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Pioneer VSX-D811S review: Pioneer VSX-D811S

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The Good Prodigious power; Dolby EX/DTS-ES 6.1-channel surround processing; compatible with Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio; component-video switching; A/B speaker outputs; AM/FM tuner; very high-quality digital converters.

The Bad No phono input or onscreen display.

The Bottom Line Pioneer's midpriced receiver performs like an upmarket model.

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8.0 Overall

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Pioneer's impressive, midpriced A/V receiver, dubbed the VSX-D811S, has pretty much everything that you need: the latest surround-processing technology, prodigious power reserves, plentiful connectivity options, and great sound. Pioneer's impressive, midpriced A/V receiver, dubbed the VSX-D811S, has pretty much everything that you need: the latest surround-processing technology, prodigious power reserves, plentiful connectivity options, and great sound.

Fully loaded
Pioneer positively stuffed the D811S with useful features and technology, but thanks to its nifty, flip-down front panel, the receiver's clean, unbroken lines bespeak a minimalist, high-end aesthetic. The flip-down door keeps most of the rarely used buttons, controls, and extensive front-panel-mounted A/V inputs out of sight. Surround-processing modes include Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES Discrete to deliver six-channel sound for movies, along with Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6 to synthesize natural-sounding surround from stereo sources such as CDs and radio. The D811S has six 100-watt-per-channel amplifiers.

The speaker outputs--which include hookups for a second room as well as a total of four surround speakers (two side and two rear) for the main room--use good-quality, binding-post connectors. The D811S also sports 7.1-channel input capability for Super Audio CD, DVD-Audio (DVD-A), and future multichannel formats; component-video switching, including two inputs and one output; and preamp outputs so that you can upgrade to a separate power amp. And Pioneer wasn't stingy with the digital-audio connections--we counted five inputs and one output. S-Video connections are also abundant. Only vinyl lovers' needs are unfulfilled by the D811S, as the receiver lacks a phono input.

The preprogrammed remote is fairly easy to use overall, and we appreciate the fact that Pioneer doesn't lump all Dolby/DTS surround and synthesized signal-processing modes together. That's cool because you can always get to standard Dolby/DTS with just one button click.

Since the D811S lacks an onscreen display, we expected to muddle our way through system setup. However, we found the procedure to be straightforward. Unusually, the D811S's subwoofer crossover can be adjusted to optimally blend with small, medium, or large satellites. Our review sample was finished in silver, but this Pioneer is also available in black.

Performance that you can feel
The best home-theater components deliver sound that truly adds a visceral kick to the experience of watching movies or listening to music. That's a tall order for a midpriced receiver, but the D811S--partnered with our Energy Take 5.2 satellites and Energy S8.2 subwoofer--was more than up to the job. We fully cranked up our favorite war flick, The Thin Red Line, but the D811S's power reserves were never close to being stressed. With 100 watts per channel on tap, we expected that kind of potency, but the receiver also had the ability to delve into the more subtle, ambient cues that populate the scene with John Travolta on the deck of a warship.

We trotted out a pile of DVD-A discs to fully exploit the D811S's highest fidelities, but it was Willie Nelson's smoky, all-instrumental Night and Day DVD that made us sit up and take notice. Nelson's tight, little band cooks up lush textures and full, rich harmonics from the jaunty fiddle, the piano, the bass, and the guitar. The surround mix is tasteful, and the sound quality is keenly balanced and natural.

Considering that the D811S costs just $475 (list) and has a street price as low as $299, this receiver is clearly one of the better deals out there. Its combination of features, performance, and value earn it an Editors' Choice award. pioneer vsx

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