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Review and Measurements of Pioneer VSX-LX504 AVR

amirm

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#1
This is a review and very detailed measurements of the Pioneer VSX-LX504 Home Theater Audio & Video Receiver (AVR). It came about when my trusty Pioneer Elite SC-61 started to produce a UE22 Error. A bit searching showed this is a TI DSP that goes bad causing audio to mute and eventually go dead completely. Despite being acquired by Onkyo, Pioneer made good for a while by sending replacement DSP board to owners. Alas, the replacements are all gone and now Pioneer only offers a trade in. After filling out paperwork and such, they offered me a VSX-LX504 for around US $540 or so. I see it listed on Amazon for US $899 with a list price of US $999. The unit arrived yesterday and I was anxious to put it on the bench and see how it performs.

From the outside, you would think nothing is changed in Pioneer AVRs as it looks almost identical to my SC-61, with the exception of a lot more labels stuck to the front panel:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Review.jpg

Same stiff and lousy feeling volume control adorns the unit on the right. Ditto for the source selector knob on the left. Neither imparts feeling of luxury or quality.

The back panel is the usual affair too with more connectors than you ever use:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Back Panel Review.jpg

The speaker terminals feel pretty cheap, wiggling with any movement of my banana jacks.

Who on earth needs analog component video in this day and age is beyond me. They should eliminate those and instead, give us a proper USB input to be used as a DAC.

We have a nice set of pre-out connectors which I used for testing the performance of its internal DAC (and processing). No multi-channel analog input is provided for people who want to feed it SACD and such from days long gone. :)

I did not mess with much on the unit other than configuring it for 2-channel output and testing Direct and Pure Direct mode:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Controls Review.jpg

Strangely, every time I let go of the button to put it in Pure Direct, it would change to Autosurround or some such nonsense. Fortunately seemed to work in Pure Direct regardless.

The user interface is much improved over the primitive one in my SC-61. There is however a 3 to 4 second delay before the menus come up. Why? This should be instant.

Compatibility with my PC's Nvidia was horrific with resolution all over the place on my BenQ 4K monitor with colors washed out and seemingly wrong. I suspect the latter could be fixed with setting the mode to video range rather than "PC" but I wish the Pioneer would maintain that in pass-through mode. I did not reboot however so maybe that fixes things.

The unit itself is surprisingly light for something with 9 channels of amplification, rated at some 135 watts each. The heatsinks are beefier than other lower priced AVRs we have tested but they are very short. A rather large 5 ot 6 inch fan sits on top of them which never came on during my testing. The unit seemed to operated pretty cool despite using traditional amplification. Likely uses class G voltage switching to keep efficiency higher, and heat dissipation low.

There is a lot of data coming your way so buckle up and lets get through it!

S/PDIF DAC Audio Measurements
For ease of testing I stated by using the S/PDIF coax input. Later I will show HDMI performance as well for a couple of tests. Here is the DAC performance in VSX-LX504 using coax input and pre-out with the speaker cables connected to my dummy load:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC Audio Measurements.png


Yuck. What a disaster. We have tons of distortion and noise product. Output level is just 1.6 volt instead of 2 at 0 dB on the volume control. Remembering that the amplifier clips in some of these products and then destroys the fidelity of the power to the DAC, I disconnected the speaker wires and measured again:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC No Amp Audio Measurements.png


OK, that is much better. I turned up the volume to 2.5 dB I think and got 2 volts. SINAD (signal relative to noise and distortion) did not improve hardly at all. So 97 dB is it:

Best Audio DACs Reviewed and Tested.png


Above, I have highlighted the VSX-LX504 which landed in third tier in orange and the previously reviewed Pioneer VSX-LX303. I don't recall if the LX303 also could have benefited from not using its speaker terminal. Either way, this is "OK" performance but of course beaten by a number of DACs some of which retail as low as $70. And the Apple dongle at just $9.

Above were in Direct mode. Switching to Pure direct didn't make much difference in SINAD:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC No Amp Pure Direct Audio Measurements.png


But does clean up the spectrum of the FFT substantially, leaving us just the harmonic distortion spikes.

Signal to noise ratio is decent:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


Jitter performance was rather ugly:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Clearly there are many sources of interference in the output of the front left and right DACs which I tested in this review. Fortunately not an audible concern.

Intermodulation distortion follows the lead of THD+N:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC IMD Audio Measurements.png


As noted earlier, Pure Direct doesn't help much here either.

Linearity is good until we get to the limit at -120 dB:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC Linearity Audio Measurements.png


S/PDIF doesn't support 192 kHz so I had to settle for my 7-tone test:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC Multitone Audio Measurements.png


We have about 100 to 110 dB of distortion free range so better than 16 bits but not 20 bits which we can get with music-centric high-performance DACs.

