Pioneer VSX-LX504 9.2-Channel Network AV Receiver Reviewed

Pioneer VSX-LX504 9.2-Channel Network AV Receiver Reviewed

The Pioneer Elite VSX-LX504 offers a ton of features for a $1000-ish AVR, but are those features enough to put it on equal footing with the best of the bunch in this price range?

As with the Pioneer VSX-933 we reviewed last year, the Pioneer Elite VSX-LX504 9.2-Channel Network AV Receiver packs a whole lot of goodies into one package. Of course, at more than double the price ($999 versus $479), you'd expect the LX504 to boast a reasonably impressive feature set. Still, its impressive just how much this one black box does. In addition to its Works with Sonos certification, the LX504 also supports Chromecast, works with Google Assistant, and features Apple AirPlay 2 functionality. It supports powered second and third audio zones, and boasts DTS Play-Fi and FlareConnect support. Of course, you could say a lot of the same for the VSX-933, barring the whole powered-third-zone thing.

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Where the VSX-LX504 mainly sets itself apart is in its number of amplified channels (nine versus seven) and the power delivered to each of those channels (120 watts per channel, with a full bandwidth signal, two channels driven into 8 ohms, with 0.08 percent THD; via the same standards, the 933 max out at 80 wpc). The VSX-LX504 also adds support for IMAX Enhanced, upgrades Bluetooth from 4.1 to 4.2, and supports Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, a feature that unfortunately isn't enabled yet, but will via firmware allow you to approximate the sound of a full Atmos system without using overhead speakers or Atmos modules, not long after this review goes live.

The VSX-LX504 also, of course, supports all of the AV connectivity and processing you would expect, including HDMI 2.0b with support for HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG, along with HDCP 2.2 copy protection. The number of HDMI ports is a little limited for an AVR at this price point, with only six rear-panel inputs and two outputs and one aux HDMI input around front.

The Hookup
As with all recent Pioneer receivers that I have hands-on experience with, setup of the VSX-LX504 is an absolute breeze and navigating its well-designed and utterly ergonomic remote is a pleasure. Before getting to the point of using the remote, though, one needs to make some back-panel connections, and doing so can be a bit of a cramped experience depending on what you're connecting.

The binding posts for speaker connections, for example, are of the old-school vertically-stacked style, and are grouped far too close together for comfort. They're also far too close to the HDMI ports above. I pulled the banana plugs off the end of one of my speaker cables and attempted to go with a bare-wire connection, just for the experience of it, and ended up saying some very salty words before giving up and re-bananafying my cable. One hopes that with Sound United acquiring Pioneer, we'll soon see Elite receivers at least adopt the horizontally arrayed binding posts common to Denon and Marantz AVRs, because they make speaker connections so much easier, no matter which style of termination you prefer.

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Along with speaker-level connections and of course the HDMI ports, the VSX-LX504 is equipped with a nice collection of legacy inputs and control connections. There's an RS-232 port for advanced control, but given that the receiver is supported by fantastic two-way IP drivers for most control systems, that's probably largely unnecessary. (The driver for Control4, by the way, is SDDP, meaning you don't have to set a static IP address in the receiver, and programming is pretty much drag and drop, aside from binding the connections in Control4's Composer Pro software.)

There's also a pair of 12-volt trigger ports (3.5mm), as well as IR in and IR out (ditto). Legacy video inputs come in the form of a pair of composite ins, as well as a component video input that oddly only accepts 480i signals. If your component source only outputs a progressive-scan signal, you'll need to opt for the composites instead. There's also a pair of antenna inputs for terrestrial radio, a single coaxial digital and solitary optical digital inputs, a phono input, four stereo line-level RCA inputs, stereo Zone 2 and Zone 3 outputs, and 9.1-channel preamp outputs. I say "9.1," not "9.2" as Pioneer says in the receiver's name, because while the VSX-LX504 does feature dual subwoofer outputs, they cannot be leveled, delayed, or equalized independently. As far as the system is concerned, you've got one subwoofer output with a virtual y-splitter on it.

Unlike the VSX-933 I reviewed last year, the VSX-LX504 boasts Advanced MCACC room correction and auto speaker setup, which means that this model is capable of EQing your sub as well as the main speakers, and is designed to deal with standing waves. Running Advanced MCACC is simple and straightforward, and although it allows for up to nine in-room measurements, it doesn't give you any guidance as to where to place the mic, rather suggesting that you place it at the center of each listening position. In my room, I selected my seat as the first mic position, my wife's seat as the second, split the difference for the third, and then placed the mic in positions in front of and behind our main seating positions and the spot in between for the other six.

