Pioneer – sounds like old times

Two years after it manufactured what still is the world’s best plasma television, and then promptly quit the flat panel TV business, Pioneer Electronics has returned to its audio heritage with a slew of new iPod docks, AV receivers and Blu-ray theatre systems it says respond to today’s key home entertainment trends.

Its 2010 music and video solutions are intended mate to a flat screen TV, connect to a iPod or iPhone, or network with other equipment for the purposes of either controlling or sharing music, video and web content.

The new line-up includes two iPod docks, four AV receivers and two Blu-ray home theatre systems, with prices ranging from $399 to $1299.

Wireless networking is common to most of the company’s new products, with home theatre-in-a-box solutions, AV receivers and iPod docks employing Bluetooth, DLNA or both. The company says it now offers Bluetooth music streaming (from A2DP compatible mobile phones and devices) in more products than any other brand, and that its Sound Retriever AIR technology virtually eliminates the background noise inherent to conventional Bluetooth streaming.

Pioneer’s implementation of DLNA version 1.5 improves on the existing DLNA spec by allowing greater control over streaming media – from server to source – via an iPhone or iPod Touch.

Download the free iControl AV app from the iTunes store, and these devices can also be used to control basic setup and operation features in select Pioneer AV receivers and forthcoming Blu-ray players. Plus, select models will also allow you to browse the cover art of a connected iPod in colour on a connected television… or televisions where the receiver supports multi-zone video distribution.

The products outlined below will be available from July 2010, with 3D Blu-ray players and a custom installation range of AV receivers scheduled for release from September. Here’s a rundown of the key products available by the end of this month.

iPod/iPhone docks

While the company’s current NAS3 ($699) and NAS5 ($899) iPod docks sat at the premium end of the price scale, the XWNAV1 is, at $399, sure to find a wider audience, especially towards Xmas.

Described as a “home theatre in a dock”, this looks just the business beneath a 26 inch flat screen and has USB ports for playing back digital music, DivX and JPG files, plus a slot-loading DVD player with 1080p upscaling via HDMI. Video from connected iPods/iPhone is handled by composite plugs, and you can copy a CD directly into a USB stick at 2x speed.

The XWNAC3 ($599) has dual docks that allow you to simultaneously charge an iPod and iPhone, as well as shuffle a playlist from the combined libraries of the two. The unit networks with a PC via DLNA version 1.5, which allows streaming music and internet radio to be controlled via an iPod or iPhone. It also provides Bluetooth music streaming.

Pioneer XW-NAC3
XW-NAC3: a charge and play dock for ‘his and her’ iPod/iPhones.

AV receivers

For bread and butter surround sound systems, Pioneer’s July-release AV receivers include the VSX520 ($499), VSX820 ($699), VSX920 ($1099) and VSX1020 ($1299).

All models integrate HDMI version 1.4 for use with 3D Blu-ray players and televisions, and all handle the high resolution high definition sound formats on Blu-ray. All are Bluetooth streaming capable with an optional dongle and come with the company’s MCACC automatic calibration and setup system. All come with dedicated digital cables for connecting an iPod or iPhone.

The VSX920 and VSX1020 add multi-zone capabilities for listening through speakers in another room, internet radio with 24 presets, Sound Retriever Air for improving Bluetooth audio quality, plus a colour view of your iTunes library on a connected TV, and iControlAV.

When connected over a home wi-fi network, this allows your iPod or iPhone to adjust the main volume, mute, select and switch inputs including multi-zones and display audio-video status information with tap of the screen of an iPod or iPhone. Use a roll and hold motion with your iPod and the iControl AV feature will turn two proprietary sound enhancements on or off. Use a tilt and hold motion and you can adjust the balance of your speakers for 360 degree sound levelling to match your present listening position. You can also adjust dialogue and bass levels of the centre speaker and subwoofer with the same manoeuvre.

Pioneer iControl AViControl AV allows you to control basic AV receiver and Blu-ray features using an iPod or iPhone.

Pioneer’s “everyman” receivers will be joined in September by models suitable for use in premium level custom installation systems. These will have RS232 for integration with home automation and control systems such as Crestron and AMX, 12 volt triggers for use with projection systems and THX Certification, including the new THX Loudness Plus for more audible rear effects.

To deliver the appropriate low-end impact, and compensate for a reduced sensitivity to bass, THX calibrates its systems so that bass in the rear channels is played back 10dB louder than bass in other channels. The extra volume is noticeable when the soundtrack is played at the reference level used in studios and cinemas (and by THX when calibrating systems), but because home systems are rarely played at reference-level (ie. very loud), it can be hard to hear the surround sound channels in your living room.

THX Loudness Plus allows you to turn the volume down at the front speakers, but leave the surrounds loud so that the front-to-back audio relationship is balanced, and you are able to better hear the surround effects in a movie. The new models will include the VSXLX53 (1999), VSXLX73 (2499), VSXLX83 ($2999). Pricing is indicative only.

Blu-ray home theatre systems

Pioneer’s two 5.1 Blu-ray home theatres systems integrate Bluetooth receivers for streaming music from Bluetooth computers and phones, CD/DVD and BD playback, CD ripping to USB at 2x speed, DLNA networking, and Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio Essential decoding for high resolution surround from select Blu-ray discs.

Both ship with a dedicated cradle for connected an iPhone or iPod and come with high-gloss finish acrylic black speakers – the HTZ-606BD with cube-like satellites for $699 and the HTZ-808BD with tall boys for $899.

Pioneer 606
The satellite speakers packaged with the HTZ-606BD are available separately  for $599.