REVIEW: PIONEER VSX-S520 SLIMLINE AV RECEIVER
Click below to open the StereoNET Digital Magazine review, otherwise read on.
Slimline AV Receiver
The Matrix was the perfect DVD in the early days of Home Theatre.
Those wandering down memory lane will recall the clutter new surround sound gear accumulated in our living rooms.
If your experience was like mine, your lounge-room was disappearing amongst an ever-growing collection of home theatre speakers and equipment.
If you were lucky enough to have a ‘full-blown’ 5.1 home theatre system in your lounge you of course, needed the ‘perfect’ DVD to show it off.
And at that time, they didn’t come much better than The Matrix. So, when Pioneer’s VSX-S520 arrived I dived into my movie library and retrieved my own copy.
My current speakers can be a little demanding. To see what the VSX-S520 was truly capable of, I needed to match it with some entry level speakers. What better choice could there be than the Andrew Jones designed Pioneer FS52 5.1 Speaker pack ($1599 RRP)? A quick phone call and they were on their way.
Pioneer has five AV Receivers within their 2017 ‘VSX’ range, consisting of the: 5.1 VSX-330 RRP $549, 5.1 VSX-832 RRP $899, 7.2 VSX-932 RRP $1,099 and the subject of this review, the 5.1 channel slimline VSX-S520 RRP $1,199.
At first glance, you may wonder why you would pay extra for the VSX-S520 over the VSX-932, which offers two more channels of amplification. The Pioneer VSX-932 is a full sized AVR, whereas the VSX-S520 is only a tad larger than a bluray player. This provides a range of possibilities for those who want to fit an AV Receiver in a tight space, or put together a home theatre with a small footprint.
What’s in the Box?
The front of the VSX-S520 is finished in black high gloss plastic, with a large easy-to-read LED display at its centre. Two dials located to the left of the display provide access to input selection and volume. To the right of the display is a headphone input, USB input, the MCACC auto-calibration microphone input and main power button.
The VSX-S520’s four HDMI inputs offer Ultra-HD pass through, HDCP 2.2, HDR, BT.2020 and are capable of upscaling an incoming source to 4K. The VSX-S520’s HDMI output also features ARC (Audio Return Channel).
In addition to its HDMI inputs, the VSX-S520 has three analogue inputs, as well as a digital coaxial and optical input. Rounding out the VSX-S520’s connections are five spring- loaded speaker terminals and a single subwoofer output.
Some will take exception to the use of spring-loaded speaker terminals, however, speaker binding posts would take up more space and I strongly suspect, compromise the VSX-S520’s slim dimensions.
The VSX-S520 has five channels of class D amplification providing support for a 5.1 speaker configuration: front right, front left, centre, surround right, surround left and one powered subwoofer. Naturally, being a 5.1 channel AVR, it won’t decode the newer formats with height speakers such as Dolby Atmos and DTS: X. It will, however, happily decode the Dolby True HD and DTS-HD soundtracks found on bluray and Ultra-HD discs.
The VSX-S520 provides dual band Wi-Fi and a nice range of features to take advantage of its network and Bluetooth connectivity, including: FireConnect for multi-room audio, Chromecast, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Internet Radio and Apple AirPlay Certification. High Resolution Audio is supported with USB/Network of audio files up to 192 kHz/24-bit ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, WAV and 5.6/2.8 MHz DSD playback.
At this the price-point the overall build quality is good, and features an understated, attractive design that doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to itself.
The remote control that comes with the VSX-S520 is identical to Pioneer’s other AVR remotes. It has a clean minimalistic look, favouring a smaller amount of large, easy to locate buttons. Less frequently used functions are delegated to the onscreen display.
Also included in the box is a CD-ROM with full user manual, microphone for Pioneer’s MCACC-automated speaker setup and a quick start guide.
The VSX-S520 is amongst the second generation of Pioneer AV Receivers to use their revamped menu and setup guide. In addition to being far more attractive to look at, it’s also a lot easier to find your way around.
Having forgone the need to download an app to your phone or tablet to setup your AVR, Pioneer has now built this functionality directly into their AVR’s. Simply connect the HDMI output to your TV and the VSX-S520 will guide you through everything from hooking up your speakers, to calibration.
The VSX-S520 has inherited a scaled down version of the MCACC automated calibration system found in Pioneer’s more expensive SC-LX line of receivers. In addition to automatically setting channel levels and distance with the supplied microphone, the VSX-S520 will apply phase control and 4 band subwoofer EQ.
As I have encountered with most automated calibration systems, MCACC did set the speakers to large, but it’s easy enough to change this afterwards without upsetting the calibration.
Downloading Pioneer’s Remote app from the Play Store allows the VSX-S520 to be controlled directly from a phone or tablet. The app found both the VSX-S520 AVR and a Pioneer MRX-3 wireless speaker I had on hand for the review. In addition to being able to control the VSX-S520 and MRX-3 wireless speaker from my phone, it allowed me to conveniently group ‘audio–zones’ around the house.
Do you believe it now Trinity?
The obvious concern that comes with an AVR the size of the VSX-S520, is can it drive a set of home theatre speakers to a decent volume level? An underpowered AVR can sound anaemic and just isn’t up to the task of delivering dynamic home theatre sound.
With The Matrix locked and loaded, it was time to find out…
Despite being a little older, the True HD soundtrack found on The Matrix is still quite dynamic. It also had more than enough ‘audio wallop’ to the put the VSX-S520’s amps through its paces. When using a new component such as an AVR, it’s always wise to start by erring on the side of caution. With this in mind, I started The Matrix at a reasonably modest volume level.
With the movie underway and Trinity wreaking havoc, it was immediately apparent the VSX-S520’s Class D amplifiers were capable of more than I had initially given them credit for. Turning the volume close to maximum, the VSX-S520 and Andrew Jones’ speakers demonstrated no sense of strain as Trinity pounded her way across the iron roof-tops of the city.
As Trinity and Neo blast their way through the lobby, the VSX-S520 continued to demonstrate that both the AVR and the speakers could provide a dynamic and engaging home theatre experience extremely well, especially at this price point.
Dialogue was clear and intelligible during both the quieter and more action laden scenes, without the need to be boost the centre channel.
The Pioneer VSX-S520 and FS52 5.1 speakers also turned in an admirable performance with The Wolverine, both working together to create a cohesive sound field around the listener. While they didn’t provide the last word in terms of space or dimensionality, they still provided a satisfying home theatre experience, leaving most of the fine details on the soundtrack intact.
Pioneer’s VSX-S520 is a veritable TARDIS of home theatre technology. Hidden within its sleek confines is not only a capable AVR, but also the heart of a whole house audio system.
While some may be tempted to write off Pioneer’s VSX-S520 based on its modest power ratings, they would be doing themselves a disservice.
Reviewed as a system, Pioneer’s Andrew Jones designed SP-FS52 floor-standing Speakers, SP-C22 centre speaker, SP-B22LR bookshelf speakers and S-MS3SW subwoofer coupled with the VSX-S520, comes in a tad shy of just $2,800.
Just add a DVD or Blu-ray Player plus some cables and you have a great budget-friendly home theatre system.
For more information visit the Pioneer brand page.
As the owner of Adelaide based 'Clarity Audio & Video Calibration', Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
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