ways those seven channels can be deployed, but note at this point that it includes Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. There are seven sets of speaker outputs — so no spares to allow easy switching between different connected configurations.
The back panel connections are very much reflective of today. Component video? None. Composite? A few. Analogue audio? Two. Ah, but that very special extra analogue audio input for phono, with a 3.5mV sensitivity suitable for moving magnet and high output moving coil cartridges.
Turntables are definitely back! Coaxial and digital audio inputs? One of each. A relatively modest four HDMI inputs, rather light for us, given we have lots of source devices, but a ‘normal’ person is likely to have a disc spinner and a PVR, and two spare HDMI inputs just in case. The important thing about these inputs is that they support Ultra HD signals, including 2160p/60 at 12 bits and the all-important HDCP 2.2. Pioneer explicitly states support for the Dolby Vision version of High Dynamic Range in addition to the less demanding normal HDR10.
And then there’s modern media. The receiver supports Bluetooth (4.1+LE), with the SBC and iOS-friendly AAC codecs. Network media also, with Ethernet and dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi with two antennas, and music from USB, with sockets on both front and back.
The Pioneer supports the Fireconnect multiroom system. Devices from Harman Kardon and Onkyo (the latter now the same company as Pioneer) also support this system. It supports high resolution multichannel sound, which is quite beyond the abilities of the other systems. I didn’t have any other Fireconnect items available to check out this multiroom side of things, and there remain questions over interoperability of Fireconnect between brands.
There’s a first-time wizard to get you started. It has a very attractive design, the text rendered in a modern font and delivered in a blue, white, black colour scheme. After language selection and a welcome, it goes straight into Pioneer’s Full Auto MCACC — the room and speaker calibration.
At that point you get to cycle through a list of 10 speaker configurations (2.1, 7.1, 5.1.2 and so on) so the receiver knows a little about your speakers. If you choose one of the several configurations with height speakers, then you can arrow down to set their position (this includes an ‘Atmos-enabled’ setting for those with ‘Height’ speakers which fire upwards). If you choose any setting that doesn’t use six or seven of the amplifiers, you can then select an option to bi-amp the front speaker pair. There is no setting for redirecting amplifiers for use in a second zone, because multi-zone operation is one of the things not supported here.
The calibration system took three or four minutes on my 5.1.2 set-up. The first time through it didn’t notice that I had a subwoofer. I had to turn it up several notches for it to be detected and then all went well. It chose ‘Large’ for all the speakers except for the two height speakers, which it made ‘Small’, using a 100Hz crossover. The receiver only supports one crossover frequency for small speakers, so some compromise may be required with them.
Network set-up offers the usual choice of wireless or wired. I went the former way. That then offered a scan of networks or the use of an iOS device to deliver the wireless set-up. For a change of pace I chose the latter. That could be tricky at one time because receivers were often 2.4GHz only for Wi-Fi, whereas your Apple device might be using a 5GHz connection. But with support for dual-band Wi-Fi, that wasn’t an issue here. (I did a quick check using the ‘Scan’ system, confirming the 5GHz works.) The iOS system has been streamlined since I last used it; follow the instructions and within a couple of minutes everything is ready to go, with no need to enter a password.
Naturally the first action was to get some Ultra-HD Atmos-encoded material running. Mad Max: Fury Road it was. I think that the system may have set the subwoofer a few decibels higher than optimal, but otherwise... glorious. The HDR, wide colour gamut picture was transmitted through the receiver flawlessly, while the digital audio bitstream was stripped out and decoded just about as well as in any receiver. For very troublesome speakers you might want a receiver with higher rated amplifiers, but with regular models this receiver did a fine job of producing high volumes of highly focused surround sound.
The TV reported that the picture was UHD, wide colour gamut, high dynamic range, so it had come through without compromise. Later I checked with Billy Lynn’s
Long Half Time Walk, which is famously 2160p/60, and it looked identical to its delivery via a $3000+ receiver.
