The $500-ish price point seems to be the sweet spot in the AV receiver market at the moment. And I say that because when my normie friends ask for receiver shopping advice, that's the budget target they throw at me most often. It also seems to be the price point at which they expect a receiver to do pretty much everything.
That's unrealistic, of course, expecting a $500 receiver to do everything. But the $479 Pioneer VSX-933 7.2-Channel Network AV Receiver surely tries its best. It supports Dolby Atmos and Dolby Surround, DTS:X and DTS Neural:X, and allows for cross-platform upmixing. (In other words, you can use Neural:X to upmix a Dolby Digital or TrueHD track, for example, or Dolby Surround to upmix DTS-HD Master Audio.) It also supports the latest in video formats, with HDCP 2.2 compliance and passthrough for HDR10, HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma), and Dolby Vision.
In terms of audio streaming, it's also a little overachiever. Works with Sonos? It does. DTS Play-Fi? It's onboard. Bluetooth? Check. Version: 4.1 + LE, to be precise, with SBC and AAC codecs. Chomecast and AirPlay and Spotify Connect? Check and check checkmate. Hell, this thing even supports Google Assistant voice control.
The side of the box boasts a 165-watt-per-channel power rating for the VSX-933, but Pioneer achieves this rating by driving only one channel into a 6Ω load and measuring at 1 kHz, with pretty staggering 10 percent Total Harmonic Distortion. A more realistic measurement (a full bandwidth signal into 8Ω with two channels driven and 0.08 percent THD) gives a rating of 80 watts per channel, which puts it right in line with the bulk of its competition.
All told, the VSX-933 features seven amplified channels and can be configured as a 5.1 system with bi-amped fronts or a powered second zone, or as a 5.1.2 system. In the case of the latter, you have your choice of top front, middle, or rear in-ceilings; front or rear height speakers on the wall; or front or rear Dolby Atmos Effects speaker modules. The setup menus are also flexible enough to allow you to do funky configurations like 4.1.2 and even 3.1.2, if you so choose.
As with many receivers these days, the VSX-933's four main HDMI inputs are pre-named: in this case, there's one each for your DVD or Blu-ray player, your cable or satellite box, your video game console, and your streaming media player. There's even a component video input for those of you with legacy AV sources you just can't bring yourself to upgrade.
The other two HDMI inputs can be named, although there's no dedicated button for either on the remote, so you'll have to use the input scroll buttons to get to them if you use them. Oddly, the streaming media player input also lacks a dedicated remote button, but you do get a TV button for access to content via ARC.
Other than that, HDMI setup is pretty straightforward, and inputs are easy to rename and reassign. In fact, "easy" and "straightforward" are the adjectives I would hang on pretty much the entire setup process, aside from the fact that I had to click through so many end user license agreement screens during the setup process that I'm pretty sure I gave Pioneer naming rights to my daughter's firstborn. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I probably gave those rights to Google, since they're the main culprits here, but that's the price of having Chromecast and Google Assistant and such, I suppose.
Overall, the VSX-933's UI--for both setup and day-to-day operation--strikes a nice balance between the well-illustrated approach of something like a Sony and the detailed, explanatory approach of a Denon or Marantz. As long as you have a general understanding of what everything is and does, I can't imagine anyone getting lost in the receiver's menus.
The included remote is beautiful in its utter simplicity, especially in the way that the buttons you likely need to use the most--volume up and down--take up a disproportional amount of real estate on the rather dainty unit. Source buttons at the top are easily accessible, and the navigation pad and select buttons are large and easily located by touch. I had my doubts about the remote upon first contact, since it rather evokes what's known as "mother-in-law" remotes for other receivers. In other words, one's inclination is to believe that, while simple, it's a little too simple to be fully functional. With a few minor exceptions that I'll detail below, that's far from the case. It may be minimalist, but it totally gets the job done.
The VSX-933 is also supported by an SDDP IP driver for Control4 systems, which provides direct access to the NET input, streaming services, and two USB ports, along with a few nice custom features.
Physical speaker setup is pretty straightforward, although the binding posts are pretty tightly packed, so I recommend banana plugs for your speaker connections. There's also a line level second zone output if you're using up all of the receiver's amplified channels already, but it's worth nothing that it only works with analog sources. Setup doesn't hold your hand through the process of connecting every individual speaker, the way a Denon does, but that's probably a blessing depending on your comfort level with AV tech.
Once you have your speaker layout in place, running through the Pioneer's MCACC room correction and auto speaker calibration system is a snap. For the purposes of this review, I ran through two setups, one 5.1.2 with an RSL CG3 5.2 system at ear level and a pair of GoldenEar SuperSat 3s on the ceiling, then later just the RSL system in 5.1 mode.
This was my first experience with MCACC, which is a bit of a surprise since room correction is kind of my thing. Overall, I found it the auto speaker setup part of the equation be a neat experience, since the test tones it generates bounce back and forth between speaker pairs--left, right, left, right--taking multiple measurements with slightly different tonality each time. What surprised me is that it positively nailed not only speaker levels and delays, but also crossover points. That's just... well, it's not really a thing that happens often with receivers at this price point. Major kudos there.
As for the room correction part of the equation? It's important to temper expectations, given that we're talking about a sub-$500 receiver. We'll dig more into the effects of MCACC as implemented in the VSX-933 in The Performance section, but it's worth making a few general observations here. Firstly, it's pretty apparent early on that this version of MCACC doesn't do much to correct problems with bass. I wasn't aware until I went to research this observation that MCACC doesn't, in its basic implementation, have any form of standing wave correction. For that you have to step up to at least the $799 Elite VSX-LX303.
Since combating standing waves is one of the most important benefits of room correction, that's a bit of a bummer. But again, not terribly surprising at this price. Unlike many basic room correction systems, though, you can go in and re-EQ the results of MCACC's auto setup. But in my case, this didn't do much good. I know from experience that my secondary listening room has a pretty nasty standing wave situation that can be ameliorated by a roughly 5dB cut centered right around 42Hz.
The VSX-933's manual adjustments for the subwoofer are limited to only four bands, though, locked at 31Hz, 63Hz, 125Hz, and 250Hz. So, no amount of tinkering allowed me to tame the bass perfectly, and no amount of subwoofer repositioning resulted in a workable physical solution to this problem.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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