Six HDMI inputs, easy iPod connectivity, and sweet sound quality make the Pioneer VSX-1020-K an excellent midrange AV receiver, although it's missing some minor HDMI features.
Pioneer ran away with our Editors' Choice in the AV receiver category in 2009, with the VSX-1019AH-K delivering an unmatched combination of performance and features in its price class. Pioneer hasn't slowed down with the new 2010 model, the VSX-1020-K, upping the HDMI connectivity to six inputs while keeping the same excellent sound quality we loved on last year's model. Our main knock is that the VSX-1020-K lacks some of the newest HDMI features that are available on competing receivers, such as audio return channel and standby pass through. We're also not thrilled that it's the only receiver at this price level with a one-year warranty--the rest have two or more. Still, those are small nitpicks on what is overall an excellent value for a midrange AV receiver. Just note that competitors have caught up in areas like iPod connectivity and graphical user interfaces, so the Pioneer is no longer the easy pick of the litter.
Pioneer's look hasn't changed much from last year, with the front panel featuring a glossy, black finish. There are two equally sized knobs on both sides of the unit, giving it a symmetrical feel, with a large LCD toward the top in the center.
Video connectivity is excellent on the Pioneer, most notably with its six HDMI inputs, including one front-panel input. There are more than enough input labels to go around (such as "BD," "DVD," and so on) and it's possible to switch between eight HD sources at once--enough for nearly every home theater. The six HDMI inputs gives the Pioneer the edge over the Sony STR-DN1010, the Denon AVR-1911, and the Marantz NR1601, which only include four at this price level.
The 2010 graphical user interface is largely unchanged from the previous version. Though it's not very colorful and the graphics are woefully standard definition, we still appreciate having an onscreen display to make changes, such as assigning inputs or manual speaker setup.
In addition to making adjustments, the GUI can also display album art and track information when playing music from a connected iPod or Bluetooth device. It's far from eye candy, but it's functional and enhances the iPod connectivity feature.
Some tasks are still needlessly difficult even using the GUI. Inputting URLs for Internet radio stations without an onscreen keyboard is more tedious than it needs to be. (At least you have the option of adding stations with a connected PC, but even that process is going to be tough for tech novices.)
AV receiver remotes tend to be cluttered and difficult to use and the VSX-1020-K's clicker is no different. It's littered with small, similarly sized buttons, which make navigating by feel practically impossible. The volume controls are smallish and awkwardly placed, toward the upper right, instead of falling easily under the thumb. The main issue is the remote tries to do too much. Every time you select an input, such as DVD, the remote defaults to controlling that device, so you'll need to press receiver again to control the receiver. Save yourself the headache and get a universal remote.
If the VSX-1020-K is connected via Ethernet, it can also be controlled via Pioneer's iPhone app, iControl. We had our doubts about the app when we took the demo version for a spin back in March, but we found it slightly more useful in actual practice.
Pioneer's MCACC (Multi Channel Acoustic Calibration) automatic speaker calibration system determines speaker sizes, speaker-to-listener distances, sets the volume levels of all of the speakers and the sub, and calculates the subwoofer crossover point. That's what the basic MCACC does, but the VSX-1020-K's "Full Auto MCACC" adds extensive speaker equalization and room-tuning adjustments to the setup program. Even so, all of the MCACC measurements are taken from just one microphone position, so it's easier to implement the "Full Auto MCACC" course than Onkyo, Marantz, or Denon's Audyssey calibration routine that require the user to repeat the setup procedure three or more times with different microphone positions.