At least the Pioneer’s performance assuages some of this operational frustration. With 5 x 130W of audio horsepower in the tank, the VSX-520 musters a muscular and engaging sound with movies, particularly when you’ve got a raucous actioner like Avatar in the tray.
During the 'Eywa' chapter, its DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is sharp and zesty, with precisely placed surround effects, terrific steering and an expansive soundstage. Crisp top-end detail emanates from every speaker and clear dialogue cuts through the cacophony of battle. On the downside, it’s a little harsh in places – especially the banshees hissing in chapter 16 – and that lack of smoothness puts it down a peg or two compared with Onkyo’s latest offerings.
But during the movie’s quieter scenes the Pioneer displays an impressive deftness of touch. As the camera follows Jake on his first sortie into Pandora’s jungle, a rich sonic tapestry surrounds you. From the crinkling leaves on the floor to creatures howling in the distance, the Pioneer fashions a layered, believable atmosphere that holds the attention throughout. It’s utterly engrossing.
Bass output is also solid too – thumping footsteps and the sound of exploding helicopters have satisfying heft without bludgeoning the other speakers into submission. Overall, the Pioneer is a solid movie performer but not the best you’ll find at this price point.
We also tried out some music and although it doesn’t sparkle in the way we were expecting, failing to eke out delicate detail and reproduce vocals with the same finesse as some rivals, it’s still an enjoyable performance for the money.
In its own right, the Pioneer VSX-520 is an impressive AV receiver. With its attractive looks, future-proofed 3D-ready HDMI sockets, a wealth of audio processing and decent sonic performance, it has a lot to offer. It’s not perfect – some harshness to the sound and an awkward operating system being the two main problems – but otherwise it’s a sound choice.
The trouble is, you can pick up receivers like the Onkyo TX-SR308 and Yamaha RX-V467 for a similar price, both of which offer more features and slightly better performance.