Price (RRP): $2,499
The cornerstone of any good home theatre system is the receiver, and Pioneer?s VSX-AX4AVi 7.1-channel AV receiver delivers excellent value for money. Key features include high performance 7 x 270 watts of power, i.Link terminals plus Phase Control, Standing Wave Control, HDMI, and iPod Control.
For the audiophiles, the VSX-AX4AVi can decode and output all currently available surround sound formats, including DTS-ES, DTS 96/24, DTS NEO:6, Dolby Pro-Logic IIx, and WMA9 Pro in full 7.1 multichannel surround audio. Interestingly, the AX4 wears an AIR Studios logo, which indicates that it has been developed in collaboration with George Martin?s (ex-Beatles producer) AIR Studios in England. The relationship results, according to Pioneer, in the accurate duplication of this world-famous dubbing studio?s monitoring methods in your listening room ? and intensifies the emotion and excitement of what you see and hear.
There is no question that the AX4 delivers on the audio front. Using a variety of audio sources with a 6.1 system, the receiver pumped out excellent sound and was especially at home with surround sound movie sources.
The AX4 also provides an i.Link connection. i.Link is an advanced digital interface that allows all-digital transmission of audio signals ? such as from DVD-Audio and SACD ? at 400Mbps, with outstanding precision. i.Link also streamlines the connection between the source player and receiver.
An i.Link connection can be made between the VSX-AX4AVi-S AV receiver and the DV-989AViS DVD player. Audio (for example a DVD-Audio recording played on the DV-989AViS), is transferred to the VSX-AX4AVi-S i.Link-capable receiver in a completely digital state, maintaining the original high-quality level.
Previously, the transfer of audio information required the signal to be converted back and forth between digital and analog, which degrades the signal and results in higher noise levels. Plus, up to six analog cables are required for the transfer.
Keeping up with Jones?s, the AX4 comes with a dedicated Apple iPod terminal and an iPod connection cable. This means that you can link your iPod with the unit to enjoy music via your lounge room?s entertainment system. You can easily control the playback using the receiver?s remote control, and your monitor will display a menu screen for navigating the playlist ? similar to the way you?d find tracks on the iPod itself.
Pioneer?s remote control is pre-configured to work with a range of home entertainment products. All you need to do is simply enter the corresponding code of your component manufacturer (supplied in the receiver?s manual) and the remote will adopt these controls, so there?s no need for a pile of remotes. Pioneer?s multi-function remote control also has a learning function if the presets are not sufficient to control different devices.
On the downside, the LCD screen on the AX4?s remote is not backlit, making it almost impossible to see in a darkened movie room. This is a disappointment in a system that stakes a claim to offer such a high degree of sophistication.
Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System
Part of this sophistication is the AX4?s MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System) for fine-tuning the receiver?s output to suit room conditions. The MCACC microphone provides the ability to perfectly match the system?s surround sound performance with your entertainment room?s acoustic signature. The result is close to a perfectly balanced sound stage, allowing movie surround soundtracks to positively shine.
I should explain the principles behind Pioneer?s MCACC before I finish. In order for any speakers to perform at an optimal level in a particular room, they need to be fine-tuned for that room. It sounds complicated, but the AX4 has made it easy.
MCAC measures the ?acoustics? of a room and identifies ?sonic flaws? that the room itself may be creating. MCACC then applies sophisticated digital signal processing to each speaker and subwoofer to create a professional-quality multi-channel sonic performance from the sound system. Essentially, MCACC is precisely calculating how big a signal to send to each of the system?s individual speakers, and exactly when to send it. MCACC works in any room, regardless of shape or size, and set-up is easy.
The goal is to identify and neutralise areas of the room that are adversely affecting the overall sound field, and then make the equalisation adjustments necessary to create a true studio environment. This sounds like a complex process, but all it requires is positioning the microphone and pushing a button on the remote. That?s it!