Pioneer has a history of marrying high performance with cutting edge tech in its Elite line, often with price tags to match the name. One needs only Google the company’s $7000, SC-09TX from a few years ago to see how this receiver made quite the splash. With its cutting edge, Bang and Olufsen-sourced ICE-powered amplifiers, over 70 (!) pound weight and ginormous build, the SC-09TX was a force to be reckoned with.
But a few years time and a downturn in the economy apparently affected Pioneer, too. Long gone is anything resembling a stratospherically-priced or gargantuan sized receiver, and the Elite line as a whole has steadily come down in both design ambition and price over the years: the current top of the line model has a comparatively reasonable suggested retail price of $2550.
This leads us to the subject of this review, Pioneer’s Elite-labeled VSX-70 receiver. With a suggested MSRP of $749 and a street price just under $600, the VSX-70 is the second-to-lowest priced Elite receiver we’ve seen yet. And while it doesn’t include Pioneer’s D3 amplification nor any other cutting edge tech, its feature set and Elite branding promise quite a bit of performance under the hood. We dig in to see how much performance this baby Elite has on tap.
Out of the Box
First, the good: We’ve got to give props to Pioneer for making the VXS-70’s front panel look less “busy” than some other receivers we’ve seen. It’s certainly more visually pleasing than some Pioneer receivers of yesteryear, what with its large, twin source and volume knobs flanking the central display. We also thought the blue halo-lit power button was a nice touch.
By the look of things, we initially thought that the VSX-70 had a drop-down panel on its lower front apron, but that turned out not to be the case. Luckily, all of the operating buttons residing on the front panel are quite inconspicuous in appearance, leading to a refreshingly streamlined aesthetic – at least for Pioneer.
Now, the not-so-good: We were more than a bit bummed to see that the VSX-70 doesn’t look anything like the Elite-branded Pioneer receivers we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the years: Gone is the sumptuous, high-gloss, “Urushi” black-finish that was the line’s trademark for so long. Instead, this latest Elite model sports a more utilitarian, faux-brushed, plastic façade.
In fact, were it not for the actual “Elite” script on the front panel, the VSX-70 would look identical to any other receiver from Pioneer’s main line offerings, not to mention an awful lot like every other me-too receiver out there. Call us crazy, but we’ve come to realize we’d take that outdated, pseudo ‘90s-era vibe Pioneer was throwing down with its Urushi finish over the current look any day of the week. We understand, though, that some folks may see the absence of that slick gloss-black finish as a bonus; so if you’re raising your hand right about now, you’ll probably find more to like about the new-look Elites than we did.
After fully unboxing this receiver, we also noticed that much of the heft we’ve come to expect from an Elite line model has gone missing. The VSX-70 tips the scales at just over 21 lbs, which is less than normal for a receiver with a full-band, 20-20kHz, 90 WPC x7 power rating. In fact, the VSX-70 is only about ¾ of a pound heavier than the 50 WPC-rated Marantz N1602 which serves as our daily user. Still, the proof is in the listening, so we’ll hold off on making any judgment calls based on weight alone.
In the box we found a remote control and two AAA batteries to go with it, a detachable IEC power cord, AM and FM antennas, MCACC setup mic, Easy Setup guide, and an AVNavigator CD-ROM with downloadable owners manual. Like many others, Pioneer no longer includes a full paper manual with the VSX-70, but one can be downloaded online or printed from the CD-ROM.
Features and design
As mentioned previously, Pioneer rates its VSX-70 as 90 x 7 watts per channel power over a full 20 Hz – 20 kHz bandwidth into 8 ohms. While this sounds like plenty of power, it’s unclear how many channels are driven simultaneously to produce this rating, which could explain the lower than expected weight for a traditional class A/B design.
…were it not for the actual “Elite” script on the front panel, the VSX-70 would look identical to any other receiver from Pioneer’s main line offerings.
Perhaps the lightweight chassis is a byproduct of a feature Pioneer calls its Eco-Management feature, which is said to reduce the receiver’s power consumption in both on and stand-by modes. According to Pioneer, Eco Management analyzes and controls the peak volume of playback content to reduce power consumption. The “Ecology function ON/OFF” feature can be accessed and set through the receiver’s front panel, the included remote, or your smartphone by installing and using Pioneer’s exclusive iControlAV2013 App.
On its website, Pioneer touts the VSX-70 as a “CI-Focused Home Theater Receiver,” and with its full suite of multi-room friendly features, it is certainly that. There’s onboard 3-zone support, with second-room HDMI and simultaneous third-room, separate-source audio, along with an RS-232 bus connection and full IP commands for custom integration protocols and control devices, such as those from Crestron, Control4, and AMX.
