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Pioneer VSX-1022-K review: Pioneer VSX-1022-K

Pioneer's midrange AV receiver packs in some high-profile features, but also has some surprising omissions. Is it a good fit for your home theater?

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Matthew Moskovciak Steve Guttenberg
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Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

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Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

8 min read

The rate of AV receiver innovation is painfully slow compared with the growth of other living-room technology, but Pioneer has often been at the forefront, adding features like AirPlay and iPhone-friendly USB ports before other manufacturers. Its 2012 lineup is uncharacteristically bland, however, and the VSX-1022-K doesn't have much to recommend it over competing models. Yes, there's AirPlay, but that's no longer an exclusive feature, nor is it definitively better than buying a separate Apple TV. And, yes, the VSX-1022-K has built-in networking features, but its selection of streaming-audio services is meager, plus it strangely can't update its firmware over the network, unlike most network AV receivers. Our subjective listening tests were also disappointing, even though we've liked Pioneer's sound in the past.

Pioneer VSX-1022-K
7.2

Pioneer VSX-1022-K

The Good

The <b>Pioneer VSX-1022K</b> features six HDMI inputs and built-in AirPlay. The AV receiver has built-in networking, with support for Pandora, DLNA, and Internet radio, plus you can control it from your smartphone. Discounts can bring the price down significantly.

The Bad

The VSX-1022-K has some puzzling omissions, such as the lack of second-zone audio functionality and limited streaming-audio support. It can't update its firmware over its network connection, plus its Wi-Fi dongle costs $150. The user interface can at times look quite rough. Pioneer only offers a one-year warranty, rather than the standard two years offered by others. And sound quality was disappointing in our listening tests.

The Bottom Line

The Pioneer VSX-1022-K's combination of six HDMI inputs and AirPlay looks good from afar, but this AV receiver is only worth considering if you can find it heavily discounted.

The only thing the VSX-1022-K has going for it is that it's currently heavily discounted from its $450 list price. At the moment, you can get it for as little as $280 and at that price it compares favorably with Onkyo's excellent TX-NR414. But the VSX-1022-K's price usually hovers closely to $350, where it's not nearly as attractive.

Overall, the Pioneer VSX-1022-K is a middling AV receiver, but it's worth considering if you can get it at a deep discount. Otherwise, check out CNET's top AV receiver picks for a better value.

Design
AV receivers tend to all look the same, but Pioneer's models have a distinctive black and gold look that sets them apart. There are two large knobs, for selecting inputs and adjusting the volume, with a wide glossy black strip covering the middle of the unit. Overall it's a flashier look than most receivers, which isn't quite our tastes, but that's a matter of personal preference.

The included remote isn't the worst I've seen this year (that would be Yamaha's), but it's not great either. Unlike Denon's relatively simple remote, Pioneer's clicker is covered with tiny buttons, most of which you'll never use. Do yourself a favor and replace it with a quality universal remote.

Pioneer has a confusing selection of smartphone apps, including iControlAV, iControlAV2, iControlAV2012, and ControlApp, making it difficult to know which one you need to control the VSX-1022-K. By trial and error, we eventually figured out it's ControlApp and it worked reasonably well once it connected to the receiver. The big benefit is that you can browse streaming services using the app rather than the receiver's clunky user interface, although it's disappointing that you can't search for Internet radio stations.

User interface
The VSX-1022-K has a text-based user interface consisting of largely blocky white text. The Pioneer's text looks a little better than many competitors' UI text, and the large font size is especially appreciated, but it's still hard to accept the low-tech look in 2012 when everything else connected to your TV looks vastly better.

Pioneer VSX-1022-K user interface

Pioneer VSX-1022-K user interface

The bare-bones look fared even worse when we used streaming-media services. While there is cover art when playing back tracks from Pandora, it looked pretty terrible on CNET's 58-inch Samsung PN58B650. The TV doesn't handle 480i video over HDMI well (which is the video format the Pioneer outputs) and the resulting picture looks slightly shaky and unstable. That won't be a problem with every TV, but I also haven't seen another recent receiver with the same issue.

Features

Click to enlarge.

Six HDMI inputs: The VSX-1022-K has six HDMI inputs, all on the rear panel, which should be enough for most home theaters. If you want the most HDMI connectivity for your buck, however, go with Onkyo: the TX-NR616 ($430) and TX-NR515 ($340) both offer eight HDMI inputs. The rest of the Pioneer VSX-1022-K's connectivity is on the skimpy side, particularly with just two digital audio inputs, but I wouldn't worry about that too much since nearly all modern home theater components support HDMI. (Check out CNET's 2012 AV receiver spreadsheet for a more detailed comparison of AV receivers' connectivity.)

Built-in networking: The VSX-1022-K's Ethernet port allows for all kinds of networking functionality, including AirPlay, smartphone control, and media streaming via Pandora, DLNA and Internet radio. Shockingly, the VSX-1022-K cannot perform firmware upgrades over its network connection; you need to download the firmware from Pioneer's Web site to a USB drive instead. It's a frustrating limitation that other network-connected AV receivers don't suffer from.

I still don't think networking is an absolutely essential AV receiver feature (largely because AV receivers shouldn't be media streamers), but it's a nice bonus. The VSX-1022-K's set of streaming-audio apps is very limited compared with competitors', so if you won't be using a separate media streamer or iOS device (with AirPlay), you'll get more options, like Spotify, from Onkyo's network receivers.

Note that Pioneer does offer a Wi-Fi accessory (AS-WL300), but it's prohibitively expensive at $150. You're better off using a separate Wi-Fi alternative to get the VSX-1022-K on your home network if you don't have Ethernet in your living room.

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.

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.

Conclusion
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.

Pioneer VSX-1022-K
7.2

Pioneer VSX-1022-K

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6
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