Pioneer VSX-921 review

The Pioneer VSX-921 is a solid all-round performer, but lacks a little refinement Tested at £450

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The Pioneer produces a rip-roaring sound that lacks a little refinement in places


  • +

    Good looks

  • +

    AirPlay included

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    thorough set-up

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    punchy agile sound

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    good upscaling


  • -

    Fewer HDMI sockets than rivals

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    bright, brash edge to the sound

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This amp is cheaper than many of its rivals, so you might expect the Pioneer to have a hole or two in its specification sheet. But, we’re pleased to report, the gaps aren’t as cavernous as you might think.

In fact, the only real hit is on the HDMI input count, the Pioneer has to make do with four, where some competitors are luxuriating with six.

To help soften that potential blow, Pioneer has chosen to include AirPlay in its arsenal, so you can take advantage of wireless streaming from a wide range of compatible Apple devices, including the iPad. (Like the Denon AVR-1912, you can also stream from subscriber-based services such as Spotify Premium.)

As with the Denon, you sacrifice a little bit of detail and refinement to go the wireless route, but you’ve still got the option of hard-wiring your device to the dedicated USB input on the amp’s fascia.

Setup is slow but accurate
Speaker set-up is done with the aid of Pioneer’s own MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System). It’s a long, drawn-out process compared with some rivals, but the results are among the most accurate. And it gives you time to make a quick cuppa…

Video upconversion and upscaling are included and work well. You can alter individual aspects of the picture such as sharpness, brightness and contrast or go with the supplied presets for different display devices such as a projector or plasma television.

Operating the various features can be a slight struggle on the supplied remote control, as those with generously sized fingers try to come to terms with the array of minuscule buttons.

Thankfully, Pioneer’s own iControlAV2 app for iPhone and iPad not only looks sophisticated, it also makes good use of your iPod/iPad’s touchscreen and allows you to alter all manner of settings with a prod or swipe of your finger.

Direct, punchy, precise sound
We’ve come to expect a direct, punchy, precise sound from Pioneer’s home cinema amps and the VSX-9210 sounds very familiar. During the opening, bloody chapter of Ninja Assassin, effects fly between channels with laser-guided precision and the listener is left in no doubt as to where bullets start and finish.

Low frequencies sound taut, potent and powerful – despite not being particularly full-bodied. The only downside is that compared with the Onkyo TX-NR609 and Yamaha RX-V671, the Pioneer comes across as a little hard and bright-sounding.

Watch Fast Five, and there’s plenty of tyre screeching and metal crashing against metal to test that top end; the amp slips from exciting to excitable on one too many occasions.

Get the system-matching right
Leading edges are prominent and confidently shaped for the listener. The amp’s punchy, agile delivery lends itself well to music playback. There’s plenty of zip and drive to Beyonce’s Single Ladies although the percussion sounds a tad splashy and edgy for our tastes.

The Pioneer will require a little more thought with regards to system-matching, but pick a suitable speaker package and it won’t disappoint. It’s not quite a five-star machine but, like the Denon AVR-1912, still worth serious consideration.

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What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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