This package pretty much has it all
What is the Pioneer SBX N500?
When Pioneer launched its new range of soundbars at IFA 2013, we have to admit to having raised an eyebrow.
It's not the fact they decided to join this burgeoning market but more the range of features and extras that were included in the spec. We've seen a few multi-tasking soundbars in the past but none including options for Miracast, DLNA and Bluetooth streaming, all in the same device.
Of course, there is always the concern that when a manufacturer launches a multi-functional product, key functionality is sometimes not given due care and attention but Pioneer's track record is very good when it comes to producing high quality audio products so we have high hopes for this one.
So is the SBX-N500 a Jack of all trades? Let's take a look...
Pioneer SBX N500 Design & ConnectionsThe SBX-N500 sits in the middle of Pioneer's range and doesn't come with a wireless subwoofer, that's saved for the N700, so it's not surprising it weighs a fair amount, given the built-in low-end drivers,
By recent standards, it's fairly deep at 12cm but it's not especially tall, taking the tape at about 9cm, so it should sit under most TVs without obscuring the screen or IR sensor. In the case of the latter, Pioneer includes an IR repeater in the box, which is a good idea.
Also included within the packaging are some height-adjusting feet, wall mounting cushions and an optical audio cable.
All the physical connections are housed in a recess at the rear of the unit and include two S/PDIF digital audio inputs, an HDMI out (with ARC) and a LAN port, as well as the input for the IR repeater.
As we said in the intro, the N500 is also extremely well catered for in terms of 'invisible' connections, including Bluetooth, WiFi, WiFi Direct and Miracast so you should easily be able to stream audio from a number of sources.
The supplied remote is quite compact but better than most included with a soundbar. There are all the expected playback buttons plus input selections, a control for dimming the LED display and a dedicated key for engaging the Night mode. There are a number of others related to setup which require use of the on-screen user interface, accessed from the HDMI connection, and we think some of them - audio modes, for example - should be accessible from the remote. It can be a pain when all you want to do is listen to some music but you're in movie mode, for example.
Pioneer SBX N500 Setup and OperationTo get the most from the N500, you will really need a TV sporting ARC (Audio Return Channel) support through at least one of its HDMI connections. Most TVs built in the last 3 years have it and having it means any source connected through the TV can have its audio piped through the soundbar. There's also the added bonus that you can then use your TVs remote to control the volume.
In fact, there's another reason to get it hooked up over HDMI and that's because a lot of the settings can only be accessed via an on-screen menu.
We've no problem in this approach, in some respects. Settings such as screen size, resolution and 1080p24 'passthrough' would certainly clutter up the remote but not having direct access to sound modes, such as Movie and Music, is something of a nuisance - particularly if they work as intended.
The Menus are actually surprisingly comprehensive for a soundbar but when you consider all that it does, and can do, it is understandable, even if we do think some are a little OTT for the product sector. The product manual is a good indicator of that and comes in at a fairly hefty 63 pages long - which is large even in comparison to that of a TV in 2014.
To be fair, the default settings are pretty much spot-on for most but we're not sure it's necessary for a soundbar to have picture mode settings or Deep Colour support but we guess you can't fault Pioneer for trying.
Menus are unusually expansive for a soundbar
Pioneer SBX N500 FeaturesIt's usual for this section of a soundbar review to be fairly sparsely populated but the SBX-N500 is a different kettle of fish to your usual soundbar product and has more features than some TVs we see.
To get over the above referenced nuisance of accessing sound modes, without using the on-screen UI, there is a good app available for both iOS and Android containing pretty much all the options you will ever need or use. As well as the sound modes, you can adjust volume, change source, connect to a DLNA and find content, initiate a WiFi Direct connection and use all the playback transport controls.
We tested both the iOS and Android versions with, yet again, the Apple version coming out better. Whether the crashes we kept getting using a Nexus on the very latest Android (4.4.2) are commonplace remains to be seen but we'll be feeding the info back to Pioneer.
Given the sheer amount of music available through YouTube we guess it makes sense that the sole video streaming app aboard the N500 is the World's favourite video viewing service. It works very well, too, and supports mobile device pairing for easier searching and browsing. It's good for a bit of video jukebox fun and certainly a feather in the cap of the SBX-N500.
