Pioneer VSX-521 review

An agreeable entry-level amp which just lacks the spark of class-leading kit Tested at £270

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

An agreeable entry-level amp which just lacks the spark of class-leading kit


  • +

    Decent build and looks

  • +

    good speaker calibration system

  • +

    weighty sound


  • -

    Doesn’t sound as exciting or as the class-leader

  • -

    spec lacks a couple of niceties

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

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 money
A 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.

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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What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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