There's only one solution for today's discerning home theatre enthusiast, and that's to buy an AV receiver. What's it the solution to you may ask? Well, just about everything it turns out, especially if you opt for a powerhouse such as Pioneer's VSX-AX2AS.
- Dozens of connections, HDMI switching, great audio calibration options, learning remote, iPod connector included
A fully featured AV receiver with all the features we could ask for.
Price$ 1,999.00 (AUD)
The AX2 really is a very good AV receiver. Sure, it's big, ridiculously big in fact. It's also not the most attractive thing we've ever seen, though if you want to give guests the impression that you have a nuclear powered device sitting in your living room, it fits the bill perfectly. What's special about the AX2 is that it's one of the first AV receivers we've seen where we haven't thought "if only it had that" or "what's wrong with these designers, that's ridiculous."
Pioneer has truly crammed an incredible amount into this package. For a start there are the inputs. We're used to having a lot of connections on AV receivers, but Pioneer has taken things to the next level. Four HDMI inputs/outputs are the most useful inclusion, especially as HDMI is becoming increasingly common. Then there are the whopping ten composite connections, four component, eight S-video, five optical digital and others besides. Being a 7.1 system you'll also be able to connect up to seven home theatre speakers, with 170W of power provided per channel. Upgrading to the AX4 for an extra $500 also gets you USB and FireWire thrown in for good measure. If you have more devices to connect than the AX2 supports you clearly have too much money.
After connecting up all your wires it's time to get busy with some calibration. Like every AV receiver on the market these days Pioneer has bundled an automatic calibration microphone with the AX2. Unlike the others however, this one's really good. The idea behind these microphones is to set them up where you would normally sit. They then ensure all the speakers are set at the correct distance and balance the volume accordingly. Usually that's about the limit of their power, but the AX2 offers a whole lot more with reverb, standing wave and other acoustic enhancements. Should you really wish to get your hands dirty, the AX2 can bring up on-screen graphs for advanced equalisation adjustments. It's even possible to save six preset listening positions for your room, should you feel like moving round in the middle of a film. Other adjustments, such as the standing wave, can be normalised to give a balanced simultaneous calibration at multiple listening areas. These are great inclusions for the budding audiophile.
With regards to surround options, the AX2 has got all the usual suspects: Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Neo:6, Digital EX, DTS and a few others. But, behold, there's more! As a THX certified device there's a whole plethora of additional options designed to give cinematic style effects. There's THX cinema, THX music, THX surround, THX games; you get the idea. This might seem excessive, but it doesn't end there. Pioneer has also included various equalisation modes for different kinds of music and movies. That means things like sci-fi, musicals and drama for movies, or jazz, rock and chamber for audio. Finally, there's a special setting to give headphone users a surround-like effect.
Of course, with all these settings it's important that accessing them is made easy. Thankfully Pioneer has included an on-screen interface with the AX2 which makes things a good deal easier. Like every good AV receiver it's possible to reassign all the various inputs and outputs using the interface. Video output can also be switched from component input to HDMI output which is a useful inclusion. We especially liked the way the speaker outputs can be adjusted to provide bi-amplification to the front speakers using the rear surround amplifiers. This is another boon for the audiophile user. There's also a powerful learning remote with LCD screen that can be used to control all your external devices. This supports all the important functions such as macro controls too, though it is a little cluttered and cumbersome to use.
One final feature of note is the ubiquitous iPod support. No self respecting audio device comes without at least a tentative stab at keeping the legions of Apple fans happy these days, and the AX2 is no exception. It's nice to see that Pioneer has included the connection in the box; basically you just plug your iPod's dock connector into the included cable and the iPod menu appears on your screen. Pioneer's effort is one of the better implementations we have seen and the ability to continue listening to music while browsing through songs is useful. However, to browse photos or videos you have to switch back to using the iPod's own controls: a minor annoyance.
Pioneer's AX2 is definitely a great step in the right direction for AV receivers. We couldn't find much to fault with it. If you're after a powerful AV receiver with a plethora of connections then this is a great option.
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