Along with the usual suite of Dolby and DTS decoding modes, the Pioneer VSX-70 also includes support for various streaming and networked audio services, including onboard Pandora, vTuner, Airplay and Apple device compatibility. In a fairly unique twist for a receiver in this price range, the VSX-70 also supports select Android devices. It comes equipped with HTC’s Connect streaming feature, which allows you to stream audio from all of HTC’s compatible One-series mobile devices.
The front panel USB input can accept a variety of audio formats as well, including 192KHz/24-bit FLAC, AIFF, WAV, DSD, and Apple Lossless (96kHz 24-bit) files. DLNA and Windows 7 compliance round out the Pioneer’s networking capabilities.
Of course, no modern receiver would be complete without support for emerging video formats, and the Pioneer VSX-70 is no exception. It features 4K Ultra-HD video pass through and also offers upscaling to 4K Ultra HD resolution for both analog and HDMI video courtesy of its Marvell Qdeo processor. The VSX-70 also sports 8 total HDMI inputs (7 rear, 1 front panel) and dual HDMI outputs for excellent connective flexibility.
Once we made all of the necessary hardware connections to our gear, we set up the included calibration mic in our usual sweet spot position and ran the MCACC auto setup program. Impatient home theater nuts take note: Pioneer’s calibration routine definitely takes a bit longer than usual, so feel free to grab yourself a cold one or walk the dog for few if you don’t like playing the waiting game.
Even after the lengthy setup time, we also ran through the nifty network-based AVNavigator program on the included CD-ROM to get a feel for how that works. Simply slide the disc into your Windows-based computer’s drive and the program automatically walks you through the whole setup process in foolproof fashion. If you’re an A/V receiver newbie, or simply don’t want to mess with navigating through every one of your receiver’s GUI setup menus, Pioneer’s AVNavigator option should prove extremely useful.
Once we completed the MCACC procedure, we went back into the receiver’s manual setup menu to double check its speaker settings. While the VSX-70 did get our speakers’ distances spot on, it incorrectly set our Aperion Verus Forte towers and center channel as full-range, large speakers instead of the more appropriate small settings.
Unfortunately, the Pioneer VSX-70 only offers a single, global crossover frequency for the latter option, which means some folks will have to compromise with setting the crossover point too high or too low for some speakers as we did. We settled on a standard 80 Hz setting that was a good compromise for our system.
To fully put the Pioneer receiver through its paces, we used it with a variety of gear, including: A Samsung UN40C6300 LED TV; Samsung BD-C5500 Blu-ray player; Denon DCD-CX3 SACD player; HP Pavilion G6-2320DX laptop; Marantz NR1602 receiver; Apple iPhone 4; and an Aperion Audio Verus Forte surround loudspeaker system.
We decided evaluate the Pioneer receiver by cueing up some our favorite test movies, starting with some big action flicks such as Marvel’s The Avengers and the 2009 version of Star Trek on Blu-ray. From the get go, we could tell the Pioneer VSX-70 possessed a fairly neutral, balanced, and clean sound without any severe distortions or gross colorations. Oh, sure, it could tend towards a hint of treble brightness from time to time, but this was so minor that we hardly ever noticed it. Plus, the bass sounded consistently tactile, punchy, and well-defined on all of the movies we tried.
The Pioneer VSX-70 possessed a fairly neutral, balanced, and clean sound without any severe distortions or gross colorations.
We then loaded up some sonically subtler films, including 2005’s Pride and Prejudice and Amelie. The piano and accordion from each of these movie’s respective musical scores again sounded clean, punchy and fundamentally correct, without any sonic bunions or noticeable aberrations. Judged on those factors alone, the VSX-70 Elite was holding its own for a circa $600 receiver.
But throughout our movie sessions, something about the sound made us want to keep our critical reviewer’s hats on. Again, the VSX-70 wasn’t overtly doing anything wrong—its sound didn’t have any additive colorations, such as a sizzling treble or boomy bass. It was only when we shifted our focus to the sounds that were missing that we were able to pin down what we weren’t enjoying about the sound: The VSX-70 sounded noticeably less rich in tonal, timbral, and harmonic development than we’ve heard from previous Elite designs.
Time and time again, we kept noticing the Pioneer receiver was missing much of the sustain and decay components of both fundamental notes and harmonic overtones throughout the midrange and treble regions. This led to a somewhat harsh and “clipped” sound that wasn’t as transparent or as detailed as what we’ve heard from other receivers in this price range. This was especially evident on the Amelie and Pride and Prejudice scores, but regardless of the movie, the end result was always the same.
