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Last month Ara picked up an Apple TV for use in his media room. That became the fourth HDMI device which was one device too many for his Yamaha RX-V2700 receiver. So he contacted Pioneer to see if he could review the Pioneer VSX-94TXH 7.1 A/V Receiver. In actuality, Ara was auditioning the receiver for his own personal use. Within a few days the receiver showed up and it's not going back! Just so everyone is clear, Ara has to pay for the receiver to keep it. 

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Features

  • HDMI® 1.3a (4 inputs/1 output)
  • DTS-HD® & Dolby® TrueHD Decoders
  • DLNA® Compliant Network Music and Internet Radio via I/P
  • Faroudja® DCDi Video Scaler
  • Advanced MCACC precision environment tuning - The auto calibration is the best that we have come across. We did not need to adjust any of the settings once it was done.

The VSX-94TXH is a beautiful machine albeit substantial in size and weight. The receiver weighs 41.4 lbs (18.7Kgs) and measures 16 9/16" (42 cm) x 7 3/8" (18.7 cm) x 18 1/16" (45.9 cm) (W x H x D). It has a nice piano black finish that looks great, but you can definitely see finger prints. But who actually touches their equipment? The size and weight are definitely put to use producing 140 watts of power per each of its seven channels. 

As an aside, when reading the product specs I ran across a term called Symmetrical Power Train Design. I couldn't find any documentation on what it was. But since it was in the product specification it must be important right? For nothing more than clarification we asked Pioneer what this was, this is their explanation:

The Pioneer Elite A/V receivers each feature power amps for seven channels. Accurate multi-channel sound reproduction is possible only when the operating environment of one channel is physically identical to that of the others. Therefore, with the new Pioneer Elite receivers, power output devices for the left channels (front, surround and surround back) are mounted on the heat sinks symmetrically with respect to the right channels.

Setup

Setup was as straight forward as it can be when introducing a new receiver into your system. Connections were simple since most of the gear being used supported HDMI. HDMI does make life easy in cable management and universal remote programming. The only complication was using an HDMI to DVI cable between the Mac Mini and the receiver. Since the DVI cable does not carry audio, the optical output of the Mini was connected to the DVD input of the receiver. We then had to tell the 94TXH to use one of the HDMI inputs for the video. In general we like the flexibility the receiver has in assigning inputs and outputs.

After everything was routed we ran the Pioneer auto calibration to tune the room. Auto calibration is something most manufacturers are putting into their systems to get the best sound out of their equipment. Most mid range and up receivers have some form of auto calibration. To start the process you connect an included microphone to an input on the front of the receiver and place it in the area you want the sound optimized for. The receiver will output a series of tones and measure the response at the microphone to find the optimal settings for your room.

On some receivers we've felt compelled to go in and manually tweak the final results. Not so with the Pioneer, the system accurately determined the size and distance of the speakers and was able to set the gains to the proper levels. Another feature we liked was the ability to have multiple calibration profiles. Say you play your video games while sitting on the floor. You can place the microphone in that area, run the calibration and store it off in one of the receiver memory positions. If your family doesn't care so much about perfect sound you can store multiple profiles (6) for different seats in your house and use the one that is optimized for the seat you are sitting in! 

Sound

We listened to the typical suite of material, compressed mp3s, music CDs, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital, and Dolby True HD. All sounded fantastic. Dialog was crisp and clear, effects were dramatic, and the LFE could shake you to the bone. Music CDs sounded great! We need to listen to more music on CDs or at least high bit rate rips of CDs. Also, please consider that much of our listening tests are a reflection on the speakers that we use. A high quality receiver like this needs to be paired with high quality speakers to get the most out of it.

One feature that we found interesting is something called "Sound Retriever". This technology is supposed to bring back some of the high frequency sound that is lost with compressed audio. We did notice an improvement with this feature enabled but to tell you the truth, buy high bit rate music or rip them with at a minimum of 256Kbps (lossless is even better). Then you won't need technology like this and your audio will sound like it was meant to be.

Although there is no sound quality difference between having Dolby True HD or DTS Master Audio decoded on a receiver it was still nice to see "True HD" or "DTS Master Audio" light up in the receiver's display. However, with my Blu Ray Player, the only way to hear DTS Master Audio is to have the receiver decode it. The receiver definitely has the power to drive a 7.1 system and fill a large room with sound!

Video

Nowadays, receivers are also about video. The 94TXH has a Faroudja video scaler built into it and it will perform video switching for you. The issue we had with it was that receiver would not upconvert 1080i or 720p source material to 1080p. Nor would it upconvert a signal coming in over the HDMI inputs. For Ara's use, scaling adds zero value.

As far as switching goes, the player passed the signal through to the TV unaltered. We did not experience any HDCP issues with any of our equipment. Having four inputs makes programming the Harmony Remote a snap. I did not need to do any tweaking to get the activities to work the way I wanted.

Odds and Ends

The 94TXH has some extras that don't cost extra. It comes complete with an iPod cable which allows you to listen and watch your content on your TV through the receiver. We didn't spend too much time with this because we had a Mac Mini connected to the receiver. There is an Ethernet connection which allows for Internet radio and streaming music via and DLNA server. We couldn't find a way to do an update to the firmware via the network connection, nor could we find a way to access the settings via a web based interface. And that would be nice considering the on screen GUI looks like something that was considered good in 1985. The remote is jam packed with buttons that you may never use so your Harmony remote is almost required.

Conclusion

Overall, Ara liked the receiver enough to bump his current receiver to the family room. Sound is very good, build quality is first rate and you get an iPod connection cable included in the deal. Four HDMI inputs make the 94TXH a very capable HDMI switch! We were a bit disappointed that the receiver would not scale a 1080i or 720p signal to 1080p and that we couldn't find a way to get our 480i signal via HDMI to scale to 1080p. The remote and on screen user interface was not worthy of an otherwise stellar product.

Posted by The HT Guys, March 14, 2008 9:17 AM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.