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Review and Measurements of Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Pioneer Elite VSX-LX303 Audio/Video Receiver (AVR). It was an impulse buy when it went on sale on Amazon a couple of weeks ago for US $369 including Prime shipping. It is currently US $399. I needed a replacement for my current Pioneer Elite AVR that is connected to our living room TV which is limited to 1080p.

From the outside, not much is changed compared to my Pioneer Elite:

Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR Audio Review.jpg

The only improvement is the input selector dial on the left. On mine, it is very stiff. Here is loose and a bit easier to manage. The knobs are large but tactile feedback is poor. I guess they assume you are going to use the remote anyway. Still, I miss the large knobs on audio gear of the 1970s and 1980s.

When I purchased the VSX-LX303, I assumed it had an efficient class D amp like my current Elite. Alas, it does not. This is an issue for me as my current AVR is in a closed cabinet with not a whole lot of circulation (fortunately it is a large cabinet). I assumed all Elite AVRs have class D amp. Turns out only four high-end models do and they are much more expensive. I think the cheapest one is $600.

It was strange to still see analog component input and AM/FM tuners. I suspect Pioneer loses money on each one of these so I am surprised to see these features left in there given how little use they get.

My application is stereo and that is how I tested this AVR.

DAC Audio Measurements
There is no line output so I resorted to using Zone 2 output to test the DAC. There is a USB input but it is for playing files from a thumb drive. So I tested the DAC using S/PDIF input and Zone 2 out:
Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR DAC Dashboard Audio Measurements.png


Yuck. Look at all those harmonic and spurious tones in the FFT. They naturally limit the THD+N and hence SINAD to really poor score of 74 dB. This places the VSX-LX303 pretty close to the bottom of the pile of DACs tested:

Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR DAC SINAD Audio Measurements.png


Jitter tones shows fair bit of spurious tones as well:


Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR DAC Jitter Audio Measurements.png


The highest tones are almost as loud as -80 dB. Fortunately they hug the main tone and hence perceptually are masked.

The noise floor is good 20 to 30 dB higher than the best DACs so that is not good either.

Intermodulation distortion is very poor:

Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR DAC IMD Audio Measurements.png


We start off with nearly 15 dB higher noise/IMD but things go to hell at -10 dB with sudden rise of distortion. Not sure if this is digital saturation or analog. Either way it is a broken design.

This issue haunts the linearity test as well:
Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR DAC Linearity Audio Measurements.png


On top of that, most of the graph is below 0 dB for some reason showing some kind of offset error. Fortunately the error stays small until about -110 dB. So oddly, this DAC is better for low level detail than high.

I could not run the multitone test since the unit would not lock to 192 kHz sampling of this test track using S/PDIF.

Power Amplifier Audio Measurements
Here is our 5 watt dashboard using RCA input:
Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR Amplifier Dashboard Audio Measurements.png


THD+N is well below average for amplifiers we have tested:
Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR Amplifier SINAD Audio Measurements.png


Signal to noise ratio is decent though:
Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR Amplifier SNR Audio Measurements.png


Bad news was waiting for me when I tried to measure the power level of this "100 watt/channel" receiver:

Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR Amplifier 8 Ohm Power Audio Measurements.png


That is the first graph in blue. As soon as the unit got warm which was just a few seconds, it would limit the output, causing severe clipping. This was at 20 watts using 8 ohm load, and around 33 watts using 4 ohm. Setting the speaker configuration to "4 ohm" would aggravate it more. Note that this happened even when driving a single channel! I literally had to get a little fan out to cool the unit long enough to get the second graph which shows very good power level at over 138 watts into 8 ohm no less.

You can see the problem in action here by setting the output to 77 watts or so:

Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR Amplifier Thermal Back Off Audio Measurements.png


At 38 seconds or so, distortion rises massively indicating clipping. Once the unit clips, it is hard to get it out of this mode. I often had to cycle it on and off. It uses some complex logic to figure out when to force this mode. More or less though, you better not use the unit above 20 to 30 watts for more than a few seconds or it will go into this protective mode.

