We were surprised to note the D912 lacks onscreen display for menu navigation, but the automated setup function makes the loss easier to take.
The large but comfortable remote has a small LCD and provides direct access to standard Dolby or DTS surround and synthesized surround modes, as well as stereo. We programmed the remote to work with our TV and DVD player in just a few minutes. We'll get to the D912's battalion of features in a minute, but first we want to give you the lowdown on the impressive MCACC automated setup routine. At first, we thought it was similar to Harman Kardon's EzSet feature--found on the AVR 325, for example--but Pioneer's system is considerably more sophisticated and accurate. EzSet balances only the satellite speakers' volume levels, so you still have to input other information, such as how many speakers you have and speaker-to-listener distances, then select the various sizes of the speakers. MCACC automates those functions, and even more impressive, it was quite accurate in its work. It set the levels of the subwoofer and the six speakers nearly as precisely as we could with a sound-pressure-level meter. With most receivers, setup is completely manual, and most folks never go through the hassle of properly establishing and balancing speaker levels. That's unfortunate; they're missing out on a lot of the sound quality they paid for. Since the D912's setup takes about five minutes, we expect most owners will use it and enjoy better-sounding systems.
This Pioneer's extensive surround modes run the gamut from Dolby Digital/EX, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS/ES Matrix and Discrete processing. It even includes the latest trick from DTS: 96/24 decoding that lets you play DTS-encoded DVD-Audio discs without a DVD-Audio player.
The D912's connectivity suite should accommodate all but the most complex home theaters. There are SACD/DVD/7.1-channel inputs and--something rarely seen on a receiver in this price range--pre-amp outputs that open the door to future upgrades with a separate power amp. Component-video switching for two sources is available, as well as three composite or S-Video sources. Digital audio connections are plentiful: five inputs (three optical--one front--and two coaxial) and one optical digital output. You also get A/B-speaker switching and heavy-duty speaker-binding posts. A full set of front-mounted A/V inputs is provided, including that optical digital input. Considering its price, we were skeptical about the receiver's 110-watt-per-channel power rating, so we fully flexed the D912's muscles on the latest Austin Powers DVD, Goldmember. Dr. Evil's rap ditty, "Hard Knock Life," had the sort of full-fledged dynamic swings and room-shaking bass that humble lesser receivers, but the D912 never faltered.
The Standing in the Shadows of Motown documentary DVD has some rousing concert footage. Joan Osborne's "Heatwave" was hot, thanks in no small part to the band's hard-hitting rhythm section. The "live-ness" of the surround mix added immeasurably to the realism of the sound.
For the ultimate test of the D912's sonic prowess, we auditioned a few spectacular DVD-Audio discs. Fleetwood Mac's new one, Say You Will, sounded fine, especially "Red Rover," with its ricocheting guitars bouncing across the surround speakers. That's pretty cool, but Yes's 31-year-old Fragile album, recently remastered on DVD-A, sounded even better. Its richer tonal balance sounded sweeter, and the surround mix was more holographic. In other words, this receiver will let you hear all of the quality encoded in your DVDs and CDs.
The tuner sounded cleaner and quieter than average, and it captured tough-to-receive college stations.
We had such a great time with the VSX-D912 that we temporarily forgot how affordable it is. Yes, directly comparing it with Denon's wonderful AVR-2803 receiver (review coming soon), we were aware of the Pioneer's cooler tonal balance. The Denon's sound exhibited greater weight and refinement, and the bass went deeper with more impact and verve. But the Denon is almost twice as expensive and doesn't have the D912's automated setup feature. If you can get along without the D912's automatic setup and LCD remote, we'd recommend checking out Pioneer's nearly identical but less expensive VSX-D812K.