All the resolution, everywhere you go
FOR Refined detail; big sound; file compatibility; storage; build AGAINST Rivals offer greater sonic subtlety
The Pioneer XDP-100R is the company's first high-resolution portable music player. It's also the world's first hi-res player to support MQA technology (Master Quality Authenticated), a new codec that packages hi-res/lossless files in a very efficient way. So now you can stream or download hi-res files without taking up as much space as current formats. Great news for those who want their music portable and in a high-quality format.
Impressive file support
This £500 player is Android-powered, has impressive file support and storage space and comes loaded with music-streaming apps such as Tidal – which is also due to start streaming MQA hi-res files in 2016.
But there’s a catch: the MQA compatibility isn’t ready just yet. A firmware update in early 2016 will make the Pioneer player fully Mqa-ready. Seems like we have to wait a bit longer to try the new technology.
Future MQA compatibility may be the headline act, but the Pioneer XDP-100R is a feature-packed hi-res player as it stands. It will play anything – from standard MP3S to hi-res 24-bit/384khz FLAC, WAV and AIFF files. It also supports the major DSD formats.
Pioneer’s storage secret
You’re going to need a lot of storage space to carry all those music files around, and Pioneer has taken this into account. The XDP-100R has two microsd card slots, each of which can support up to a whopping great 200GB. That means, coupled with the 32GB onboard, you’re looking at a potential maximum of 432GB of storage. That’s a huge amount of space for your lossless library, comfortably beating rival Astell & Kern AK Jr’s combination of 64GB storage with 128GB expansion.
The player comes with some useful extras too. Pioneer has its own music player app, which has helpful features such as a drop-down menu that displays the file format, size, and sampling rate of each song file – so you know exactly what you're listening to.
We like Pioneer's app. It's slick and neat, despite containing so much information. The crisp text is easy to read; you can even dim the album artwork if the design gets too hectic. It’s a nice alternative to Google’s own music player.
Music-streaming apps such as Tidal, Spotify, Qobuz and download store app Onkyo Music are pre-installed on the XDP-100R, making it clear that this player is aimed at the serious music listener.
Portable music player
£500 There are two microsd card slots, each of which can support up to a whopping 200GB. That means, with the 32GB onboard, you’re looking at 432GB
Elsewhere, the Pioneer XDP-100R is also a straightforward Android device. It runs on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop which, while not the latest Marshmallow OS, is no slouch. The device is smooth, speedy and nicely responsive in use. The 4.7in screen’s 1280 x 720 resolution won’t be competing against flagship smartphones, but it’s a clear visual that displays album artwork with good contrast and appealing colours.
As it’s Android-powered, you can download all the usual apps from Google Play Store – but we would recommend keeping the Pioneer audio-based. That smooth performance remains consistent only if you don’t glut the player with loads of games, videos and social media apps.
Decent battery life
That approach will also help prolong the battery life. The XDP-100R will reportedly last for 16 hours (on 24-bit/96khz playback). That number will, of course, change depending on how much you use it, but we did find the Pioneer lasting around two days with medium use before we needed to top up.
It also packs Bluetooth, wi-fi and DLNA, so streaming to wireless speakers is on the cards. You can also plug the player into your hi-fi system using the line out.
Refinement and body
From the off, the Pioneer XDP-100R gives an impression of refined detail, an even balance and a full-bodied, solid sound. Benjamin Clementine’s Nemesis at standard CD quality sounds satisfyingly solid and detailed – his voice is wonderfully textured and intimate, the piano clunks along with depth and authority, and there’s no undue brightness to be heard. It’s a big-sounding performance, too. Instruments and vocals are well placed in an airy soundstage, giving ample space for that refined and clear sound to flourish.
We could do with a bit more punch and wallop to the low end, though. While the smooth balance is commendable, we want that funky bassline in Stevie Wonder’s Superstition (FLAC, 24-bit/192khz) to be more, well, funky. A tauter, more precise
handling of timing, and crisper definition of the stop and start of notes would make a world of difference.
Playing the same track on the Awardwinning Astell & Kern AK Jr (£400) conveys that atmosphere of funk, with the punch in dynamic shifts more apparent and exciting. The AK Jr is subtler, too, and doesn’t hold back from delivering a ballsy, upfront performance – the Pioneer sounds a little restrained at times.
That slightly polite approach is present across all music: this makes the Pioneer a comfortable listen, and means it doesn’t turn up its nose at low-quality recordings or Spotify streams. However, it does mean Adele’s crooning sounds just as smooth and listenable as a Metallica track. We want the XDP%100R to let its hair down a bit more and show off the attitude behind each piece of music. The AK Jr is that bit more discerning and has more impact.
If you want to tweak the Pioneer’s sound, there are plenty of settings you can experiment with. Our guide? Try the three digital filters to find out which one suits your tastes (we liked Sharp best), don’t use any of the Club Sound Boosts as they add nothing of value to the chunky bass performance, and turn on ‘stand-alone mode’ to get a cleaner audio signal path.
This is a big, chunky device, but don’t let the Pioneer’s blocky design fool you: the edges are actually smooth to the touch. Those with smaller hands might find the wide player difficult to grip, and despite appearances, it’s actually rather light and more comfortable to hold than you’d expect.
Next to the more slimline designs of the Astell & Kern AK Jr and flagship smartphones, the Pioneer isn’t exactly the most fashionable device. However, the metal design is sturdy and we can’t find any fault with the finish.
We also like that there’s minimal branding. The Pioneer looks neat in both black and silver finishes. We always cheer when manufacturers add a proper volume wheel instead of buttons – it’s simply nicer to use. The XDP%100R’S volume wheel feels intuitive in use, and while it has up to 160 steps, the player doesn’t go as powerfully loud as the A&K Jr.
The responsive control buttons on the right side are nicely finished, and we like that the two microsd card slots are labelled. We’re not sure about the bumpers at either end, though. The top bit is there to protect the 3.5mm plug, and to hook it to your belt or bag with a carabiner. We wouldn't – it's an expensive hi-res player! You can detach both bumpers, although we have to admit the device looks less distinct without them.
The Pioneer XDP%100R ticks all the right boxes for a hi-res player, from excellent compatibility to massive storage capacity. The refined and balanced sound will appeal to many, as will the £500 price tag – a more affordable option than the £900+ players such as Sony's NW%ZX2 or Acoustic Research M2.
It’s a shame we can’t test the MQA side of this Pioneer player just yet, but considering there’s no MQA content readily available at the moment we’re not missing it too much.
Pioneer’s first hi-res player is a great addition to the market, and while it doesn’t oust the Astell & Kern AK Jr from its top spot in terms of sound quality, we’d still urge you to try it out if you’re looking for a dedicated music player.
We applaud the choice of a wheel to control volume – so much easier and intuitive than fiddly buttons