We spend a lot of time testing A/V receivers in the $500-to-$1,000 price range, but every now and then, it's fun to see how far entry-level models have come. Consider the Pioneer VSX-515: its bevy of useful features and clean sound belie its low price ($275 list and less than $200 online). It's a 6.1-channel receiver with component-video switching in a price class where you'd typically find 5.1-channel models limited to S-Video pass-through. The sound quality may not tempt audiophiles, but it's on a par with other entry-level models. That said, for a few extra dollars, the 515's big brother, the VSX-815, is a better deal; it offers superior connectivity options and Pioneer's best-in-class autocalibration feature.
The Pioneer VSX-515's no-frills aesthetic may not woo style-conscious buyers, but we found it attractive in a form-follows-function sort of way; the unit's controls don't have the clunky feel that can betray some lower-priced receivers. You can get the 515 in either of two colors--the black (VSX-515-K) and the silver (VSX-515-S) versions have otherwise identical feature sets. The solidly designed 515 weighs 21.75 pounds, and since it's slightly less than 16 inches deep, it's a bit easier to place than a lot of competing models.
The 515 lacks an onscreen display, so we set up the receiver using its front-panel display. We found the procedure short and sweet and had everything sorted out in less than 10 minutes. However, we missed the MCAC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration) automatic setup system found in the 515's more expensive step-up siblings, the VSX-815, the VSX-915, and the .
The smallish, silver remote crams a lot of buttons and controls into a surprisingly useful layout. It lacks backlit keys or an LCD readout, but we generally don't expect those niceties at this price point.