Right now you have a few choices if you want to listen to music on the move – you can use your smartphone which has been designed to do many things *quite* well, to make that better you can add to that a portable amp/DAC (digital analogue converter) which will bypass your phone’s audio tech and make your music sound sweeter. Even better would be to go back to when we owned devices to do specific jobs, in this case a dedicated portable audio player. I have been running Pioneer’s recently released XDP-100R digital audio player (DAP) for a week-or-so and here’s my review.
I understand that convergence is the way of tech these days. Most people don’t bother with a separate stills camera, video camera, watch, portable media player, SatNav, compact computer and phone – instead we carry one smartphone.
The thing is, people who like to take good photos, whether professionally or hobbiest, will still buy a decent DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. The same goes for budding filmakers – these will head over for a ‘prosumer’ video camera. Why not follow this rule if you really want great audio from a portable device?
True this means an extra device to carry, but this would be the same if you were going to invest in a portable amp/DAC to plug your phone in to. The bonus of using a DAP is that you can store all your music on there and the hardware will be designed especially for audio reproduction.
The Pioneer XDP-100R looks to have a lot going for it when glancing at the spec sheet – it’s running Android 5.1.1 and is equipped with a 720×1280 screen and, as you would expect, some good audio tech. Is it any good though?
After playing with the excellent Chord Mojo, this might be a tough job for the new Pioneer.
Pioneer XDP-100R design
The Pioneer XDP-100R does look slightly similar to another DAP ~cough~ Astell & Kern ~cough~ but that’s not a bad thing as I do like the stealth-like industrial design.
The metal construction is coated in a very nice, subtly textured gunmetal finish.
It feels really nice in the hand and the unit has a pleasing weight to it but is also light enough not to pull your pocket.
The buttons on the side of the chassis cover forwards, backwards, play/pause/stop and a larger power button. I like the rotary volume controller on the side of the XDP-100R and the way it is only accessible at the top and bottom thanks to the angled edges, which makes it tricky to accidentally deafen yourself (potentially) – my pocket has ramped up the volume on my HA-2 by itself which does take me by surprise. Not a nice one either.
The ‘bumper’, as Pioneer calls it, looks like a weird little handle. This removable bumper actually does a pretty good job and protects the 3.5mm input, especially if you’re using an angled jack.
The little yet important details don’t finish there either. The engraved ‘High Resolution Audio Player’ on the side of the chassis looks good and adds to the premium look and feel.
If you have ever used an Android phone then the 4.7-inch display and operating system will feel very familiar.
Pioneer XDP-100R performance
The Pioneer is an Android based portable audio player and runs on Android 5.1.1. While I could point out that Android 6 is already out (my Nexus 6P is now running 6.0.1), the bulk of Android devices are still running 5.1.1 at the moment. The great news is that you can access the Google Play Store directly to grab the apps you want.
Personally, as this is a device designed to play tunes, past Quobuz, Spotify, Tidal and Onkyo music, and similar, I see no reason to sully the XDP-100R with needless junk. This also means that you will probably notice that the XDP-100R starts faster than your phone and, most likely, your tablet.
I was relieved to see that Pioneer haven’t gone over the top with skinning the user interface with needless rubbish.
Everything is slick and smooth with no noticeable lag when flicking between apps, and the screen is nice and bright. More importantly, the Pioneer DAP feels like a product where the interface is a key part of the design rather than it be something that had to be bolted on as an after thought.Under the hood you’ll find an ESS Sabre 9018K2M DAC with a matching 9601K headphone chip.
The ESS Sabre seems to be the go-to chipset for decoders of all sizes, this is most likely down to its performance as well as its bang for buck. The 9601K has allowed Pioneer to equip the XDP-100R with a 160 step volume which means you should be able to dial in the perfect volume for your choice of cans.
It also ensures that the XDP-100R supports PCM up to 24/192 and DSD128.
As an added bonus, at the launch of the player Pioneer, Meridian and Tidal were pretty chuffed to announce that the XDP-100R will be fully compatible with the MQA compression tech from Meridian which promises to make the process of streaming high res audio a simpler business than before.
