Pioneer VSX-520-K

To get ready for the impending arrival of 3D playback in the home, Pioneer has launched several mid-priced AV receivers that are fully ready to take on this new technology. These new receivers come with the latest HDMI 1.4a standard that is required for full 3D playback.

The Pioneer VSX-520-K is the entry level model of the 2010 VSX series and it retails for just $229. At this price, don’t expect bells and whistles, but what you do get are features that do not compromise on the enjoyment of watching high definition movies in your home.

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Pioneer VSX-520-K AV Receiver

Pioneer VSX-520-K AV Receiver

Design & Connectivity

Pioneer hasn’t really changed the overall design of their products. In fact, the Pioneer VSX-520-K doesn’t really look much different than its older models, but that isn’t really a bad thing because the smooth black design is sure to match up well with other Pioneer equipment, including the Pioneer KURO TVs.

On the front panel there are a good number of surround modes and functions to choose from with dedicated buttons for speaker, tuner, display, and preset controls found just below the info display panel. To the left of the info display is the power button while everything else that takes up the bottom space is quite minimal. There are four listening modes on the bottom along with the sound retriever button. The input selector and master volume are found on the left and right sides respectively. There is also the standard phone jack and mini 3.5mm phone jack for your iPod or MP3 player.

For a budget model you get an impressive array of connectivity options. You’ll find 3 HDMI inputs and one output, 2 component video and 4 composite video inputs, and 3 digital audio inputs – one coaxial and 2 optical. A pair or pre-outs are provided for front height speakers if you intend to use this receiver for a Dolby Pro Logic IIz setup. There is also a connection port for an optional Bluetooth adaptor.

The 2 front speaker channels sport five-way binding posts while the rest have the less desirable spring type connections.

Features

For an entry level model, Pioneer has added just enough features to the VSX-520-K while not omitting important ones like support for all the latest lossless audio formats, Dolby Pro Logic IIz and HDMI 1.4a. Power output is rated at 110 watts per channel which is identical to the higher models. There’s enough power to drive all the 5 speakers to fill an average sized room to satisfactory levels.

What you do not get are on-screen GUI display, 1080p video upscaling, internet radio streaming, and Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration system (MCACC) for correcting room acoustics.

Here’s a summary of the VSX-520-K’s features:

  • 110 Watts output for each of the 5 channels
  • HDMI ver 1.4a with Audio Return Channel (ARC) for 3D video playback.
  • Supports high-definition lossless audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
  • Dolby Pro Logic IIz adds front “height” channels for a more immersive experience.
  • Bluetooth Ready – you can add a Pioneer AS-BT100 Bluetooth adapter (sold separately) to release your music stored on your iPhone, Blackberry, or Android smartphone as well as other Bluetooth-enabled sources like laptops.
  • Advanced Sound Retriever (AIR) enhances audio playback of compressed audio such as WMA, MP3 and AAC to near CD quality sound. This technology also enhances the audio quality of SIRIUS Satellite Radio and can realize an upper limit frequency of 20kHz with compressed audio playback for surprising audio richness and clarity even from “lossy” digital audio sources.
  • Auto Level Control equalizes volume level differences between tracks playing from an iPhone or iPod or during television programming.

Setup & Performance

Setup is a breeze even without the OSD. The manual comes with comprehensive instructions and information which makes it easy even if you have not set up a home theater system before.

To test the picture quality, we used the Star Trek blu-ray disc which has a good 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer. The picture was not as rich in the color palette compared to the higher models like the VSX-1020-K, but overall, the 2.40:1 image was very vibrant and sharp. Close-up shots were rendered with amazing details. However, in some parts of the film, shots with lots of visual effects seemed slightly less detailed than those without. Skin tones and shadow details were good.

Its audio performance is no slouch either. On the epic opening scene where the Federation Starship USS Kelvin was attacked, the 5.1 surround system filled the room with earth shaking energy while maintaining clear dialogue throughout.

The VSX-520-K is great for music playback too. Even the SACD format’s high resolution signal can be bit-streamed natively and decoded by its 192khz/24 bit DAC. The sound was smooth and soundstage was wide enough to provide a satisfying musical experience.

Bottom Line

Pioneer is known for producing products that do not compromise on quality and performance. The VSX-520-K is no different, even for an entry level model. If you are on a tight budget, this receiver is good enough for enjoying high definition movies and you will feel that you are not missing out on anything in picture quality and sound. Even with 3D movies on the horizon, you have peace of mind that it will not be out-dated any time soon.

Actual user review:
“Just hooked everything up this week and was pleasantly surprised. I had been using what was at the time (19 years ago) one of Pioneers top of the line receivers with Dolby Pro Logic surround sound. It still works fine, but I tell you: the sound from this inexpensive receiver blows away the old one. For me, just for the Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound feature playing through my Bose Acoustimass system is just amazing. I will play with it a little further for sound enhancements and see where it goes. The connections were simple and the HDMI hookups make it easy for the TV install.” – J.Sprengelmeyer (USA)

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