Sugg. Retail: $5999.00 (CAN)
Distributor: Pioneer Electronics
of Canada, Inc.,
300 Allstate Parkway, Markham, Ont.
FAX (905) 946-7427
(Reprinted from the Fall 02 Audio Ideas Guide)
According to the manual, the VSX-49TX is “the first receiver in the world to be THX Ultra2 certified”. Among the new technologies embodied in this are “ASA (Advanced Speaker Array [in case you thought it might be something for a headache]), which can process any 5.1 channel source for 7.1 channel playback (THX Ultra2 Cinema and THX MusicMode), or 6.1 channel playback (THX Surround EX).”
“The VSX-49TX is also among the first generation of products able to play discs that feature high quality DTS 96/24 soundtracks. Naturally, you can also play all existing audio formats, including the recently developed Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS-ES Extended Surround formats. On the video side, the component video output is fully compatible with high definition, progressive-scan digital video (720p).”
“This receiver features eight discrete channels of analog inputs, each with 96kHz/24bit A/D converters. This makes it ideal for use with all audio formats, including DVD-Audio, and allows very high quality digital processing.”
“The receiver uses a revolutionary 3-D Frame Construction technique and a Symmetrical Power Train Design, with high performance Advanced Direct Energy MOS-FET output devices, generating 160 watts (FTC 6ohm) of power for 7 independent channels. True 32-bit Tri Digital Signal Processing is used for ultra realistic sound.”
“In order to make setting up as easy as possible for users we have created the MCACC system” [Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System]. “With the included microphone plugged into the front panel the MCACC system creates a monitoring environment to establish the parameters of the sound for the specific room you are using. The MCACC system adjusts the parameters to establish excellent surround effects and offers you studio quality home theater with minimum effort.”
In other words, the receiver sets its channel levels, equalization, and other adjustments using the test signals as heard by the microphone from the approximate viewing and listening position. Finally, the company that pioneered (so to speak) heavily layered menus that they called GUI (Graphic User Interface - I called them “Gooey”) has embraced simplicity in making its most full-featured and complex receiver work.
The key to this is the entirely new LCD touch panel remote control. Its combination of hard (assigned) buttons and touch screen ones makes it easy to control a whole home theatre system, especially if they’re all Pioneer components. It also learns code sequences and instructions for other brands. I’ll come back to the remote later.
Another interesting feature of the VSX-49TX is its provision of video format conversion, which will convert S or composite video signals to component mode for output to the monitor. Component video and digital audio inputs can be assigned to various components so they are quickly accessible on the remote control.
The VSX-49TX is a very complex receiver, and with a manual that runs to more than 100 pages, considerable orientation will be necessary, though this can be spread over time because of its auto setup and intuitive remote control system. It’s one of those manuals where you can read a chapter a day and master most functions within a week or two.
Needless to say, the Elite VSX-49TX receiver has a great many audio and video inputs, capable of handling every type of A/V device or digital audio component. It also has a profusion of surround listening modes, which I won’t itemize here. Some are related to Pro Logic II, some to THX, while SX and TX set up 5.1 sources for 6.1 or 7.1 reproduction, providing the extra channels by matrix derivation.
After connecting the 49TX to the DV-47A, and speakers, I sent its output to the SIM2 HT300 via composite and component cables. The DVD player was set up for progressive scan output via the latter output.
The choice of speakers may surprise, but it occurred to me that with part of the Acoustic Calibration being EQ, that timbre matching was an interesting part of the process. To test that facility of the 49TX, I chose the Paradigm Phantom in its newest v3 iteration and the on-hand Aperion satellites as rears. To further see what the MCACC system could do, I opted to eliminate the centre channel and the subwoofer (having set the receiver thusly in terms of output), surmising that it would be interesting to see what would happen with a basic 4-channel configuration.
MCACC is an extensive, sophisticated process. You set the microphone at the approximate listening position, in this case on top of our couch’s back right behind and just below where my head would be. I ran the process with and without my body in the listening seat, and didn’t see much difference, but felt it got a better read from the front speakers without my body blocking the microphone.
