HDMI Receivers: The Two Best Buys on the Planet!
(Note- this is an updated page to reflect a model change from both Onkyo and Pioneer.)
If you are building a new surround sound system and looking for the best value in an HDMI receiver, the Onkyo TX-SR607 and the Pioneer VSX-1019 should be on the top of your shopping lists. Both offer an abundance of clean power with an unbeatable combination of advanced features, making them a perfect centerpiece to your home theater. Combine one of these receivers with high-quality, value-priced speakers from companies such as Acculine and The Speaker Company and you will have a home theater with sound that belies the price.
As I type this, Amazon.com has the TX-SR607 for $459.95. The Pioneer VSX-1019 is selling on Amazon for $469.00. As you will see, the value you get for your money with these products in unbeatable and makes it hard to justify spending much more on a receiver, unless you have very expensive and demanding speakers or a very large room.
I said they had an unbeatable combo of advanced features- here they are!
High-Def Audio Decoding
The ability to decode bitstreamed Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio is a must-have as the market transitions from DVD to Blu-ray. Both the TX-SR607 and the VSX-1019 can decode these lossless, high definition sound formats, both of which can duplicate the sound quality of the studio’s original master tape. It literally doesn’t get any better, and the difference between lossless sound and ordinary Dolby Digital and DTS is dramatic, to say the least.
Seeing this on your display tells you the receiver is decoding he high-def audio properly.
To enjoy lossless sound via the receiver’s decoding, connect your Blu-ray player to the receiver with an HDMI cable, enter the player’s setup menus and set audio to “Bitstream” or HD Audio Output.” Different players will have different names for it, but the function is the same.
If you have a PlayStation 3 for Blu-ray, it will decode the high-def audio internally and send it out as a generic digital audio “PCM” signal. It will still be lossless but you won’t see DTS-HD MSTR or DOLBY TRUEHD light up on the front of your receiver.
Multiple HDMI Inputs
TX-SR607 HDMI inputs and output
The Onkyo TX-SR606 has 5 HDMI inputs, the Pioneer VSX-1018 has 4 HDMI inputs.
Clean, Ample Power
These ratings must be taken with something of a grain of salt. Almost all home theater receivers are rated optimistically, and they are measured with only one channel driven to full power. I can assure you that if you compared a 75 watt per channel home theater amplifier from the likes of Outlaw Audio, it would blow these two away, despite the receivers’ higher ratings. What is important to know is that both of these receivers have ample power for a medium to medium-large room when used with appropriate speakers. I will explain their power ratings below.
Onkyo: 90 watts per channel from 20-20,000 Hz, THD .08% at 8 ohms
Pioneer: 120 watts per channel at 1,000 Hz, THD .05% at 8 ohms
THD means Total Harmonic Distortion, i.e. the level of distortion. Note that the Onkyo is rated over the entire audible range, 20 Hz (lowest audible bass) to 20,000 Hz (highest audible treble) and the Pioneer is only rated at one frequency, 1,000 Hz. This is fudging the numbers somewhat… it would be better if we had a rating from the Pioneer that was from 20-20,000 Hz. My research tells me that in real-world conditions, the Onkyo has a more powerful amplifier despite the ratings and the lower price. I wouldn’t worry too much about it though as both should have more than enough to meet your needs.
Both receivers use video processing from Faroudja, one of the better names in the business. The Onkyo upscales to 1080i, the Pioneer to 1080p.
Automatic Setup and Room Correction
MCACC microphone input, located on the front panel.
Both systems allow you to connect a microphone to the receiver and engage an automatic setup function. The microphone is placed in the listening area and the receiver plays test tones while measuring the results with the microphone. Both systems not only configure your speakers, they measure the effect of your room’s acoustics and makes adjustments (equalization) to make the system sound its best. The Onkyo’s system is called Audyssey2EQ. The Pioneer’s is called MCACC Advanced Room Correction.
MCACC Advanced Room Correction provides superior performance.
I’ve never had good luck with automatic setup systems on lower priced gear, from versions of Audyssey to Sherwood Newcastle’s SNAP. SNAP isn’t even a lower priced option – the processor I used it with cost $1,500, and that did not even include an amplifier. No matter how the automatic systems configured and adjusted the system, I always found I preferred the sound of the system when I set it up on my own and turned off the equalization. In short, they were doing more harm than good.
Pioneer’s Advanced MCACC is a game changer in this regard. It’s simply fantastic and yielded an improvement that was dramatic and obvious. If I had the Onkyo I would set it up myself. If I had the Pioneer, I would definitely use the MCACC.
Both receivers are satellite ready. Just add the antenna and a subscription and you are good to go. The Onkyo is compatible with one service, the Pioneer is compatible with both services.
Onkyo: Sirius Satellite-Ready with On Screen Display
Pioneer: Sirius and XM Satellite-Ready with On Screen Display
The Pioneer has an iPod-ready USB port on the front panel.
Onkyo vs. Pioneer
- 6 HDMI inputs, one more than the Pioneer
- Real-world power is likely to be higher, based on test reports of other models from both manufacturers
- Lower price
- Advanced MCACC system provides superior performance and a noticeable improvement in sound quality
- 1080p upscaling vs. 1080i upscaling in the Onkyo
- Better remote control
- iPod USB Connectivity
- Compatible with both Sirius and XM satellite radio
- An informal straw poll shows most preferred the styling, finish and LCD display over the Onkyo, so you may prefer it as well
What would I buy?
The actual answer to this question is I have already purchased one of each unit and use them to test speakers that are likely to be paired with them. I wouldn’t test a pair of $3,000 speakers with a $500 receiver (though these are up to the task in a lot of cases) nor would I test a $500 set of surround speakers with $8,000 worth of amplifier and surround processor.
My overall preference is for the Pioneer, mostly for its MCACC system but I love its high-end look, too. I consider the looks a bonus while I enjoy the amazing sound that I know has been equalized near-perfectly for my room and speakers. It’s fun to watch the on-screen display as the VSX-1019 go through its paces and configures the system, and the difference made by the room correction must be heard to be appreciated. It really is that good, and at the price, a game changer.
Reasons to buy the Onkyo: it is less expensive, it has an additional HDMI input, and I believe it to be more powerful in real-world conditions. If you have 4-ohm speakers like the Acculine A3 towers I would rather drive them with the Onkyo that with the Pioneer. If you have speakers that promise to be easy to drive (which is almost everything selling in the sub-$2,000 price range) and you won’t be playing especially loud, the Pioneer will be more than adequate.
You can’t go wrong no matter which you choose. The Pioneer has more going for it in the way of features, but the real draw is the MCACC. If you need 4 HDMI inputs, I’d go for the Onkyo and never doubt my choice for a second.
Want to buy one? Here are today’s prices:
Have questions? Send me your questions, I love hearing from you!