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When looking for a decent AV amp to complement my DVD player, I couldn't believe how bloody enormous most of them are. I have enough HiFi gear on the rack without making it look like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise.
I eventually managed to fight my way through the tortuous one-way system in Watford (I must be MAD) to RICHER SOUNDS in St Albans Road. (they have a car park at the back).
After looking at the Yamaha and Marantz offerings I decided that a 2001 monolith lookalike would go down like a lead balloon, and then I saw the Pioneer....
They had VSX-C301 hooked up in the demo-room and despite the traffic and shop noise, the sound was powerful and clear without being strained and distorted. It is clear that it is generously rated for higher volumes (with the appropriate speakers).
It is compatible with Dolby Prologic-2, DTS, Stereo and has a variety of sound modes to tailor it to your room. The set-up menu is reasonably easy to use, but I do recommend RTFM (Read The F***laming Manual).
Controls are mainly accessed by the extensive remote control, with volume and input selection also on the front panel. There are also A/V and optical connections on the front, to save farting around with the rats nest of cable at the back should you wish to plug in a camcorder or even a CD player. The front also has a very informative display that tells you mode, volume level in Db, Input source etc.
The back sports LOADS of connections (apart from no HiFi phono ones that is). There are FOUR SCART connectors 2x input only for DVD and STB (Set Top Box), with the remaining two being Input/Output Video and DVR/TV the latter allowing you to daisy-chain a Digital Recorder (DVD recorder) with the TV. Output on the Video is composite, on the DVR is Composite/S-Video/RGB. This is a very versatile little unit.
Other connections are for the 5 surround speakers that are powered by the amp. There is also a subwoofer outlet for a POWERED Subwoofer. This Amp is NOT designed for passive subwoofers. I don't use a sub as the sound to me is overblown.
Remaining connections are:- 75 Ohm FM antenna, AM antenna loop, AC mains input, DVD coax socket, DVD optical socket and a DVR/TV optical socket. I told you it was versatile. There is also a "control socket" to allow linking several Pioneer units to share controls. To be honest I don't use this facility despite also having a Pioneer DVD player.
**** IMPORTANT ****** On some DVDs you may find that the voices sem to have disappeared. DON'T PANIC, I solved this by connecting the DVD player to the Amplifier with an additional Coax lead (It is actually a single phono to phono plug lead. Thought I'd let you know as this drove me NUTS as it only occurred on a couple of DVDs, one of them being the SciFi film THX1138..
The remaining feature visible on the back is a COOLING FAN, so DON'T OBSTRUCT IT. before you worry, the fan is VERY quiet in normal use and although I have run up the volume on several occasions, the fan is inaudible (certainly over the film/music) Considering its power output of 50W RMS (5x channels) per channel in surround mode (8 Ohm and 75 WRMS into the more standard 6 Ohm), the Pioneer is extremely compact, measuring 420mm (W) x 70mm (H) x 383mm (D). It also sports an RDS AM/FM tuner for the radio fans out there. You NEED an aerial though or the reception will be dire.
Mine is hooked up to a Pioneer DVD-565 multi-region DVD player and plays through a set of five Celestion AVS-101 speakers and Panasonic TX-28CK1 TV
From a design point of view, this is a very pretty item and oozes quality. The high quality metallic finish looks great and not plasticky.
Right.... So how does it perform and sound. In a word, EXCELLENT. As we live in a normal 3-bed semi, a mega-system that would grace a cinema would fill the room with gear and sound overblown. The sound is smooth and unstrained although in common with most sound procewssing amplifiers, is not HiFi unless tone is set flat and effects cancelled. For Films/DVDs BRILLIANT. For Cds, best stick to the real HiFi, but still sounds good.
You can use HEADPHONES, via the small 3.5mm socket. This automatically cuts out the speakers. Headphones automatically cancel out special features and work in either the (default) STEREO or alternatively the PHONES SURROUND mode.
There are also "Sound Modes" and also "Advanced Sound Effects". You can use them together EXCEPT in VIRTUAL mode.
Sound modes via speakers are :- OFF (No sound mode), MIDNIGHT (Surround at low volume), QUIET (Reduces the deep bass and extreme highs), BRIGHT (Adds high end "sparkle"), S.BASS (whacks up the bass)
Advanced Sound Effects are:- ADV.MOVIE for theatre type sound, ADV.MUSIC for concert hall effects, TV.SURR for mono and ordinary stereo TV broadcasts, SPORTS for programmes with commentary (boosts speech), GAME creates surround effects from game sources, EXPANDED creates an ultra wide stereo field, 5-STEREO give powerful surround sound to stereo music sources and finally VIRTUAL which creates the impression of surround sound using just two front speakers (Sound modes CANNOT be used in VIRTUAL mode)
I have experimented with some of the sound modes and these are really useful to enhance the type of DVD being watched/listened to. There are more features than you can shake a stick at with the Pioneer VSX-C301and for the £149.00 I paid for it, it is an absolute bargain.
If you want an amp that is BIG on performance and facilities and SMALL on space and price, buy this one. Oh yes and if you buy at Richer Sounds, don't be a tight fisted git, take out their WARRANTY, it's worth every penny, they don't mess around. If you don't use it, you GET YOUR DOUGH BACK (Keep your receipt though or you won't).
I am dead happy with this unit. THANKS FOR YOUR COMMENTS FOLKS.
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