Despite being a traditional class AB amplifier with fancy talk about bias tracking in the face of thermal changes, the IMD distortion is nothing to write home about:

Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR Amplifier IMD vs Power Audio Measurements.png


I don't know how we can bad-mouth class D amps anymore when class AB ones have slid backward so much in performance.

Frequency response is excellent for audible band but a sharp drop indicates that it is being digitized:
Pioneer VSX-LX303 AVR Amplifier Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


Sample rate is high though so not a concern other than whatever distortions are added due to ADC. Good news is that if I am right, then the room EQ will work for analog input as well if you use an external DAC for example.

Conclusions
On one hand it is hard to get upset when for $369 you get every feature under the sun with so many channels of amplifications. I don't know how to get this box with no electronics from China to hear and make money for that price let alone all the features it has. On the other hand, that is Pioneer's problem, not mine. :) My problem is that I want an efficient and reliable AVR that doesn't decide to shut down by itself. And a DAC that doesn't go into saturation early, showing even small amount of design verification was not performed.

I plan to hook it up to our living room TV system and listen. Maybe in real use the thermal cut-out doesn't occur. If so, I might keep it. Otherwise, I will probably return it.

Needless to say, I can't recommend the Pioneer VSX-LX303 Elite AVR for audiophile use either as an amplifier, a DAC or combination.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

You may have noticed that pink panther is "mooning" us by looking away from the camera. He got pressure from his peers and it too has gone on strike. I need to come up with a pay raise for them. Or at least more food money. So please donate generously using:

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or
upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
 

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DKT88

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#2
Wow, a dismal showing for the "elite" stuff. I've bought several midfi Pioneer Elite AVRs and they all seemed to perform ok for TV and movies. I never used them for serious listening. Pioneer has thrown away the brand name. I'd be boxing it up, more work to install it and take it out of the system than just to give it the boot of justice.
 

SEKLEM

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#3
Wow. That’s pretty insanely poor performance for a mass market receiver from a generally well regarded name. Sadly Pioneer USA is under Onkyo control with a lot of influence in the North American market by Gibson, which is one of the largest shareholders in the Onkyo, TEAC, Pioneer family of products.

Denon and Marantz are held by an equity firm. Harman is held by Samsung Corp. Yamaha and Sony are the only two big names I can think of that are still their own. Sony did break their divisions apart to ensure each would generate profit and not just spend the profits of the corporate cache to make statement products they never sold.
 

Blumlein 88

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#5
I'm tempted to send you my (Costco-only model) Yamaha TSR-7850 for testing. Often for $400 at Costco. Very pleased with it for the price. https://www.costco.com/Yamaha-TSR-7850-7.2-Channel-Network-AV-Receiver.product.100456240.html

Doesn't have multi-position YPAO, but otherwise has measurements equal to or better than their equivelent higher-priced "Adventage" receiver.
If you can be without it for awhile, I encourage you do send it in.

These AV products seem more underwhelming than I expected. I tested best I could an earlier Marantz pre/pro which wasn't terrible, but not really befitting its original price. I tested an Emotiva pre/pro which was basically a broken design. But you couldn't say it didn't meet spec because Emotiva doesn't publicly disclose any specs for the device. Indicating they knew how it performed in my mind. Maybe Yamaha is an honest company in the AV world. I'd like to find someone who is. I have a 15 year old mid level Harmon Kardon which basically equals these very expensive Marantz bits of gear, and beats this under-performing Pioneer Elite. But it doesn't have all the new formats and features. At one time Pioneer Elite gear was really very good. Now they are hoping you'll buy the name before realizing it is name only these days.

Thank you Amir for a site like this. It is so badly needed.
 

maty

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#6

amirm

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#8
They have really gone cheap with those flimsy heatsink fins. No wonder it starts to cook so fast. There is no thermal mass there. And thermal impedance is too high.
 
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#9
Its declared amp THD is 0.08%, so it actually performs better than expected :D The thermal behavior is a bummer though.
It's great that you started reviewing mainstream AVRs, it would be nice to find something relatively affordable that doesn't throw a lot of poop above -100db range.
 

MZKM

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#10
I think you might have been better off with a Denon X1500 ($300 refurb from A4L). :p

Pioneer’s room correction is nothing to talk about, but Audyssey with the $20 curve editor app can make for really good results.
 
