REVIEW: PIONEER XDP-300R DIGITAL AUDIO PLAYER
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Digital Audio Player
Ever since I was first introduced to music, I’ve always been a keen fan of portable audio. The idea of being able to pack up my music and take it with me appeals to me.
I have fond memories of sitting in the back seat of my parent’s Volvo during road trips to the beach and jamming out with a Sony Walkman and Philip earbuds.
When the Minidisc player was first introduced, it felt like a rude awakening. It almost offended me. “That’s not possible, how could there be improvements over my Walkman? How could portable audio get any better than my cassette rig?”
Little did I realise at the time that this was just the beginning of a revolution for portable audio.
Today, it is very different from where it once was. The portable audio market has exploded.
More and more people are interested in having high quality music on-the-go, and manufacturers are becoming increasingly competitive with offerings, features, and pricing.
With streaming services being more popular than ever, huge leaps being made in portable processing, and rapid advances in smartphone operating systems, there has never been a more convenient time to listen to music away from your home.
Whilst many are satisfied using the smartphone in their pocket to drive their headphones, there are still those of us who thirst for more flexibility, more options, higher quality, and more power.
DAPs (Digital Audio Players) have been a hot topic amongst audiophiles for a few years now, and many manufacturers have jumped on board.
They can almost be divided into two distinct categories; dirt cheap, or brutally expensive.
This can be a source of frustration for enthusiasts like myself, as I find I’m either disappointed with the features of a lower end player, or balking at the idea of shelling out over $3,000 for a DAP just to get the functionality I’m after.
Pioneer is an undisputed household name when it comes to domestic audio. It originated as a Japanese radio and speaker repair shop back in 1938, and in the decades since have become highly revered for both their car audio, DJ, and home theatre products.
With this review, it seems Pioneer have released a successor to their XDP-100R. It comes in a sleek looking package and boasts some hefty internal specs.
Is a higher-spec’ and higher priced successor a tad ambitious? The discerning Japanese domestic market would likely argue ‘not’. But Is the new XDP-300R the bold device that our local market is currently yearning for? Time will tell.
Physically speaking, the Pioneer XDP-100R from 2015 is very similar to the 300R I am looking at today. Which is great, because the 100R was one of the better built DAPs that I played with in 2015.
The XDP-300R is one solid, unibody slab of metal, weighing in at a hefty 200 grams – meaning that It weighs more than your average flagship smartphone (for comparison, the iPhone 7 is a mere 138 grams).
With its sleek bevelled edges, gold highlights, and black brushed metal, it’s a product that quite clearly means business. The aesthetic is subtle, smooth, well built, and elegant. Not too flashy, and not a hint of tackiness.
Like the 100R, the 300R sports two Micro SD slots on one side (with a theoretical maximum of 512GB of external storage), and a volume knob on the other.
The physical dimensions and weight are the same, too.
But that is where the aesthetic similarities end. The 300R has done away with the awkward removable bumper. They’ve upgraded to a gold-plated and sturdier headphone jack, and they’ve added balanced output options.
The words “Twin DAC” are neatly engraved on the side of the device as a cute little reminder of the prowess it boasts under the hood.
The volume knob is a digital controller for the system volume (not an analogue knob for the inbuilt amplifier). It has smooth physical turning steps.
Buttons are well placed and are intuitive. There are track skip buttons, a play/pause button, and a healthy-sized power button. These are mechanical buttons – meaning they give a nice satisfying “click” when pressed.
The display appears to be the same 4.7 inch, 1280 x 720 resolution LCD screen as the 100R. It’s not a poor display by any means, but it’s still a far cry from the AMOLED displays we are blessed with in some smartphones these days.
Still, with its contrast ratio, viewing angle and visibility in direct sunlight, the display is leagues ahead of a lot of other DAPs.
On the Inside
The XDP-300R sports two Sabre ES9018K2M DAC chips, two Sabre 9601K op amps, a choice of either balanced (via 2.5mm 4-pole jack) or unbalanced (via regular 3.5mm jack) output options – all being driven by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor.
A 1630mAH battery should give you around 14-16 hours of usage, and the usual suspects are here for connectivity: 802.11b/g/n/AC, Bluetooth AD2P, SBC/apt-X.
Like many DAPs today, it also runs a custom skinned version of Android 5.1, which takes up a portion of the meagre 32GB inbuilt storage.
The chips and specs might seem a little familiar to some readers; the 300R shares a lot of components with the highly acclaimed Onkyo DP-X1 which back in 2015, was the result of a collaborative effort between Pioneer and Onkyo.
Many viewed the Onkyo as the “bigger brother” to the Pioneer XDP-100R due to its higher price point, expanded functionality and dual DAC setup.
