For those truly dedicated to their beloved home theater setups, Pioneer has typically been a prime choice for the name brand enthusiasts with more than enough options shared between its regular lineup and their much-revered “Elite” models. But AV receivers have largely been a gray area depending on who you ask; some of us covet their vast potential while others are content with the instant gratification of a soundbar.
In this case, Pioneer’s VSX-1123-K skirts that fine line with 7.2 channel surround sound, 4K UHD (Ultra-HD) pass-through and up-scaling capabilities, Dolby Pro Logic IIz for “height” channels, an plethora of intelligent ECO and surround modes, and multi-zone output (Zone 2/HDZONE) for different simultaneous sources in other rooms. In essence, that’s a whole lot of features for a relatively reasonable amount of money.
Editors’ Note 3/20/2014: For reference, this review will also apply to the Pioneer VSX-1128-K, which is a retail exclusive only available in Future Shop stores. In terms of specifications and performance this model is largely identical to our supplied test unit.
The look of AV receivers have typically been hulking, black metal boxes since the beginning of time, and the VSX-1123 largely adheres to the norm with some Pioneer-esque flourishes. First off, the brushed front is flanked by two huge knobs — for master volume and direct input selection, while a number of panel buttons and the necessary LED status display occupy the middle.
This receiver won’t leave you wanting in terms of connectivity either; the front sports an assortment of input/output options including headphone output, USB port, a single HDMI/MHL input, and a MCACC Microphone Jack.
Around back there are seven more HDMI inputs (eight total) and two HDMI outputs, optical audio, another USB port (for the optional wireless adapter), and a well-assorted smattering of legacy connections. Showing you a picture of the rear would be easier than describing every single port, switch, and amplifier terminal, which is just as well because most people will probably run out of devices before inputs anyway.
The VSX-1123’s remote is staggering with numerous white playback buttons and input labels. It’s almost intimidating when you realize that the layout isn’t the most intuitive, yet still manages to cram hidden secondary functions. Not only that, but this clicker is meant to replace the ones that came with your TV, DVR, or Blu-ray player through programming signals. For what it’s worth though, the buttons are backlit for convenience.
The hookup process can be arduous without the manual or help in general, but it shouldn’t take that long for those essential connections. To ease some of those first-time woes, all Pioneer receivers feature the proprietary MCACC (Multi Channel Acoustic Calibration) automatic speaker system and microphone, which identifies the acoustic area, along with size and position of most home speakers within a couple of minutes. For our main tests we hooked up the VSX-1123 to an Onkyo SKS-HT870 7.1 home theater speaker system.
With Full MCACC enabled, the sound quality was well balanced while keeping bass tight and controlled on most occasions, movies and games sporting ballistic audio from Elysium, Skyfall, and Battlefield 4 benefited the most from the receiver’s quick initial setup accuracy in terms of dynamic effects.
For enthusiasts who want to go a little further with the aptly capable MCACC room correction, the VSX-1123 handles sound crossover with more straightforward depth over all speakers. Compared to other receivers in its class where frequency adjustments can be made for each individual audio channel, the Pioneer’s bass management comes off as limited on paper, but we couldn’t hear any real noticeable differences between speaker sizes or sub-woofer capabilities short of turning the sub volume by a notch or two. However, music such as concert and orchestrated soundtracks came through better in analog form without default MCACC calibration, where natural instrumental tones were more appropriate than booming explosions.
It should be noted that all sound quality evaluations are subjective and purely based on the connected speakers and listening environments. And like always, individual results may vary somewhat. Regardless, we’re confident that the VSX-1123’s performance is full-fledged as a traditional AV receiver.
Network connectivity is included with the VSX-1123, although a wired Ethernet connection is required to take advantage of any these features. For starters, Apple users will be comfortable with AirPlay, which allows audio streaming (albeit via wireless router) from iTunes and iOS devices version 4.3.3 or later; similarly, HTC Connect functionality is also accounted for. Other additional streaming choices are on the relatively lean side with only integrated DLNA, Pandora, and vTuner internet radio readily available.
We can easily forgive the adequate streaming abilities, but the lack of built-in wireless functionality altogether is unusual if the VSX-1123-K is intended to be a modern end-all home theater hub. Pioneer does offer external adapters for Wi-Fi (AS-WL300) and Bluetooth (AS-BT200) but the MSRP ($129.99 and $99.99 respectively) makes these optional accessories very hard to recommend.
For extended tweaking through your smartphone or Tablet, the iControlAV2013 app for iOS and Android is yet another way to manage your Pioneer Receiver. It’s convenient if you prefer a touchscreen over the remote, but the app was underutilized during our testing and not a proper substitute for the real thing.
Ultimately, the VSX-1123-K is the most compelling take of a midrange AV receiver from Pioneer. Abundant with features and literally stuffed with HDMI connectivity, this beast is an absolute standout home theater choice that also happens to be AirPlay-friendly. Granted, you’ll probably have to live without integrated Wi-Fi, but this receiver is still an incredible enthusiast grade value for the money, especially with the more expensive 2014 models right around the corner.