This will be added by software update and to the best of my knowledge puts the Pioneer in first place (although the XDP-100R’s brother from another mother, the yet to be released Onkyo DP-X1 will undoubtedly have similar skills). So, should MQA become the thing, Pioneer has you covered. We all just have to wait and see what happens next, but the idea behind it is certainly an attractive one.
Should I mention the in-built speaker that lurks at the bottom left of the XDP-100R?
Nope, perhaps best not. It works. That’s about it really.
The XDP-100R has 32GB of internal storage out-of-the-box which I still find a more than a little stingy. But, before you starting dissing it, the XDP-100R is also fitted with not one but two micro SD card slots that will each accept up to 200GB. Yes, this means that you could be carrying around 432GB of music which, I think we can all agree, is rather impressive.
OK, so a 200GB microSD card will still hit you for over £100 if want one that wont crap out on you, but you can snag 128GB cards for around £50 which will still hand the hi-res player 288GB for a hundred notes extra.
The on-board audio player will sniff out all the music shoved in to it, whether on its internal bank or the SD cards. You also get Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz loaded as well as the Onkyo Music App which allows for the direct purchase of music to play on your Pioneer.
To add tracks on from your home hard-drive couldn’t be simpler – just drag and drop files via Windows/OSX, you also have the option of downloading desktop software to better allocate data across your cards and the internal storage.
I do like how the Pioneer’s music player not only can sort through using the usual artist, songs, albums, genre, etc – but you can also sort via format. So, if you just want to hear your FLAC tracks, you can. Easily.
Battery life is quoted at 10 hours but on my commutes and occasional office listening I was getting far better returns at decent volume.
You also get Apt-X Bluetooth as standard which means that the XDP-100R will play nicely with car audio systems and other Bluetooth friendly set-ups and hooked up without issue to a Musical Fidelity Bluetooth receiver.
Also noteworthy are the options to put the XDP-100R in line out mode (maxing and fixing the volume out) or standalone mode (that turns unnecessary functions off).
Pioneer XDP-100R sound quality
I have to admit that I was hoping that the XDP-100R would at least manage to sound better than my HTC One M9 and Nexus 6P, and ideally be better than either of them hooked up to an external DAC, as this must surely be the aim of the device.
I found quite a few similar audio charteristics between the HTC One M9 hooked up to my Oppo HA-2 DAC and the XDP-100R, which is certainly no bad thing.
Listening to Jane’s Addiction’s ‘A Cabinet of Curiosities’ [FLAC] and the player sounds immediate and exciting without any harshness.
Flicking over to Tidal and tracks such as Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, the XDP-100R treats the more laid back vibe delicately and cleanly without any pushiness.
Getting my funk and dub on now and I was pleasantly won over by the Pioneer’s deep bass response through both a set of Pioneer headphones which were loaned to me with the unit and my trusty Oppo PM-3 cans.
Not only is the bass warm and deep, it is also fast and detailed with no bleeding in to the low mids from what I could discern.
Vocal reproduction is sweet with impressive separation between voices and instruments.
I did quickly play with the preset EQ adjustments as well as some custom tweakage. I can say that they all do what they promise to but they weren’t really for me. Again, I expect my player to sound true to the source rather than adding a wash of colour over the top – If I wanted to do that I’d buy some Beats headphones 😉
I was challenged to test the XDP-100R with more difficult-to-drive headphones but I don’t have any. The PM-1 were driven fine but then I wouldn’t wear them on the commute or in an office environment.
It seems an even playing field so far in comparison with a smartphone and Oppo’s portable DAC/amp but how does it compare with Chord’s Mojo?
Anyone who has tested the Mojo will not be surprised to read that the XDP-100R certainly has its work cut out to go against the Chord device and, here, it has to admit defeat. The Mojo just offers more realism and transparency to my ears.
It doesn’t all go the Mojo’s way though. The Pioneer is more easy to pocket and has everything in one unit. This is where you have to balance out what is more important to you in a portable player. If you’re mostly wanting something to listen to at the office and want top quality reproduction with a range of output options, the Mojo is the way to go. If, on the other hand, your listening will mostly be on the commute and whilst wandering the streets, then the XDP-100R would be my recommendation.
The screen is decent enough for videos and playing ‘Roger Waters The Wall’ was a pleasure to the ears and not too bad on the eyes either. The videos now offered through Tidal too were watchable but it was mostly the audio that pleased. Apple would do well to look at this and see what could be possible if they wanted to improve their iPod Touch.
