This hands-on review originally appeared in the October/November 2019 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.
- IMAX Enhanced
- Preset Function
- Built-in Chromecast and Airplay 2
- Remote has no backlight
- Limited crossover function
- 2 Sub-outs are actually linked together
Connectivity on the VSX-LX504 is quite comprehensive, with seven HDMI inputs and a host of wireless options, complete with legacy connections including a phono input for a turntable. Onboard apps are provided for many popular network streaming services including Tidal, Pandora, Amazon Music, TuneIn Radio, and Spotify. Other wireless devices can also be connected to the receiver using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Chromecast built-in, AirPlay2, DTS Play-Fi, and FlareConnect.
Two main features that I find important are the IMAX Enhanced sound decoding, which is essentially a special DTS:X mix that is designated for IMAX Enhanced movies like Angry Birds 2, and Preset.
Preset function is a derivative of Yamaha's Scene Mode. This essentially allows the user to create (for example) separate settings for the same input. I created presets to listen to CD (input: Panasonic UB820, sound setting: Stereo Direct), to watch movies with immersive soundtrack (input: Panasonic UB820, sound setting: Surround Direct) and to watch movies with regular soundtrack (input: Panasonic UB820, sound setting: DTS Neural:X). This way, I didn't have to scroll through the sound modes every time I wanted to use the Panasonic UB820 for a different purpose.
Looking beyond those two features, Pioneer's VSX-LX504 is similar to last year's VSX-LX503. With nine channels of onboard Direct Energy amplification, you can configure the receiver multiple ways to meet your needs. While you could go with a 7.1.2 setup with rear surrounds and a single pair of overhead speakers, I chose to instead connect a 5.1.4 speaker layout as per Dolby's original reference speaker layout for immersive audio, which allowed me to more fully evaluate the receiver's immersive potential. If you really want to have it all, you could build a 7.1.4 system by connecting an external two-channel amplifier to the receiver's preamp outputs and then add rear surround speakers.
For the speakers, I used Monitor Audio's New Mass 5.1 with PSB Imagine XA for the height channels. For the subwoofer output, I usually use one output for my sub and another to for my tactile transducers. This is when I realized that while the VSX-LX504 does feature dual subwoofer outputs, they cannot be levelled, delayed, or equalized independently. As far as the system is concerned, you've got one subwoofer output with a virtual Y-splitter on it.
Power amplification has been improved from 120 watts per channel, with a full bandwidth signal, two channels driven into 8 ohms, with 0.08% THD. Using the same measurement methodology, last year's 503 yields around 95 watts per channel in stereo mode.
As for the remote, while sadly not backlit, it is my favourite AVR remote that I've come across in quite some time. It only took me minutes to get used to the layout.
I used a UHD disc of Godzilla King of the Monsters. Listening to the Dolby Atmos surround mix I found it to be of the active variety that makes effective use of the platform. This film is tailor-made for immersive sound as the blend of audio objects placed in the height channels contains atmospherics and discrete effects. Using the New Mass 5.1, even without Atmos activated, at times created a tangible level of 3D immersion that is attention grabbing.
For example, Godzilla's first encounter with Ghidorah in the Antarctic is the film's first big action sequence, with the various sounds/effects turning the room into a multi-dimensional listening space. The mix effectively places effects/sounds within the soundstage, which in turn places you within the scene, adding an enriching element that heightens the intended feeling like something is passing overhead, traveling through the room, or emanating from a specific location. Switching to Atmos by adding the PSB Imagine XA modules, of course, makes the immersion even more so.
There are both large set pieces and smaller/brief sequences/moments that show off this well-crafted immersive sound design, be it in Atmos or regular 5.1. Everything comes together during the final act's battle as sounds rotate and revolve around the soundstage from both above and at ear level. I enjoyed the balance of atmosphere, discrete object placement and foundation rattling bass. I consider the reproduction of both 5.1 and Dolby Atmos mixes to be involving, entertaining, and among the best that I have heard compared to other receivers in the sub-$1,500 price range.
The same goes for its 2-channel presentation. I played Steinway Celebration's "A Steinway Celebration" audio CD, and the receiver yielded a "the piano is in the room with you" sound while preserving the forward and clear tonality for which Steinway instruments are so well-known. The same goes when playing a high-res file of "Haydn - String Quartet in D, Op. 76, No. 5 - Finale: Presto" performed by Engegård Quartet. The string tones were amazing and the imaging sounded both deep and wide. The DAC handles the higher bitrates and delivers stunning sound.
Pioneer's MCACC is, to this day, still my favourite built-in calibration system. Yes, in terms of EQ-ing, Audyssey, Dirac, and ARC all have more EQ points than MCACC. However, MCACC's standing wave correction and phase correction are day and night from what I've heard from any receiver room correction system.
This holds true when listening to music in both 2-channel mode or surround; I tested this receiver not only using the Mass 5.1 but also System Audio Aura 50 towers with PSB SubSeries 450 subwoofer).
This sound coming from this $1,450 receiver is very good. Not only very good for a receiver, but very good, period.