Pioneer VSX-531 Review
THE VERDICT:
The Pioneer VSX-531 has very good sound quality for an entry-level receiver. However, getting the amp to sound its best will require a little time and effort.

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Design8
Features7.5
Value9
Ease of Use7
Sound Quality9
The Good
  • The Pioneer VSX-531 produces great sound for an entry level receiver. Built-in Bluetooth makes it easy to stream music. Pioneer's Sound Retriever noticeably improves the sound quality of compressed music files.
The Bad
  • Lack of an auto calibration suite means it takes a bit of effort to get the receiver sounding its best. Not ideal for large spaces.
8.1Overall Score

The majority of AV receivers on the market include a laundry list of features. From 4K video, to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, modern amps can come packed to the gills with all sorts of gadgetry. With this in mind, not everyone needs these extra features. The 5-channel Pioneer VSX-531 belongs to this category of AV receiver. It lacks the bells and whistles of more expensive amps, but it gives you the basics. The 531 supports 4K video pass through and Bluetooth along with an advertised 140 watts of power per channel. In lieu of extraneous features that you may or may not use, the 531 focuses on producing good audio.

 

Pioneer VSX-531 Design

The Pioneer VSX-531 is the typical rectangular black box that we’re used to seeing with AV receivers. As with all of Pioneer’s amps it has a brushed metal treatment on the front. Volume and input select knobs are stationed on the outer edge of the front of the receiver with a large display in the middle. An auxiliary input, headphone jack and USB input round out the 531’s front ports.

Pioneer 531 Review

AV receivers are notorious for having over complicated remotes. Pioneer simplified the remotes for their more expensive units this year. The remotes of both the Pioneer VSX-831 and the VSX-1131, which we previously reviewed, benefit from a new uncomplicated design. However, the 531 wasn’t invited to the party. The VSX-531’s remote is full of small extraneous buttons. It’s not terrible, but it could definitely use a bit of an overhaul. The on screen interface is A-typical at this price point. It’s not colorful or fancy, but the text driven interface is easy to navigate.

Pioneer VSX-531 Remote

 

Twist the receiver around and you’ll see the rest of the unit’s inputs. At first glance, the available ports seem a little sparse, but it’s pretty much the status quo for an entry-level receiver. The Pioneer VSX-531 has two RCA/Analog audio inputs along with one coaxial and one optical. The 531 includes one HDMI output and 4 HDMI inputs. The amp doesn’t have a port for a wired network connection or built-in WiFi, however it does come equipped with Bluetooth.

Pioneer VSX-531 Connections
The 531 supports 4K video pass-through at 60p/4:4:4 color with HDCP 2.2 and HDR. So basically, this little amp should work fine if you decide to upgrade to a 4K TV. One feature you won’t see on the Pioneer 531 is Ultra HD upscaling. While many AV makers tout this feature, I question how useful it is on an AV receiver. Most 4K TVs can upscale standard HD video to 4K, so having this feature in a home theater receiver seems unnecessary, but that’s just me.

 

Setup

For speaker connections, the Pioneer VSX-531 uses 5-way binding posts for the front left and right speakers. The center channel and rear surrounds use spring clip connectors. Spring clips aren’t as secure as binding posts, but they’re common on entry level amps. The spring clips make for a tight fit if you’re using thicker speaker cables, but they’re adequate.

 

The 531 does not include any type of automatic calibration system, so getting the Pioneer VSX-531 up and running is a bit of a mixed bag. You can, in fact, be up and watching movies in a few minutes if your priority is to get it up and running as soon as possible.  On the other hand, getting the receiver sounding its best is going to take some time. Once you get everything connected you’ll want to go into the speaker settings and manually adjust the crossover frequency, speakers distances and levels. This is the one area where the 531 falters because for a few dollars more Yamaha’s RX-V381 does this automatically for you. Manually setting up these features will take some time.

 

Sound Quality

To test out the Pioneer 531’s sound quality I plopped in Transformers: Age of Extinction. Despite being an entry-level receiver, the 531 did an excellent job with the action heavy sound track. The surround channels instantly came alive with the opening title scene and rarely eased up during the entire movie. Sounds transitioned smoothly and easily from the surround channels which created an expansive sound stage. More impressive was the amount of bass the little amp punched out. The 531 had no problem producing chest pounding bass.

 

Switching things up a bit I sat down to watch Ex Machina. This sci-fi thriller is heavy on dialogue and subtle atmospheric sound effects. The Pioneer VSX-531 handled the dialogue like a champ. Audio was clean, clear and focused.

 

Star Trek Beyond was also no match for the 531 as it easily matched the on screen action sound for sound. As the Enterprise is devastated in the early minutes of the movie, the Pioneer VSX-531 easily reproduced the chaotic battle scene. It generated a surprisingly wide sound stage for an entry level receiver. Wanting to see how far I could push the amp I cranked up the volume. This is where its audio prowess started to show signs of wavering. At high volumes I noted clear signs of distortion especially during heavy action scenes.

 

For music the 531 was equally adept. With compressed music files such as MP3s, Pioneer employs what they call a “Sound Retriever”. This is designed to improve the dynamic performance of compressed audio. Nearly every AV maker employs their own flavor of this piece of technology, but based on my listening tests Pioneer’s Sound Retriever elicited the most noticeable improvement. Compressed music sounded fuller and richer with a better mid-range. Vocals were more detailed as well.

 

The Verdict

Pioneer’s decision not to include any type of auto-calibration on the VSX-531 makes initial setup a little challenging. On the other hand, if you take the time to go in and tweak the audio settings, the 531 sounds surprisingly good. If you have power hungry speakers or a big home theater room this receiver probably isn’t for you as it will struggle in large rooms. For small or medium size rooms this little amp will shine.


Where to Buy:

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