A series of tones sets a reference level for all channels, adjusts them individually for level matching, then comparing front and surround, and then EQs each channel individually, first in the lower frequencies, and then in the upper ones. It appears to be an octave equalization system, not as sophisticated as the expensive TACT room EQ, but certainly effective with all but the worst performing speakers.
And though I was intentionally under-using the capabilities of this receiver, it performed very well with just 4 speakers, with extended bass from the Phantoms and excellent response from the small Aperions (set to Large). I did trim the levels a bit manually to bring up the rear channels, and to shift the front balance a little more to the right; an automatic system like the MCACC cannot compensate for things it doesn’t know, like equipment racks on one side of the room, and differences in reflectivity of room wall surfaces.
Once the quick setup was done, the learning began with the 49TX. The remote control is the best yet from Pioneer, truly universal, able to be programmed by code or command, and able to operate any Pioneer component initially. It lights up at the press of a button at upper left, but remains dormant to save battery power as far as the LCD display is concerned. This display is flanked by soft (but assigned) buttons in vertical rows, at left selection and control of receiver, DVD/LD, VCR1/DVR (digital video recorder), VCR2, VCR 3, and TV; on the right side are Remote Setup, CD, CD-R/Tape 1, Tuner, Video, Sat, and TV Control. To the right of these are real hard buttons for basic TV functions, a nice touch for a much used appliance, especially for owners of Pioneer RPTVs.
At bottom are cursor buttons for Setup, et cetera: Power, Master Volume, Muting, and Multi Operation. This latter button is the key to programming sequential commands, up to 5 in all, for easy system operation.
In Tuner mode, the Left/Right cursor buttons allow scanning of presets, while the Up/Down ones scan frequencies in .2 MHz intervals, ie., 88.1, 88.3, and so on. In this way I scanned the FM band, using our bowtie (double dipole) outdoor antenna to assess the tuner’s reception capability. To say I was impressed would understate things considerably, this FM section the best tuner I’ve seen this side of a McIntosh, pulling in 50 stations in average reception conditions, with selectivity to burn. It got better quality reception from WNED-FM at 94.5 than my Fanfare FT-1, and also sorted out the group of stations just above 103.1, and sounded good all the while. This is easily the best tuner I’ve ever heard in a receiver, so the serious radio listener should check out the 49TX. Its multipath is not a problem: stations are either received in good stereo or not at all.
In an age when even expensive receivers use chip front ends that suck, Pioneer is to be congratulated for its attention to detail. But then, maybe they just pulled the circuit out of one of their better Premier car units, say, a SuperTuner III; this receiver reminds me of what I hear in my car, where the FM competes well in sound quality with DAB broadcasting.
So we’ve dealt with the basics: a great sounding receiver with a superb tuner in stereo. We also have a 7-channel unit that automatically sets itself up in your room, needing just a little tweaking thereafter. I’ve outlined the THX, DTS, and Dolby Digital goodies (the Unholy Trinity), and you can try them out with this receiver. I didn’t have time or inclination. I don’t need 7 channels in my 14′ by 16′ room, and the 4 I used with the 49TX sounded superb. The sound was effortlessly powerful and very open and clean.
There are myriad functions that you can learn to love and hate, such as the Advanced Cinema modes (Action, Sci-Fi, Drama, Musical, Monofilm, X-D Theater) and the Advanced Concert modes (Classical, Chamber, Jazz, Rock, Dance, and X-CH Stereo), and I admit to not trying any of them. The main reason is that this receiver sounds so good without any of these distortion generators. The same goes for all the THX crap. When will they ever learn?
If you want a close to state-of-the-art receiver that pretty much sets itself up for you, sounding great right out of the box (if you don’t get a hernia getting it out at its 64 pounds), then have a serious look and listen to the Pioneer Elite VSX-49TX multichannel receiver. It rocks.