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Pioneer VSX-C301-S

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      30.07.2009 15:57
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      Highly recommendable for anyone putting together their own home theatre setups

      Two years ago I shelled out for my first HDTV, Argos had an offer on for 32inch TVs for £300 and I picked one up. Initially I just had it to play games on but after I saw a few films in High-Definition it really brought back my interest in watching films. With that in mind I decided to set up a full, home theatre setup around my TV. I wasn't too well off for money at the time and really didn't know anything about surround sound systems and made my first mistake on day one. I went out and bought a cheap 5.1 speaker set from Argos only to find it was really only four computers with 5.1 sound cards. In the end I found this receiver at CashConverters for £35 and snapped it up. Once at home, it was no trouble to wire in my cheap speakers and finally get my surround sound. I've had a year to play with it now, learnt a lot more about audio receivers in general and upgraded to some much nicer speakers.

      While I got this second hand, I would have gladly paid a lot more than I did. It is an absolutely excellent unit but it is a lower cost unit. It does not support HDMI inputs, instead it has a range of optical, coaxial and scart inputs. Aside from newer HDMI devices, it will accept most kinds of hardware including VHS machines, DVD players and a Playstation 3, Xbox 360 or Wii console. The unit itself is very slim but much wider than a DVD player. It's sized to stack with hardware such as CD changers and amplifiers but should fit well into most rooms. There are a lot of inputs on the back with Scart inputs and pass throughs so you can input to the receiver and then out to the TV. There is also a coaxial and optical input on the front of the device for quick access. An LED and LCD display on the front illustrates your current speaker configuration, input device and type of signal being processed. There are also two knobs, an input selector and volume that helps with basic functions should you misplace the remote.

      As to be expected for a pre-HDMI receiver, this model does not support the latest high definition audio formats. However, it does support most other formats. Dolby Surround, DTS and PCM are all supported. Due to the bandwidth limitations of Optical and coaxial, you can only get stereo PCM sound but otherwise the encoding is high quality. For videos and games encoded in versions of Dolby ProLogic, this model has a ProLogic II decoder that is very effective and supports a variety of modes. ProLogic sources have true, positional surround sound encoded into a stereo track. The decoder can extrapolate the position of the speakers from this source and restore the surround sound from the original film. Most receivers have ProLogic decoders these days but they are still great if you've never had one before, all your old videos can be experienced in surround sound. The ProLogic decoder has the added bonus of creating a surround sound effect from stereo sources even if they haven't been encoded. I listen to all my music through the ProLogic decoder and it does a great job of upmixing the sound.

      A few less common features the receiver has actually present excellent value for money. There are some excellently configured sound modes including one that will simulate the effect of surround sound through a well placed stereo setup. Similarly, while the receiver only supports 5 speakers + a subwoofer it can create the illusion of a rear centre speaker. If a 6.1 or 7.1 source is played through this receiver it will use the surround speakers in balance to place this channel behind you. Though, I must confess that the effect is something you have to experience to understand.

      All in all, this is a good value and fully featured surround sound receiver that will meet most people's needs. However it does not support more than 6 speakers or HDMI inputs.

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