In the acquisition of Pioneer by Onkyo Japanese brand Pioneer VSX-933 is a fascinating device to re-discover the brand: it is affordable at a price of 599 euros, has interesting options and is built on the same platform as the new Onkyos.
Introduction Pioneer VSX-933
The VSX-933 is a new 7.2 AV receiver from Pioneer, equipped with a new interface and many streaming options. So much so, that you dare to suspect that they at Pioneer simply suffer from choice stress and that they therefore decided to support everything. Yes everything. The list of streaming technologies that this receiver has on board is spectacularly long – and that comment actually applies to all Pioneer receivers that will be released this year. You can also say the same about Onkyo devices, because Askyo and Pioneer are now part of the same holding company. This is reflected, for example, in the interface and the streaming platform, which is virtually identical for both brands. The underlying hardware is also shared, although we do not have that much concrete information yet. Some people may see this as a bad thing, but they do not have to: Denon and Marantz have been sharing parts for years, and yet their AV receivers have their own identity. Only when we will soon receive a new Onkyo receiver for testing will we be able to judge whether this is also the case with Pioneer and Onkyo.
Talk about streaming: a big sign of the Pioneer VSX-933 is it ‘Works with Sonos’. It is one of the first AV receivers with this function on board. Thanks to ‘Works with Sonos’, the VSX-933 integrates (to a certain extent) into a Sonos multiroom system. Because this function is also present in the other Pioneer and Onkyo models, we discussed this separately in this article. In this test we will mainly focus on the other qualities of this 7.2-receiver from Pioneer.
Ready for Atmos and DTS: X
The VSX-933 is a 7.2 receiver that you can use for a 5.2. 2 setup. If you glide furtively at the back, you can be deceived. There are nine pairs of speaker terminals: five for a classical surround setup, two pairs for surround back or a pair of height speakers, and two more for a second zone. That is a skill, because for example in the Denon AVR-X2500H you have to choose between height channels or a second zone. At the Pioneer you can opt for a 5.2.2 set-up in the living room and also control a few speakers in the dining room. There is also a pre-out for the second zone, if you prefer to work with a separate amplifier.
Via the TV interface you indicate which speaker setup you are going to place. Positive is that Pioneer gives you many possibilities in terms of the type and position of height channels. If you choose so-called Dolby speakers (reflective loudspeakers that are placed on top of your normal speakers), you can enter the height up to the ceiling. That is an important institution, but sometimes it is lacking. Pioneer also adds the Reflex Optimizer, a feature that tries to solve phase problems (where sound from the speakers arrives at ear level rather than the sound waves of the reflective loudspeakers). Certainly try, it provides subtle improvement, especially in a larger space.
The VSX-933 is well equipped with HDMI inputs. You have six, four of which can be assigned to fixed labels (such as Game or BD / DVD). You can not enter your own labels. There is one HDMI output. Everything is HDCP 2.2 -compatible and can transmit 4K HDR content (HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision). Two digital inputs (once optical, once coaxial) and five analogue inputs (one of which are phono) are provided for audio sources such as CD players and turntables. Video connections from the distant TV past and a USB input for storage with music files complete the picture. In front there is a USB input and an aux connection for a music player. There are many connections, according to the norm in the segment.
In appearance the new receiver is still a real Pioneer, very classic with a large display on both sides flanked by a large rotary knob. The VSX-933 is available in both black and gray.
Compared to the Yamaha RX-V685 we viewed a few weeks ago, the Pioneer VSX-933 presents a much simpler TV interface. The main menu offers you only three options: system settings, a menu for the Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System and a menu for Bluetooth / network settings. The interface is still in 720p, but thanks to its fine line and letter use it appreciates relatively nicely to 4K. Yes, yes, we are going to say again, as with the recent reviews of rival receivers: time to effectively give those brand new 4K-compatible receivers an Ultra HD interface. Certainly on a 4K projector that is badly needed.
Even if you dive deeper into these three menus, you will encounter relatively few options for an AV receiver. The most important thing is there, but the abundance of fine-tuning possibilities that we are familiar with from Yamaha is missing here. The interface of the VSX-933 is available in Dutch, a plus, but the explanation you get with each option is rather brief. As a beginner with this receiver, do not expect the extensive help that Denon or Yamaha gives you, for example with illustrations of how to connect the cables to your speakers and receiver. There is also no app with more setup information. This is of course not all that bad if you already know what you’re doing.
