Last Wednesday I went to the launch of the new Pioneer XDP-100R high resolution music player. Built from audio foundations up, this is a high end portable music player that, for me, may command a dedicated pocket on my daily dog walks. It is an ‘iPod’ for the 21st Century. I have always been ready for a smart phone with a proper on board DAC but this may take the place of my portable headphone amplifier/smartphone of choice.
Pioneer XDP-100R – an ‘iPod’ for the 21st Century
Out of the box the Pioneer XDP-100R is a very aesthetic piece of equipment. It is angular, muscular, slightly heavy, at 203g, but no bigger than my Android smartphone, though thicker. It is going to play havoc on pockets in sustained use. It feels really nice to have and hold and is getting curious, maybe envious, looks in public spaces. Battery life is quoted at 16 hours of play, and based on my current (high) usage, this sounds right.
The Pioneer XDP-100R comes with ‘bumpers’ on the top and bottom which are very cleverly designed. On the top a screwed on bumper protects the 3.5mm headphone jack from wear and tear and forms an easy grip handle in everyday ‘pull out of the pocket’ use. On the base, also screwed on, is a plastic foot that enables charging and listening for a rudimentary speaker. Also, the bumpers work, having dropped my sample from my kitchen island onto a stone floor from about three feet (accidentally I should add) with no damage to the player (phew!).
The Pioneer XDP-100R is designed as a portable music player from the ground up, rather than being a smartphone with a DAC chipset included. So it is music first with a high end SABRE DAC ES9018K2M and a SABRE 9601K amplifier on separate closed loop, isolating interference that may contaminate performance. The CPU and Audio board are separated internally to keep the focus on minimal interference, like having your amplifier and CD player separate in a high end separates system.
On the front home page is a ‘stand alone’ button, that turns off Bluetooth and Wifi and the display itself to minimise interference on critical listening.
The player supports the usual array of files formats, DSD/ DSF/ DSD-IFF/ MQA/ FLAC/ ALAC/ WAV/ AIFF/ Ogg-Vorbis/ MP3/ AAC, to be precise. FLAC and WAV are supported to 32 bit resolution and 384kHz sample rate. I note the lack of literature on ALAC files though my files are playing nicely and I imagine the war on Apple files is opening out on another front as this player is the first to support MQA, which I will write about separately. MQA is a new hi resolution file format that stores the data in a file format that is much smaller than FLAC and other hi res formats. MQA rolls out in the new year and will be a very exciting development in portable audio.
I’ve been critically listening with the very street Oppo PM-3s, see my review here (http://hifiandmusicsource.com/2015/07/oppo-pm-3-headphones/). They are familiar so are a good choice for reviewing. I’ve also been listening with some new Pioneer SE-MX8-Ss, supplied with my sample Pioneer XDP-100R.
The music player is running Android™ 5.1.1 Lollipop as its OS on a 4.7 inch colour touch screen. This is a familiar system to me and actually makes using the player very easy indeed. It is basically the smartphone operating system without the phone bit, but it means you can access all the Google Play Apps in the store. There is pre-installed on the player Tidal, Spotify and Deezer and an HD tracks site called OnkyoMusic, which is pretty cool indeed and has many HD tracks for purchase and therefore download.
Also pre-installed is the Music App which is the player part of the device. It is very intuitive , featuring the usual artist, album, playlist type menu choices you would expect. Building playlists is a cinch and tracks on the mini SD card are instantly displayed and play without delay or pause (I have a fast read/write mini SD which is advisable). The music App has a built in graphic equaliser which is slightly puzzling given the emphasis on quality from source that you are then allowed to move the frequency ranges at will, distorting the recorded piece, still…
Other installed Apps are the suite of Google Apps, Chrome, GMail, Google Dropbox and Google Play Music. The manual is also installed, which is very useful if you do not want to appear to be reading a manual, etc (a boy thing, I think). I’ve downloaded Bluesound and Naim Apps so that thePioneer XDP-100R has become my home audio remote control for the house, thus saving my knackered over-worked phone battery a few hours of life. Crossy Road has also appeared on the player, courtesy of an avid 8 year old Taylor Swift fan.
There is a desktop music file manager, however the is currently no Apple equivalent. Being Android this is a drag and drop job anyway so there is little lost here, save for a bit of album artwork.
The Pioneer XDP-100R has built in Wifi which connects nicely without fuss. This, however, is my only gripe, as the Wifi does tend to drop out on relatively small ranges. So if you are wandering about streaming Bluetooth with the player in your pocket a range away from your router it drops out. S sometimes if I want to use the player in my lounge for example, it does tend to drop out so I can’t use it to stream to my lounge hifi system, so I am back on my phone. I guess this is a function of my dire BT router and the substantial ‘weapons grade’ metal casing around the player. Otherwise, streaming Tidal or Spotify using their Apps is a pleasant experience
The player is video capable. I have not tested this as I do not imagine it would be purchased particularly for this functionality. Based on my Nexus phone the video player is fine and boxes will be ticked.
The player is very easy to control through the Android OS. There is a line-out option if you don’t want to use headphones and a very useful ‘stand alone’ touch screen button that turns everything off for you when you’re listening closely or walking about. Volume control is managed either on screen, using the neat bezel on the side of the player or in the App itself. There is a power button on the right hand side of the device as well as skip and pause options which work even when the screen is off.
Chopin’s Nocturnes are really clean with this player
It sounds great with hi resolution FLAC files and other lossless formats. When MQA comes we are in for a treat. I have been comparing the player to my own Nexus 5 smartphone using the Oppo HA-2 headphone amplifier with the same ‘phones. I think the Pioneer XDP-100R sounds cleaner and has a sharper edge to it, listening to the same tracks back-to-back-to-back again. The bass is also cleaner and preferable, for me. Chopin’s Nocturnes are really clean with this player and if hi resolution is nothing else, it should be detailed and the different elements of the music should be easy to separate, making any music infinitely enjoyable. I have various 24 bit/96kHz and 192 kHz pieces for reference and they come across as very musical and total joy to be immersed in. If you can, have download of the free HDTracks.com sampler for some wonderful music, notably a 24 bit/96kHz recording of Sonny Rollin’s “Sax Colossus”.
My verdict on the Pioneer XDP-100R
Definitely love it and do not want to give it back. I would use it as my preferred portable solution and if the Wifi was better as an home audio hub controlling my music and other systems, such as Bluesound, thus freeing up battery and storage space my phone. MQA could be amazing for portable audio music and when this comes, I’ll report in. I’m due to try the Astell & Kern AK jr 64GB player soon which will be an interesting exercise. But I have a feeling the flexibility of this product, with Bluetooth and streaming Wifi, coupled with the future potential of MQA may well make the extra 100 quid a worthwhile investment. If you’re serious about your portable music, you must give this player a listen, pick your best headphones and go crazy. This is a very nice player, indeed.
Micro SD slot (buy fast read/writers though)
Intuitve Android OS
Hi resolution capability
MQA, when it comes
the bumper is really clever, and works
Room to improve for the next model
Increase Wifi connectivity for home use.
Soften some of the angles to save pockets
Available now, the Pioneer XDP-100R is available in black or silver with a UK SRP of £499.99