Tech of the Hub reviews A/V receivers from Onkyo, Pioneer and Yamaha
Recently, I came to the realization that it was time for a new receiver, despite the fact that my trusty Pioneer VSX-1014-K has done an outstanding job for the last six years. Because it has multi-channel analog inputs that allow me to rely on components that can decode the latest audio formats, I’ve been able to avoid purchasing a new receiver for far longer than I thought I would. However, as home theater components lose their multi-channel analog outputs and devices only provide the highest quality audio over HDMI, it’s time for an upgrade. Some other reasons to upgrade are here.
I looked at higher-end, consumer-targeted receivers from Onkyo, Pioneer and Yamaha. Since my 5.1 surround speaker set retails in the $1,000 to $1,500 price range, I was looking for a receiver that retails for around $500. While all three receivers are in this price point neighborhood, you can find all of them for significantly less during holiday sales.
We looked at:
- Onkyo TX-NR609
- Pioneer VSX-1021-K
- Yamaha RX-V671
Thank you to all three companies for loaning receivers to us.
From a specifications point of view, there are a lot of similarities between these three receivers. With help from friends of the Hub, I spent the last few weeks listening carefully to each of the receivers.
Unboxing and Setup
As receivers are the most complex part of a home theater, anything to facilitate the set up process is welcome.
Yamaha included a well-written black and white, 8-page “Easy Setup Guide.” While their full manual was very well written and illustrated, they did not provide a hard copy, which was inconvenient. It’s only provided as a PDF file on a CD or on their website.
The Pioneer has a high-end looking black glossy finish on its front panel. The Onkyo and Yamaha have more of a matte finish. Of the three, I like the Onkyo’s industrial-look the best since I’m a “form follows function” sort of guy.
All three receivers have a wide variety of audio and video connectors so there’s no reason why you can’t connect every piece of gear in your home theater. On the back of each receiver, there are five HDMI inputs, two optical audio, and two coaxial audio connections. The Pioneer and Onkyo have six sets of RCA stereo inputs while the Yamaha has four. All of the receivers have both HDMI and component video out.
In addition, the Yamaha and Onkyo both have an additional HDMI input on the front of the unit, which is convenient for connecting a laptop or video camera. Both the Pioneer and the Yamaha have RCA audio and video input jacks on the front. The Onkyo was the only receiver in the group to include a VGA input to hook up a computer.
All three receivers come with built-in ethernet but no wireless. As an optional accessory, Onkyo offers an affordable wireless dongle while Pioneer offers an external wireless bridge. Yamaha does not offer a wireless accessory so you’ll have to buy a third-party solution. (speaker configs in the next post).
|Onkyo TX-NR609 back panel|
|Pioneer VSX-1021 back panel|
|Yamaha RX-V671 back panel|
Both the Yamaha and Pioneer units have long candy bar shaped remotes with lots of buttons. The crammed layouts takes some getting used to, and, after setting things up, it’s best to make the switch to your universal remote. Onkyo took a more minimalist approach: there are fewer buttons on a shorter and wider case that comfortably fits your hand. Of the three, it’s the remote I preferred to use.
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Pioneer has the strongest showing when it comes to apps. Their iControlAV app is available on both iOS and Android and is preferable to use over their remote control. iControlAV lets you control all aspects of the receiver with a stunning interface.
For iOS, Pioneer also has an app called AirJam. Using the optional Bluetooth adapter, AirJam allows up to four people to create playlists and stream music to the receiver from an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Seems like it would be fun at a party.
Onkyo also takes a minimalist approach to its app–and it works. Their app, for iOS and Android, provides an easy interface for navigating all of the streaming services as well as mimicking the functionality of the Onkyo remote.
The Yamaha remote app appears to be a work in progress. We tested the iOS app but there’s also one for Android. While you can do things like change inputs or volume, some of the regular remote’s basic navigation features are missing.
|Pioneer’s iControlAV iPad app|
|Onkyo’s remote app browsing streaming services|
|Yamaha’s on-screen informational display. Notice how it takes advantage of the the unused letterbox space.|
One nice touch from the Yamaha: When there’s nothing to display on the screen, the Yamaha shows a picture of a musical instrument as opposed to a bland one-color screen. Hitting the “Display” button on the remote shows a well-placed summary of the content playing.
The Pioneer’s OSD was disappointing. The user interface appears dated. While there are screens for system setup, iPod, Internet Radio, and network streaming, there’s no OSD for HDMI-delivered content. For example, when you change the volume on the Onkyo or Yamaha, the volume level is displayed on the screen. One way to address this deficiency is to use Pioneer’s iControlAV app on the iPad.
As a side note: the informational screens provided by the Yamaha and Onkyo are helpful in making sure you’re viewing media in the best format possible.
The Onkyo receiver has the widest range of audio streaming services, including Pandora, Slacker, Last.fm, Rhapsody, Slacker, Mediafly, Aupeo, Napster, Spotify, and Internet Radio. The Yamaha supports Pandora, Napster, Rhapsody, and Internet radio. Streaming services were easier to access on the Onkyo. While Pandora on the Onkyo did not require you to sign in, the Yamaha requires a Pandora username and password.
The Pioneer doesn’t support any paid audio steaming services. It can stream Internet radio.
All three receivers have the ability to interface with an external SirrusXM player.
|Lots of streaming choices on the Onkyo|
|Browsing streaming services on the Yamaha|
All three receivers have the ability to stream from DLNA sources. The Pioneer has the added bonus of supporting Airplay streaming. Airplay allows you to stream music from iTunes, an iPhone, or an iPad. Tech of the Hub already did a deep dive on the Pioneer’s solid and convenient Airplay abilities.
Functionally, all three receivers have similar DLNA (or Windows Media) streaming abilities. None of the receivers were able to read playlists from our TVMOBili DLNA server so it’s probably a problem with the server. When streaming music, all three were able to pull across cover art. The Pioneer also displays the bit-rate of the song playing.
|Pioneer DLNA streaming|
|Pioneer iPod interface|
|Browsing iPod playlist on the Onkyo|
|Onkyo playing a song from the iPod|
|Yamaha playing a song from the iPhone|
That’s it for this part of the bake-off. But hang on–we still have a lot to cover. In the next post, I will be looking at audio set up, multi-zone support, video support and switching, warranty, and the most important question: “How does it sound?“