Pioneer VSX-5000 AV-receiver
What I am about to describe may sound like two, three, or even four separate audio and video components. In fact, however, all of the features and functions I'll be discussing are contained in a single receiver, and not a particularly large or heavy one at that. Frankly, it took me more than an hour to figure out how to operate all of the pushbuttons and controls on the Pioneer VSX-5000-and I think most of you will agree that I have had some experience with stereo receivers! Then, too, I had to refer quite often to the owner's manual-something I know most eager users do as a last resort. What I'm leading up to is this: Is it wise for a manufacturer to cram so much into a single component that users may actually have difficulty figuring out how to work the thing? Let's hold off making judgments about that until we've considered this unit in detail.
The VSX-5000 combines the functions of an AM/FM receiver, wireless remote control, audio/video program selector, surround-sound processor, and "Video Enhancer." Video facilities allow you to select the audio and the video signals of any one of three video program sources (two VCRs plus a videodisc player, for example) and to do audio/ video dubbing and/or copying to as many as two VCRs from a single source. The audio/video switching facilities also let you enjoy and record simulcasts by allowing independent selection of audio and video sources.
If the surround-sound mode is selected, power for the main amplifier section is reduced somewhat, from 100 watts to around 70 watts per channel; a secondary power amplifier having an output of around 15 watts per channel is then engaged to feed the "surround" pair of speakers. Three surround-sound options are available, designated "Dolby Surround," "Studio," and "Stadium," and each offers a particular kind of sound enhancement. The Dolby Surround mode would be used while watching videocassettes or laser videodiscs that were recorded using the Dolby technique, and the "Stadium" setting is recommended for listening to (and watching) live sporting events. The "Studio" choice, suggested for listening to concerts, adds only ambience to the sound field via the rear-positioned speakers.
An extra antenna input allows you to receive FM programs from your cable TV system. Thus, you can get stereo TV sound from those cable companies that still transmit their stereo sound via FM multiplex, and you can also receive any FM stations that may reach your cable system via satellite.
In the tuner section, Pioneer has included a feature that allows you to associate up to four letters with each of up to 20 AM or FM station frequencies that you store in memory. The letters can, of course, be station call letters. Alternatively, as Pioneer suggests, they can be your own four-letter designation of what type of programming the station features (e.g., "Jazz," "News," etc.).
The enhancer mentioned earlier is, in effect, the video equivalent of a treble boost control. It is useful when making copies of videotapes to minimize the loss of picture detail that would normally result from rolling off the higher videosignal frequencies. A split-screen function allows you to compare the enhanced and original images, so you can see when you've reached the right balance between increased picture detail and the increase in video "noise" that also results from high-frequency boost.
The VSX-5000 also has a VCR noise filter for use with older VCRs that don't offer "Hi-Fi" (AFM) recording, a dynamic expander circuit, and a simulated-stereo circuit.
Now, if your head isn't already swimming, let me overwhelm you with a brief (well, maybe not so brief) description of the myriad controls that are found on the front panel and the equally numerous jacks and connectors on the back. The "Split Screen" and "Enhancer" controls are at the extreme left of the panel, just above the "A" and "B" speaker selector switches, the headphone jack, and the main "Power" switch. Three buttons for selecting among the three surround-sound modes and another button for the "Dynamic Expander" are positioned in a row near the bottom left of the panel. Just below them are switches for the "Video Adaptor" (sort of a tape monitor loop for video accessories which might be connected to the receiver via rear-panel jacks), the "Video Enhancer," VCR mono/stereo selection, the "VCR Noise Filter," and "Simulated Stereo."
Larger buttons for audio/video program selection are located at panel center, below the multi-purpose display area (which I'll get to in a moment). The four audio selector buttons ("Tape 1," "Tape 2," "CD," and "Phono") on the lower row operate much as you would expect. So do the first three audio/video selectors ("VCR 1" and "VCR 2," which are record/play, and the playback-only "VDP/VCR 3," for use with a videodisc player). The fourth button ("Video Signal Selector") is used only when viewing or taping with video from one source and audio from another (such as when taping simulcasts); it switches sequentially through the three video inputs.
The AM and FM selector buttons are farther to the right, along with a "Memory" button. Pressing this stores the station frequency and band as well as the current antenna-selector setting and mode (auto stereo or mono only) setting. (It can also be used to store the station's call letters or other information-more on that shortly.)
Still farther to the right are 10 numbered buttons for storing and recalling presets. Thanks to a shift key, these buttons can designate selections from 1 to 10 or from 11 to 20. They can also be used as a numeric keypad to enter a station frequency directly if the small "Direct Access" button, just above the FM and AM selector buttons, is pressed. The button to the left of "Direct Access" selects manual or automatic (seek) tuning, while the one to its right, labelled "Station Freq/Name," toggles the display and station memory between their station-frequency and station-name modes. To enter station names in memory, you need only press this "Station Freq/Name" switch, then press the "Memory" button. Once that's done, the tuning bar then serves as a quick scrolling control that works its way through the alphabet. When a desired letter is reached, you press "Memory" again, and then move on to the next letter. Simple, eh?
