Pioneer VSX-1131 Review
THE VERDICT:
The Pioneer VSX-1131 is a great all-around receiver. With its Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and 4K capabilities the 1131 is pretty future proof. FireConnect is a bit of an unknown at this point, but it has potential. Its MSRP is a little higher than other amps in this category, but if you manage to find one selling under $500 it's a bargain.

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Design9.5
Value8.5
Features9
Sound Quality9
The Good
  • The Pioneer VSX-1131 has lots of features and good sound quality. Revamped remote and user interface among the best that you'll find on a piece of AV equipment.
The Bad
  • Bass can be too forceful at times and overwhelm other frequencies. FireConnect still an unknown at this point.
9Overall Score

When Onkyo absorbed Pioneer’s AV department many worried that Pioneer’s amps would lose their characteristic sound. Thus far, I don’t believe that’s been the case. This year’s VSX-1131 proves that Pioneer amps still have the accuracy and nimbleness they’re known for, but now they have a little more edge to them. The Pioneer VSX-1131 has 7.2 channels of amplification and hits all the major home theater hot buttons. Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and 4K video are all supported by the receiver.

 

Pioneer VSX-1131 Design and Appearance

Pioneer VSX-1131

When I reviewed the Pioneer VSX-831, I noted that visually not much had changed with the AV receiver itself. The same is also true with the Pioneer VSX-1131. The chassis is still your basic black metal box. As has been the case the past few years, the face of the 1131 has a brush metal treatment. A large display is centrally located on the front of the amp with an input select knob on the left and a volume knob on the right.


RELATED: Pioneer VSX-831 Review


The biggest changes with the Pioneer VSX-1131 have to do with it’s usability. The remote has thankfully been revamped. The number pad has been axed which has left room for the remaining buttons to become larger. The end result is a remote that’s easier to use and more accessible. Pioneer’s iControlAV5 app, which you can download from the Google Play and iOS app stores, gives you a more graphical way to throw commands at the receiver. The app works well on smartphones, but its even better on tablets.

 

The remote isn’t the only item on the Pioneer VSX-1131 that’s received an upgrade. When booting up the amp an updated user interface greets you.  The new GUI uses large graphical icons that makes sifting through the amps settings almost pleasurable.

 

Connectivity

As far as connection options, the VSX-1131 has all the bells and whistles you’d expect. On the rear you have 5 analog audio inputs, 1 component input, and 3 digital (2 optical and 1 coaxial). The front gives you a 3.5 mm input, a 6.3mm headphone input, a USB input and 1 HDMI hook-up. Including the front port, the 1131 gives you a total of 7 HDMI ins and 2 HDMI outs.

Pioneer VSX-1131 4K, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X

If you need an AV receiver that can handle 4K video, then the Pioneer VSX-1131 is a good amp to have on your AV rack. HDMIs 1-3 support HDCP 2.2, 4K/60p/4:4:4 24-bit video, HDR (High Dynamic Range) and BT.2020. The receiver can also upscale standard HD video to near 4K quality.

 

WiFi and Bluetooth are now ubiquitous on mid-range amps so its no surprise to see it on the Pioneer 1131. If you need a more stable (or faster) network connection, the receiver also has an ethernet input. During testing the WiFi and Bluetooth were both solid. I was able to connect my Google Nexus phone to the amp and stream from Bluetooth and Spotify without a hitch. Hi-Def audio files also receive some love from the Pioneer VSX-1131 as it’s capable of decoding 24-bit/192kHz in FLAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, WAV and DSD (2.8/5.6MHz) files. You can stream these over your network or via a direct connection thru the front USB.

 

If you’re a fan of internet music services then you’ll have a few good options with the 1131. Pandora, Spotify, Tidal and TuneIn are available. Apple AirPlay is also supported by the amp as is Google Cast.

 

FireConnect is new to Pioneer AV receivers this year. Like Yamaha’s MusicCast, FireConnect is a multi-room audio system that allows you to send audio from any device connected to the receiver to FireConnect compatible speakers. Unlike MusicCast, FireConnect doesn’t enjoy a wide range of compatible devices so it’s hard to grade how good FireConnect is yet, but the potential for success is there.

 

Calibration

Setup for the Pioneer VSX-1131 is the usual affair. Pioneer employs their MCACC calibration suite which also takes Atmos/DTS:X elevation speakers into account.  Called reflex optimizer, it helps to make sure the sound from reflected elevation modules reach your ears at the same time that sound from the rest of your speakers does.

 

Calibration only takes a few minutes once you plugin the provided microphone and place it at the center of your listening area. It’s a good idea to go in to the settings menu and double check the amps calibration settings when finished. Thankfully, the 1131 did a good job prescribing the appropriate distances and speaker crossovers. I did bump up the levels on the center channel a tad, but other than that MCACC did a solid job.

 

Sound Quality

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy on blu-ray seemed liked a good place to start with the Pioneer VSX-1131. Its combo of dialogue and on screen action are a good test for any amp. Right away I noticed something different about this year’s amp. Its bottom end sounds a little beefier. In Return of the King, the Oliphaunts march onto the battlefield was literally Earth moving as my listening seat shimmied and shook.

 

Dialogue was focused and clean coming from the amp. The surround channels were active participants in the on screen action as Orc grunts and clanging swords swept around the room. While I liked the bass coming from the 1131, I can see how some may feel it’s a little too aggressive. Switching over to the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Smaug’s voice sounded deep rich and powerful as the dragon bellowed and growled at the movie’s protagonists.

 

Dolby Atmos & DTS:X

Object based sound formats are the next frontier in home theater. The Pioneer VSX-1131 supports both Dolby Atmos & DTS:X. The biggest thing you’ll notice with both formats is how much it opens up the sound field. The Atmos sound track for Transformers: Age of Extinction was expansive. The final act of the movie is when Atmos kicks into high gear with numerous overhead effects.

 

John Wick on Blu-ray takes a more subtle approach with Atmos being relegated to atmospheric effects such as falling rain and mood setting music. The effect of this is that the viewer feels more engaged with what’s occurring on screen. The 1131 handled both movies admirably. I did note that with Transformers: Age of Extinction, dialogue was sometimes overwhelmed by the on screen ruckas, but these moments were rare.

 

Gods of Egypt and Ex Machina were my two DTS:X movies of choice. Ex Machina like John Wick, used its DTS:X tracks to create atmosphere and tension which was translated well thru the Pioneer VSX-1131. Gods of Egypt which is heavy on action made more use of overhead effects, although the Atmos enabled Transformers: Age of Extinction felt a little more directional with it’s approach.

 

The Verdict

The Pioneer VSX-1131 is one of the better performing 7-channel AV receivers on the market. Anyone worried that Pioneer receivers would lose their signature sound when Onkyo took over needn’t worry. The same sound that’s made Pioneer receivers great the past few years is still there. The amp is also crammed with features such as Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and 4K. One aspect that you rarely see AV makers address is the end-user experience. This year Pioneer’s tackled that by simplifying the remote and making a pretty snazzy on screen interface. At it’s price, the Pioneer VSX-1131 will find itself in direct competition with Sony’s STR-DN1070 which is a great receiver in its own right. However, the 1131 can often be found online steeply discounted which gives this capable little amp a slight advantage.

 


Where to Buy:

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