The missing sonic cues became even more of a factor when we turned our attention to music, such as when we cued up Kruder and Dorfmeister’s electronica classic, the K&D Sessions. This album normally sounds as if it’s been engineered to present a full, rich, and lush aural picture, with excellent bass depth and clarity. Through the Pioneer VSX-70, the bass was again as punchy and as weighty as we could’ve ever hoped for. Unfortunately, the album as a whole sounded a bit too threadbare and dry through the vocal and treble regions, making our CD sound more like a low-bit rate MP3. This was enough to lead to a bout of listener fatigue, something we don’t normally experience with this album.
We then thought we’d try something different, and spun up some Atoms for Peace and Radiohead to kick our listening sessions into a higher gear (and yes, we were feeling the love for Thom Yorke that day). Listening to the landmark Kid A album however proved a surprisingly difficult experience: We had a tougher time following along with Yorke’s idiosyncratic vocal lines through the Pioneer than with some other similarly priced receivers we’ve heard. Midrange sounds in general just sounded thinner and harsher than what we were expecting.
We spent more than a few weeks with theVSX-70, trying all different sorts of music and movies, and the results were always the same: As long as we didn’t dig too deep into the sound, the Pioneer Elite VSX-70 didn’t seem half-bad. But once we tried to really groove on the thing, we found ourselves wishing we had a different receiver in the system, perhaps another price-competitive model we’ve previously reviewed.
And here’s where we found ourselves in a bit of a conundrum. It’s possible that, if you’ve listened to nothing but average-quality receivers leading up to your exposure to the Pioneer VSX-70, you might think it’s a pretty good performer. For some folks then, we can see this as being a decent choice. Again, it’s not a bad receiver by any measure, especially given the price.
But if you’ve spent any time with receivers that are more performance-oriented, we think you’ll also want more performance than what the Pioneer Elite VSX-70 has to offer. We don’t know about you, but we’re in the gear game because we love being fully immersed in the music we listen to and the movies we watch. And if you’re of the same mindset, then there are at least a couple of other receivers in the VSX-70’s price range that we’d recommend checking out first.
For example, the Marantz NR1604 (the latest version of our comparison receiver used in this review, the Marantz NR1602), the Yamaha RX-V773, and the Sony STR-DN1030 immediately come to mind. All of these receivers have noticeably better sonics, with more roundness of tone, better timbral accuracy, more detail and transparency, and better midrange and treble harmonic development for a more immersive experience overall. The first two are priced nearly identically to the Pioneer, and the Sony costs even less.
We should mention, though, that functionally, we had no quibbles whatsoever with the Pioneer Elite VSX-70. We were always able to access its networking and applications features instantly and without a hitch, which isn’t always the case with receivers in this price range. What’s more, our iPhone 4 found the Pioneer receiver straight away and its AirPlay feature worked perfectly every time.
We also took Pioneer’s iControlAV2013 iPhone remote app for a spin and found it to be comprehensive and easy to navigate. Using it was intuitive, even if the Luddite in us had us using the supplied remote and fuss-free GUI system in the long run.
The Pioneer Elite VSX-70 has more than a few good things going for it. It was straightforward to use in daily operation, it’s rich with features, and even though we didn’t get a chance to use them, its multi-room and CI-friendly capabilities were a nice surprise in a receiver with a $600 price tag. Moreover, it never added any character of its own to the sound and had a fairly neutral and balanced frequency response.
Add it all up, and you’ve got a receiver that certainly wasn’t bad by any standards. And given what some A/V receivers we’ve heard sound like, having this sort of fuss-free operation coupled with an uncolored presentation would seem like the perfect antidote to some of the alternatives out there. If you count yourself among those who’ve experienced some underwhelming receivers, you might find much to like about Pioneer Elite VSX-70, as we did.
But at the end of the day, we think it’s the performance quality that counts, and the Pioneer Elite VSX-70 left us wanting for more in this regard—more detail reproduction, more harmonic development, and ultimately more immersion into our music and movies. It’s these sins of omission that led to the threadbare and austere sound that left us fatigued with the sound and wanting to insert another receiver into the playback chain.
Bottom Line: Perhaps one of Pioneer’s higher level Elite models could do the trick, as we’ve had excellent results with other Elite models in the past. But if you’re shopping for receiver in the VSX-70’s price range, we’d recommend exploring your other options first.
- Excellent feature set
- AVNavigator app makes setup a breeze
- Top-class multi-room expansion capabilities
- Harmonically threadbare mids and treble can lead to listener fatigue
- Not the last word in sonic detail or transparency
- Single, global crossover frequency a drag