Pioneer XDP-100R review

The tantalising prospect of high-res streaming in a portable player

Pioneer XDP-100R
High-res streaming potential in a portable player

The Pioneer XDP-100R is a great little device; although I'm using 'little' with a some qualification here; it may only be rocking a relatively diminutive 4.7-inch screen, but housing those high-end audio components certainly demands space, and as such it's got a pretty chunky, squared-off chassis, making it feel far bigger than a modern phone.

That slightly industrial design – all sharp angles and brushed-aluminium finish – has actually grown on me though.

I've even grown to appreciate the bumpers Pioneer has placed on the top and bottom edges of the player to protect the ports. I was all set to take to them with a screwdriver (pleasingly, this is an option) and get them off first thing, but the headphone jack protector especially came in very handy.

As well as keeping the 3.5mm connection safe it also provides a handle for pulling the device out of your pocket without pressing either the volume control or the physical skip, pause and play buttons down the side.

The XDP-100R is all about convenience too. I've used a fair few HRA players recently, and the use of a full Android 5.1.1 installation makes everything easily accessible, and utterly familiar too.

The fact that it comes rocking the full Google Play Store makes getting all your audio apps a pleasantly simple affair. There's none of the usual side-loading shenanigans needed to get your favourite player installed, although the actual playback software the player has been kitted out with is mighty impressive stuff.

Pioneer XDP-100R

The XDP-100R will also cast away to your Chromecast Audio, offering a Bluetooth aptX connection to power your wireless speakers too. So, while it's unashamedly sold as a high-resolution audio player, it's not shy about letting you get your dirty low-res kicks too.

But it's by no means the perfect HRA player. My biggest concern is the output power of the Pioneer.

With a quality set of headphones you really need to crank the volume up to get a decent listening experience. In fact. with pretty much any headphones you're going to be operating in the higher echelons of its volume range.

The scale goes from 0 to 160, but anything below 130 was barely above background noise, especially when you're taking a stroll around town.

That's where the higher-spec hardware of the Acoustic Research AR M2 really comes into play. It may chew through power like a fat kid (i.e. me) through candy, but it sure goes loud – around ten times the headphone volume of the Pioneer.

Even though the XDP-100R isn't quite so power-hungry, it does still smash through the battery reserves when you're running directly from Wi-Fi, or even if you leave Wi-Fi on in standby mode. With Wi-Fi off, though, I've been really impressed with the way Lollipop is able to preserve the battery without completely shutting down the device.

I've left it sat aside for a week or so and still been able to pick it up, pull on my headphones, press play on the side and step out into the world with my ears filled with Take the Power Back in glorious high-res, 96kHz/24-bit.

Pioneer XDP-100R

We liked

In short, the noise. It's a simple thing, but the sound quality from a decent audio source, played back through a great pair of headphones, can be a beautiful thing. The clarity of sound coming through the Oppo PM-3 headphones when rocking a 192kHz/24-bit source is excellent.

It's the convenience of the Pioneer XDP-100R, though, which separates it from the other HRA players I've tested.

Others may have higher-quality components, sound a little better, go a lot louder and cost a whole heap more, but having that full Android ecosystem at your disposal, as well as casting and Bluetooth connectivity, makes the Pioneer a really powerful, versatile media device.

It's also got the potential for a huge capacity too, with a pair of 200GB microSD cards able to deliver nigh-on half a terabyte of storage.

We disliked

My main issue is the XDP-100R's output power. It's frustrating having to push the volume up so high just to get a reaction from your headphones, even more so when you're outputting through speakers.

There is a dedicated 'Line Out' option in the settings, shortcutted on the home screen, but that simply locks the volume to max on the standard headphone connection.

And while I have grown more affectionate towards the chunky chassis, that pseudo-industrial design aesthetic is likely to polarise opinion.

At $700 (£500, AUS$719) the XDP-100R is also a rather expensive piece of kit. When you've got the hugely popular Astell and Kern AK Jr coming in at $500 (£400), and Sony's NW-ZX100, with 128GB storage, at $600 (£500, AUS$689), there's a whole lot of competition at this price point.

Verdict

I'm genuinely a big fan of the XDP-100R. I've been testing a few other players at the same time, including better-sounding and higher-spec offerings, but, because of how versatile and easy to use it is, I keep finding myself coming back to Pioneer's inaugural HRA player.

Its physical design takes a little getting used to, and the output volume can be frustrating at times, but despite its high-res leanings it's happy to embrace the lower-resolution joy of streaming and wireless connectivity too.

The elephant in the testing room, however, is MQA. Right now it's still just a tantalising glimpse into the future of high-res streaming rather than a solid reality, and despite the fact that Tidal is going to bring it in this year we've yet to test it on the XDP-100R.

It's also far from the only device that's going to be capable of delivering the new standard – Acoustic Research has also said it will support Tidal's MQA when it updates the Android app.

But none of that changes the fact that this is a great-sounding, powerful – albeit pricey – high-res audio player with a lot potential and some serious versatility.