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.

Sound+Image - - Contents - Stephen Dawson

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.

Equip­ment

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.

Per­for­mance

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.

Con­clu­sion

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...

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