Pioneer VSX-S520 Review

Most AV receivers are bigger and heavier than a cinder block, which means they take up a significant part of your entertainment center’s shelf space.

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Our Verdict

The Pioneer VSX-S520 is a good fit if you plan on using smaller speakers to build a 5.1 system.

For

  • This is the most compact AV receiver on the market.

Against

  • It doesn’t have enough power to create great home surround sound.
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There are only four HDMI inputs on the Pioneer VSX-S520.

There are only four HDMI inputs on the Pioneer VSX-S520.
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The Pioneer VSX-S520 has a remote to help change input sources.

The Pioneer VSX-S520 has a remote to help change input sources.
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There are two FM antennas on the Pioneer VSX-S520’s back panel.

There are two FM antennas on the Pioneer VSX-S520’s back panel.
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The Pioneer VSX-S520 is only 2.75 inches tall.

The Pioneer VSX-S520 is only 2.75 inches tall.

Most AV receivers are bigger and heavier than a cinder block, which means they take up a significant part of your entertainment center’s shelf space. This isn’t the case with the Pioneer VSX-S520, which is the smallest AV receiver on the market, standing only 3 inches tall. However, its diminutive size means it doesn’t have as much power as most AV receivers. It only has five channels and a weak amp, which means it’s best for a small home theater system with speakers that have low power handling.

The Pioneer VSX-S520 is one of the few home theater receivers we looked at that only has five channels of amplified audio output; most of the other receivers we compared have seven channels, which provides additional depth and dimension to the audio. That said, most movies are mixed to a 5.1-channel format, so the additional channels are just a bonus in most cases. However, it’s likely that in the future most movies will use 7.1 audio, so sticking to a 5.1-channel receiver could soon be a legacy issue.

As with most of the best home theater receivers, the VSX-S520’s video pass-through functions are excellent. The receiver has four HDMI inputs that are compatible with deep-color, 4K and 3D video. Of course, the one downside to this is that there are only four HDMI inputs, whereas most receivers we evaluated have six, but this is one of the sacrifices you make for a slim design.

The VSX-S520 features the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio decoders, the most common high-definition audio formats for Blu-ray. The receiver also has the Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6 matrix decoders that upmix stereo signals for a surround sound system.

Like the best AV receivers that cost around $500, it comes with multiple wireless options, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay. However, since it’s much smaller than most receivers, it doesn’t have legacy inputs – there aren't any analog audio inputs or composite inputs for older DVD players or gaming consoles that don’t have HDMI outputs. It does have a phono input for playing records on a turntable.

Pioneer only offers a one-year warranty on its VSX series of AV receivers. That is the shortest warranty term offered by any of the AV receiver manufacturers we researched. You can contact the company’s support staff by phone or email if you have questions about the setup process or the receiver’s features. In addition, the user forum on the Pioneer website has useful information about calibrating your audio system.

The Pioneer VSX-S520 is the slimmest AV receiver on the market, which makes it a good choice if your home entertainment center has little space to spare. However, its size comes with some downsides – it’s not very powerful, only has four HDMI inputs and only supports five channels of audio. Still, it is a good receiver for a small surround sound system.