The 5.1-channel Pioneer VSX-823-K (Est. $300) is a budget AV receiver that offers above-par audio quality, built-in AirPlay and great connectivity for the money. There's no built-in Wi-Fi, so you'll need to use a wired Ethernet connection to take advantage of the networking features. The VSX-823-K also hosts six HDMI inputs, including an MHL-compatible input -- a rarity at this price point.
Solid audio performance. Experts say that the Pioneer VSX-823-K offers very good sound quality overall. CNET's Matthew Moskovciak says the receiver provides a "remarkably well-balanced" sound for music and movies, and the soundstage provides good depth. Pioneer's MCACC (Multi Channel Acoustic Calibration) does a good job with calibrating speakers; experts say it's accurate enough and only takes a few minutes to do its job. There's 3D and 4K/Ultra HD pass-through, but there's no video processor so upscaling analog video to HD resolution is off the table. Onboard surround decoders include Dolby ProLogic IIz -- used to provide height channels in a seven-channel receiver, though the VSX-823-K only offers five channels of audio.
No built-in Wi-Fi. The Pioneer VSX-823-K hosts networking features, but you'll need a wired Ethernet connection to use them because there's no built-in Wi-Fi. Nor is there Bluetooth, though wireless streaming from a mobile device is supported in other ways. One is HTC Connect, which will stream wirelessly from some HTC smartphones. In addition, an available Pioneer ControlApp will turn your Apple or Android smartphone into a remote control for the VSX-823-K and can also wirelessly push music stored on the device to the receiver. AirPlay support is also on board. The VSX-823-K offers only a few Internet-based streaming services -- just Pandora and Internet radio stations -- though it's DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatible for streaming your own music from a computer or another DLNA device on the same network. Optional dongles for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are available -- but they cost more than $100 each, so you'd be better off stepping up to the Sony STR-DN840 (Est. $400) if Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity are needed.
Plenty of HDMI inputs. Like most receivers, the Pioneer VSX-823-K is a big, bulky box, though it looks reasonably attractive in black. Buttons and knobs line the front side symmetrically and don't clutter the receiver too much. There are six HDMI inputs, including one on the front panel that's MHL compatible, which is more than what similarly priced home theater receivers offer. Other connection options are a bit sparse compared to other receivers -- there's not even a single component video input -- so this receiver works best if most of your devices use HDMI.
Fast setup, calibration. The Pioneer VSX-823-K's automatic speaker calibration feature works quite well and makes configuring speakers quick and painless overall. The included remote is like those bundled with most other home theater receivers in that it's loaded with buttons, many of which will go unused by most users. On the plus side, buttons for the most important functions are large and white. The onscreen display isn't fancy, but the boring, text-only menu is at least straightforward.
Decent value for those who don't need Wi-Fi. The Pioneer VSX-823-K is a bit of a tease, offering good network features but exacting a premium for the needed Wi-Fi adapter for those who don't have an Ethernet connection nearby. The same is true for those who consider Bluetooth a must. If either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth are needed, we think that the Sony STR-DN840 is a better buy. The Sony receiver is a solid performer that packs built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay support, and equally good connectivity.
Reviewer Matthew Moskovciak gives the Pioneer VSX-823-K home theater receiver 3.5 stars out of 5. He calls it a "good deal for AirPlay fans looking for lots of HDMI connectivity" but says it "falls short on wireless features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth."
Review: Pioneer VSX-823-K Review: An AirPlay-friendly AV Receiver Stuffed with HDMI, Matthew Moskovciak and Steve Guttenberg, June 26, 2013
Robert Silva lists his top 10 AV receivers costing less than $400. The Pioneer VSX-823-K makes the roundup, but analysis here is cursory and limited to just two short paragraphs with no evidence of hands-on testing.
Review: Best Home Theater Receivers - Priced at 399.00 or Less, Robert Silva, Not Dated