With its impressive specs and THX Select2 and THX Surround EX certification, the Pioneer VSX-2016AV easily justifies its price.

It has HDMI in/outs along with useful touches like a custom iPod input with connection lead, a front panel USB input and a second zone for extra rear channels.

Sexy beast

The VSX-2016AV is a sophisticated piece of kit that does all you need for a full-on home cinema experience. Its brutish size is due to the hefty seven-channel amplifier as well as the wealth of processing technology onboard, including phase control technology for improved sonic performance and a Sound Retriever DSP mode that attempts to put back some of what's lost with music compression formats.

Its complexities mean that there's a steep learning curve in getting to grips with the receiver. The front panel and handset are a button pushers dream (but hellish for the novice) and the VSX-2016AV is clearly aimed at confident home cinema enthusiasts.

The MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration) setup tailors the amp's optimum settings with test tones and readings from the supplied microphone. It makes light work of balancing and tuning the speakers to your environment, but it's not too intuitive.

Another neat touch is the Pioneer's iPod connectivity. The custom cable connects directly to the dock connector at the bottom of an iPod - there's no docking station required or additional outlay. iPod menus are displayed on your TV screen and tracks and playlists are navigated via the amps remote controller. Cool eh?

HDMI signals routed through the Pioneer show no sign of degradation, and vibrant movie images have good clarity and excellent resolution for connection to compatible TV screens. On the other hand, analogue video signals up-converted and output via HDMI show some signs of weakness and there's visible patterning on show during darker sequences, which is a bit of a disappointment.

Thankfully, there are no flaws audio-wise, and the Pioneer delivers one of the most fluid surround performances we have heard. Rousing orchestral soundtracks are very effective as the VSX-2016AV has the natural ability to draw you into a movie by conveying subtle nuances easily masked on other receivers.

Golden retriever

It has the kind of musical capabilities that compels you to sit and listen rather than just hear tracks in the background. And the Sound Retriever DSP mode makes iPod listening a more hi-fi-like experience, and is a very worthwhile inclusion.

With one of the best performances and the highest specification, the Pioneer is the most flexible model at the price. Video upconversion could be more refined but its solid audio performance and impressive capabilities make it a great choice that we'd happily have in our home entertainment system.