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Pioneer Elite VSX-74TXVi THX Select2 7.1 A/V Receiver

Part II

June, 2006

Paul Taatjes

 

Audio: This is very similar to the 59TXi, with some added features. There are four optical and two coaxial digital inputs (all re-assignable) and two optical outputs in the rear, with an additional optical input on the front. A USB interface lets you take signals from a computer, which includes onboard WMA (Windows Media Audio) decoding. WMA is supported with up to eight channels at 48 kHz (no limit on bitrate was specified).

My preferred digital audio connection is i.LINK, a non-proprietary IEEE1394 connection. There is no limit (well 17, or 63 with a repeater) to the number of components that can be daisy chained with i.LINK. What sold me on i.LINK was the combination of PQLS (Precision Quartz Lock System), giving completely jitterless playback and the ability to carry all DD, DTS, PCM, DVD-A, and SACD signals using just one cable.

Combined with the Advanced MCACC calibration (explained in detail later), I was very happy SACD was supported and that all channels were on one cable, as set-up was much easier. HDMI 1.1 supports DVD-A but not SACD and does not work with Pioneer's PLQS. Like the 59TXVi, you can use an alternate set of surround speakers for different sources such as DVD-A if you wish. There are also adjustable Dynamic Range Control, Bass Peak Level, Direct Stream (bypass processing), Multi-room, adjustable Prologic IIx modes, various THX modes, Virtual Surround for headphones, and twelve additional DSP advanced surround effects.

The front speakers can be set for bi-amplification. For crossover settings, 50, 80, 100, 150, and 200 Hz are available.

Additional Connections: The iPod interface and included cable may be a huge plus to those with a 3G (third gen) or newer iPod, mini, photo (and most likely Nano). One stipulation is that the software version must be 2004-10-20 or newer. Don't worry if your version is older, software is updateable, see Apple's website http://www.apple.com/ipod/download/ for details.

Another new addition is the XM Satellite Radio connection. Similar to the iPod interface, control and display information is done directly through the receiver. There is also an RS-232 connector for use with the professional MCACC set-up and a computer.

Auto Set-up/Advanced MCACC: This is where things get interesting. Not only does the Advanced MCACC include everything that was previously on the flagship 59TXi, it has even more! The Auto Set-up is so easy that all the user has to do is connect everything, plug in the supplied microphone, and choose to start auto set-up on the menu. There are options to use the 80 Hz THX crossover setting regardless of speaker size and to use X-Curve. The set-up checks for background noise, speaker wiring (phase), which speakers are connected, and their size (frequency response). When it is finished, you can select Data Copy so you can manually change the EQ all you want without messing up the automatic calibration.

The calibration goes a long way towards allowing the receiver to work well in most rooms. Like the 59TXi, it absolutely nailed the distances (0.5 foot increments) and levels (0.5 dB increments) of the main speakers (verified with tape measure and SPL meter). Imaging, bass clarity, tonal balance, speaker timbre matching (identical speakers but different locations) were all greatly improved using the MCACC.

I ran the set-up a number of times and checked for consistency. Every now and then one band would report a decibel different than before, but by and large, the settings were repeatable to 0.5 dB or better like the 59TXi. Also like the 59TXi, it features nine bands of user adjustable EQ and X-Curve with multiple reverb windows for pro-level adjustment using a computer.

So, what does this version of Advanced MCACC have over the one on the 59TXi MCACC? It has standing wave control. It only reaches down to a center frequency of 68 Hz, so it won't replace your SMS, BFD or other subwoofer-only parametric EQ. It does however adjust for standing waves in three bands with a variable frequency, Q (width), and attenuation in the upper bass region. The wave control is applied to your choice of Main (all but center and sub), Sub Only, or Center Only (especially useful for centers on RPTVs). In addition, phase inconsistencies between speakers (and sub) are adjusted using a per channel phase control in an effort to maintain a cohesive sound stage.

Furthermore, a multipoint MCACC has been implemented. If you want to try and balance the corrections for the best possible sound over multiple seats, you have the option to run three consecutive MCACC tests in three mic locations. This can then be stored in a separate setting using the Data Copy feature. This is a nice addition, allowing the user to switch between having one ideal listening position and the best compromise between multiple positions. Other options include "Front Align" to make all the speakers sound as close as possible to your main pair without EQ instead of the "All Channel Adjust" default. All told, you can have six MCACC settings which can also be renamed, reconfigured ,and copied under the "Data Management" menu.

