Pioneer VSX-831 | My Best AV Receiver
The 5.2 channel Pioneer VSX-831 has a wealth of features. With 4K video on the cusp of taking off, the 831 offers substantial support for the blossoming new format. With Pioneer AV equipment now under the control of former rival Onkyo, we’re starting to see cross-pollination between the two brands. Both are entering the multi-room audio fray by including the FireConnect multi-room system. Also, both seem to be tackling the tough problem of improving the user experience. Despite these commonalities, if you’ve been a longtime fan of Pioneer products, don’t fret. Pioneer’s signature sound is still present and accounted for.
Design & Appearance
The Pioneer VSX-831 looks nearly identical to last year’s 830. Like 2015’s iteration, the 831 is a big, black rectangular box. The front face mimics the appearance of brushed aluminum. The sizeable front display is flanked on both sides by silky-smooth input select and volume knobs. While the receiver itself has remained mostly unchanged from previous models, you will notice a difference with the remote.
The remote for the 831 sports a simplified button layout. The number of buttons has been shown the door leaving the remote with a clean, uncomplicated design. By removing the number pad from the remote, Pioneer has freed-up more real estate for the other buttons so that they’re bigger and easier to use. Because of its simplicity, it’s one of the better remotes you’ll find bundled with an av receiver.
If you prefer to use your smartphone to command the receiver, Pioneer also offers an app for iOS and Android devices that you can use to control the Pioneer VSX-831. Over the years, AV manufacturers have gradually endeared their apps with more control and power. Pioneer’s control app is no different. The app’s interface is slick and intuitive, allowing you to control most of the settings on the VSX-831. If you lose the remote, the app can work nearly as well, if not better.
After using the Pioneer 831 for a substantial amount of time, it became apparent that Pioneer put a lot of effort into improving the end-user experience. Along with the improved remote and control app, the 831 also has a kick-ass user interface. Pioneer has kicked the boring text-driven interface of years past to the curb. It’s been replaced with an intuitive icon-driven system that thankfully brings the UI into the 21st century. It may be one of the best interfaces I’ve experienced on a piece of AV equipment.
Pioneer VSX-831 Connectivity
The 5.2 channel 831 has a total of 6 HDMI inputs and 1 output. The amp is well suited to take on 4K video. Three of its HDMIs are HDCP 2.2 compatible and support 4K/60p/4:4:4 24-bit video with HDR (High Dynamic Range) and BT.2020 video standards. The Pioneer 831 is also able to upscale standard HD video to near 4K quality. Since most 4K TVs can do this, I question how useful 4K upscaling is on AV receivers. Still, it’s a nice feature to have readily available if you need it.
Along with the HDMIs, the Pioneer VSX-831 has 3 analog audio ports and digital coaxial and optical inputs. An ethernet input allows you to make a wired network connection if needed. Dual-band WiFi frees you from the bonds of an ethernet connection, while built-in Bluetooth gives you another method to send music from your favorite smartphone or music player. WiFi setup only takes a few seconds since you can copy your WiFi settings from your iOS device. If you don’t own an Apple device, you’ll need to manually input your WiFi password, which will take a little longer. The remote has a BT-Audio button that puts the Pioneer 831 into Bluetooth pairing mode, which makes connecting via Bluetooth a cinch. Once your device sees the receiver, simply hit connect, and you’re good to go. Spotify, TuneIn, and Pandora are also included on the 831 as is Apple’s AirPlay service.
For the first time this year, Google Cast makes an appearance on Pioneer AV receivers, which allows you to cast audio/video from your mobile device directly to your TV as long as you have a compatible app such as YouTube or Netflix.
Hi-Res Audio Files
The Pioneer VSX-831 uses a new high-grade 384kHz/32bit DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) to tackle audio. The 831 is locked and loaded and ready to decode an array of Hi-Resolution music files such as 192kHz / 24-bit high-resolution FLAC, WAV, AIFF, Apple Lossless, and DSD (2.8/5.6MHz).
Sonos was one of the first players on the multi-room audio scene; however, their monopoly hasn’t lasted long. Numerous manufacturers are jumping on board with offerings of their own. Pioneer, like Onkyo, is incorporating a multi-room audio system in their amps this year called FireConnect. This new multi-room protocol allows you to stream audio from the Pioneer VSX-831 to other FireConnect compatible components such as speakers. Right now, FireConnect isn’t as useful as competing multi-room systems such as Yamaha’s MusicCast. FireConnect compatible speakers are few and far between, so it’s hard to say if this will be a useful feature or not in the future, but it’s there if you find that you have use for it.
Calibrating the Pioneer VSX-831
The 831 uses Pioneer’s MCACC calibration system. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since Pioneer’s used this system for years. To calibrate, you just plug in the included calibration microphone, and the system does the rest. After blasting out a series of test tones and taking measurements, it assigns the appropriate crossover and distance settings for your speakers. When I set up the Pioneer 831, MCACC dialed up surprisingly accurate results with the speaker distances and crossovers it prescribed being spot-on.
I’ll start by saying that the Pioneer VSX-831 sounds slightly better for movies than it does for music. However, most people will still enjoy its musicality. The 831 is rated at about 80 watts of power per channel, which is more than enough for most home theaters. To test it out, I pulled out Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Blu-ray, and I came away fairly impressed by what I heard. The Pioneer 831 displayed a deep, powerful low end, which gave on-screen action substantial depth and weight. The surround channels were also provided a good workout by the amp with tie-fighters and laser blasts whizzing behind me. Before sampling the 831, I had the Yamaha RX-A2060 AV receiver in for review. The 2060 is a $1,600 receiver that keenly outshines the 831 in its ability to provide a spacious sound stage, but keep in mind there’s a $1,100 price difference between the two. In its price range, the Pioneer VSX-831 probably exceeds expectations.
Ex Machina tasked the 831 to use a little more finesse. Being more of a psychological thriller, this movie puts more emphasis on dialogue and atmospheric music and sound effects. The Pioneer 831 doled out tons of detail with crisp, clear, and clean dialogue. When the atmospheric music kicked into gear, the 831 did an excellent job filling the room with sound.
With music, the 831 doesn’t shine quite as well. It displayed good detail and, as with most Pioneer’s, had a smooth, natural sound. Its main weakness is its ability to provide a wide sound stage. Music always sounded slightly recessed, which made me wish that the 831’s aggressiveness in movies carried over to its musical performance. This nitpick aside, music was still a joy to listen to, and with the 831’s nimbleness, it won’t have a problem adapting to all genres of music.
The Pioneer VSX-831 is a solid mid-tier AV receiver. It offers excellent movie performance and packs-in a wealth of features, with only two areas where the amp falters. Its multi-room audio system (FireConnect) is underdeveloped. Also, with music playback, the 831 needs to display a wider sound stage. However, if you take everything into consideration, the 831 is an excellent bang-for-your-buck AV receiver for anyone in the market for a new amp.