Three more small buttons can be found just above the numbered memory keypad. The first selects automatic stereo/mono switching or mono-only mode, the second selects FM reception from the 300- or 75-ohm (CATV) antenna input, and the third is used to feed the video equipment with either an r.f. signal from the TV antenna (even when the VSX-5000 is turned off) or a base-band video signal from the video inputs.
The upper right part of the panel houses the up/down "Tuning" bar, a "Freq/Ch" switch (which, in auto-tuning mode, selects whether the entire band or just the stations in preset memory will be scanned), and the major buttons that adjust listening parameters. The latter include a "Master Volume" up/down rocker bar, a "Mute" button, a "Surround Volume" bar, left and right "Balance" buttons, and "Bass" and "Treble"'up/down buttons. There is also a "Select" pushbutton that sequentially chooses flat response, loudness compensation, and three-count 'em, three-of your favorite tone-control settings, which can be stored in the receiver's memory banks by means of another small "Memory" button nearby.
Since there are no rotary controls on the front panel, all settings are displayed visually in the elaborate fluorescent display area that takes up fully half of the panel's upper section. There are more symbolic and alphanumeric displays and indications than I can possibly enumerate within the space allotted for this report. Suffice it to say that virtually every program, function, tuning mode, and surround-sound format you choose (not to mention frequency and channel numbers) will be appropriately displayed. If you like pinball machines and video games that light up in all sorts of patterns and colors, you'll love the display area of the Pioneer VSX-5000. In all seriousness, the display does help to unscramble what would otherwise be an almost unfathomable collection of pushbuttons spread all over the front panel.
As for the rear panel, it's about as crammed full of jacks and receptacles as the front panel is filled with pushbuttons. These include input and output jacks, speaker terminals, antenna inputs (300 ohm, 75 ohm, AM, and the spare CATV coaxial connector), and convenience receptacles (two switched, one unswitched). There's an impedance-selector switch which is set according to the impedance of your speakers and/or whether you are using extra speakers for surround sound. Preamplifier-out/amplifier-input jacks (normally interconnected by removable jumpers) are included for both the main and surround amplifiers. Also on the rear panel are a center-channel (L + R) output, a surround-sound on/off switch, a surround-sound balance control, a de-emphasis switch that also sets channel spacing for U.S. or overseas standards, and a couple of jacks for remote-control interconnection to other Pioneer components.
The wireless remote supplied with the VSX-5000 is fully as versatile as the receiver itself. Besides duplicating many of the control functions found on the front panel, this remote unit allows you to control any other Pioneer component bearing an "SR" mark, such as a TV monitor or receiver, VCR, videodisc player, tape deck, turntable, or CD player. A switch on the remote unit, labelled "A/V," selects whether audio or video functions are to be controlled by its multifunction keys.
Use and Listening Tests
Notwithstanding the FM tuner section's poor subcarrier rejection, FM reception was quite good. I struggled for a time while learning the complex process of memorizing call letters or other alphabetic notations along with station frequencies. Once that was mastered, it was rather nice to be able to call up those four-letter words (the ones I had associated with the various FM stations, that is). I hooked up a pair of high-efficiency extra speakers to try out the sur-round-sound. It worked well, but I felt that a bit more level out of the rear channels was needed. When I attempted to get it, I encountered noticeable distortion. The higher level from the front speakers tended to mask this distortion, but when I turned them off, the distortion from the rear channels was clearly evident. What was interesting, though, was that the surround sound worked nearly as well with randomly selected stereo material (such as FM broadcasts) as it did with videocassettes that had been encoded for it.
The front amplifier was more than adequate for my admittedly low-efficiency reference speakers for most types of program material. Clearly, the unusually high dynamic headroom was doing some good in what might otherwise have been an amplifier with inadequate power output for my needs.
I have to award kudos to Pioneer for being able to cram so much circuitry and so many functions into a package that only a few years ago would have been barely large enough to accommodate a low-powered receiver or an integrated amplifier. In accomplishing this feat, though, I wonder if Pioneer hasn't gone a bit too far. I know of many consumers who have a great deal of trouble programming a VCR for timer recording. I regularly get letters from people who ask questions about how to hook up and operate the most basic audio and video components. It would be one thing if Pioneer had built an all-out audio/video receiver for the real audio aficionado, but judging from its specs and price, the VSX-5000 was intended for middle-of-the-road music lovers who also own some video equipment. I just hope such users have the perseverance to plow through the owner's manual with sufficient care. Only then will they be able to enjoy all of the functions and switching capabilities that this unusually complex receiver offers.