The interface of Pioneer VSX-933 is simple to use because of its simplicity, but we still miss some things. Such as a quick menu for sound modes. So you have to go through all sound modes to get to the desired one, instead of being able to choose from a list. There are quite a few of those things, so if you’ve pressed the button just once, you’ll have to go through the whole row again.
The remote that Pioneer delivers looks simple and is not luxuriously finished but is one of the most useful we used in a long time. There are not many buttons on it, but everything is present and spacious. We would like to receive a full remote control and a more compact remote for each receiver, just like with some TVs. This is a kind of intermediate solution. The comment we had about the TV interface also applies here: sometimes you have to press a button a lot to finish with a desired option.
Loud to measure
Setting the Pioneer VSX-933 can you do it manually or follow a step-by-step plan. If you choose the latter, you will be encouraged to adapt the surround setup to your living room via the MCACC system.
In a first step, the Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System sends loud loud tones through the room to check which speakers are connected. However, the test is not sophisticated. For example, it did not detect that we had swapped the two height speakers left-right. Only in the next phase is measured effectively. Mind you: the MCACC system sends even louder test tones in this second step, more powerful than most systems and too loud to just undergo. You only need to measure from one position, which is more convenient than the multi-point measurement at Dirac and Audyssey. But the measurement itself takes a relatively long time. Our advice is: use the countdown of ten seconds that appears just before the measurement to flee the room and make a nice cup of coffee.
It is always a good idea to use the built-in calibration system. and it is equally good idea to review the results afterwards. If desired, you also have to dare to fine-tune. When checking MCACC, we even noticed that the measurements produced incorrect results a few times. For example, the center speaker was not detected twice (while it was found during test tones) and the distance of the front speakers was estimated to be extremely wrong (3 cm instead of 2.60 meters!). Inquire at Pioneer that MCACC has some problems with bipolar speakers, such as the Definitive Technology BP9000 set that we received at the same time. Which does not mean that you can not use these types of speakers, but it is better that you set the receiver manually. A later measurement with our fixed Rubicon setup gave no problems.
Streaming in abundance
Receivers of the mainstream brands are full of streaming options. It seems like everyone hopes to win a prize for most functionality. In itself, that trend is not a bad thing. A receiver that offers multiple streaming options is also a device that can evolve with you. If you exchange that iPhone for an Android phone and thus can no longer use Airplay, you can continue with most AV receivers via Chromecast, Bluetooth or any other technology. Every brand takes a different approach. Denon and Yamaha have each developed their own streaming platform with multiroom capabilities, and within that framework you will find a number of options (such as Tidal, internet radio and playing your own music files). Sony mainly focuses on Chromecast. Pioneer also has its own platform, which it shares with brand-name Onkyo: Flareconnect (the former Fireconnect). You control it via the Pioneer Remote app, through which you can control both Pioneer and Onkyo products. Conversely, you can also operate this Pioneer VSX-933 with the Onkyo Remote app.
The Pioneer Remote app reminds us spontaneously of the Yamaha’s MusicCast app. There are quite a few familiar elements, such as how different devices / rooms with large photos are presented and how the different inputs of the receiver are grouped. It will be a coincidence.
Apart from that, the Pioneer Remote app is well-designed, so you can quickly find what you’re looking for. We always like it when you can quickly switch between physical sources (such as a connected Blu-ray player) and streaming services (Deezer, Tidal and TuneIn are built in) from one clearly structured screen, and that is the case here. Practically, you can get a lot of sound settings from the screen with the current track by tapping once. Effortlessly you can change how the sound is processed, but also things like individual volume levels of speakers and treble / bass. For fine tuning of the sound is that handy.
In a later history we have tested many Pioneer receivers. From that perspective, we lack the excellent AVControl apps that the brand used to offer. They were slightly chaotic, playful apps (you could change audio settings in one screen by moving marbles and you could tweak the bass in another screen until your screen virtually bursts), but which allowed an unseen control over the older Pioneer receivers. . Unfortunately, the Pioneer Remote app really lacks the deeper setting options, allowing you to grab configuration settings such as the speaker settings or everything related to input to the TV interface. There is also no separate app that gives you total control, unlike with Denon / Marantz and Yamaha. However, the Pioneer VSX-933 has a modest web interface and support for Control4. The latter is rare at this price point.
