Pioneer VSX-AX3

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Pioneer VSX-AX3

Pros

  • Good power output to speakers, THX certified, great automatic calibration

Cons

  • Nothing to report

Bottom Line

A great receiver with a good set of features and impressive auto calibration.

Would you buy this?

  • Buy now (Selling at 6 stores)

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The Pioneer VSX-AX3 is a sturdy-looking machine that stands quite tall (188mm) and tips the scales at 18.4kg. It's finished in brushed aluminium, and a minimalist approach is taken to the layout of buttons, the bulk of which are tucked away out of sight behind a flip-down front panel. A multi-jog selector wheel provides easy access to the menu system and sources, and the electronic display is busy but informative.

Pioneer confusingly classifies this amplifier as having a maximum RMS of 130W x 7, but goes on to list each of the seven channels at 100W driving 8 ohms (20Hz to 20kHz, 0.09% THD). As with all power ratings, use it as a rough guide and make your judgments based on hands-on demonstrations of output or independent third-party reviews such as this. We can tell you that the VSX-AX3 has more than enough power on hand to drive the most demanding of speakers. It is also THX Select certified, featuring THX Surround EX processing along with Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, DTS, DTS-ES, Dolby Pro Logic II (not IIx) and DTS Neo:6. Numerous DSP modes are thrown in for good measure, as is a "Source Direct" mode that bypasses unnecessary audio-processing circuits.

The VSX-AX3 is well-equipped in terms of input and output options, with both 7.1 pre-outs and inputs available for external amplification and SACD/DVD-Audio respectively. There are also four A/V inputs and two A/V outputs, plus a whole swag of analog audio inputs and outputs. Digital input options are limited to a single coaxial input and two optical inputs. Seven sets of sturdy multi-way binding posts let you connect a full complement of 7.1 speakers, but there's no outlet for a second set of front speakers for multi-room listening. There are also no component video inputs or outputs whatsoever.

Multichannel Acoustic Calibration EQ System (MCACC) is the name Pioneer gives its automatic calibration routine. It involves connecting a small microphone to the receiver, placing it at your listening position and starting the calibration sequence. This takes a few minutes but is simple and effective. It's quite loud as it bounces a variety of sounds around the room while it determines the optimum settings. The difference between the pre-calibration receiver and the post-calibration receiver is quite astounding: the soundstage closes in around the listener to form a single, cohesive listening experience. An incredibly comprehensive (some might say mind-boggling) set of manual setup options are available for those of us who trust our own ears implicitly. But really, there's no need, since MCACC works so well. General operation is intuitive and getting the machine to do what you want is easy.

We had high hopes for this receiver, and can happily report we weren't disappointed. In Source Direct stereo mode, the VSX-AX3 produced a soundstage that gave musical instruments and vocals a sense of "space" around them. Directional surround-sound effects were precise, and there was real impact through the mid-range and subwoofer channel. Dialogue through the centre channel was strong without being chesty.

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