Most people, I imagine, will take a sort of set-it-and-forget-it approach to running Advanced MCACC, but the system does allow for a few additional tweaks, should you care to make them, including independent application of EQ and standing wave control, as well as some finessing of the EQ. We'll dig into the effects of these tweaks in more depth in the Performance section.

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For the most part, the auto setup did a good job of nailing the distances and levels for my RSL CG3 5.2 system, though there was a slight problem with the crossovers. Over the years with the RSL system, I've settled on a crossover configuration slightly different from what I detailed in my original review of those speakers. I tend to like a 110 Hz crossover for the bookshelves and a 90 Hz crossover for the center. Such isn't possible with the Pioneer VSX-LX504, though. You can individually set speakers as small or large (i.e., full range), but for any small speakers in your system, there's only a single, global crossover setting. I settled on 100 Hz for the entire system.

Before we wrap up the setup, I do want to circle back to the remote really quick. The controller included with the VSX-LX504 is similar in many respects to that of the VSX-933, to which I say: good! If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That was my favorite AVR remote that I've come across in quite some time. But there are some subtle-yet-noteworthy differences between the two models.

The remote for the VSX-LX504 is a little more refined, with more rounded corners and more rounded buttons. There are also a few extra of the latter, including three personalized presets; a rocker control for tone, dialogue, and subwoofer level; a dimmer for the front panel; and a few others. But the new remote, despite its enhanced functionality, doesn't lose the elegant simplicity of the VSX-933's remote. It's small, to be sure, but it feels great in the hand and gives you easy access to all of the things you might need to tweak on the regular. That, combined with the receiver's fantastically intuitive GUI, makes for a sound system that's a pleasure to operate, even without the benefit of an advanced control system. Thankfully, the receiver is configurable enough that you don't really miss anything by ditching the remote after initial setup and just using a control system. So, it's really win/win either way you control this thing.

Performance
When I sat down for some serious critical analysis of the VSX-LX504 in my secondary home cinema system, my wife and I had just finished watching Stranger Things 3 on Netflix in the main media room, so I took the opportunity to return to the final episode, "Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt" since the aggressive sound mix was still fresh on my mind.

Leaving MCACC off for a bit so I could evaluate the receiver's processing and amplification on its own, I found that the VSX-LX504 delivered more than enough power to render the final battle effectively, but more than that, I was impressed by its handling of the show's eclectic soundtrack. Dialogue was wonderfully intelligible even at ear-blistering volumes, imaging and soundstaging were unimpeachable, and nothing struck me as amiss in terms of audible distortion. The LX504 was also more than up to the task of handling the dynamics of the mix--though, of course, without the benefit of any room correction, the bass was somewhat less than controlled. This room has a pretty egregious mode at my listening position that I can't work around with subwoofer placement alone, so I engaged Advanced MCACC to see how well it would deal with the sound.

As mentioned above, Advanced MCACC allows you to turn on or off MCACC EQ and its Standing Wave Control independently. Turning on the latter, I heard an instantaneous collapsing of the front soundstage, and an overall deadening of the sound. A quick check of the Diagnostic PEQ feature of the AcoustiTools app confirmed what I was hearing: Simply put, Advanced MCACC does way too much attenuation of frequencies above 5,000 Hz, no matter which of its three EQ presets you use. You can also manually set EQ presents, but unfortunately it's a graphic EQ, not parametric, so you have no Q control, and the bands are limited to 63 Hz, 125 Hz, 250 Hz, 1 kHz, 8 kHz, and 16 kHz--not nearly fine enough to make any sort of precise adjustments.

With the MCACC EQ turned off (honestly, it does so little to frequencies below 500 Hz that I was better off without it, since my room is pretty well treated in terms of reflections), I returned to that final episode of Stranger Things 3 again so I could get a handle on what the Standing Wave Control does and how well it does it. Roughly 26 minutes into the episode, there's a pretty aggressive deep-bass rumble that served as a great test for the feature. And indeed, with it turned on, that deep rumble was more controlled, less chaotic, more refined. Not by much. Certainly not as well as you'd get with Audyssey MultEQ XT32 and its companion MultEQ Editor app. But then again, MCACC's standing wave amelioration was better than I've heard from some other proprietary big-box receiver room correction systems.

My advice for potential owners of the LX504 would be to run MCACC with as many listening positions as you need to cover your listening area, turn off the MCACC EQ, leave Standing Wave Control on, and try to use some sort of acoustical treatment to deal with reflections, even if it's something as simple as strategically placed bookshelves or draperies.

