Pioneer’s network player is a full-size 11kg audio component built to high standards and loaded with streaming and networking options. And its sound was thrilling.
You know a good DAC the second you hear it. Here we were listening to a very good DAC. We had attached a hard-drive of high-res music to the N-70AE during set-up, but our first experience of its output came from an accidental selection of a 320k MP3 of Leonard Cohen’s Going Home, and we froze in outright wonder to hear such a thrillingly rendered Leonard, the gravelly richly-edgy vocal, his interstitial lipsmacks and swallows audible, the simple arrangement and outright divine backing vocals laid out across the soundstage in a flowing carpet of loveliness.
It’s this level of musical performance which explains why network music players can rise to this price level. Indeed the label of ‘network audio player’ underplays the abilities here. The N-70AE can be used as a DAC for other source components and your computer — it has one optical and one coaxial digital input, it has the USB-B socket required to connect to your computer via USB, and it has two USB-A slots, one front and one rear, to which you can attach USB storage as hard drives or sticks. (The rear USB socket supplies more power, so is the better choice for USB-powered hard drives.)
The N-70AE also offers an easy hi-fi path to Spotify, Tidal and internet radio, and it includes both Chromecast and AirPlay, so you can stream direct from any app on Apple or Android devices. It also has compatibility with DTS Play-Fi, and Pioneer’s evolving FireConnect/FlameConnect streaming and multiroom platform.
And you can feel the quality — the N-70AE weighs in at 11.4kg, the chassis designed to isolate the separate power supply transformers for digital and analogue circuits within three shielded sections. The base is designed for high rigidity, while the front and sides use solid aluminium panels. The back panel offers balanced XLR outputs as well as standard RCAs, so if your amp has balanced inputs you can take advantage of the higher signal levels and noise rejection.
From such shares and from its optical and coaxial digital inputs the Pioneer can play WAV, AIFF, Apple Lossless and FLAC up to 24-bit/192kHz, DSD (dff/dsf) at 2.8/5.6/11.2MHz, plus your lowlier MP3, AAC and WMA files.
Note, however, that that you can play only up to CD quality, and no DSD at all, if you connect to your network by Wi-Fi. So give the Pioneer a hard-wired Ethernet connection to your network. The Pioneer Remote App provided intuitive and reliable control.
From the computer USB connection the capability for playing PCM rises to 32-bit/384kHz (it offered to accept 768kHz from our Mac, in fact) and DSD to 11.2MHz.
And as noted from the start, the sound was impeccable, gaining from all the heft of the traditional approaches to high fidelity in combination with the latest technologies, formats and a wealth of streaming and network options. It’s hard to imagine a music networking role the N-70AE would not fit.