Interestingly the Onkyo DP-X1 was never released in Australia. This was fairly devastating to our local Head-Fi community who yearned to join the hordes of happy users in both Japan and the US who were singing praises for the Onkyo player at the time.
The Pioneer XDP-300R looks set to finally please the Australian audience.
Whilst devout Android fans (like myself) would consider Android 5.1 to be ancient, it’s forgivable in this case, as the skin that Pioneer have designed is clean, sleek, and simple.
The native music player app is neat, contains excellent EQ options (11 band), and is very intuitive to pick up and start using. Even those who do not use an Android device as a smartphone will have no trouble learning to use this player; the learning curve should only take a few minutes.
There are plenty of audio options to choose from – ranging from simple bass-boost options, to full on digital filter choices, up-sampling, as well as native support for the emerging MQA format, and full DSD support.
Playlists can be created and stored on-the-fly, and your existing M3U/ PLS/ WPL playlists are all happily supported.
Interestingly, Pioneer have also included full support for USB – both OTG (for using portable USB drives) and audio (for using an external DAC).
Of course, if you’re more into streaming, the Google Play Store comes pre-installed. In no time, I had streaming platforms Spotify and Tidal installed with no hassle at all.
Despite only having 2GB of RAM, I rarely found the unit to stutter or lag. Most of the animations were smooth, and the device never locked up or froze. I guess without the need to install or use too many third-party applications, the RAM requirements are far lower than the average Android device.
VS the Humble Smartphone
As a headphone amplifier and portable DAC, the Mojo from U. K’s Chord Electronics needs no introduction to Head-Fi enthusiasts. It’s still top-of-the-class for portable source gear not only because of its great looks and build quality, but also because of its flexibility with a huge number of headphones.
Tonally, the two are quite similar, but with a few key differences. The Mojo has the slight edge when it comes to speed and detail, and the XDP-300R has a slightly stronger response in the lower frequencies. I wouldn’t quite say one of these is better than the other; just slightly different.
The argument for using a smartphone with the Mojo as opposed to the dedicated XDP-300R might also be made depending on your use. Many smartphones don’t have a Micro SD slot, let alone two! Not to mention that using a dedicated DAP is also a little more relaxing with no need to worry about incoming calls or notifications popping up.
In terms of power output, they’re both capable of powering a similar range of headphones, but the Pioneer’s selectable gain might be a bit more comforting if you’re the type to be constantly changing headphones.
Whilst XDP-300R does have Wi-Fi, the Mojo will often be connected to a device with 4G capability which ultimately makes it arguably a better streaming partner.
If you’re having a tough time deciding between these two devices, I think it’s worth having a good think about your usual usage scenario before taking the plunge.
Considering its extensive I/O possibilities, the DAC would be just at home in a high-end HiFi systems as it is in a dedicated Head-Fi rig.
A compelling feature of the XDP-300R is the ability to scale and transform the audio signature. This is thanks to a combination of deep EQ settings, digital filter options, and having four gain stages to select.
In terms of volume, the older XDP-100R struggled to pull its weight with the Beyerdynamic DT880 600 ohm headphones. I’m happy to report that the 300R cuts through them like butter. Even on “low-gain” mode, there is more than enough volume headroom to play with.
Perhaps not surprisingly then, it’s a similar story when playing with the Sennheiser HD800S. After locking the device into “high-gain” mode and using the necessary adapters, it’s easy to hear how easily the 300R could drive the fussy German flagship headphones.
Bass still retained its signature tight rumble, whilst midrange was effortlessly and accurately reproduced.
It seems that doubling down on the specs has turned the Pioneer portable into a capable powerhouse. This is a welcome change, as this was an issue with previous releases from Pioneer.
This all may be great for big thirsty headphones – but how does the XDP-300R cope with something a little more delicate?
Being a relatively low impedance headphone (32ohms), the Grado SR80i headphones can be a little fussy with amplification. Selecting the “Low 1” setting on the 300R transformed the player into a more sensible, delicate output and a great match for the Grados.
Tonally, the output was quite similar to the 100R; a neutral, flat, uncoloured, and analytical signature. Some may find this to be a little boring or dry, so thankfully there are the bass boost and EQ settings to compensate for this if you prefer.
IEM users will be pleased to note that output impedance seems very low, and there is no detectable background hiss.
Pioneer’s XDP-300R Digital Audio Player is a clear step up from the older XDP-100R. It is a more refined and fleshed-out offering for portable audio enthusiasts.
With a wide variety of audio options, shedloads of power, one of the best EQ applications I have ever seen in a DAP, combined with stunning good looks, the XDP-300R does a great job of being a jack-of-all-trades.
For more information visit the Pioneer brand page.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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