Reconstruction filter is the typical one that balances attenuation with slower than required roll off:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC Filter Response Audio Measurements.png


This hurts the wideband THD+N versus frequency due to aliasing components sneaking out in ultrasonics:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC THD vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC 1 kHz FFT Audio Measurements.png


The filter needs to have higher attenuation to kill that 47 and 49 kHz spikes in order to improve the previous test. Fortunately these tones are not audible so not a real concern.

HDMI Audio Measurements
I used Roon to play my reference 1 kHz, 24-bit signal in exclusive WASAPI mode to measure the dashboard performance using HDMI input and pre-out:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC HDMI Audio Measurements.png


SINAD drops 1 or 2 dB likely due to higher noise floor (harmonics are below 100 dB).

Jitter performance remained more or less the same:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR DAC HDMI Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Overall, HDMI input seems to impart a small penalty over S/PDIF input.

Amplifier Audio Measurements
This test turned out to be a lot more of a pain than would be otherwise if the unit was well designed and documented. Let me show you how with frequency response test:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Analog In Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


As you see, in Direct mode, the input is seemingly digitized using a low sample rate of 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz. I suspect this is due to ability then to provide equalization and other digital processing to this analog input.

Switching the unit to Pure Direct mode allowed the full bandwidth of the unit to shine, extending to 100 kHz and beyond. Note that I did not equalize the levels in the above graph so don't mind them being at different reference value to 0 dB.

Switching to S/PDIF input, shows the same discrepancy:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Digital In Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


So it is pretty clear that internal processing is at just 48 kHz or so. Any dream you had of high-resolution audio is dashed if you use any of the equalization features! That high-res sticker on the front of the unit needs to be removed.

The resampler sure adds a not of noise and spurious tones as this dashboard view in Direct mode shows with digital input:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Audio Measurements.png


Switching to analog input gives us this:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Analog In Audio Measurements.png


Noise floor is higher but the spectrum is much cleaner showing the issues with the resampler as noted.

The spectrum of 1 kHz shows the difference between direct and pure direct modes:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Analog In 1 kHz FFT Audio Measurements.png


With all effects turned off, there should not be this kind of difference.

We see the same in signal to noise ratio in both modes:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Analog In Signal to Noise Ratio Audio Measurements.png


Power output versus load at 4 ohm was initially shocking at just 33 watts!

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Analog In Power at 4 ohm Audio Measurements.png


Then I remembered the problem with VSX-LX303 where it would severely limit power when warm. So I power cycled the unit and got the much higher 204 watts of power. Same thing happened using 8 ohm load:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Analog In Power at 8 ohm Audio Measurements.png


I measured how long it took for this to happen at different power levels:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp 50 watt warm-up Audio Measurements.png


Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp 40 watt warm-up Audio Measurements.png


What is odd here is that the amplifier did not feel warm at all, nor did the fan come on. Seems to be some kind of timer that counts how long power is needed above the low power supply rail and clicks into this low output power mode. VW dieselgate anyone?

I forced the same thing to happen with a 50% duty cycle sine wave burst:

Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Burst 50% warm-up Audio Measurements.png



Burst power was quite high in both impedances:
Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Analog In Peak Power at 4 ohm Audio Measurements.png


Pioneer VSX-LX504  Home Theater AVR Amp Analog In Peak Power at 8 ohm Audio Measurements.png



Conclusions
5+ years have gone by since I had my Pioneer SC-61. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be much progress here. If anything, we seem to have taken a step back with Pioneer AVR line. Even in a "$1000" AVR, there is that power pull back with no documentation whatsoever. Also disappointing is that the internal processing is stuck at 48 kHz. I would have wanted to at least see 96 kHz there. Surely DSP power is that much cheaper than it used to be. I know, they have to spread that out to 9 channels so the budget per channel can't be increased. Sigh. As a minimum, companies need to document such things.

I returned the Pioneer VSX-LX303 to Amazon. No such luck here because these trade-ins are not reversible so I will be putting this unit in my living room. :(

Needless to say, I can't recommend Pioneer line of AVRs. Hoping other brands don't have such restrictions.

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

I am going to hold a funeral for my older Pioneer SC-61 AVR. Everyone is invited as long as you first donate generously to the forum: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

maty

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#3
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#4
Pioneer has never been able to make hi-fi devices. Not even in the golden 80s. That was always below average.
 

D700

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#5
In Japanese AVRs, only Marantz / Denon and Yamaha are recommended.

Sell it and buy an old AVR Marantz SR6002 if you still find it. In that price range.

