The VSX-528 is Pioneer's entry-level network home theatre receiver. That is, it is the lowest-cost unit that still allows you to access online and local network music. Locally, that means playback of DLNA music on your servers and computers and Apple Airplay from portable iOS devices and iTunes. More widely, you get vTuner internet radio and Spotify Connect.
It comes with the same number of amplifiers as actually used by most people: five. Seven is all well and good and offers some flexibility with zones and such, but by keeping the extras down, this receiver comes in under AU$700.
What about 7.1 channel Blu-ray tracks? The receiver mixes the two extra channels — the left and right surround back ones — down into the respective normal left and right surround ones so you don't miss anything except, perhaps, for some precision in the localisation of surround sound.
Each of the amps is rated at 100 watts into 8 ohms (two channels driven). Each is rated only into 6 ohm or higher impedance speakers. Using 4-ohm speakers, and there are plenty of these around, could cause warranty troubles, so they're best avoided or at least used very cautiously.
You get six HDMI inputs, USB plus a limited number of old-fashioned inputs (one optical digital, one coaxial digital plus some analog audio and composite video). The front USB socket supports playback and control of iPods and iPhones.
The receiver doesn't incorporate a wizard to guide newcomers through the set-up, but it's all pretty straightforward. Wire up according to the manual. Plug the supplied calibration microphone into the socket on the front, and put it where your head would normally be. Hit the menu ("Home") key, and let it make noises to assess and adjust itself for your speaker system and room.
In my case, it made the same mistake as many systems do, setting my centre and surround channels to "large" when they ought to be "small". I made that change manually afterwards. There is only one crossover frequency that can be applied to all the "small" speakers, so you might have to compromise if you have speakers of different capabilities.
In addition to calibrating the speakers, it also works out equalisation to iron out any marked problems with frequency balance in your room.
I also found it necessary to update the firmware. Pioneer has issued new firmware for most of its models to provide support for Spotify Connect. With this unit you can't update via the Net but have to download the file with a computer (12MB) and put it on a USB stick to load it in.
Sound and picture performance
There isn't much to say about the picture because, basically, the receiver does nothing with it other than to switch between the different inputs. All the usual standards, including 3D and 4K are supported. The one thing it does do is overlay a little information panel showing what's happening when you adjust the volume or change some setting or other. This can be switched off if you don't like it.
The sound performance was pretty much the same as more expensive Pioneer receivers. Their EQ tends to produce a full-bodied, powerful sound, and that's what this one did. The amplifiers were fine with the loudspeakers I used (8 ohms for the front stereo pair, 6 ohms for the other three), delivering nicely high levels and very listenable sound.