The latest crop of 2010 home cinema amplifiers are the most comprehensively equipped and flexible yet.
Even Pioneer's affordable VSX-920 (£500) has Bluetooth support, internet radio access, Dolby Pro-Logic IIz processing and an iPhone control app.
So, how does the same company's £1300 VSX-LX53 justify itself? First, through showroom appeal: there's an aluminium fascia (the ‘920's is plastic), plus more power, superior upscaling performance and features such as THX Select2 certification.
It's more flexible, too: for example, it can connect into two HDMI-capable displays (a projector and a TV, say) via twin outputs, one of which includes support for the Audio Return Channel (ARC).
Six HDMI 1.4 inputs accept 3D video, and the Dolby Pro-Logic IIz processing is complemented by 9.1-channel pre-out sockets, ensuring support for a complete nine-speaker system, given the addition of a suitable stereo power amp.
But features tell only part of the story: the VSX-LX53's real appeal lies in its sound quality, which is suffused with energy and excitement.
Action movies bellow with intent, the Pioneer battering out the bullets in The Dark Knight's night-time chase: high frequencies are rendered crisply and yet without undue glare, while each impact strikes home with a definite, wince-inducing intensity.
Switch to a DTS-HD Master Audio mix of Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense, and the Pioneer maintains its urgent, energetic feel yet musters enough balance to ensure each rhythm is properly cared for. It'll even manage a respectable sense of stereo with CD.
This is an excellent newcomer. It's classy to look at, pleasing to live with and great to use – and more than good enough to justify its price over the best of the budget pack.
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