Polish:

* https://audio.com.pl/testy/kino-domowe/amplitunery-av/2955-marantz-sr6012

* https://audio.com.pl/testy/kino-domowe/amplitunery-av/3037-marantz-sr6013

SR602 has better THD graph and without Alexa:) And it mus be cheaper.
Agree, I’ve had many Denon, several Marantz and I never got past the control knobs with Pioneer Elite AVRs. I recently came into several old Yamaha AVRs and have been pleasantly surprised..nicely built, clear sound...love my Pioneer Kuro Plasma TV though.
 

digitalfrost

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#7
Pioneer has never been able to make hi-fi devices. Not even in the golden 80s. That was always below average.
Really? I have a Pioneer SA-970. I got the whole stack, 2 tape decks, vinyl, tuner, equalizer, matching speakers, everything. It was my fathers stereo. I never did any critical listening with these, but I love them. Ah maybe it's the nostalgia.
 

JJB70

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#8
Some of the Pioneer high end gear from the 80's was remarkable in terms of build quality and design and they were often the "go to" supplier if you wanted a down to earth affordable good performing system along with Rotel, or I thought so.
 
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#9
Thanks Amir, I'm afraid you're just confirming what we (well, I) already suspected.

My example: when looking into the Onkyo A-9000R amplifier I was a little shocked to find the DAC section essentially the same as its predecessor A-9070 from 2011. That PCB was already prepared for a USB interface but was unused, perhaps because the intended CM6631 chip wasn't available in time.
Onkyo didn't bother updating any of this for the 'new' amplifier, so we're presented with a 9-10 year old design that doesn't even come near to properly utilizing the also old (2009) dual WM8742 DAC chips.
 

restorer-john

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#10
Pioneer has never been able to make hi-fi devices. Not even in the golden 80s. That was always below average.
What a load of rubbish. A statement so incredibly wrong, I don't know where to start. :facepalm:
 

restorer-john

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#11
Realistically, these AVRs are just 9 channels of cheap amplification, processing and connectivity all in a box with an inadequate power supply, inadequate heatsinking, overprotective limiting and low cost construction. And it only costs US$1000. Consider a well designed, middle-upper range, 2 channel integrated from Pioneer in the 1980s cost more than that. And we've had 30+ years of inflation.

There's just no comparison whatsoever to the really beautiful, high perfromance gear Pioneer made in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.

They might stick the "Elite" badge on just about anything these days, just like Sony cheapened their ES moniker in the 90s by slapping it on gear that didn't deserve it.
 
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AudioSceptic

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#12
Realistically, these AVRs are just 9 channels of cheap amplification, processing and connectivity all in a box with an inadequate power supply, inadequate heatsinking, overprotective limiting and low cost construction. And it only costs US$1000. Consider a well designed, middle-upper range, 2 channel integrated from Pioneer in the 1980s cost more than that. And we've had 30+ years of inflation.

There's just no comparison whatsoever to the really beautiful, high perfromance gear Pioneer made in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.

They might stick the "Elite" badge on just about anything these days, just like Sony cheapened their ES moniker in the 90s by slapping it on gear that didn't deserve it.
It might be cheap junk, but you could spend multiples of the cost of this on boutique esoterica that does only a small fraction of what this does, yet performs even that small fraction to a much lower standard. All that's really wrong is the 'Elite' badge (and Hi-Res of course).
 

amirm

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#13
If they just documented the deficiencies I would have been in much better mood. A footnote that says you can't run more than 33 watts for 30 seconds would do. And the fact that all internal processing is at 48 kHz. That way, I would have searched for another unit without these deficiencies. Or buy it fully aware of the restrictions. They seem to just "know" that no one measures these things anymore.
 

estuardo4

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#14
Amir, you didn't include this A/V Amp on your Amp list. That list hasn't been updated with new gear in a long time.

Based on your review and results, I don't think it will fare well, but it'd be good to know. Thank you.
 

estuardo4

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#16
Thank you Amir.

The Mean has been lowering every time a new Amp test is published. That cannot be good. If not for the Benchmark AHB2 reviewed recently, the Mean would still be lower.

Supposedly the amp equation was resolved a long time ago, but it seems that we need to have our eyes open if we are planning to buy new amps. It seems that we are forced to spend big with well tested amps, or buy used vintage A/B for cheap. But cheap new amps that measure well are still a rarity.
 

maty

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#19
To play music (good/very good recordings), better avoid the cheap/medium AVR Yamaha. Better with Pure Direct, if the speakers have a relatively flat response and the room is not a disaster, my advice.

The more expensive AVR Yamaha series has or had a very good preamp.
 
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