Pi­o­neer A-50DA

FOR Large, open pre­sen­ta­tion; ex­cel­lent build; retro style AGAINST Stiff com­pe­ti­tion; needs more dy­namic abil­ity

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

It’s a brave soul who en­ters the stereo am­pli­fier mar­ket look­ing to make a last­ing im­pres­sion. At £700, the in­te­grated Pi­o­neer A 50DA has the build qual­ity, fea­tures list and the her­itage to make a bold stand. But it faces tough com­pe­ti­tion from the likes of Ar­cam, Cam­bridge Au­dio and Rega.

The A 50DA'S clos­est ri­vals are two Award-win­ners: the Cam­bridge CXA60 (£500) and the Ar­cam A19 (£650). The CXA60 is more af­ford­able and the A19 doesn’t have an in­te­grated DAC, so in eŠect the Pi­o­neer sits be­tween the two.

Push ‘Di­rect’ for open­ness

The Pi­o­neer's pre­sen­ta­tion is won­der­fully large-scaled and airy, with plenty of space for voices and in­stru­ments to soar. Yel­low Light by Of Mon­sters and Men sounds sweet and breezy, with the Ice­landic duo’s voices com­ing across clearly. Make sure you keep the ‘di­rect’ but­ton turned on to get the most of that open­ness.

The pre­sen­ta­tion is a touch for­ward, but it’s such a clean and even bal­ance across fre­quen­cies that it doesn’t bother us much.

The highs have plenty of space to breathe with no spiky or bright edges. There’s am­ple weight un­der­pin­ning the Pi­o­neer’s sound, with the punchy notes of Mar­i­lyn Man­son’s Killing Strangers com­ing across with weight and au­thor­ity. We’d run the amp in overnight for the sound to set­tle, though.

But even as it pow­ers through a song with lots of mus­cle, it’s not quite as solid­sound­ing as the Ar­cam A19, which re­veals more tex­ture around those in­tense drum hits and moody basslines. The Pi­o­neer tends to make ev­ery­thing sound nice and pleas­ant, whereas the Ar­cam and Cam­bridge are more ca­pable of con­vey­ing the at­ti­tude and emo­tion of a song.

What the A 50DA lacks is out­right drive. Dy­namic up­heavals and lilt­ing voices need an ex­tra layer of sub­tlety to be fully ex­pres­sive. We want a touch more sparkle to the tin­ker­ing key­boards in Yel­low Light, and for the pauses in the song to be deeper and more dra­matic. It’s a full-bod­ied lis­ten, but it doesn’t quite cap­ture your at­ten­tion the way the others do.

In­side the A 50DA is a class D am­pli­fier which out­puts a claimed 65W per chan­nel into eight ohms. The dig­i­tal side of things is han­dled by an asyn­chro­nous DAC that sup­ports hi-res 32-bit/384khz. Mu­sic at that res­o­lu­tion may be fairly lim­ited in avail­abil­ity, but at least the op­tion is there. It also sup­ports all ex­ist­ing for­mats – FLAC, WAV, AIFF – in hi-res, plus dou­ble- and quadru­ple-speed DSD files.

Built like a brick

A USB type-b in­put lets you feed hi-res files from your lap­top. There are four line-level in­puts, dig­i­tal op­ti­cal and coax­ial in­puts and an MM phono in­put for turnta­bles, though high-out­put MC car­tridges will work too. We pre­fer the ana­logue in­puts, as the Pi­o­neer’s DAC sounds rather thin and shal­low com­pared with the line-level per­for­mance. You lose a lot of that open pre­sen­ta­tion via the dig­i­tal in­puts, too.

There are two sets of speaker out­puts, so you can drive speak­ers in another room or switch dif­fer­ent pairs in the same room. There's also the scope to use the Pi­o­neer as a power am­pli­fier – add it to your 5.1 home cin­ema sys­tem, and you can use the A 50DA to power your front speak­ers.

The Pi­o­neer is built like a brick, but the large, sturdy build ex­udes qual­ity thanks to a shiny alu­minium front panel and nicely fin­ished con­trols. It’s a retro look, with knobs and dials click­ing sat­is­fy­ingly. We like the heavy and notched feel of the in­put se­lec­tor, and wish the vol­ume and tonal con­trols were weighted in the same way. But it’s still a lovely prod­uct to use.

If some­thing lights up, it’s in bril­liant blue, mak­ing it easy to see at a glance which in­put or fea­ture is se­lected. You can con­trol ev­ery as­pect of the am­pli­fier us­ing the re­mote con­trol, from se­lect­ing each in­put to switch­ing be­tween the two pairs of speaker out­puts. The slim wand feels nice in hand, and the but­tons are in­tu­itive to use. Vol­ume changes work in tan­dem with the ro­tary dial on the amp – you can see it turn in­stantly when but­tons are pressed.

The A 50DA is a great-look­ing piece of kit and nice to use. Its sound qual­ity may not have beaten the cur­rent lead­ers in the field, with a lack of out­right drive, sub­tlety and or­gan­i­sa­tion stop­ping it from get­ting the full five stars. But that open sound­stage and smooth per­for­mance are sure to find fans.

“The Pi­o­neer is won­der­fully large-scaled and airy, with space for voices and in­stru­ments to soar, and a clean and even bal­ance across fre­quen­cies”

VER­DICT This Pi­o­neer doesn't beat the com­pe­ti­tion, but its de­sign, ease of use and pleas­ing sound will win many over

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