Editors' note: As of April 2011, this product has been replaced by the Pioneer VSX-1021-K, which offers additional iOS compatibility options, including AirPlay support.
Pioneer ran away with our Editors' Choice in the AV receiver category in 2009, with the VSX-1019AH-K delivering an unmatched combination of performance and features in its price class. Pioneer hasn't slowed down with the new 2010 model, the VSX-1020-K, upping the HDMI connectivity to six inputs while keeping the same excellent sound quality we loved on last year's model. Our main knock is that the VSX-1020-K lacks some of the newest HDMI features that are available on competing receivers, such as audio return channel and standby pass through. We're also not thrilled that it's the only receiver at this price level with a one-year warranty--the rest have two or more. Still, those are small nitpicks on what is overall an excellent value for a midrange AV receiver. Just note that competitors have caught up in areas like iPod connectivity and graphical user interfaces, so the Pioneer is no longer the easy pick of the litter.
Pioneer's look hasn't changed much from last year, with the front panel featuring a glossy, black finish. There are two equally sized knobs on both sides of the unit, giving it a symmetrical feel, with a large LCD display toward the top in the center. There's a removable cover in the lower right, revealing some additional connectivity, including an HDMI port and an iPod-compatible USB port.
Aside from the aesthetics, the VSX-1020-K is a full-size AV receiver. That means you can expect it to take up plenty of space in your AV cabinet, and it comes in at 16.55 inches wide by 6.23 inches high by 14.93 inches deep. It's not large compared with competing receivers like the Sony STR-DN1010 or the Yamaha RX-V667, but we've been spoiled by the slimline look of the Marantz NR1601.
AV receiver remotes tend to be cluttered and difficult to use and the VSX-1020-K's clicker is no different. It's littered with small, similarly sized buttons, which make navigating by feel practically impossible. The volume controls are smallish and awkwardly placed, toward the upper right, instead of falling easily under the thumb. The main issue is the remote tries to do too much. Every time you select an input, such as DVD, the remote defaults to controlling that device, so you'll need to press receiver again to control the receiver. Save yourself the headache and get a universal remote.
If the VSX-1020-K is connected via Ethernet, it can also be controlled via Pioneer's iPhone app, iControl. We had our doubts about the app when we took the demo version for a spin back in March, but we found it slightly more useful in actual practice. The mainly useful part of the app is the "Control" section, which lets you do basic functions like adjust the volume, switch inputs, and choose different surround modes. Less useful are the precision, emphasis, and balance sections, which focus more on adjusting sound quality by tilting the remote--something we prefer to have more precise control over. Unfortunately, many of the functions that are difficult to do with a standard remote, like renaming inputs or adding Internet radio stations, aren't adjustable using the app. Overall, it's still more of a gimmick than a useful feature, but it's a step in the right direction and a more refined version of the app could make it much easier to operate an AV receiver.
The 2010 graphical user interface is largely unchanged from the previous version. Though it's not very colorful and the graphics are woefully standard definition, we still appreciate having an onscreen display to make changes, such as assigning inputs or manual speaker setup. On the other hand, some tasks are still needlessly difficult. Inputting URLs for Internet radio stations without an onscreen keyboard is more tedious than it needs to be. (At least you have the option of adding stations with a connected PC, but even that process is going to be tough for tech novices.) In addition to making adjustments, the GUI can also display album art and track information when playing music from a connected iPod or Bluetooth device. It's far from eye candy, but it's functional and enhances the iPod connectivity feature.
|Key AV receiver features|
|Channels||7.1||Analog video upconversion||Yes|
|Graphical user interface||Yes||Automatic speaker calibration||Yes|
The VSX-1020-K's key feature set is largely comparable to other receivers' in this price range. Features that used to be considered major upgrades, like analog video upconversion and graphical user interfaces, are now standard, so this Pioneer doesn't stick out from the pack as much as last year's VSX-1019AH-K did. The only demerit is the one-year warranty; every other receiver offers at least two years. We're not aware of long-term issues with Pioneer receivers, but an extra year of protection doesn't hurt, especially with AV receivers, which most people hold onto for several years.
|HDMI version||1.4a||3D pass-through||Yes|
|Audio return channel||No||Standby pass-through||No|
HDMI 1.4 has given manufacturers the ability to add more functionality to their HDMI ports, but since many of the features aren't mandatory, seeing "HDMI 1.4" doesn't necessarily guarantee you anything. For example, the VSX-1020 has HDMI 1.4 ports, but lacks audio return channel capability, which is available on every other competing receiver at this price. That's not a huge omission in our opinion--especially since you need a newer HDTV with HDMI 1.4 to take advantage of it--but it may be confusing for buyers who assume it's automatically included with products with HDMI 1.4. The Pioneer also lacks standby pass-through capability, which many competitors are offering.
|Audio decoding features|
|Dolby TrueHD||Yes||DTS-HD Master Audio||Yes|
|Dolby ProLogic IIz||Yes|
|Other: Neural-THX; Auto Level Control;|
Like every other receiver in this price range, the VSX-1020-K offers decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, plus decoding for Dolby's Pro Logic IIz format, which uses "height" channels, rather than additional back surrounds. Whereas some competitors, such as the Denon AVR-1911, the Marantz NR1601, and the Onkyo TX-SR608, feature Audyssey's suite of sound-processing modes, the VSX-1020-K sticks with proprietary technology such as Pioneers Auto Level Control and MCACC. More on these in the setup and performance sections.