Pioneer Elite VSX-91TXH 7.1 Channel Home Theater Receiver

Introduction

Pioneer VSX-91TXH 7.1 Channel Home Theater Receiver
Image provided by Pioneer Electronics

The Pioneer Elite VSX-91TXH is one of the new-generation receivers that is ready for the future by incorporating onboard Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD surround decoding. In addition, this receiver has extensive connection capabilities, power to spare, and very flexible audio and video operation. If you are looking for a receiver that integrates flexible audio and video connectivity, as well as great audio performance that will not become "obsolete" in just a few years, then check out the rest of this review.

Product Overview

Features of the VSX-91TXH include:

1. Home Theater Audio/Video Receiver with THX Select2 Audio Processing and Composite, S-Video, Component Video Conversion (480i to 480p) to HDMI output.

2. 7 Channels of amplification featuring 110 WPC at .09% THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) FTC Rating

3. Built-in Surround Sound and Digital Audio Decoding Formats:

Dolby Digital Plus
Dolby TrueHD
DTS-HD
Dolby Digital 5.1
Dolby Digital EX
Dolby Pro logic IIx
DTS 5.1
DTS-ES
DTS Neo:6
Windows Media 9
XM Neural and XMHD Surround.

4. 2 HDMI inputs and 1 output, 3 HD-compatible Component Video inputs and 1 output. 5 Composite and 5 S-Video A/V inputs. 4 Monitor outputs.

5. 2 VCR connection loops for VCRs or VCR and DVD Recorder. 1 iPod input, XM and Sirius Radio Tuner/Antenna connections.

6. Composite, S-video, Component to HDMI video conversion (480i to 480p). No video upscaling from 480p to 720p, 1080i, or 1080p.

7. 7 assignable digital audio inputs (2 coaxial and 5 optical ), RCA audio connections for CD player and CD or Cassette audio recorder. 7.1 channel audio inputs for DVD-Audio, SACD, Blu-ray, or HD-DVD. HDMI audio is supported for SACD, DVD-Audio, PCM, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD.

8. Dual banana-plug-compatible multi-way speaker binding posts.

Subwoofer line output provided.

9. AM/FM/XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio Connectivity. Subscription and optional Antenna/Tuner are required for receiving XM and Sirius Satellite Radio Service.

10. Room Audio Calibration via Auto MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System) with supplied Microphone.

For an additional close-up look at, and explanation of, the connections of the 91TXH, check out my Pioneer VSX-91TXH Photo Gallery.

Review Setup - Hardware

Home Theater Receivers and Separates: the Outlaw Audio Model 950 Preamp/Surround Processor paired with a Butler Audio 5150 5-channel power amplifier, Yamaha HTR-5490 (6.1 Channels) , and an Onkyo TX-SR304 (5.1 Channels).

DVD players: OPPO Digital DV-981HD DVD/SACD/DVD-Audio Player, OPPO Digital DV-980H DVD/SACD/DVD-Audio Player (on review loan from OPPO), and the Helios H4000 Upscaling DVD Player.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD Players: Toshiba HD-XA1 HD-DVD player and a Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc Player, Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray Disc Player, and LG BH100 Blu-ray/HD-DVD Combo player.

CD-Only Players: Denon DCM-370 and Technics SL-PD888 5-Disc Changers.

Loudspeaker - System #1: 2 Klipsch B-3s, Klipsch C-2 Center , 2 Polk R300s.

Loudspeaker - System #2: Klipsch Quintet III 5-channel speaker system.

Loudspeaker - System #3: 2 JBL Balboa 30's, JBL Balboa Center Channel, 2 JBL Venue Series 5-inch Monitor speakers.

Louspeaker System #4: Cerwin Vega CVHD 5.1 Channel Speaker System (on review loan from Cerwin Vega).

Powered Subwoofers used: Klipsch Synergy Sub10 - used with Systems 1 and 2. and Yamaha YST-SW205 - used with System 3, and the 12-inch Powered Subwoofer provided with the Cerwin Vega System.

TV/Monitors: A Westinghouse Digital LVM-37w3 1080p LCD Monitor, Syntax LT-32HV 32-inch LCD TV, and Samsung LN-R238W 23-inch LCD TV.

Audio/Video connections were made with Accell, Cobalt, and AR Interconnect cables.

16 Gauge Speaker Wire was used in all setups.

Level checks for speaker setups were done using a Radio Shack Sound Level Meter.

Review Setup - Software

Blu-ray Discs included: Pirates of the Caribbean 1 & 2, Alien vs Predator, Superman Returns, Crank, The Host, and Mission Impossible III.

HD-DVD Discs included: 300, Hot Fuzz, Serenity, Sleepy Hollow, Heart - Live In Seattle, King Kong, Batman Begins, and Phantom of the Opera

Standard DVDs used included scenes from the following: House of the Flying Daggers, Serenity, The Cave, Kill Bill - Vol1/2, V For Vendetta, U571, Lord of Rings Trilogy, and Master and Commander.

For audio only, various CDs included: HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Lisa Loeb - Firecracker, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite.

DVD-Audio discs included: Queen - Night At The Opera/The Game, Eagles - Hotel California, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood - Uninvisible, Sheila Nicholls - Wake.

SACD discs used included: Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon, Steely Dan - Gaucho, The Who - Tommy.

Content on CD-R/RWs was also used.

The Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD video test disc was also used for more precise video performance measurements with regards to the video conversion and 480i/480p de-interlacing functions of the 91TXH.

The MCACC Function

A key to great audio performance is proper speaker setup. The 91TXH provides an excellent tool to accomplish this: MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System).

By way of a microphone supplied with the unit, and a built-in test tone generator that provides several types of test tones, the 91TXH is able to automatically calculate the size of your loudspeakers, their distance from your listening position, and other parameters that will enable your system to operate in your listening environment.

