Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pioneer VSX 422K Surround Receiver

Got this little bugger on ebay from a German retailer, brand new in the box, for a hundred and ten Euro less than what I would have paid in Belgium: €186 (plus €20 for p&p) against €300 (plus €15 for p&p).

I had the 422K in my sights for a while, although I would have liked its bigger brother more, but that one (the VSX 922K) is priced at €550 -almost twice the amount for the VSX 422k.

Once I had the 422K set- and hooked-up, I remembered why I would rather have bought the 922K.  First off, the 422K -like the 922K- has an on-screen display with a menu, except that with the 922K this menu is sent through the HDMI cable, but with my receiver it's not.  You have to hang the receiver to the TV with a yellow-red-white cable (of which the yellow is the important one, since that's the one providing the picture) and plug the yellow cable into the "monitor" inlet of the receiver.

There's no problem with that -luckily- since my Samsung 46" LED TV has a whole bunch of possible connections, the y-r-w connection being one of them.  The inconvenience is that you need the remote of the tv to switch incoming sources to see the display of the receiver -and more importantly, find the needed cable first.

Normally, one doesn't need the receiver's on-screen display, except for the annoying announcement which keeps scrolling across the receiver's display, telling you about some automatic sound set-up called MCACC or Multi-Channel ACoustic Calibration (something like Technic's "Pink-Noise", years ago).  This announcement can only gotten rid of after having disabled it through the receiver's menu, for which of course you first must look for that damned y-r-w cable and wring yerself behind the TV and receiver to make the connection.

Normally I never use such nifty gadgets because usually they don't amount to much.  But I read some good things about this auto-calibration thing when informing myself on the net about the 422K and decided to have a go.

What you do is, get the microphone which comes with the receiver, plug it into the VSX 422K -mini-jack is conveniently placed at the front- and then sit in the chair you usually use for watching TV and place the microphone as close to your ears as possible -I placed it on top of my head- and start the self-diagnostic sequences.

All the receiver does is first test the room for environmental noises (it even tells you it stops the test when there's too much background noise and even advises to reduce the noise for the receiver to be able to restart testing) then it sends a white noise to all the available channels (six) to determine how many speakers are connected.

After this first test, the receiver's MCACC tests the acoustics of the room, determines where the speakers are situated in regard to where the microphone -and thus you- sits and on that basis it sets the noise levels for the different speakers as well as adapting the settings for the built-in equalizer and it's pre-sets.

I must confess that there's a huge difference in sound quality with the settings after the auto-calibration.  I fiddled around with the manual settings for the speakers -the latter sadly overruns the auto-calibration settings- and had a go at some sweet tunes (Iced Earth's three-piece "Gettysburg 1864" suite on the bonus disc for their 2004 album "The Glorious Burden"), then I re-calibrated with the receiver's MCACC and was blown away with the difference in sound (speaking of sound: don't do the calibrating at night, like I did the first time around, because the test noises grow seriously in decibels along the way, making unsuspecting neighbours unhappy).

It's really the difference between day and night.  I mean, the receiver sounds pretty good for such a low priced, entry level apparatus, but after the auto-calibration, the VSX 422K sounds like a million bucks.

Okay, so I've been out of the hifi-loop for a while. Bar my Logitech Z5500 5.1 surround system, the last stand-alone receiver I had was the Pioneer VSX 809.  A 4.1 receiver bought in 1994 which sounded okay-ish.

Compared to the VSX 422K, that older Pioneer sounds like a mid-sixties handheld AM radio.  Sure, there's almost 20 years between them, but the difference in sound quality is mind boggling.

But back to my gripes with the 422K.  So, like I said, the on-screen display can only be seen with the right cable.  Another letdown is that the VSX 422K doesn't have a J45 network connection.  Not really necessary, but mighty handy for upgrading the software for the receiver.

Third inconvenience is that there's no USB connection either.  Furthermore, there's only one set of stereo speakers that can be hooked up.  My VSX 809 had, besides the surround channels, an extra pair of speaker connectors.  Usually both sets are marked as "A" and "B".  Such a second set can be handy when wanting to use speakers in a different room other than where the main speakers are situated, like in the kitchen or even a bedroom: it keeps you from having to buy a second amp/receiver.  Simply switch from speaker set A to speaker set B and yer done.

Last inconvenience -and the most important to me- is the tiny buttons on the remote.  With my deteriorating eyesight, I need a flashlight to shine over the buttons to be able to see what's written underneath the lot.  If there's even something written underneath.  Most buttons have some little sign for which you need the manual in order to decipher what the meaning of those glyphs is.  But, there's no paper manual with the receiver.  So, you need the disc that came with the 422K and a computer nearby to be able to read the manual...

To help you out with the result of some button pushing, there's markings on the front of the receiver, underneath some ill-fed LEDs.  Problem is that the explanatory text is so small that you need to kneel in front of the receiver and stick yer nose against it -preferably armed with aformentioned flashlight- to again be able to make out what exactly is being communicated here.

To make a long story short: the Pioneer VSX 422K has a great sound for its price, but it seriously lacks in the user-friendly department.  But do I care?  Not really, no.  Which makes this slab of text rather pointless, now doesn't it...


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