Pioneer VSX-LX302: More for the money

Pioneer’s VSX-LX-302 AV receiver may be some way off the brand’s top-of-the-range models, but it offers a surprising level of features, with performance to match – all at a value-added price.

Given how much circuitry has to be packed into a single enclosure, the modern home theatre receiver has to be considered one of the most complex expressions of the consumer electronics art.

Just think about it: multiple, individually amplified channels, digital signal processing, digital-to-analogue conversion, wired and wireless network connectivity, multiroom capability, video processing … the list goes on and on.

In that context, it stands to reason that acquiring a new AV receiver can represent a sizeable investment. That said, it’s also a highly competitive segment, with top brands vying for the attentions of would-be buyers.

AT FACE VALUE

The Pioneer VSX-LX302 is priced in the sub-R15k AV receiver category, but a closer look at the spec sheet suggests that it’s keen to punch above its weight. The design is smart and ergonomically intuitive, with a well laid out fascia and a large, legible display.

Switchgear is kept to a minimum and well labelled in the interests of ease of use, and the presence of USB, HDMI and stereo minijack inputs, as well as a headphone jack, add further convenience.

The rear panel is a lot busier, as one would expect of a full-featured AV receiver. On offer are  no less than six HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, with the main HDMI output being ARC compatible.

Both analogue and digital audio are catered for. The revitalised interest in vinyl playback is acknowledged via a MM-compatible phono input set.

Network connectivity is confirmed by the presence of an Ethernet socket (dual-band 802.11 Wi-Fi is also included), while there are two subwoofer outputs, a stereo pre-output set for Zone 2 use. Dual antennas provide the necessary wireless connectivity for W-Fi and Bluetooth.

The nine binding post sets include a pair for height speakers to accommodate Dolby Atmos and DTS:X functionality.

While the supplied remote control handset provides full access to the Pioneer’s feature set, the excellent Pioneer remote app (free on both iOS and Android) is an even better option for set-ups making use of the LX302’s network connectivity.

UNDER THE COVERS

Power output is generous, and surround capability not includes the latest Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, but also object-based Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

The 7.2 receiver offers sophisticated D/A conversion via multiple AKM 4458 chips, operating at a maximum resolution of 384 kHz/32-bit. Digital signal processing is performed by a quad-core Cirrus Logic processor.

The Pioneer will play back PCM-based high-res audio files (WAV, FLAC, AIFF and ALAC) at up to 192 kHz/24-bit, and DSD files at 2,8 and 5,4 MHz from USB and network sources. It stands to reason that the Pioneer is DLNA and UPnP compatible, allowing it to access network sources such as NAS drives.

Versatility is further enhanced via on-board DTS Play-Fi, FireConnect and Apple AirPlay, whil TuneIn provides an extensive, searchable list of Internet radio stations. It also offers integrated support for Tidal, Deezer and Spotify music streaming services.

Video is equally comprehensively catered for: the Pioneer supports Ultra-HD pass-through with HDCP 2.2, as well as HDR10, BT.2020 and 36-b it Deep Colour. It’s compatible with Dolby Vision, and upscales video to 1080p and 4K.

If you want the full run-down on technical features, you can find a comprehensive listing and explanation, plus pertinent downloads, here.

SETTING UP

The Pioneer was hooked up to our resident Atlantic Technology speaker system, with source material provided via an Oppo BDP-95EU and a Synology 214se NAS. The unit was brand new, and thus afforded some time to run in, as well as downloading and installing the latest available firmware.

Video playback was via our usual Optoma HD80 1080p projector, so I didn’t try out the Pioneer’s 4K video pass-through or upscaling capabilities.

The Pioneer offers a proprietary calibration system dubbed MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System) which uses a supplied microphone to measure a test tone sequence, and then identifies, checks and sets up the levels and delay settings for the connected speaker system.

The entire process takes about seven minutes, and the result was impressively effective, ensuring excellent channel integration, flawless low-frequency effects, and seamless surround sound staging.

Of course, you can also set up the surround adjustments manually to better suit personal preference, but frankly the MCACC system worked so well that there seemed little need to tweak the settings subsequently.

PERFORMS LIKE …

Once the Pioneer had been allowed to settle in for 50 hours or so, it delivered a rich and entertaining movie experience. Quantum of Solace on Blu-ray remains one of my go-to movies for both its dynamic soundtrack and impressive action sequences.

The Pioneer rose to the occasion, delivering a fast, agile and eager sound with plenty of impact and impetus. While the receiver tended towards a certain brightness at the upper end of the tonal scale initially, it soon settled down, suggesting that it dserves a slightly longer burn-in period than the 50 hours allocated.

