Pioneer long ago mastered the art of building great-sounding receivers loaded with features and power, and the new VSX-D812K proves it once again. This model (listed at $365) boasts all the latest surround-processing modes, six 100-watt channels, and an interface that's pleasantly easy to use. It's nearly an identical twin of Pioneer's VSX-D912K, whose retail price is about $100 higher, but it lacks the D912K's fully automated setup, its front-panel digital input, and its superior remote control. Those three attractions will be worth the extra dough for many buyers, but for everyone else, the D812K is a great buy. The receiver's generic yet handsome styling should wear well over the years. The uncluttered aluminum front panel hides most of the less-used controls under a flip-down door. Considering the substantial power reserves lurking inside the D812K, the unit is fairly compact and measures just 15.5 inches deep. It weighs 23 pounds.
We were surprised to note that the D812K lacks an onscreen display for menu navigation, but we found the setup routine easy enough.
The remote provides direct access to stereo mode and standard Dolby or DTS surround and synthesized-surround modes. We programmed it to work with our TV and DVD player in just a few minutes. Pioneer's upgraded digital-to-analog converters are responsible for the D812K's superior sound quality, and the receiver's extensive surround modes run the gamut from Dolby Digital EX and Dolby Pro Logic II to DTS ES matrix and discrete processing. This model even includes the latest trick from DTS, 96/24 decoding, which lets you play DTS-encoded DVD-Audio discs without a DVD-Audio player.
The D812K's connectivity suite should accommodate all but the most complex home theaters. There are 7.1-channel SACD/DVD-Audio inputs, and--rare for receivers in this price range--the preamp outputs have a separate power amp, opening the door to future upgrades. Component-video switching for two sources is available, as well as inputs for three composite-video or S-Video sources. Digital-audio connections are plentiful: four inputs (two optical and two coaxial) and one optical output. You also get A/B speaker switching and heavy-duty speaker-binding posts. A full set of front-mounted A/V inputs is provided. We were skeptical about the D812K's generous 100-watt-per-channel power rating, but we were convinced once we heard how easily it drove our inefficient Dynaudio Contour speakers. Even after we had increased the power demands by running the three front speakers on the Large setting, the D812K didn't say uncle--this receiver will satisfy all but the most power-hungry home-theater fans. Even as we pushed the system to neighbor-deafening levels, the metal cover never got hot.
A number of scenes on the Auto Focus DVD take place in nightclubs, and the D812K put us in the thick of the action--the crowd's noise enveloped and filled our listening room. The onstage bands sounded as though they had actually been recorded as the cameras rolled, which added to their realism.
For the ultimate test of the D812K's sonics, we auditioned a few spectacular DVD-Audio discs. Fleetwood Mac's new one, Say You Will, came through fine, especially "Red Rover," with its ricocheting guitars bouncing across the surround speakers. That was pretty cool, but listening to Yes's 31-year-old Fragile album, recently remastered on DVD-A, was even better. Its rich tonal balance was sweeter, and the surround mix was more holographic. In other words, this receiver will let you hear all the quality encoded in your DVDs and your CDs.
For its part, the AM/FM tuner sounded cleaner and quieter than average and captured tough-to-receive college stations.