Pioneer VSX-520-K - Features and Operation

By Danny Phillips



Our Score:


At such a wallet-friendly price, we weren’t expecting an abundance of cutting-edge features, but there’s actually a decent amount to get your teeth into. Among the highlights is Dolby Pro Logic IIz, which adds front height channels to the regular 5.1 arrangement. Using clever processing, it sends non-directional ambience to these channels, potentially improving the sense of immersion. That said, you’ll need a separate amp (or powered speakers) to process the line-level signals and elevating a pair of speakers above your TV could pose a problem, all of which could be more hassle than it’s worth.

The VSX-520 can decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio (something the VSX-420 can’t do), while the onboard Texas Instruments Aureus digital signal processor applies a range of effects suited to different material – Action, Drama, Sports and Classical for example – none of which sounded particularly impressive. The most useful of these is Extended Stereo, which plays stereo sound from all of the speakers. These are joined by Dolby Pro Logic IIx (Movie and Music), DTS Neo:6 (Cinema and Music) and Front Stage Surround Advance, Pioneer’s virtual surround technology. The Phase Control feature makes sure each channel is delivered to the ear correctly without the unwanted distortion that can occur when a channel is out of phase.

Want more? Try the Auto Surround mode that selects the appropriate mode for the type of content you’re playing, or the Auto Level Control (ALC) mode that keeps the volume constant for stereo content. But if that all sounds like too much meddling, simply hit the Stream Direct button and it strips away all the processing for the purest possible playback. To be honest all these processing modes can get a bit confusing (what we’ve discussed is just the tip of the iceberg) but Pioneer should at least be applauded for offering a wide choice.

Another key feature is the Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration (MCACC) mode, which takes away the hassle of sound optimisation. In the box is a microphone that connects to the front panel, and using test tones the receiver measures the acoustic properties of your room, then sets the EQ, speaker distance and levels accordingly. But if you’re not happy with the results, you can set them yourself using an extremely detailed set of adjustments in the Setup and Audio Parameter menus.

However, fiddling with these is a tricky task. There’s no onscreen interface, so everything is controlled using the front display panel. Due to space constraints the display abbreviates much of the text, and only users familiar with the lingo (or those who like to read the manual) will know what it all means.

It’s not made any easier by the remote, which uses unhelpfully small buttons for often-used functions like Return and Setup. The zapper is very cluttered too, peppered from top to bottom in text and buttons, plus the use of a shift key for Blu-ray and HDD functions just adds to the confusion. On the plus side, there are direct access keys for all of the sound modes, plus dedicated buttons at the bottom make it easy to adjust the individual channel levels.


September 10, 2010, 2:22 pm

Any chance you'll be getting any of the higher end models in this line in for testing? I'm specifically looking at any of the following: VSX-920-K, VSX-1020-K and VSX-2020-K, and the SC-LX73 and SC-LX83


September 11, 2010, 12:05 pm

Can't they make it smaller?


January 4, 2011, 10:36 pm

Im not sure which vsx 520 you guys reviewed...because the vsx 520 does NOT have the Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration (MCACC) mode.that is only on the vsx i cant TRUST these trusted you wont publish this comment either!


January 6, 2011, 4:25 pm

@John McLean:

Hopefully we should be, though I couldn't say when.


Don't you know bigger is better?

Seriously though, aside from all the large components inside, not to mention all the connectivity on the back panels, cooling is one of the reasons these machines tend to be as big as they are.


That's odd, because if you look at Pioneer's official spec-page, it lists MCACC as one of the primary features... {}

So do trust our reviews - and you lost that bet :)


July 7, 2011, 1:51 am

Hi Folks,

I own one in the States and it doesn't have MCACC. Maybe the Euro version does. I also looked at the link you provided and I can't find it. I was going buy to another brand that did, and I stumbled upon the 520 at a reduced price because it was an open box item.


November 30, 2012, 2:18 pm

@kraig: i never undestood why people who don't posses a certain object comment upon them. i have this receiver and can confirm that it has MCACC!!!!!!!!!!!!
i have to specify that i am not autistic and i don't have any mental illnesses that could influence my way of perceiving reality

Harrison Ford

July 10, 2016, 5:03 pm

For guys with BD players and a surround system, I suppose this is a fine amplifier - for music it is pathetic. The hoops one has to go through just to get almost *almost* the actual sound from the sound source is hilarious and then you'll never get it untouched, because it's "advanced surround" effects will *never* turn off.

This dumb product is only for people who think HDMI is an important feature on an amplifier, and then only those who don't have much money. You get what you pay for, steer clear of this one. Pathetic.

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