Even then, the overall sonic signature remained clean and open, allowing full and unequivocal access to the sheer impetus and impact of the soundtrack.

The action sequences of this movie are accompanied by such a sonically dense soundtrack that it presents any AVR with a stern challenge – not only in terms of tonal spread, but also to accurately track the on-screen action.

The early action sequences between James Bond’s Aston-Martin and the chasing Alfa Romeos is a good case in point: it’s punctuated by punchy impacts, staccato gunfire and anguished car engines, all linked to fast-paced, almost chaotic footage.

The Pioneer picked its way through all the visual and sonic action with composure and aplomb, zooming into and out of the action with brisk confidence. It never lagged behind the action, and took even the most extreme dynamic swings in its stride.

But the receiver was also adept at recreating ambience and atmosphere, while it projected dialogue with just the right measure of weight and nuance. Most of all, it steered clear of making the surround sound effects seem gimmicky or artificial, instead creating a smooth and immersive sound field that added to an overall sense of realism and engagement.

While the Pioneer’s primary role will be to deliver movies with the necessary gusto and precision, its talents extend to treating music with the necessary deference and enthusiasm, too.

Given its ability to deal with high-res PCM and DSD files, that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, especially given that its arsenal of features includes the ability to select a shorter, optimised signal path via the source direct mode.

Listening to Chris Botti Live in surround sound, the Pioneer made the most of the performance’s energy and verve, recreating the ambience of the venue, and also capturing the enthusiasm of the audience.

The music was presented with plenty of pace and honesty, easily penetrating the multiple layers of the arrangement, while maintaining a strong sense of musical equilibrium. It was able to reflect the presence and stature of the Boston Pops Orchestra while still spotlighting Botti’s virtuoso trumpeting, as well as the slick backing band.

Switching to the stereo soundtrack showed off the Pioneer’s penchant for clarity, imaging and staging: the music was still painted in broad, bold strokes, and there was a pervasive sense of three-dimensionality that came close to the surround mix for immersive quality.

I wasn’t as convinced by the DSP-created surround modes, though: they sounded too contrived, and while they do have novelty value, and may please sports fans or gamers in some cases, I found little reason to select any of the modes above the umolested stereo and Dolby Digital/DTS modes on offer.

Thanks to the proprietary remote app, accessing the LX302’s many features was never overly challenging. That extended to navigating the music and video library on the Synology NAS, and automatically identifying the programme material.

The AVR’s treatment of video was equally satisfying throughout, treating the picture material emanating from the Oppo with honesty and deference to both colour spread and visual detail. Upscaling from DVD to 1080p represented a useful improvement, although it couldn’t match true FHD in fine detail and texture terms.

THE BOTTOM LINE

In many ways, the LX-302 looks and performs more like a flagship AV receiver than a midrange unit. It has features and the prowess to make movies and music come alive, while it delivers is sonic wares with plenty of verve, too.

Add believable surround and stereo imaging, expansive staging and a real talent for musicality to the equation, and the VSX-LX302 also delivers value in spades.

 

By DEON SCHOEMAN
PROS
Loads of features. Great with movies and music. Keen pricing.
CONS
DSP surround modes don’t convince.

VITAL STATS

Channels: 7.1
Power output: 7x 100 watts (8 ohms, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 0.08 % THD)
Surround sound formats:
– Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio
– Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS:Neo
DSP: Cirrus Logic quad-core
Audio DAC: AKM 4458, 384 kHz/24-bit
Frequency response: 5 Hz – 100 kHz (-3 dB)
Signal-to-noise ratio: 106 dB (line in, IHF, A-rated)
HDMI: 7x inputs, 2x outputs
Video inputs: 1x component, 2x composite
Audio inputs: 4x line-level stereo, 1x MM phono, 1x stereo minijack
Audio outputs: 2x subwoofer, 1x stereo pre-out, 1x stereo headphone jack
Digital inputs: 1x RCA coaxial, 2x Toslink optical, 2x USB Type A
Connectivity:
– Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi, A2DP Bluetooth 4.1
– Apple AirPlay, DTS Play-Fi, Fireconnect
Dimensions (WxHxD): 435 x 173 x 371 mm
Weight: 10,0 kg
PRICE
R14 990
SUPPLIED BY
Volco Enterprises

TESTED WITH
Optoma HD80 DLP projector
Oppo BDP-95EU universal player
Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver
Atlantic Technology 7.1 speaker system

SOFTWARE
Quantum Of Solace (Blu-ray)
Chris Botti –Live In Boston (Blu-ray)
Boz Scaggs Live (DVD)