Sound Advice Column: Adding a subwoofer to a stereo receiver, Pioneer VSX-1021

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Fourth week of December, 2011

Q:A salesman in a big box store told me that a powered subwoofer cannot be connected to a 2-channel stereo receiver. Is he right?

- Ron Lassow, Minneapolis, MN

A. Though two-channel stereo receivers do not have an RCA subwoofer output, you can still use a powered subwoofer. Just buy a subwoofer that has speaker-level (high-level) inputs. Run speaker wires from the receiver to the sub’s speaker wire inputs, and then run another set of wires from the sub’s speaker wire outputs to the speakers. Adjust the volume and crossover point on the subwoofer’s control panel and it will reproduce the low frequencies and send the midrange and treble to the speakers. A lot of enthusiasts (and speaker companies) think this actually produces better sound quality than using an RCA subwoofer connection.

There are some excellent and inexpensive powered subwoofers with speaker-level inputs. The 10-inch, 125-watt Dayton SUB-100 has long been a favorite for only $120. The new 12-inch, 150-watt subwoofer from Monoprice.com is receiving rave reviews from the media and end users, and its $85 price tag nearly defies belief. If you are building an entire system, spending only $85 on the subwoofer frees up funds for better main speakers, a better receiver or a better television, all of which are likely to make you happier than a pricier subwoofer.

Holiday product highlight: Last week I discussed speakers without mentioning a receiver to use with them. This week’s holiday product highlight is an affordable receiver.

Pioneer’s VSX-1021-K is a 7.1-channel home theater receiver with 90 watts per channel and five HDMI inputs. What makes it special is how easy it is to set up, how great it makes your speakers sound and the way it integrates with your computer and wireless devices.

The ease of setup and great sound can be credited to Pioneer’s Advanced Auto MCACC system. With MCACC, you set up your speakers in the room, connect them to the receiver, then plug a microphone into the front panel and place it in the middle of the listening area. MCACC sends out a series of test tones to not only set the type of speakers and the balance for the entire system, but also analyze the room’s acoustics and match each speaker’s response to the room. Though many such systems are available, MCACC is the only modestly priced (under $1,000) system I have tested that has actually improved sound quality, making the room come alive with perfectly balanced sound. Every other system I have tried makes the system sound worse!

AirPlay allows you to wirelessly stream content from your computer’s iTunes music collection and listen to Internet radio. Just use the ethernet port or attach the optional AS-WL300 wireless adapter and select the receiver on iTunes. The free Apple Remote app or Pioneer’s free iControlAV2 app (iPad only) will convert your iPod or iPad into a remote to control it all. A Bluetooth adapter allows you to stream music directly from your Bluetooth device.

At only $549 retail and $399 street price, the VSX-1021 is impossible to beat. The sound quality and MCACC alone are reasons to recommend it, but the connectivity knocks it out of the park.

Questions? Email Don

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