The Sound

The overall sound can be described best in comparison to the 59TXi which I reviewed in August of 2005. The 74TXVi shares many of the sound characteristics with its older, bigger brother, and the processing is slightly more advanced in the 74. But at the end of the day, the 59TXi just plain sounds better. Every instrument has the extra bit of air, a little smoother, more alive. It is quite subtle and nothing compared to the night and day improvement of using MCACC or not using it. Certainly, higher quality components and better power supplies are going to give an extra edge. Of course, at $4,500, the 59TXi can afford to have those higher quality components.

However, compared to the 53TX that I own, the advanced correction processing definitely put the 74TXVi on top, and even if I had some concerns about build quality, they didn't show.

I have been finding it more and more difficult to try and give hard and fast sound impressions other than to try and give them in comparison with other pieces of equipment. At some point you need to hear for yourself. This receiver has that newer Pioneer sound, influenced no doubt by the Air Studios tuning. The positive influence of MCACC and the room correction can't be understated for most users. And at this point, with pure digital audio paths and DSP, you can adjust the sound to your liking without the past penalties of added distortion and phase errors.

While there is some disagreement as to the effectiveness of Auto Set-up and Auto EQ routines (even among Secrets staff), I have found a well implemented system like Pioneer's Advanced MCACC to be a beneficial feature. My experience has been echoed by a number of "real world" users who may not have the equipment, knowledge, or room needed to set it all up manually.

Conclusions

I really enjoyed my time with the Pioneer VSX-74TXVi. I thought it was my long awaited replacement to the 53Tx, but the lack of up-scaling and de-interlacing analog sources to a progressive HDMI output was a deal breaker for me. My projector's DVI input simply won't recognize those 480i signals.

The feature set is excellent, the sound is extremely good, and this would make an excellent pre/pro for those who would like to add an external amplifier for more power. As it stands, it is very highly recommended for the sub-$2,000 receiver class.

Since this review was written prior to receiving a Denon AVR-4306 receiver, the following is a tacked-on quick breakdown comparison. This will be followed up in more detail in the AVR-4306 review.

In favor of the 74TXVi:

Hands down more usable remote
MCACC Auto Set-up more user friendly, more configurable, flexible, and faster. User can save and modify multiple setups, force THX suggested 80 Hz crossover while maintaining remainder of processing. Audyssey EQ setting on 4306 doesn't allow for modification on crossovers or other settings after running the Auto Set-up.
Non-Proprietary IEEE-1394 digital audio interface
Slightly more stately front panel appearance (close)
Free iPod interface cable included
Lower MSRP, lower street cost

In favor of the AVR-4306:

Three HDMI inputs vs. two inputs for the 74TXVi
Faroudja de-interlacing and scaling (up or down) for all analog inputs to HDMI
Network interface for internet radio, server music access, and remote control
Separate power supplies, better build impressions, greater rated current draw 8 amps vs 4.4 amps (530W/120V)
1080p switching for HDMI
Heavier gauge and detachable power cord
Generally more flexible in set-up options, including Dolby Digital EX flag control, adjustable LFE levels, and a master volume leveling system
Three custom set-up buttons on front panel which will set everything the way you want it instantly for three scenarios

A big issue for both: Switching HDMI has been proven to be problematic with many cable/satellite/DVR boxes. As has been covered by articles and interviews here on Secrets, this is not the receiver's "fault" but a concern nonetheless. The ability of the 4306 to de-interlace/scale the component outputs helps to mitigate this issue. Neither one had issues with switching the HDCP HDMI signal from DVD players, which bodes well for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.


- Paul Taatjes -

Associated Equipment:

Onix Rocket RS-850s (X4)
Onix Rocket RC-200
SVS PB2-Ultra
Denon DVD-1910
Sharp XV-Z12000U 720p DLP Projector
Graywolf 92" Retroflective Screen
Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro DSP1124 (PEQ)

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Miscellaneous Ramblings on Subwoofer Crossover Frequencies

Misunderstood 0.1 LFE Channel

Nature of Equipment Reviews

Dialogue Normalization: Friend or Foe

What we Hear

Why Time Alignment is Important

High Fidelity

Cinema Sound and EQ Curves

Accuracy, Distortion, and the Audiophile

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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