Remote Control, Listening Tests, and Conclusion
Pioneer provides the VSX-516 with a remote that is small, light, non back-lit, and fits well between the cushions of your favorite couch. Square, ugly, and nearly impossible to use in the dark without memorizing locations and counting the number of buttons as you run your thumb down the face, its one redeeming quality is that volume control is in a different shape from everything else on the remote. This makes the one job you are most likely to use in the dark the only one you can reliably find. Volume is controlled in 1 dB increments, not that you can see the display, because you can't.
Listening Tests - Music
I spent a lot of time listening to this receiver. It got plenty of use, though much of it for TV and movies. Thankfully, Olive hadn't sent the return labels for their Symphony product, so I could use some of their music as well. Starting with 2-channel, I've spent a little more than my fair share of time listening to Morcheeba's Big Calm. Very mellow and relaxing with enough bass to keep me interested, Skye Edwards' sultry vocals grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go. I flipped through the all the DSP modes deciding that "game" mostly boosted the bass, the Neo:6 stuff did nothing for me, and only the Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Pro Logic Music, and 7-Channel Stereo modes were at all acceptable... but barely. For the most part they just added volume and reverb I didn't want or need. Many of the advanced modes actually made the music much less enjoyable. I'll take my stereo in stereo please, thank you very much, though I recognize that DSP affects each track and disc differently. At normal or moderate listening levels, the Pioneer performed beautifully. It was only at higher volumes (-20 on the dial or about 94dB at the sweet spot that I noticed a bit of attenuation of the highs. Snare drums, cymbals, and particularly high guitar notes took on a metallic, grating quality. At that point, I was being so buffeted with bass that I didn't notice all that much.
DVD-Audio: The Blue Man Group -
The Blue Man Group: The Complex has got to be one of my all time favorite albums I've reviewed. It has seen more airtime in my system than any other (it actually goes on vacation with us). The 5.1 DTS 96/24 track for this album is fantastic in its ability to accurately convey the myriad of instruments utilized. I definitely recognized much of the same clarity and presence I was used to with my Denon AVR-3805. Getting lost in this album is easy to do, as is forgetting how late it is and how mad your wife is going to be even though you've only been bumping up the volume 1 dB at a time (for the last hour). "Shadows Part 2" is an excellent track to showcase your system's ability to place instruments in a three-dimensional space as well as move sounds around the room. In this, the Pioneer performed admirably, convincing me that the Blue Men had somehow decided to stop by for an impromptu performance. Unfortunately, there were times that I felt that some information was lost. Perhaps in the midrange, I can't be sure, but I know that I've had fuller listening sessions in the past. Still, the effect was minor at best and in no way diminished my enjoyment of the music.
Porcupine Tree -
Want to freak out your friends, stick in Porcupine Tree: Deadwing and ask them to classify it for you. It defies convention. No one song picks a style and sticks with it. They'll have to classify everything as a "rock ballad" because it has both fast and slow elements. It also has one of the most amazing surround tracks I've ever heard.
It is impossible not to become involved in this music as it plays, the surround puts you in the middle of the composition. As I listened, I couldn't help but lose myself in the music.
Listening Tests -
Intacto is not a new movie by any means, but it has spent it's time in the purgatory of my Netflix list long enough so I bumped it to the top. What I found was a thoroughly enjoyable if slightly strange movie about the nature of luck. While not a great movie for bone crushing bass or amazing surround effects, it did showcase the unit's ability to convey voices and human interactions convincingly. The fact that 85% of the movie is in Spanish (Max von Sydow is in it and he speaks English the whole time) helped me concentrate on how lifelike and well placed the vocals were.
X-Men 2: X-Men United
Much to my wife's chagrin, I can't go into Target and not pass by the discount movie aisle. I also don't rent movies at Blockbuster anymore but somehow find myself in there for their 2 for 1 used movie specials. After a trumped up reason to visit Target, I came home with the $7.99 version of X2. Much like Spiderman 2, X2 far surpassed the original in both story and action. While all signs point to "suck" on X3 (but we can hope, can't we?), I've rarely been as pleasantly surprised as I was when I walked out of the theater after seeing X2 for the first time. Getting it home and putting the wife and kids to bed, I immediately got into the story and characters. The opening scene with Nightcrawler attacking the president had all the presence and twice the bass I remember from the theater (I tend to run my sub a bit hot).
Mission Impossible 2
The worst thing Tom Cruise ever did was fire his publicist Pat Kingsley and hire his sister. Holy moley... in like three seconds flat he went from famous to infamous. I'm getting to the point where I can't even watch his movies anymore because all I can think is "that guy's a nutcase, seriously, who would want to work with him?" Kind of takes me out of the movie. Well, in preparation for MI:3 , I borrowed MI:2 from a friend. MI:3 is going to be directed by J. J. Abrams of Alias and Lost fame, meaning it will start off good then get kind of weird and disjointed at the end. Apparently, the progression of directors from Brian De Palma to John Woo to J. J. Abrams makes sense in the magical land of Cruise. Still, it looks interesting and I'll probably put it on my cue unless it gets slammed. While the movie isn't known for any particular aspect, it is an action flick and as such, the VSX-516 performed admirably. Imaging was nice and the action sequences were delivered with aplomb and force. I was especially impressed with some of the surround effects in this movie. I hadn't expected much (older movies tend to disappoint) but there were times when the surrounds were used to great effect.
Oddities and Observations
This is not to say there weren't a couple of oddities. I can't explain them and I don't think it is a problem with the unit but I felt they deserved to be mentioned. First it happened to my wife. She had just switched off the unit (was trying to read a Newsweek magazine and I left the room) and a few seconds later it switched itself back on. When she told me that, I thought she had hit it with her elbow or something. However, a few days later, I was watching a movie (or TV, I can't remember) and the unit switched itself off. Now, I was just sitting there, the remote was nowhere near me. I know I didn't hit it. Of course, I ran over there to see if the unit was hot and it was a bit warm but no where near what I'd call uncomfortable. I immediately switched the unit back on and it ran for a few more hours without a hitch before I turned it off to go to bed.
I used the VSX-516 for a couple of weeks, the review period was tight so I couldn't spend as much time as I would have liked, but I will say that I found this unit to be an able performer at any price point. Of course I used the "review" as justification for making my wife sit through War of the Worlds and Batman Begins (again) and watching Finding Nemo with my son suddenly became "work" (God, I love my job). At no time did I have a problem with the unit identifying the correct decoder. Does it do bass management on multi-channel music? No. Does it do upconverting? No. Does it have a million inputs and outputs? No. But does it really have to? I don't think so. At this price point, this unit provides nearly everything you need and some things you don't. All that, and the defaults of the unit are set in such a way that if you just turn it on and go through the Quickstart... 90% of your settings will be correct. For Joe Consumer, that is exactly what you want. So bottom line, if this unit has the number and type of inputs you need, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
The Score Card
The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:
Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating
Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.
Audioholics Rating Scale
- — Excellent
- — Very Good
- — Good
- — Fair
- — Poor
|Multi-channel Audio Performance|
|Two-channel Audio Performance|
|Ergonomics & Usability|
|Ease of Setup|