The Search for a Home Theater A/V Receiver: Part I

December 6, 2011

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.

Only Onkyo provided a color-coded “Quick Setup” fold-out poster to get up and running. Their accompanying manual was also clearly written. Another bonus was the handy color-coded labels for identifying your speaker wires. Since you’re usually hooking up a receiver in a cramped space, it’s easy to lose track of the individual speaker wires.

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.

While it was nice that they included a full hard-copy version, the Pioneer manual probably was the most cryptic of the three. Pioneer does include their AVNavigator CD for set up. It walks you through all of the steps necessary to set up your receiver through a Windows app (sorry Mac users–this information is eventually coming to the iPad but it’s not there now).


No surprise here: all three look like A/V receivers.  If you were looking at the chassis from the side, it would be hard to tell the three apart. Dimensionally, the Onkyo is the tallest of the three at 6.75″, about 1/4″ to 1/2″ taller than the other two. However, the Onkyo measures an inch less in depth.

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.

Each input has a dedicated button on the front of each receiver. To change inputs on the Pioneer, you need to turn a big knob on the front, whereas Yamaha cycles through inputs with up and down buttons. However, the Yamaha conveniently offers four pre-set “scene” buttons that function as macros, defining an input with a particular set of settings. The Onkyo’s green LED display is more subtle than the white text on the other two (I do like how the large Dolby symbol is displayed on the Pioneer). And, finally, the Onkyo’s illuminated volume control just doesn’t look cool–but it is handy in the dark (there’s an option to disable this).
Pioneer VSX-1021-K
Pioneer VSX-1021-K
Onkyo TX-NR609
Onkyo TX-NR609
Yamaha RX-V671
Yamaha RX-V671

Physical Connectivity

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
Onkyo TX-NR609 back panel


Pioneer VSX-1021 back panel
Pioneer VSX-1021 back panel


Yamaha RX-V671 back panel
Yamaha RX-V671 back panel

Remote Controls

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.

Click the link below to read more

Pioneer, Onkyo and Yamaha receiver remote controls
Pioneer, Onkyo and Yamaha remote controls

Remote Apps

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
Pioneer’s iControlAV iPad app
Onkyo iOS and Android remote app
Onkyo’s remote app browsing streaming services
On-Screen Display (OSD)
The Onkyo and Yamaha both had polished looking on-screen displays. The Yamaha was stronger when it came to informational displays describing content. The Onkyo interface was more functional and easier to use when navigating its various streaming services. The setup screens on the Onkyo were a little nicer wheras parts of the Yamaha interface have a file manager type look. Both receivers had easy-to-use set up screens.
Yamaha's on-screen informational display
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.

Streaming Services

The Onkyo receiver has the widest range of audio streaming services, including Pandora, Slacker,, 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.

Onkyo Receiver Streaming Services
Lots of streaming choices on the Onkyo
Yamaha Receiver Streaming Services
Browsing streaming services on the Yamaha

Local Streaming
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 Receiver DLNA streaming
Pioneer DLNA streaming

iPod Interface

With all three receivers, you can directly connect an iPod or iPhone using the white Apple cable you use to sync and charge the device. In addition, the Pioneer includes a iPod cable with an attached RCA video cable. Simply plug it into the front USB port and you’re ready to go. The Yamaha did not support our early generation iPod Touch but had no problem with the new iPhone 4S. The Pioneer and Onkyo were able to support both our old iPod Touch and new iPhone. All three display cover art on the screen and give you access to audio (but not video without additional cabling).
Pioneer iPod user inteface
Pioneer iPod interface
Browsing iPod songs on the Onkyo receiver
Browsing iPod playlist on the Onkyo
Onkyo playing a song from the iPod
Yamaha Receiver iPod interface
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?

The Onkyo TX-NR609, Pioneer VSX-1021-K and Yamaha RX-V671 can be purchased at Amazon.

Click here

Related Posts:
The Search for a Home Theater A/V Receiver: Part 2
Why You Will Need to Buy a New A/V Receiver
Why You Need A New A/V Receiver Part II

Tags: Dolby, DTS, HDMI, Home Theater, IPhone, iPod, iTunes, Onkyo, pioneer, receivers, remote, review, speakers, Yamaha

8 Responses to The Search for a Home Theater A/V Receiver: Part I

  1. MegaZone on December 6, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I have the Onkyo 606, a few generations back from the one you're looking at, and I love it.  Looks like the remote hasn't changed much.  I like it, but I don't use it much since I use the TiVo Slide Remote most of the time.

  2. JohnOCFII on December 6, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Nice review.  Hopefully I have a few years yet as I purchased a Sony receiver chock full of HDMI and HD audio goodness a couple of years ago.  I've also got a Harmony One handling all my  (typical) remote control needs.  I might need to grab the vendor remote once a year if I move speakers, or need to access some special feature.

  3. The Hub on December 7, 2011 at 11:38 am

    While I do use the Harmony, I also like to use the TiVo remote a lot especially when I'm just surfing channels. If I am using the TiVo remote, I usually keep the receiver remote near buy in case I need to change its volume (I have my TiVo remote set to control the TV volume).

  4. MegaZone on December 7, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Since I have surround sound through my receiver I disabled the speakers in my TV completely.  So my TiVo remote controls power for my TV and receiver – on press turns both on or off.  Volume and mute controls the receiver.  And I have the 'Input' button on the TiVo remote set to select that input on the receiver, just in case it got switched to something else.

  5. The Hub on December 7, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Sometimes I just want to listen through the TV speakers; if I'm watching the news or the kids are going to sleep,That's why HDMI pass-through is important to me. I expand on it in part II.

  6. JohnOCFII on December 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    I have the same set-up.  The TV basically becomes an output only monitor.  I use the receiver's "nighttime" setting to quiet the audio. I can also power down the subwoofer.

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