The pitch for Pioneer's VSX-823-K ($400 street price) is straightforward: six HDMI inputs, built-in AirPlay, and not much else. That's more HDMI connectivity than the similarly AirPlay-equipped Denon AVR-E300 ($400) offers, and AirPlay gives it an edge against other receivers that offer six HDMI inputs at this price, like the Marantz NR1403 and Onkyo TX-NR525.
Where the VSX-823-K falls short is wireless connectivity. There's no built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and adding those features later is pricey, with Pioneer charging over $100 for each of its accessories. The lack of wireless wouldn't be so glaring if it weren't for the existence of the Sony STR-DN840, which offers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay for just $50 more. That strikes us as a better deal for most buyers, but if you're not tempted by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, the Pioneer's solid blend of Apple-friendly features and above-average sound quality is worth considering.
Design: Black and boxy
The VSX-823-K isn't breaking any new ground when it comes to design; it looks like every other big, bulky AV receiver on the market. The two large knobs (one for volume, one for input selection) give it a symmetrical feel, and like most receivers it has quite a few front-panel buttons you'll probably never use. For our tastes, the VSX-823-K is just middling in looks, but anyone searching for something nicer-looking should consider the Marantz NR1403 or a compact integrated amplifier.
Nearly all AV receiver remotes are bad, and the VSX-823-K's clicker doesn't rise above that reputation. It gets some things right, like the large white buttons for volume, but it's also brimming with unnecessary buttons and confusing secondary functions that require a pressing the Shift key. If you're investing this much in your home theater, do yourself a favor and get a universal remote.
Features: AirPlay, six HDMI inputs, but no wireless
The VSX-823-K has a solid mix of features for its price.
Its six HDMI inputs are one more input than you get on the similarly priced Yamaha RX-V475 and Denon AVR-E300. One of the inputs is also MHL-compatible, so it will work with devices like the Roku Streaming Stick, although the input's front-panel location means the stick will be hanging off the front. Other legacy connections are surprisingly few -- no component video ports at all! -- but that should be fine for most buyers, with the vast majority of devices using HDMI these days.
Networking features are included, although you'll need a wired Ethernet connection to take advantage of them. AirPlay is the marquee feature for Apple fans, letting you wirelessly stream audio from iOS devices and iTunes. (There's also support for HTC Connect, although we didn't test that functionality.) The VSX-823-K is relatively light on integrated streaming audio services, supporting only Pandora, Internet radio, and DLNA.
The real weakness of the VSX-823-K is in the area of wireless features. It doesn't have integrated Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and Pioneer's accessories are unreasonably expensive; $130 for Wi-Fi and $100 for Bluetooth. Those prices seem even less defensible when the $450 Sony STR-DN840 offers both built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (not to mention AirPlay, too) for just a little more. If you want wireless capabilities, which would make sense if your music collection revolves around a smartphone or tablet, you'd be wise to check out the STR-DN840.
The rest of the features are less important for mainstream buyers. The VSX-823-K is "only" a 5.1-channel receiver, but most buyers won't need the extra functionality that a seven-channel receiver makes possible: surround back channels, powered second-zone audio, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz "height" channels. There's no analog video upconversion, but again, that's less of a concern now that most modern devices use HDMI.
Finally, Pioneer offers only a 1-year warranty with the VSX-823-K, which is a year shorter than most companies offer. We haven't seen any reports of widespread quality control issues with Pioneer receivers, but it's annoying that the company doesn't offer longer support for products intended to last for five years or more.
If you're looking for more-detailed feature comparisons, check out our giant AV receiver spreadsheet, which compares the VSX-823-K with other 2013 models as we review them.