These observations held true with pretty much everything I watched: from my old standby dialogue clarity torture tests to newer films like Shazam (4K HDR via Vudu), I found the LX504's decoding to be spot on and its amps more than capable of delivering movie and TV show soundtracks with punch, authority, and utter clarity.


A switch to music left me even more impressed. I ran through a wide gamut of cuts from numerous genres, from symphonic selections (I'm recently re-obsessed with Howard Shore's The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King - The Complete Recordings, a 4-CD/1-Blu-ray box that can keep me entertained for weekends on end) to more rocking favorites. The LX504 delivers it all wonderfully, with more of those impressive dynamics that I spoke of above, along with fantastic imaging and soundstaging, even in stereo mode.

What blew wind up my shorts even harder was its performance with Jimi Hendrix' "Bold as Love," from the original CD release of Axis: Bold as Love from the mid-1980s (still my release rendition of this classic album, despite all the

subsequent attempts at remastering and re-releasing). The way the receiver handled the kooky stereo mix for this track left me gobsmacked.

Jimi's ethereal vocals seemed to levitate in the air betwixt my speakers, with his delicate guitar licks leaning hard to the right side of the mix. The soundstage as a whole stretched well beyond the boundaries of my little RSL CG3 bookshelves, and then at around thirty seconds in, with the onset of the first chorus, the ramped-up instrumentation spilled forth into the room, stretching deeper than wide.

To put it simply, the LX504's stereo performance is impressive. Full stop. Not just "for a surround sound receiver," either.

The Downside
I've already covered a few concerns in the Hookup and Performance sections, but just to recap: I don't like that the VSX-LX504's global crossover settings, since a per-speaker crossover would be vastly preferable; I'm not thrilled with Advanced MCACC, as it does far too much to upper frequencies and not nearly enough to lower ones; and I would really love to see a parametric rather than graphic EQ for tweaking the room correction system.

A couple other things worth noting that may or may not be of concern to potential shoppers: the VSX-LX504's video upscaling isn't on-par with that found in AVRs from other manufacturers. In fact, best I can tell, the only upscaling it offers at all is 1080p-to-4K. And to be frank, I didn't find that any better than the 1080p-to-4K upscaling capabilities of my Vizio P-Series TV. That, combined with the fact that its component input only accepts interlaced video signals, may make it a less than ideal choice for those of you who still have HD displays, watch a lot of 720p or lower-resolution video material, and/or have legacy video components.

Competition and Comparison


Probably the VSX-LX504's most significant competition is Denon's new AVR-X3600H, which sells for a little more ($1,099), but similarly offers nine amplified channels, support for the same audio and video formats, and comparable streaming music capabilities, although the means by which those are accessed is a little different (mostly boiling down to the fact that the Denon relies on HEOS). The Pioneer offers a bit more amplification per channel; the Denon offers 11.2 channels of processing, though, and features dual independent subwoofer outputs. It also has one extra rear-panel HDMI input, HDCP 2.3 instead of 2.2 support, and has better room correction.

Onkyo's TX-RZ840 is a pretty much equivalent offering, with much the same connectivity and functionality, and all of the same big features. Their remotes look virtually identical, their I/O boards look almost the same (with a one fewer IR port and trigger port on the Onkyo), and although the Onkyo's room correction system is ostensibly different (AccuEQ Advance w/ AccuReflex), to the best of my memory the results are pretty much on par.

While Yamaha and Sony both offer receivers in this general price range, both are limited to seven channels of amplification, likely making them less than suitable for someone eyeing a 9.1-channel receiver.

For more in-depth reviews of similar product offerings from other companies, please see our AV Receivers category page.

Conclusion
The AV receiver market is reasonably well stocked with $1,000-ish offerings that are packed with features. Amongst those, though, the Pioneer VSX-LX504 9.2-Channel Network AV Receiver stands out as one of the most feature-packed, with a diverse array of streaming music options and (once the firmware drops) access to Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, which might be a great stop-gap if you're interested in building a full object-based receiver, but just can't install all of those height channels just yet. And who knows? Once I hear it in action, it may be a good substitute for in-ceiling speakers altogether. That remains to be seen.

What I can definitely say for now is that the VSX-LX504 delivers fantastic sonic performance for the price, along with easy setup and a fantastic remote control. I do wish Pioneer's room correction system was more on-par with Audyssey, and I wish Pioneer would implement per-channel crossover capabilities. But for those of you who eschew room correction altogether and don't have any legacy video devices to worry about, assuming you have a speaker system that can be crossed over at one point, it's a solid pick, to be sure.

Additional Resources
Visit the Pioneer website for more product information.
Check out our AV Receiver Reviews category page to read similar reviews.

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