Last year, Pioneer's high-end LX82 receiver was an imposing piano-black box that was so large it didn't even fit into our AV rack. With the arrival of the LX83 it's business as usual on this count: it's still big, black and kinda boxy. This time around, the company has cut down on the bling a little and given the receiver a matte rather than gloss finish. The result? An exceedingly macho but quite enticing home theatre component.
The front fascia is simple, with two control knobs, a large display and a drop-down flap concealing the more fiddly controls.
As you'd expect from a high-end receiver the remote control is a learning model and it features a bright OLED display. It's a lot easier to use than last year's model but it's also substantially heavier. The LX83 is as heavy as a six-cell laptop battery!
Apart from the subtly different, yet effective paint job, it's difficult to see the differences between this and the model it replaces. Pioneer has kept the power output at 190W per channel and the receiver will decode all the important audio standards such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD.
Missing from last year's model was RF (Radio Frequency) integration — handy for large installations where the gear is kept in another room or cupboard — and the learning LX83 remote now communicates both RF and IR (infrared) commands.
Further control is available with the addition of the free Pioneer iControlAV iPhone app. It connects your iPhone to the receiver via your home network (Home Media Gallery or "HMG"), and while we're on the topic this device also streams DLNA content and features internet radio stations via the rear-mounted Ethernet port.
Connectivity is the name of the game, with a receiver and six HDMI version 1.4 ports and two outputs, three component inputs, three optical, a front-mounted USB (for iPhone or a QWERTY keyboard) and four coaxial inputs.
The Pioneer has passed several certification programs including tuning by George Martin's Air Studios in the UK in addition to THX's Ultra2 Plus.
We were quite impressed by last year's LX82, and having spent some time with the LX83 we can say that the LX8 series is still in the leader's pack within its price range. Though some of the features are looking old-hat now — the grey-on-black interface is a bit small and drab by modern standards, and the receiver's missing AirPlay integration — it's the sound quality that matters most, and the LX83 delivers.
We set up the machine using the proprietary MCACC system, but honestly we were of two minds about it. These calibration routines can be flaky and are usually geared towards home cinema rather than music. True to form, we found the EQ'd and calibrated receiver worked best with our test barrage of Blu-ray films. Whether we watched a shoot-'em-up or a delicate period drama, the sound was articulate, dynamic and assured. Surround sound effects were well integrated and the sub gelled with the satellites seamlessly.
Switching to music, we found that the calibrated sound was a little thin and that our full-size speakers had more room to breathe with the "Direct" mode enabled. Music replay was just as impressive as last year's model was, and even against a dedicated DAC such as the Arcam rDAC it was difficult to tell which was in operation. While the Arcam was a little more revealing than the Pioneer's own DAC it was quite minor. As a result this is one of the most musical amps Pioneer has produced yet.
When it comes to the networking features, well, we wouldn't base our buying choice on them. For example, we found it slow going when navigating the HMG, and there wasn't a list acceleration of devices such as the PlayStation 3. While we appreciated the ability to play FLAC files, the receiver would occasionally order the tracks alphabetically rather than in track order — one of our pet peeves. Sound quality was as profound as we'd expected, but a high degree of navigational lag made it frustrating to use. We say: pay a bit extra and get the WD TV Live Hub as well if you're interested in this stuff.
Lastly, the iControlAV iPhone app was handy if we couldn't find the remote, but we wouldn't use it all the time. Since the LX83 was announced last year, dozens of similar systems have emerged and to be honest none of them are all that compelling.
The Pioneer LX83 is a mighty beast — it looks great, it sounds great and it has a modicum of networking features perfect for people who are just testing the waters of digital music. It is sound, and not networking, where the Pioneer is aiming its bow, and if this is important to you then you can buy with confidence. However, if networking is your bag then it may be worth waiting for the new Sony STR-DA5600, which even includes a four-port network switch!