Most of the lesser-used controls and buttons on the Pioneer VSX-1015TX live behind a large flip-down door on the handsome front panel. The exposed controls are well labeled and easy to use. The onscreen menus and navigation are more logical than most, and we felt right at home just a few minutes after opening the box and hooking up the necessary cables. Unlike some other models in Pioneer's A/V receiver line, the 1015TX is available only in black.
Pioneer's autosetup program, the MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration), has always been one of our favorites, so when we heard it had been revamped, we were nervous the engineers might have messed up a good thing. Happily, they followed the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought: the new MCACC still balances the satellite speakers' volume levels, measures speaker-to-listener distances, and determines the various "sizes" of the speakers. Additionally, it equalizes the sound of your speakers in your room--a feature not found in earlier iterations--and includes the microphone needed to measure the levels. If you don't like the effect of the equalization, go into the 1015TX's manual MCACC mode and adjust the tonal balance of each speaker. This exceptional versatility is a welcome advance over that of the original system, and Pioneer deserves praise for devising the most accurate autosetup system on the planet. We're not going to name names here, but some competitors' auto systems are so poorly implemented, they do more harm than good.
Most A/V receivers' technical specifications are pretty useless, but the one that carries a lot of weight with us is weight. Paying lip service to quality is easy; massive power supplies and amplifiers are expensive and heavy. The 1015TX weighs almost 34 pounds and measures 16.8 inches wide, 6.75 inches high, and 18.3 inches deep.
The long and slender remote's LCD window displays the selected source, and we found the button layout easy to fathom. Curiously, you can't select the SACD/DVD-Audio input from the remote--the front-panel button is the only way to access it.
Pioneer's Digital Core Engine performs CD and 7.1-channel Dolby and DTS signal processing with a high-speed (180MIPS) Motorola 48-bit chip--the company claims the same chip is used in professional Dolby and DTS theater systems. (The receiver also features Windows Media 9.0 decoding, though that's of dubious value.) Pioneer's Advanced Direct Energy MOSFET amplifiers deliver 120 watts to each of its 7 channels. The THX Select 2 certification indicates that the receiver passed THX's rigorous performance tests.
Connectivity options are solid: three sets of component-video inputs; five A/V inputs (four on the rear, one on the front panel); five digital inputs (three optical--including the single front panel--and two coaxial); one optical output; two stereo analog inputs and one output; and a complete set of analog 5.1-channel SACD/DVD-Audio inputs and 7.1-channel preamp outputs. A/B speaker switching is possible but only if you forfeit the 1015TX's 7.1-channel capabilities and use 5.1 sound in your main room. The biamping-hookup option forgoes 7.1 operation as well; that upgrade is intended for use with compatible front-left and front-right speakers (the speaker must have separate connectors for its woofer and tweeter). Biamping speakers somewhat improves the bass definition and midrange clarity.
While the VSX-1015TX is generously appointed for a midrange receiver, it has notable shortcomings. It can upconvert composite and S-Video (VCRs or older cable boxes, for instance) to component-video output, but it lacks any provisions for passing or switching the latest HDMI A/V components. Buyers interested in multiroom connectivity won't find much to cheer about: the 1015TX lacks RS-232 control, 12-volt triggers, or IR jacks. And unlike some competitors in this price range, the VSX-1015TX lacks an A/V-sync feature to allow the receiver to correct lip-sync problems that occur with some flat-screen TVs.
If you like the 1015TX but want to save some dough, check out Pioneer's step-down model, the VSX-915. You'll save $175 on the list price and still get the excellent MCACC autosetup, but the 915 lacks its big brother's THX certification and component-video upconversion.
We had a blast evaluating the home-theater prowess of the Pioneer VSX-1015TX. The big receiver sounded powerful and refined, so even the most strenuous DVDs never caught it off guard. From the first round's opening bell, the Million Dollar Baby DVD pummeled the 1015TX without mercy. We felt Hilary Swank's every punch connect, and when her opponents slammed down to the mat, we sensed their pain. As she quickly moved up through the ranks and the arenas grew bigger and bigger, the 1015TX cued us in to the sounds of the ever-larger bloodthirsty crowds--the excitement was palpable. Morgan Freeman's narration was never less than present and natural.
We were so impressed with the 1015TX's muscular sound that we pulled out our favorite new torture test for receivers, Babatunde Olatunji's Circle of Drums SACD. The disc wasn't as much fun to listen to on Sony's STR-DE698, which inhibited the massively deep bass pulses and grooves. By contrast, the Pioneer VSX-1015TX was in its glory, pounding out the African master's "Rhythmic Vibrations" all around us. The sense of scale of the sound, the deep resonance of the drums, and the tactile sense of hands on the skins made this disc a sublime experience. Plain-vanilla CDs, in stereo or decoded to surround, also sounded fabulous.