Setting up the Pioneer VSX-923 is as complicated as you want it to be. If you hate the stress of speaker calibration then Pioneer’s MCACC auto setup will take care of everything for you, including channel levels, speaker distances, EQ and room correction. It’s a more thorough system than most and as such takes a while to complete, but the results are pleasingly accurate. You can view the results in the MCACC Data Check menu.
However, if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, the setup menu offers all the tools you need to optimise the speakers manually, as well as network, input and HDMI options. This drab-looking setup menu uses a black background and moody monochrome graphics, with clearly-structured lists.
Play music from an iPod or DLNA server and the Pioneer displays cover art and white text dotted around it. It’s all a bit dull but gets the job done. Onscreen dialogue boxes let you alter audio and video settings during playback, but these are also basic and old-fashioned.
What really makes the Pioneer VSX-923 a chore to operate is the remote, which is poor for so many reasons – the ranks of tiny buttons with cryptic lettering that up the spaces in between, the dual function buttons, the ‘Receiver’ button - which you have to press in order to access the Home menu - and the awkward clicky direction pad.
Thankfully Pioneer’s iControlAV2013 app is a million times better. Available for iOS and Android, the app’s new interface allows you to control the VSX-923 with a phone or tablet, and browse music files on networked devices. It’s fun, stylish and intuitive, and covers practically every function.
Additionally Pioneer’s AVNavigator app, which can be downloaded for free from Pioneer’s website for Mac, iPad and Windows, gives you an introduction to wiring and calibrating the unit.
Playing The Hobbit on Blu-ray, you can tell early doors that the Pioneer VSX-923 is a classy performer, offering a smooth and intricate sound. The movie’s soundtrack is conveyed with entrancing clarity and precision, and impressively the Pioneer doesn’t lose focus at higher volumes.
The opening scenes before Smaug’s assault on Erebor are beautifully presented, with lots of crisp, twinkly detail peppering the soundstage, from the glassy chink of chisels tapping on rock to kites rustling in the wind. It teases out the smallest details and articulates Ian Holm’s narration with terrific authority.
However, its sonic character is definitely more Hugh Grant than Jason Statham, favouring a more polite, detailed approach over the brash, brutal sound you’d get from, say, a Yamaha or Onkyo. That’s fine most of the time, but in the heat of a raucous action scene we found ourselves craving something a little more thunderous and visceral.
But that’s not to say that the Pioneer doesn’t get the adrenaline flowing. As the dragon smashes its way into the mountain, it batters down the door with a splintery crunch, there’s a convincingly metallic clank as armoured dwarves clatter into the walls and the dragon’s roar is blood curdling, without the raspy edge that blights lesser sound systems.
Mid-range and high frequencies are clean and forceful, making the overall sound feel energetic without crossing the line into harshness, while bass notes are taut, punchy and seamlessly integrated.
We’re also impressed by the VSX-923’s orchestration of the soundstage. Surround effects are cleanly isolated and accurately placed, plus the Pioneer moves them between channels with great speed and smoothness.
So in a nutshell, the Pioneer VSX-923 is an impressive movie performer, delivering a refined, detail-packed performance with good dynamics and enough muscle to keep you on your toes. It’s not the most gut-wrenchingly powerful receiver though – those looking for more aggression and bite should check out the similarly-priced competition first.
When weighing up the Pioneer VSX-923’s pros and cons, there’s certainly a lot more to put in the ‘pros’ column. We love its wholehearted commitment to smartphones and tablets, with support for Apple devices (USB playback, AirPlay), Android phones (HTC Connect, MHL) and DLNA music servers.
There are loads of other features too, including DLNA streaming, internet radio, auto setup, eight HDMIs, lossless music playback, 4K upscaling, countless sound modes… the list goes on.
But sadly that ‘cons’ column isn’t empty. Unless you’re using Pioneer’s excellent control app, the Pioneer VSX-923 can be a pain to use due to the confusing remote and patchy onscreen design.
It’s also a shame Bluetooth and Wi-Fi aren’t built-in (but not a deal breaker) and although its sound is perfectly entertaining and dynamic, some listeners may crave a bigger, more brutal sound. But if none of those things bothers you, then the VSX-923 has enough going for it elsewhere to make it a worthwhile purchase.
The Pioneer VSX-923 boasts a terrific feature list and delivers an entertaining movie performance, but if you’re after thunderous power look elsewhere