Pioneer NC-50DAB All in one player review.
Before I get too far into this review of a budget version of a Naim Uniti (The NC-50DAB feature set is most closely aligned with the new 'Star' model within the Uniti range) let me just cover the basics of what this amazing component offers feature wise and whether they actually work -
Firstly the Olde Worlde features -
Phono input - It doesn't get a lot more old world than a record player input but not only does it have one, it also has a decent earth terminal and the sound is very good indeed. Its quiet, sounds clean and sweet, and seems to have quite good transparency. I like it!
Line input - It only has one but again it offers clean transparent sound for your old analogue sources such as Multi CD players, a Tape Deck, Open Reel Recorders or any other analogue line level input.
FM radio - It seems to need a pretty decent antenna but the sound quality is great.
CD Player - This unit has a CD drive built in to it employing the typical slide out draw we are all familiar with. There isn't a particularly luxurious mechanical sound to it when it opens and closes and the disc spins up to quite a high speed much like a DVD drive (and a little vibey along with it) so overall mechanically not slick but the sound is typical Pioneer CD quality. They sure know how to make silver discs sound sweet and clean. The sound is also quite detailed, fast and agile. I was impressed!
The New World performance and features -
Coaxial and Optical digital inputs - The NC50DAB has one of each and they work well. The sound quality of the internal DAC is surprisingly clean and smooth with exceptional transparency at this price area.
Streaming subscription services - I only tried the Tidal one as it is the only service that offers full fidelity CD quality streaming and at this level of performance (offered by the Pioneer NC-50DAB) I cannot imagine why you would want anything less for the sake of $10 odd extra a month. It works brilliantly! Superb sound which is at least very similar to playing the same CD in the inbuilt CD drive. I'm going to suggest just a smidge less space, stereo imaging and depth of bass is on offer when listening to Tidal versus the in built CD but there is little in it. The app I used did not offer cover art in most selection screens but worked quite well with minimal latency and consistent performance as long as your WiFi reception is fairly strong (I used both Ethernet and WiFi during testing and found the WiFi to be equivalent when the reception was strong). Once again I was impressed by the reliability and the sound quality.
Streaming ones own files - I enjoyed the sound quality of my own music seemingly a little more than that of Tidal when playing files off my NAS that is connected to my network. Not a lot in it but somehow I seemed to be tapping my foot more and generally noticing a bit more music emanating from the loudspeakers. The app navigation was fine with no glitches but cover art (or lack thereof) and track play order let the side down. Not sure whats happening here as Naim Unitis play the same files in the correct order and offer cover art...??? Obviously different meta data is being looked at by the Pioneer app. So not a perfect experience but i suspect the app is at fault and no doubt in due course will be improved.
DAB+ Radio - Not tested due to a lack of local stations on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia.
USB inputs - Testing coming soon.
The App - The app I used is not the first one that came up in the app store when searching 'Pioneer' on my iPhone 5S. I tried that one (which looks like the official one) but couldn't get it to find the NC-50DAB on the network. I then downloaded this one and it worked well, immediately. It has its issues and isn't absolutely the most intuitive thing but seems pretty stable and doesn't really ever glitch, at least for me... Not pretty but quite functional might be a sum up.
Other thoughts - There are quite a few features tucked away in the menus. Just to mention a few would be easy firmware upgrading, tone controls, DAC filter shape selection, and not so hidden Airplay and Bluetooth comparability. This unit offers one hell of a feature set and is close as I have ever seen to the perfect component at any kind of affordable cost. Shameless plug ahead! - The warranty is only 12 months so when shopping for a streamer like this one you might be wise to take up an offer like ourselves at Audiofix offer which is an extended warranty on the Pioneer NC-50DAB to a total of two years which is included free of charge.
Handy Hints - When setting up the WiFi on the NC50DAB the repeat button allows you to change the character type (the repeat button on the supplied IR remote control), the up down cursor buttons allow you to then run through the alphabet etc and then you advance to the next character you want to input with a right cursor press. When you have input all the password characters press enter.
A sum up of the good, the not so good and the downright ugly...
The Good - Well almost everything really. The NC-50DAB Pioneer offers a surprisingly insightful, clean, transparent sound on all inputs coupled with an agile bass quality. Everything works rather well, I haven't yet needed to look up the manual to get this far so quite intuitive to use and it's a machine that just allows you to enjoy listening to music. On a further positive it sports a sealed enclosure so in areas such as where I live (Sunshine Coast) this should reduce salt air corrosion issues.
The not so good - The app is okay and points should be awarded for stability but it could do with an interface tweak. I have used worse but I have also used better (the Naim one is not perfect but is superior and Pioneer would be wise to take a look at it). As mentioned above the FM stage is perhaps not the most sensitive. The actual power or even volume that this all in one unit outputs is at times limited. For example while playing a record with a fairly low recording level, the 'flat out' volume setting of 50 does not have the power amp at clipping and therefore at max output. On other inputs 50 equates to as much as it can give with zero distortion which is probably a good thing but the audio world equivalent of a 'burn out' is simply not available on the NC50DAB.
The ugly - There isn't anything about this Pioneer that I would regard as dud or ugly. It is a thoroughly enjoyable component to use and listen to and is obviously a very fine design that has had much thought lavished on it although it does not have a preamp output connection from the factory... But I have now designed one and fitted a pair of RCA sockets to our demo unit and it sounds amazing plugged into a superior power amp. This is a very worthwhile upgrade that I can fit at the time of purchase for $200 extra or retro fit later for $275.
Final Comments - So you don't want to stretch to the Naim Star at four times the price?? Then this Pioneer is the substitute All In One Player of choice. It's no Naim but wow its in the ballpark! Of course with the addition of a serious power amp that our Audiofix modded pre out connection now allows the NC-50DABs performance potential comes much closer or may even exceed that of the Star (dependent on power amp choice of course). Further review coming soon with a power amp connected!