Although no automatic system can be perfect or account for personal taste, the MCACC did a very credible job of setting up speaker levels properly. The MCACC calculated my speaker distances accurately and even adjusted the audio levels and equalization to compensate.

At the conclusion of the automatic setup process, you are able to access all of the setting parameters via the onscreen menu display. You can then make any changes of your own if you wish.

I found that after the MCACC procedure was complete, my speaker balance was very good, with all channels fairly well balanced. However, I increased the level of the center channel to suit my own preference.

Audio Performance

The 91TXH showed no signs of strain during very dynamic audio tracks. I found felt no sense of listening fatigue over long periods of time. Also, in both 5.1 and 7.1 channel configurations, delivered an excellent surround image, with both analog and digital sources.

This receiver provided a very clean signal via the direct 5.1 analog audio inputs from both HD-DVD/Blu-ray disc sources, in addition to the Blu-ray/HD-DVD HDMI audio connection option.

NOTE: I was unable to test the actual Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoders in the VSX-91TXH as the Blu-ray and HD-DVD players I have are 1st generation units that do surround decoding internally and do not have the Bitstream output required for decoding of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD externally via the receiver. Such Blu-ray and HD-DVD players are just now coming on the market, so testing of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoding done by Home Theater receivers will become more accessible later this year (2007).

The 91TXH also provided a very clean audio output via the HDMI connection interface. It was great just have to make one connection for both audio and video between my HDMI-Equipped DVD players and the Blu-ray/HD-DVD players. It was also very convenient to be able to access both DVD-Audio and SACD signals via a single HDMI connection, rather than using the standard 5.1 channel analog audio connections to access these formats (although I tested both the analog and HDMI connection options for this review).

With regards to HDMI audio signal transfer, using an OPPO Digital DV-980H as the source, which has the ability to output both two-channel and multi-channel PCM and SACD-DSD signals via HDMI, I found that the 91TXH had no problem detecting SACD (DSD) signals or DVD-Audio (PCM) Multi-channel audio signals. The audio quality was excellent.

On the other hand, the 91TXH reproduced standard Dolby Digital and DTS signals via the Digital Optical and Digital Coaxial connections accurately.

Video Performance

Utilizing several video connection options, I found that the 91TXH did well with straight video signal transfer, but below average when converting 480i to 480p. The composite, S-video, and Component-to-HDMI conversion did work, which allows the convenient combining of all video inputs into a signal video output for HDMI-equipped HDTVs.

Although conversion of video input signals to HDMI is limited to 480p, the 91TXH can pass a native 1080p source through to a 1080p television or monitor.

The image on a Westinghouse LVM-37w3 1080p monitor looked no different, whether the signal came directly from a 1080p source (Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc Player) or was routed through the 91TXH, from the Blu-ray Player, before reaching the Westinghouse monitor.

However, the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD revealed that the 480i to 480p deinterlacing function of the 91TXH was below average in almost all of the HQV tests, including jaggie elimination, moire pattern elimination, noise reduction, and frame cadence detection. See some test result examples.

What I Liked About The Pioneer Elite VSX-91TXH

There is a lot to like about the Pioneer Elite VSX-91TXH, including:

1. Power to spare, excellent audio performance, extensive surround sound settings.

2. Extensive Audio and Video Connectivity - including 2 HDMI 1.3a inputs and Zone 2 Preamp output.

3. Excellent pass-through of 720p, 1080i, and 1080p source signals via HDMI.

4. MCACC speaker setup system works very well.

5. Simple XM and Sirius Radio connectivity with onscreen control functions.

What I Didn't Like About The Pioneer Elite VSX-91TXH

1. The 91TXH could use one or two more HDMI inputs. An HDMI input on the front panel would be nice feature to provide.

2. Lackluster B/W 4x3 on-screen menu display. For a receiver that is intended to be used with an HDTV, it would be nice to have a 16x9, full-color OSD display option.

3. No Video Upscaling of analog video sources (480i to 480p only). Deinterlacing of 480i signals to 480p output was below average.

4. There is no dedicated Phono Turntable input. To connect a turntable, an additional Phono Preamp is required.

5. This receiver may be complicated to use for the novice. The Remote is not intuitive and buttons are very small, which is an issue when using in a darkened room.

6. There is only one AC Convenience outlet on the rear panel.

Final Take

The VSX-91TXH has excellent audio performance and delivers more than enough power a medium size room. Useful features include Built-in decoding for all major 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 Channel surround sound formats, including Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS-HD.

Also, Second Zone pre-outs, allow the user to supply either a simultaneous or second source to another room (additional amplifier required, while XM and Sirius satellite radio connectivity, iPod connectivity via an adapter cable, and MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System) auto-speaker setup provide additional flexibility.

The 91TXH offers consideration for both audio and video connectivity and processing, which makes it a flexible receiver. The image quality from HD sources is very consistent, and the video conversion and processing of analog video sources, although not upscaled, did work, but not as well as an external scaler or upscaling DVD player.

One of the indicators of a good receiver is the ability to perform well with both music and movies. I found the audio quality of the VSX-91TXH, with both music-only and video sources (such as DVD), was quite good, making it acceptable for both extensive music listening as well as for home theater use.

I also found that the MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System) auto-speaker setup feature actually worked very well, especially with the center channel level, which always seems the hardest to get right with DVD source material.

The VSX-91TXH is a very flexible receiver that delivers the goods in audio performance but needs improvement in video performance. I give it 4.0 Stars out of 5.

A few tweaks that would have earned a higher rating: More HDMI inputs (possibly having one on the front panel), improved 480i/480p conversion, video upscaling, a dedicated phono turntable input, and an easier-to-use remote.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.