Our Verdict 
Despite its demotion to four-star status, the Pioneer still has an attractive sonic character and some neat features
For 
Forthcoming sound
dynamically strong
iPod connectivity and full control
Against 
Not as refined or natural-sounding as class-leaders
no upscaling
only two HDMI inputs
Reviewed on

Pioneer's VSX-1018AH is a unique piece of kit. Firstly it's THX Select2 Plus-certified. It also has an onboard WMA9 (Windows Media Audio) Pro decoder, allowing you to decode coaxial or optical digital audio sent from a PC.

If you're an iPod owner, you'll want to pay particular attention to the USB input on the front panel. Plug in your iPod and you can bring up a display on your TV that mimics the one on your MP3 player.

Now you can navigate your iPod's menu using the receiver's remote control. Some might say these are minor features, but they could quite easily sway your buying decision.

Besides these features, the Pioneer benefits from similar specification to the other products in this test, including high-definition audio decoding, bi-amping of your front speakers in a 5.1 set-up, Deep Colour and x.v.Colour compatibility.

There's also Pioneer's own automatic set-up wizard: the nine-band Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System. Just two HDMI inputs seems a bit mean, and the receiver is limited to video upconversion (it won't upscale), but these are our only gripes. Powerful, pacy performance The Pioneer sounds robust and capable of delivering power and dynamics in spades. The mechanical crash, bangs and wallops of Transformers are enough to shake your sofa to its very foundations.

More after the break

Unlike older generations of Pioneer receivers, it doesn't sound overly bright at the top end, although we'd still advise you refrain from partnering the receiver with a bright-sounding speaker package.

Music is delivered with vigour and pace, whether you're listening to a CD or AAC-encoded tracks on an iPod. Kings of Leon's Sex on Fire, while not exactly refined, displays real get up and go.

The Pioneer is the second receiver in this test to drop a star in the space of a couple of issues. Of course, its sonic character hasn't changed overnight, nor has its list of features, it's just that it's surrounded by receivers that offer amazing value for money.