Pioneer is firmly back in the dedicated-audio-separates world, with this SACD player (one of the cheapest around) and a couple of amps in the 'G clef' range, all chock-full of audiophile credibility and tweaked at AIR Studios in north London.

That Pioneer is backing SACD isn't surprising: it was at the forefront of high-sampling digital audio when it brought out the first 96kHz consumer product, a high-speed DAT recorder, a decade ago. Perhaps less expected is support for MP3 and WMA.

Another thing that's unsurprising, given that it's from Pioneer, is this unit's funky appearance. The front panel has a step in it that puts the display slightly forward, a subtle design feature we rather like.

What we don't like is that the minimalist approach has extended to removing almost all functionality from the front panel. All you can do without the remote is insert a disc and start playing from the top, then stop and remove it again.

The remote is small and slim and thus easily lost, and uses a coin-cell battery you probably won't have a replacement for when it runs out, so it's likely that at some point you'll find yourself cursing the D6 for its ergonomics. The display is a bit cussed too - it's slow and not as informative as it might be.

Inside the thin steel case, a dual-format PCM/DSD DAC handles CD and SACD data streams in their native format to minimise bit-twiddling, while the small frame transformer, op-amps and passive components are, while nothing fancy, perfectly respectable.

Purists can switch off the display and digital outputs in 'Pure Audio' mode, and you have the choice of Legato Link or normal sharp anti-alias filtering. Mechanical noise is on the high side, and has a rather intrusive whistling character.

Sound quality

Our listening panel heard the D6 in its default Legato Link mode, though the brick-wall filter alternative was tried later in our own sighted listening. In the event, this player didn't sound that different from the average, though it attracted comments about good timing and was felt to be lively and bouncy in character.

More than that, however, it was liked for its resolution and general musical involvement. Its treble can seem a bit bright - even slightly coarse - at times, but otherwise the sound is sophisticated and well integrated across the band, and detail is convincing.

Tonally, bass seems quite well extended; solid and tuneful. The midband, one listener noted, isn't totally free of coloration, but what there is seems to be just a touch of shyness in the upper bass that can slightly reduce the impact of male voice and instruments such as cello - and the cleanliness in the upper midrange compensates.

What really emerges from the listening notes, though, is the player's good recovery of small details, which helps it separate layers (tonal and spatial) within a well-balanced recording and creates highly convincing soundscapes.

This seemed to us a touch better with Legato Link switched off, but the effect is obtained either way. Only with recordings that are already quite brash does the brightness become significantly noticeable, and this is the only real blemish on an otherwise well-rounded performance. SACD replay is likewise assured: we felt it a little lightweight, but it's certainly detailed.

Legato Link filtering has the expected effect of slight attenuation in the audio band (very slight - almost nothing below 14kHz and only -4dB at 20kHz) and considerable aliasing between 22kHz and about 26kHz; otherwise it changes very little in the measurements. The 'sharp' filter, meanwhile, makes the model sound very similar to the Arcam. Noise-wise, this player is joint best in the group, while distortion is low but not class-leading. All the same, it's better than on most amps and varies little with frequency. It also vanishes, as one would hope, at lower output levels.

To our slight surprise we found a little jitter in the D6's output, with a mostly noise-like spectrum which we would expect to have very little effect on the sound in practice. In theory it worsens the noise floor somewhat in the presence of high-frequency audio, but real music just doesn't contain enough HF to make that a problem.