Pioneer VSX-1022-K review:

Pioneer VSX-1022-K

Built-in AirPlay: If you own an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, the Pioneer VSX-1022-K's built-in AirPlay is a nice bonus, although it's not essential since you can always add AirPlay later with a $100 Apple TV. If you're not sure whether you should pick a receiver with built-in AirPlay, check out our rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of built-in AirPlay versus buying a separate Apple TV box.

One-year warranty: Pioneer's one-year warranty is puzzling considering that every other manufacturer offers at least two years. While I haven't seen many reports of Pioneer receivers having reliability problems, it's not encouraging that the company isn't willing to stand behind its receivers for more than a single year. And if you're really looking for peace of mind, Marantz's NR1403 and NR1603 feature three-year warranties.

3D pass-through, audio return channel, standby pass-through: The VSX-1022-K supports all three of these HDMI features (each of which is explained in more detail here), but while they're all useful, you can largely ignore them when making a buying decision, since almost every newer receiver supports them.

iPhone/iPad-friendly USB port: The USB port on the front panel supports iPhones, iPods, and iPads, so you can connect those devices directly using a standard cable and navigate your music collection onscreen. (Pioneer included a cable with the receiver.) We also had success using the USB port with a standard USB drive filled with music.

No second-zone audio functionality: Unlike most of the AV receivers at this price level, the VSX-1022-K has no support for second-zone audio. That's not a critical missing feature -- especially since we get the impression that second-zone functionality isn't used that frequently -- but it's still surprising that Pioneer left this relatively common feature out.

Other features: The VSX-1022-K can upconvert analog video signals to 1080p over its HDMI output, but that feature isn't nearly as important as it used to be, since analog video devices are pretty rare. It lacks support for Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing, allowing for "height" channels, but we don't think the minimal sonic benefits are worth the extra effort. The VSX-1022-K doesn't have any THX certification, but that's not worth factoring into a buying decision, since plenty of great-sounding receivers don't have THX.

Setup and calibration
Pioneer's MCACC automatic speaker calibration is simple: plug in the mic and put it at ear level at the main listening spot. (A tripod is handy for this, if you have one.) Unlike the Audyssey calibration system featured in Onkyo and Denon receivers that asks the user to move the mic to three or more room positions, MCACC gets the job done with one position. The whole procedure took just a few minutes to complete.

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The Pioneer's setup mic, next to the included iPhone/iPod cable.

We confirmed that MCACC correctly identified the sizes of all of the speakers in our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference system as "small" speakers, accurately measured the distances to all the speakers, and set the subwoofer crossover frequency to 100Hz. So far, so good, but as soon as we started to listen it was obvious the subwoofer volume was too loud. Concerned that the MCACC subwoofer level calibration was incorrect, we ran the setup again, but the sub volume was still much too loud. The imbalance was surprising, as previous generations of Pioneer receivers with MCACC were more accurate in the same room.

Sound quality
Sound quality evaluations of AV receivers (and other amplifiers) are controversial. Some say all AV receivers sound the same, others disagree, and we're not likely to settle that argument anytime soon. CNET's sound quality evaluations are strictly subjective, with resident golden ear Steve Guttenberg comparing receivers in an identical listening environment using the same speakers.

While we always try to evaluate the sound of the receivers we test with their autosetup corrections turned on, the VSX-1022's settings were too far out of whack. So we manually turned the subwoofer volume down so we could proceed with our listening tests.

That issue settled, the VSX-1022-K still didn't sound as good as we expected. Starting with Pixar's "Ratatouille" Blu-ray, we found the sound was richly balanced and mellow, quite different from what we're used to from Pioneer receivers. They're usually the opposite, cooler and brighter than the VSX-1022-K's sound. We checked again to see if the MCACC's equalization was out of kilter; it wasn't, but we turned off the EQ just in case, and the sound was still lacking in detail. Not that it was unpleasant or harsh, just a little blah.

The racetrack scenes in "Seabiscuit" were sounding lackluster, and when we tried the VSX-1022-K's Midnight and Loudness modes, they only made a small improvement when we listened at late-night volume levels. At this point we switched over to the new Denon AVR-1913 receiver to put the VSX-1022-K's sound in perspective. With the AVR-1913, clarity and dynamic oomph improved and we were much more aware of the film's surround ambiance. Returning to the VSX-1022-K, the soundstage moved forward, closer to the front three speakers, and the surround speakers were harder to hear. We checked the surround channels volume levels with test tones, and they were correct.

With CDs the ARV-1913's bass definition and sound had more detail than the VSX-1022-K's. Sadly, there was little we can point to about the sound of the VSX-1022-K that we liked.

What about Pioneer's other AV receivers?
Pioneer makes an entire line of AV receivers, and the step-down VSX-822-K might seem a compelling alternative to the VSX-1022-K. The VSX-1022-K's step-up features (analog video upconversion, 7.1 channels, component video input, a few more analog audio inputs) aren't essential for most people, which is usually a good sign that the step-down model is a better value.

At the moment, however, the VSX-822-K's street price is actually higher than the VSX-1022-K's. That might just be a quirk of the moment, but there's no reason to pay more for the VSX-822-K.

Pioneer also offers the VSX-1122-K, but its step-up features (including one more HDMI input, more digital audio inputs, second-zone functionality, better speaker calibration, and a graphical user interface) won't be worth the extra cost for most buyers.

Pioneer has been one of our top AV receiver brands for the last few years, but the company's 2012 models don't stack up well against the competition. If you're set on getting a Pioneer, the VSX-1022-K is our pick of the company's line at the moment (since the VSX-822-K isn't currently cheaper), although other manufacturers usually offer better values.

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