The Dolby Surround implementation (which interprets height from non-Atmos content) did an excellent job of delivering a full hemisphere of sound using two overhead speakers to provide a sense of height.
The Pioneer Remote App on an iPad Mini 4 showed the signal handling, making it clear that the Atmos was being properly handled.
The receiver is quite omnivorous with regard to digital audio. For one thing it supports plenty of online services: TuneIn (radio), Deezer, Tidal and Spotify (specifically, Spotify Connect). And likewise for local digital media. Omnivorous. There’s support for Apple AirPlay, Google Chromecast, and DLNA. It should be at home in both Apple and Windows/Android homes.
Because the receiver supports both DLNA and Chromecast, it appeared twice in the list of ‘Renderers’ presented by my preferred music controller app: BubbleUPnP. That flexibility is very welcome since presumably some households may not have DLNA support. Chromecast works with any window in the Chrome browser, regardless of OS, along with a number of apps such as YouTube and Netflix (audio only, of course, with this receiver).
the picture was UHD, wide colour gamut, high dynamic range... it looked identical to delivery via a $3000 receiver.”
The Wi-Fi connection worked very well for the most part, but it had two limitations (in my environment — others may have different results). First, the receiver would not appear as an AirPlay speaker in iTunes on my computers, nor on an iPad Mini 4. It just didn’t pop up on the list at all, even though another audio streamer I use most certainly did. Second, while it handled 24-bit/192kHz music in FLAC format fine, as it did normalrate Direct Stream Digital, double-speed DSD128 was just a bit too much, with drop-outs due to communications speed limitations. Your mileage may also vary on that, because speed depends a lot on congestion in the relevant frequency bands.
When I switched over to the Ethernet connection, both problems were instantly solved. The only limitation then was that DSD would not work when I was using BubbleUPNP to send it to the receiver, even though it worked perfectly well using the receiver’s own interface. And, indeed, using the Pioneer Remote App. That suggests that the receiver isn’t a DLNA ‘Renderer’. It’s a DLNA ‘Player’. The practical difference is that the former is dumber. Software on a smart device tells a DLNA server to send the music to the renderer, and it converts it. It is the software that is the player.
But this receiver is a player, which means it has to issue the requests itself for the music to the DLNA server. You may do that using its own interface. The Remote App isn’t a DLNA controller, it’s a Pioneer receiver controller. It simply talks to the receiver and acts as an interface.
The net result is the kind of the same, except that for full functionality you must use the Pioneer Remote App, not a third party app. Another reason for using the Pioneer app: gapless playback of run-on tracks, instead of interminable pauses between.
I used the iOS version of the app on an iPad Mini 4, and it worked beautifully. It was reliable, stable, dialled up music from the server fast and just generally did what it ought to do without fuss.
And of course I broke out the vinyl. The phono input worked quite well, at least once I’d switched the sound mode from the default ‘Extended Stereo’ (all speakers used) to regular stereo. The volume control needed a fair bit of clockwise rotation for a respectable level. The original Jimi Hendrix ‘Isle of Wight’ album went to an indicated -2 to achieve satisfying levels. There’s no reason why this should be a problem, so long as you remember to bring the volume back down when you switch to a digital source. In theory there would be more noise thanks to the increased gain of the receiver, but in practice, any such noise was quite inaudible, given the relatively high noise levels of vinyl.
The Pioneer VSX-932’s power may have its limits if you’re using difficult speakers, but it’s well up with the field in this regard at this price, and it certainly has a well-chosen balance of features and performance for the dollars, with particularly excellent compatibility with all manner of modern digital audio, including the communicative merits of Chromecast.
LEFT PAIR: the web interface; RIGHT PAIR: Pioneer’s Remote App playing network audio (right) and showing Atmos replay (above).
Streaming Connections The Fireconnect by Blackfire platform offers multiroom operation including Chromecasting and grouping, plus Bluetooth, AirPlay and Wi-Fi/Ethernet networking for DLNA playback up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM and DSD files. The Pioneer has...