Now that simple home theater gear like soundbars is popular, is there really any reason to own a home theater receiver anymore? One thing holding back receivers is that manufacturers have been slow to include features that are in sync with how people get their music and movies today — namely, digitally. That's why we were so glad to hear about Pioneer's new receivers and their ability to play music via Bluetooth streaming.
Pioneer lent us one of those receivers, the VSX-820 ($350) to check out the Bluetooth A2DP streaming ability. It's actually done through a small adapter shown above (the AS-BT100), sold separately for $100, that you plug into the back. Once it's in, you select "Adapter" from your sources, pair with your source — in my case, an iPhone 3GS — and and now all your music playlists are rocking through the home theater. It's a little annoying that you have to manually reconnect every time you turn it on, but no biggie.
I've used plenty of iPod/iPhone docks in my time, but I really prefer the convenience of a setup like the Pioneer, where I can just leave the phone in my pocket instead of keeping it in a dock, forcing me to leap over furniture whenever I get a call. Speaking of calls, the Pioneer system smartly pauses the music, letting you talk through your phone (which can still be paired with a separate Bluetooth headset!), when one comes in.
If there's any downside here to streaming music this way, it's sound quality. Streaming compressed music over Bluetooth certainly won't give you absolute best results, but the Pioneer actually does better than most. The VSX-820 includes proprietary sound processing called "Advanced Sound Retriever AIR" (silly names like this are another thing holding back receivers, but I digress), which promises to "restore lost data" in compressed music. I don't know about that, but I couldn't tell the difference between 256kbps AAC files of U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind streamed over Bluetooth and the CD. Your mileage may vary here depending on the compression, however.
In any case, I'll take the convenience of never having to crack open a CD jewel case ever again over the occasional audio artifact. Streaming is actually even more convenient than a network connection to my Mac, since there's no need to string any cables, and the computer doesn't need to be on. For the simplest, fastest way to play all your phone's music on your home theater nothing beats this system.