• Pioneer VSX-521
Our Verdict 
An agreeable entry-level amp which just lacks the spark of class-leading kit
For 
Decent build and looks
good speaker calibration system
weighty sound
Against 
Doesn’t sound as exciting or as the class-leader
spec lacks a couple of niceties
Reviewed on

You don’t expect a budget home cinema amp to be jangling with bells and whistles.

But the Pioneer VSX-521 provides all the basics: four HDMI inputs, a smattering of digital audio connections for connecting a set-top box or TV (one coaxial and two optical), automatic speaker calibration, and the ability to decode high-def Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks.

Build and appearance are reasonable enough. The Pioneer’s remote is a little drab and the buttons are on the small side, but they do glow in the dark. Pioneer’s MCACC system works out speaker distances and levels without any hassle.

Powerful sound for the moneyA spin of the Fast Five Blu-ray sees the Pioneer fire out a bold, weighty sound.

As our petrolhead heroes drag a safe full of money through the streets of Mexico, the Pioneer shows great focus and solidity;  when the safe starts trashing buildings and cars, the VSX-521 thuds along nicely.

More after the break

It does have a slight problem though: its closest rival, Sony’s STR-DH820. is available for similar money and is better specified. Upconversion, upscaling and iPod love are all part of the package.

But, importantly, the Sony sounds more dynamic, punchier and does a better job of directing effects.

The Pioneer is a good home cinema amp for the money, but you can gain spectacular results by spending a little extra.

See all our home cinema amp Best Buys

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