Like every other receiver in this price range, the VSX-1020-K offers decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, plus decoding for Dolby's Pro Logic IIz format, which uses "height" channels, rather than additional back surrounds. Whereas some competitors, such as the Denon AVR-1911, the Marantz NR1601, and the Onkyo TX-SR608, feature Audyssey's suite of sound-processing modes, the VSX-1020-K sticks with proprietary technology such as Pioneers Auto Level Control and MCACC. More on these in the setup and performance sections.
|HDMI inputs||6||Component video inputs||2|
|Composite video inputs||4||Max connected HD devices||8|
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", etc.) 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.
|Optical inputs||2||Coaxial inputs||2|
|Stereo analog audio inputs||6||Multichannel analog inputs||No|
As home theater becomes more and more focused on video, manufacturers have scaled back on audio-only connections, although the VSX-1020-K is still well-stocked overall. Four total digital audio inputs is standard for midrange AV receivers, although some competitors have scaled back even more; the Marantz NR1601 only has three digital inputs and the Denon AVR-1911 only has two.
Features like multichannel analog inputs and phono inputs used to be expected, but, like most of its competitors, the VSX-1020-K doesn't have them. More surprising is the lack of a minijack input, which is available on the Marantz NR1601 and Onkyo TX-SR608.
|iPod connectivity||via USB||Satellite radio||Sirius|
|USB port||1||IR input/output||Yes|
|Other: Ethernet; Bluetooth connectivity with $100 adapter|
The rest of the VSX-1020-K's features are strong, too. You can connect an iPod/iPhone directly via the USB port, and Pioneer even includes a cable to do so. You can also stream music directly from a Bluetooth device using the AS-BT100 adapter, although you'll need to purchase it separately. The VSX-1020-K also has an Ethernet port, which is unique at this price level. However, the Ethernet port's utility is limited to streaming Internet radio stations and even that is cumbersome. Because of the limited functionality, we don't consider it a major feature.
|Line level 2nd zone outputs||Yes||Powered 2nd zone outputs||Yes|
Like most midrange receivers, the VSX-1020-K has second-zone functionality, using either line-level RCA audio outputs or powered, speaker-level outputs. It's a step up over the Sony STR-DN1010, which doesn't have traditional second-zone functionality. (It does support a second zone using Sony's proprietary S-Air products.)
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.
For best results, Pioneer recommends placing the supplied calibration mic on a tripod. Since we didn't have one, we used a small speaker stand placed on the center of the CNET-listening room couch, and raised the mic to the ear height of a seated listener. Plugging the mic into the receiver automatically brings up the MCACC's onscreen display. Begin the calibration and the receiver will send an unusually wide variety of tones, whooshes, and thumping sounds through all the speakers and the subwoofer. The whole operation takes about five minutes.
Once it was done we confirmed that the MCACC correctly identified the sizes of all of the speakers in our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference speaker system, and accurately measured the distances to all the speakers, etc. We also liked what the equalization and room-tuning did for the sound. In fact, the results we achieved with MCACC were superior to the various Audyssey autocalibration systems we've used with Denon and Onkyo receivers. When we tried to "refine" the MCACC's sound balances in the manual setup program, our attempts resulted in altering the sound, but never bettering it.
The VSX-1020-K's thoughtfully implemented technology really works, and helped produce first-rate sound quality with the Grateful Dead's "American Beauty" DualDisc, 24 bit/96 kHz, high-resolution album. Sure, the 5.1-channel mix unnaturally scatters the Dead's acoustic instruments throughout the room, but that's not the VSX-1020-K's fault. The sound of those instruments and vocals were remarkably natural, and the bass was deep and clear. The skinny Aperion 4T tower speakers had the hefty oomph of a larger speaker, thanks to the VSX-1020-K's perfectly adjusted bass management system.
When we compared the VSX-1020-K with a Sony STR-DN1010 receiver we were surprised just how different the two receivers sounded. The Sony had a warmer and richer tonal balance; the Pioneer was leaner, but we subjectively judged it to be more accurate. The Sony's bass was muddy and indistinct; the Pioneer's seemed to have greater control and go deeper. Both receivers did a good job of producing a room-filling surround experience with the Dead disc, but the Pioneer's imaging specificity was more precise.
We used the "Flight of the Phoenix" DVD's plane crash scene to test the VSX-1020-K's power reserves. As the plane plummets towards the sandy desert most of the low-frequency thumps, tremors, and rattles heard by the plane's passengers (and by us) were reproduced over the surround speakers. That's amazing because the little Aperion 4B surround speakers weren't making any bass; the bass was coming from the subwoofer in the front of the room! The VSX-1020-K's bass management so deftly handled the illusion that the bass seemed to be coming from all around us. When the plane finally smashes into the desert the impact was tremendous. "The Flight of the Phoenix" is a brutal test of receiver's and its speakers' home theater stamina, and as good as the VSX-1020-K is, higher-end, more powerful receivers and separate components produce even more visceral experiences. So yes, there are still reasons to spend more for a receiver, if you want the very best sound.
The VSX-1020-K's Midnight mode reduced movies' soft-to-loud volume changes without overtly affecting sound quality.
CDs sounded excellent. A great recording, like the soundtrack to the film "Perfume," was so big and spacious we thought for a second that we were playing it in Dolby Pro-Logic II surround, but no; it was stereo. The orchestral score was lush, and the strings had just the right blend of sweet refinement and exacting presence.
Summing up, the VSX-1020-K's excellent performance on music and movies makes it top choice for sound-quality conscious midprice receiver buyers, although we didn't find it quite as good as the competing Denon AVR-1911.