Sugg. Retail: $1199 (CAN)
Distributor: Pioneer Electronics
of Canada, Inc.,
300 Allstate Parkway, Markham, Ont.
FAX (905) 946-7427
(Reprinted from the Fall 97 Audio Ideas Guide)
A whole new generation of digital receivers is coming into the market, typefied by this Dolby Digital one from Pioneer, able to play DVD discs (and laserdiscs in this case) directly from the digital output of a player or transport. The VSX- D906S will automatically select the correct input/mode, favouring digital when such a signal is present, and defaulting to Pro Logic when one isn’t. This receiver also has an internal RF demodulator to handle the bitstream from laserdiscs, thus also able to decode LD stereo digital audio.
Unusually powerful all around, the VSX-D906S is rated at 100 wpc in all channels; power is something manufacturers are paying attention to with discrete surround sound. In a matrix system there will always be a bias to the front channels except for effects, but with discrete surround, anything is possible from any direction. I was reminded of this last night watching the extraordinary DVD of The Witches of Eastwick, in particular, the scene in which Jack Nicholson is snoring loudly in the back row of the hall during a string quartet performance; in the spectacular remix, he is directly behind, and a very loud sawing it is indeed (one of the great joys of DVD is that soundtracks can be fully realized as they were in the theatre, or even better!).
There are several digital inputs, a Toslink for PCM or Dolby Digital, 2 similarly configured coaxials, and an additional RCA that handles an RF-modulated signal. The analog inputs for CD, Tape 1 and 2, and Phono have RCA pairs, while DVD/TV, LD-SAT, VCR 1 and 2 all have the analog audio pairs plus RCA coax video supplemented by S-Video inputs. The only A/V input lacking a parallel S-video is the front-panel one at lower left, which makes temporarily hooking up a camcorder or second VCR very simple. There are no 6-channel discrete audio inputs here, all surround decoding done internally. 6-channel RCA outputs are offered, these all preamp outs for use with additional amplifiers or for sound in another room. Only the digital input RCAs are gold-plated.
For whatever reason, perhaps with multi-room in mind, Pioneer has provided separate right and left stereo outputs in addition to the FR, FL, C, SR, and SL speaker outs, all plastic-nut 5-way binding posts. I suppose that if you wanted to use different stereo speakers for music listening, this is useful, but that adds up to 7 speakers in the room. The VSX- D906S also provides 3 AC power outlets, 2 of them switched.
A menu system used to set up the characteristics of the receiver is based around Pioneer’s Graphic User Interface system (GUI: I always think of it as “Gooey”, since I tend to get stuck in these things; I can’t successfully program a VCR to timeshift, either). Speaker size (Large/Small: this adds low-end rolloff in the latter case), Channel levels and delays, and subwoofer characteristics can all be set using this System Set Up mode and the on-screen graphics. Probably as a result of the GUI system, the remote control is relatively simple (39 buttons), the same size as that for a Pioneer TV, with only essential controls immediately at hand, including some to run other components (Pioneer or other brands) such as TVs and LD/DVD players. The downside to this is that even a simple adjustment like changing the rear-channel level requires going into Set Up mode. My personal view is that channel level control should be directly accessible.
The receiver’s AM/FM tuner has 30 presets, and also allows direct numeric access using the remote’s number buttons, but it’s not quite direct in that you must first press Tuner, then Enter (for AM or FM), and then a button labelled DISC, before you key in the station frequency (eg; 106.30), and you must press the 5th digit of that (always a 0) to make it work. Man, this is getting really GUI! However, 30 memories are available in 3 banks, so once preprogrammed, your station selection should be much easier.
I evaluated the tuner’s FM quality using a Canadian-made Lindsay crossed dipole 300-ohm FM antenna that I’ve recently mounted on our antenna tower, using a matching transformer and the cable that previously brought the signal from the now-derelict Alphastar satellite dish (there’s another story to be told!) into our home theatre room. Mounted a little higher than our GAM whip antenna, the Lindsay bowtie type should offer similar sensitivity, both being omnidirectional and unamplified. Using it, the VSX-D906S pulled in an impressive 45 signals, most of them quite listenable in stereo, with surprisingly good selectivity, able to sort out the group of stations at 102.9, 103.1, 103.3, and 103.5 quite well; it was too noisy for stereo listening on WNED-FM at 94.5, but free of any breakthrough from CBC Radio Two at 94.1. I heard relatively little multipath interference. This is one of the better tuners that I’ve encountered in receivers or compact systems.
Now, getting back to the GUI business described above, I suppose I could spend several pages describing other operational aspects (and quirks) of the VSX-D906S, But what’s a manual for, anyway? It’s a complex receiver, with a lot in it for the money, and the company’s goal has been to get all the hard stuff out of the way initially, and then let you use the remote’s 39 buttons effectively. And to make it even more versatile, this remote is not only preprogrammed with other manufacturers’ codes, but will also learn individual commands for other components. Except for those products with very unusual infrared signals or those having UHF-only codes (some satellite receivers), any A/V component should be at least partially controllable by the Pioneer remote. It can also be programmed to provide macro operation, as many as 10 consecutive commands possible.
There are many more possible programming options, including naming up to 100 CDs for use with “file-type players.” Suffice it to say that a full 20 pages of the manual is devoted to “Various Operations.” Sounds like a medical textbook.
As well, a coloured card is provided to help in understanding the remote’s capabilities, and an extra 4-page fold-out supplement offers step-by-step system setup. It’s not exactly Home Theatre for Dummies, but close. Especially in my case. I like things simple: you press a button and it works.
However, I did manage to successfully set the VSX-906S up, and started watching movies with it, and after properly configuring the Toslink input, found everything working fine as far as surround was concerned. There’s also a front-panel (not duplicated on remote) Direct button that bypasses tone controls and operates only in stereo mode.
Just about the first thing I noticed was that the VSX-D906S runs pretty hot, which shouldn’t be too surprising with a total of 500 watts (FTC measured) able to be generated. This is one of the most powerful receivers in my experience, and quite compact for all that. The amplifier output stages are said to be “Hex power MOS FET output transistors.”
The Dolby Digital decoding worked well with either laserdisc or DVD, the RF demodulator and 6-channel decoder easily deciding what signal was present when the correct input (LD/SAT or DVD) was selected. Channel separation and the overall transient precision and location of Dolby Digital images were unusually good, approaching that of our reference Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier, though that amp has twice the power of the VSX-D906S.This is a receiver that need not take a back seat to separates, the best sound from a Pioneer receiver that I’ve yet heard.