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Pioneer VSX-1015TX review: Pioneer VSX-1015TX

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.

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