But that is not all. The VSX-933 also supports Play-Fi a multiroom / streaming platform from DTS. Play-Fi is also used by other brands, such as Polk and Rotel. Play-Fi does not seem so popular with us, in the U.S. it does note a lot of users. Perhaps because this platform initially barely supported streaming services that are relevant to Europeans. Meanwhile, that has improved and you can count on Deezer and Qobuz. In addition, Amazon Music, TuneIn Internet radio, Tidal and Spotify. You can operate via a separate app from Pioneer. It presents the same interface as the standard Play-Fi app, which is a rather austere affair. But it works fine, much better than when we started working on a Rotel amplifier with a very early version of Play-Fi. The Pioneer VSX-933 unfortunately does not support the critical listening mode of Play-Fi, unfortunately.
The list is not finished yet. As you would expect, there is also support for Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and Airplay, because that is pretty standard with AV receivers from mainstream brands. Unusual – and a real plus – is Chromecast support. This allows you to cast music directly to the receiver from apps such as Qobuz or Deezer. In addition, Chromecast devices can be operated with voice via Google Assistant. That is very interesting, given that Google has now introduced support for Dutch. For some reason the Chromecast function on the Pioneer receiver did not work in our test environment. We assume, however, that this was a problem with our test device.
If you are looking for an excellent example of how a film about music can be even more interesting than just listening to music, then you should view the final scene of ‘Wiplash’ (on Blu-ray, DTS-HD Master). In this case, it helps enormously if you like percussion, because (semi) biographical film is all about the stormy relationship between a young drum student (Miles Teller) and the rather nasty but so recognizable human music teacher (JK Simmons), which ends in a performance in which Teller plays the hall with an imposing drum solo and at the same time challenges his teacher. Turn the volume open completely, because it just sounds great in surround. It is a scene with incredible dynamics and rhythm changes, as well as subtle percussion effects. A whole challenge for a receiver, because it has to deliver a lot of power and that very quickly. In this price range, this can sometimes be a problem, because the power supplies at entry levelers are not very heavy. We have to admit: we were surprised that the Pioneer VSX-933 did deliver the necessary. We have watched this long scene twice: once on that Definitive Technology BP9000 speakers, and then again on our regular Dali Rubicon LCR / Vokal setup with a Monitor Audio Silver W12 subwoofer. The latter setup clearly put the Pioneer receiver to the test, because the Dali speakers are far more insensitive than the Definitive Technology devices. The result is that during Wiplash but also afterwards at ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ (via Netflix, Dolby Digital 5.1) the volume knob had to turn up considerably. For living room use no problem, but here is the limitation of a receiver at this price point. You do have sufficient power for ordinary living room situations, but with insensitive loudspeakers he is in need of breath.
More purist music lovers usually just listen in stereo. Tweaking two-channel music to surround does not appeal to everyone, whether it is via an extended stereo mode or a codec like DTS Neural X. But still, Front Stage Surround is trying. It does not try, like most musical surround modes, to distribute all instruments across the room, but turns on the center speaker to create a broad soundstage. Relatively little audio data starts from the back channels. It is something to experiment with. Kamasi Washington’s new ‘The Choice’ album, for example, was given a pleasant, great live feeling by this mode.
The Pioneer VSX-933 shows the face of a ‘new’ Pioneer. If it is purely about the number of streaming options, then this receiver is an absolute leader. An advantage, because you do not have to think in advance how you want to listen to music. With the Pioneer VSX-933 you can still see afterwards, because everything is there. The streaming window feels like a mixed bag of options and services, less integrated in one platform than with Denon and Yamaha. But that does not really have to be a problem. Other advantages are the additional second zone speaker connections and the relative easy-to-use remote and remote app. As a receiver, the Pioneer VSX-933 is a good choice if you are looking for an affordable entry-level provider with a lot of possibilities and you do not have the ambition to really create a grand home cinema experience. If you want that, then you have to aim higher in the range.