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#11
These are the typical bad measurements of a consumer product. It has to be developed and produced quickly. The engineers don't care much about that. The sound has to get in there and out there. The main thing, you hear something. In the 80s you could buy studio quality for a low consumer price. But no one puts value on it today. Consumer crap. Use it 3 year, put it to dumpster.
 

andreasmaaan

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#12
Hey @amirm, thanks again for the excellent review. Could I ask that you perform two additional standard measurements for amplifiers, please? :)

Firstly, THD+N vs frequency (especially important for class D amps, apparently). Or, if that is not easy, one of the standard IMD tests (e.g. CCIF). Otherwise, we see the amplifier's nonlinear distortion performance only at 1kHz, potentially hiding significant problems higher up in frequency.

And secondly, a distortion waveform at a given (preferably high) input power level, which gives a hint as to whether any distortion is crossover distortion (especially important for class AB amps, of course). Here's what JA at Stereophile does (which in this case shows that the distortion appears around the zero-crossing points of the waveform):

1557397382675.png
 
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#13
These are the typical bad measurements of a consumer product. It has to be developed and produced quickly. The engineers don't care much about that. The sound has to get in there and out there. The main thing, you hear something. In the 80s you could buy studio quality for a low consumer price. But no one puts value on it today. Consumer crap. Use it 3 year, put it to dumpster.
Those measurements are simply worse than what can be achieved, but I doubt many people would be able to detect harmonic stuff that happens at -65db when music/sound is playing. No need to nostalgitize stuff either, things were a lot worse in the 80's.
 
Last edited:

anmpr1

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#14
Wow. That’s pretty insanely poor performance for a mass market receiver from a generally well regarded name. Sadly Pioneer USA is under Onkyo control with a lot of influence in the North American market by Gibson, which is one of the largest shareholders in the Onkyo, TEAC, Pioneer family of products.
The fact of Gibson's involvement in anything is not good. Even with their main product, over the past few years we've seen too many instances of poor fit and finish on high end Les Paul guitars. And they don't give those away cheap, I'll tell you for sure. Strangely, Chinese Epiphone models represent generally good value for the price (although a change in pots, switches and pickups is usually in order). I don't know how it will work out for Gibson, but last year's bankruptcy might force the company to get out of the consumer electronics market. That might not help Pioneer/Onkyo/Teac get better (I don't know how much actual input Gibson has with those companies), but it certainly won't make them worse for it.

Sadly, low-end of consumer gear is generally pathetic, and the high-end is too full of snake oil. The high-end sweet spot appears to be items from companies such as Benchmark--expensive, but not crazy expensive. And on the lower end by a few items covered on this Webzine --the ones that represent honest engineering value.
 

PuX

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#16
my general assumption is that

1 receivers are always rubbish, a proper amp is better
2 all major hi-fi components except DACs (so speakers, amps, receivers) start at $1000
 

SEKLEM

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#17
I just noticed that the pink panther is showing us his ass, just like Pioneer is showing us theirs.
 

Willem

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#18
My hunch is that the poor results are mainly due to two issues:
1 a lot of interference from all the complex AV circuitry
2 anaemic power supplies. Powering five or seven channels is quite a challenge, both in terms of cost and given the form factor.

If these are indeed the two main issues a bog standard stereo receiver like the Sony STR DH190 should do a lot better. I would similarly be interested in Amir's measurements for the Yamaha AS 501. Its predecessor without digital inputs tested very well in this test: https://www.avhub.com.au/product-reviews/hi-fi/yamaha-a-s500-amplifier-review-test-395710
 

daftcombo

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#19
And secondly, a distortion waveform at a given (preferably high) input power level, which gives a hint as to whether any distortion is crossover distortion (especially important for class AB amps, of course). Here's what JA at Stereophile does (which in this case shows that the distortion appears around the zero-crossing points of the waveform):
View attachment 25935
I don't know how to interpret such a graph.
Here is another one they did, very different, for a AB class integrated:
 

jtwrace

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#20
Yikes. What a POS! I wonder if the super high end ones are even any better though. Certainly would be interesting to know.
 

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