With a Pioneer BDP-51FD connected to the LX51's HDMI input, we played the Blu-ray version of 300 and the Pioneer delivers a breathtaking rendition of its Dolby TrueHD track. It has the punch and power to turn the film's brutal battle scenes into a truly visceral experience, with the clanking swords, furious effects and stirring score pumped out with real aplomb.
What's more, the speed and drive with which it zips from effect to effect is stunning and makes for a truly thrilling listen, but it remains in steadfast control at all times. The soundstage never feels muddy or boxed in - it's admirably open and expansive, and with more intimate dialogue-driven scenes, the Pioneer renders speech with effortless clarity.
The LX51 ekes out every last bit of detail from the disc too, reproducing even the subtlest background sounds with pin-sharp clarity and adding an extra hint of gruesome detail to the sound of spears squelching through flesh. High-frequencies are amazingly crisp but never sound harsh or bright, while at the other end of the spectrum the bass is full bodied but extremely well controlled.
The LX51 is also tremendously musical, gracing delicate jazz CDs with a deftness of touch that you wouldn't have thought possible after hearing it pound the hell out of 300. But it also does a classy job with up-tempo material like John Legend's Evolver, relaying its rhythms with plenty of vigour.
Pioneer has plenty of wildly expensive high-end receivers under its belt that deliver benchmark audio performance, but the VSX-LX51 is proof that the company can also work wonders at a lower price point. Film soundtracks sound fantastic, music is a real treat and the unit is packed with more features than you'll probably ever use. If we're being picky, we're not convinced that the Pioneer shows enough of an improvement over cheaper amps like the Marantz SR6003 to justify the extra cost, but that's a minor criticism - if you go for the Pioneer we guarantee that you won't be disappointed.