As I have eluded to previously, output options aren’t really many. There’s USB/OTG and Bluetooth and, well, that’s it. But the XDP-100R has been designed as a PORTABLE audio player and not something to hook up to your main system. I am guessing that Pioneer have assumed that, if you are investing in a dedicated digital audio player, then you most likely have a decent networked home streaming set up too.
If I had one gripe with the XDP-100R is that it doesn’t go loud enough – or rather, it does but it could do with more scope.
I don’t want to hurt my ears, obviously, but I also don’t want to be at risk of running a device at its maximum. The Oppo HA-2 certainly has more legs in this regard and the Chord Mojo has it in spades!
I am by no way saying that the XDP-100R is under-powered, my headphones have decent isolation and I could hear music perfectly well on the tube, but I just feel that it hasn’t got the headroom should it be required to drive more hungry headphones. I do love the gradual volume increase and the rotary dial, but it could do with going to 180 or 200, rather than stopping at 160 in my opinion. Let’s face it 0-60 is silent-very quiet on the Pioneer, which is nice and shows how good the hardware is, but I think the device needs to go up to 11…. or make 10 louder, as a wise man once said.
Pioneer XDP-100R DAP review conclusion
As Pioneer’s first foray in to the digital audio player market the XDP-100R does plenty of the right things.
Is it portable? Yes. Does it play FLAC, OGG, AAC, MP3, DSD, WAV? Yes. Does it look good? Yes. Does it sound good? Yes.
To say that I have been impressed by the XDP-100R would be an understatement. A friend of mine was asking about portable music players so I let him try out the Pioneer in the office and he was amazed by its clarity and depth.
I realise that some people, for whatever reason, would want more connectivity options or, like me, bemoan the lack of more volume but, as a complete package, the Pioneer XDP-100R does little wrong. I have really enjoyed my time with it and have already started to miss it as I strapped my HA-2 to my phone this morning.
If you are looking for music on the move then I thoroughly urge you to try the Pioneer XDP-100R.
Pioneer XDP-100R DAP price and availability
You can buy the Pioneer XDP-100R now from all good Hi-Fi retailers, as well as Amazon.co.uk for £499.99.
Pioneer XDP-100R specs at a glance
4.7 inch (1280 x 720) touch screen for easily navigating music files
32GB Internal storage
Two SD card slots for extended file storage (Max 256GB/128 x2, Micro
Built-In Wi-Fi - (802.11b/g/n or 802.11ac)
Built-In Bluetooth with aptX (A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, OPP, HID, PAN)
3.5mm Stereo Phone out
Micro USB B/OTG Digital out
Separate DAC/AMP circuit board and CPU circuit board
Available in Black (XDP-100R-K) and in Silver (XDP-100R-S)
ESS SABRE DAC ES9018K2M
Headphone AMP SABRE 9601K
Qualcomm APZ8074 Processor (2.2 gHz Krait 400 Quad-core, Adreno 330 GPU 450 mHz)
Android OS 5.1.1 (Lollipop) with Google Play
X-DAP Link for content file transfer (PC to DAP)
OnkyoMusic.com Direct Download
Output Power - 75mW + 75mW 32 ohm
Impedance Support - 16-300 ohm
MQA playback support (with firmware update)
DSD File Playback:
Convert to PCM 192 kHz/24-bit (3.5mm Phone/Line-out mode)
Up to 11.2 MHZ DoP/ Direct Transfer and Up to 5.6/2.8 MHz DoP/
Direct Transfer/ PCM (Micro USB-B)
Hi Res file Playback:
Up to 192 kHz/24-bit 32-bit Integer/float 24-bit down convert
(3.5mm Phone/Line-out mode)
Up to 384kHz/24-bit 32-bit Integer/float 24-bit down convert
Sound Arrange Function:
Up-Sampling 192kHz/24-bit (3.5mm Phone/Line-out mode)
Up-Sampling 384Hz/24-bit Real-time DSD Convert 5.6MHz (Micro
Six built-in sound adjustments (Lock range adjust, digital filter, upsampling
to 384 kHz, Realtime DSD conversion to 5.6 MHz, High Precision EQ, Club