We found video streaming over DLNA to be less successful, however, with even low bitrate HD MKV files stuttering badly over WiFi and not faring much better on a wired connection. You will almost certainly have a device better equipped for networked video streaming but it seemed to cope OK with audio files.
And there's more. The Pioneer SBX-N500 also supports Mircast screen mirroring for your compatible Android device and is the World's first soundbar to be able to act as a Bluetooth transmitter. What use is that, you ask? Well, it might come in handy when you want to pipe audio from your TV to your Bluetooth headphones but we can't think of much else.
And finally, as we mentioned earlier, the N500 comes with a handy IR repeater which attaches to the rear of the unit with a sticky pad and when placed in front of the TVs IR receiver, relays commands from the remote. We wish more manufacturers would think about this issue. Not everyone uses ARC and less still HDMI CEC.
A truckload of features!
Pioneer SBX N500 Audio QualitySo we've established that the Pioneer SBX-N500 has an embarrassment of riches, features-wise, but how does it sound? Excuse our French but it's bloody good and surprisingly full and expansive for a solo soundbar product.
There are but four drivers inside the N500 but they take care of business in impressive fashion, delivering an unusually wide soundstage with real impact down low. The two 2.6-inch mid/high end drivers are very clear and precise, with dialogue that's easy to pick out and well anchored to the centre of the screen when watching movies and TV.
There are also two 3-inch down-firing low end drivers positioned either side of the centre which combine nimbly to provide a degree of punch you wouldn't expect from a soundbar not coming with a dedicated subwoofer unit. We will say that at default settings, the subs were dominating the rest - at least in our listening environment so you may need to tweak settings.
Bass is far meatier than we expected
We even found some of the DSP (Digital Sound Processing) to be genuinely beneficial and whilst the 'Surround' mode isn't exactly a replacement for a 5.1 system, it does deliver audio with presence beyond 'vanilla' stereo. It even gives the bass a bit more impact and once you've engaged it once, it's difficult to go back but you may experience vibrations and a bit of rattle if you push it too hard. In which case, you could try sticking on the included feet attachments to give it more clearance.
The SBX-N500 is equipped with both Dolby Digital and DTS decoders and this really bears fruit with most movie soundtracks - particularly in the case of DTS. We ran through a few favourites including Oz the Great and Powerful and Battleship, with each sounding excellent and suitably room-shaking, at times.
Since the N500 is so well equipped as a music streaming device, we put it through its paces in this department using Bluetooth from our PC and tablets. In over 10 hours listening from our Windows machine (Spotify/Google Play Music at highest quality), we're delighted to report not even a solitary drop-out in audio, which is fairly remarkable, in itself, but made doubly pleasing by the fact that another of Pioneer's technologies, Sound Retriever, genuinely adds a bit of sparkle to compressed music.
- Excellent connectivity options
- Surprisingly full and wide sound
- Tons of features
- Included IR repeater
- No direct access to sound modes from remote
- Subs can dominate
- Android app has crashing issues
Pioneer SBX N500 Soundbar ReviewThe Pioneer SBX-N500 is a solidly made and compact soundbar package that stands at around 9cm tall, so should't get in the way of the bottom of most TVs, nor the infra red sensor. But should that become an issue, Pioneer helpfully has included an IR repeater which alleviates the problem.
Connectivity options are copious with two optical audio, a 3.5mm multi-purpose jack and a HDMI output which allows the system to take advantage of your TVs ARC functionality - should it possess a capable HDMI input. In fact, you probably want to make sure it does to get the most out of the N500.
The one frustrating thing about the presence of of the HDMI connection is that means Pioneer has placed some options only accessible via on-screen menus, which is OK for detailed set up but we'd really like direct access to all the audio modes from the remote. There is an iOS and Android app that overcomes this , although we found the latter frustratingly flaky.
Of course, this being 2014, there are also a number of wireless communication options and the SBX-N500 has an unusually comprehensive set. They include Miracast, WiFi, Bluetooth and WiFi Direct and the N500 will even network with your PC/applicable device for DLNA streaming of your media files, although video streaming was poor in our experience.
Features aside - and what a lot there are - the sound quality of the N500 doesn't let the side down. At less than £260, it's worth every penny for it's rich and full audio that delivers a surprisingly wide soundstage. At default setting the two in-built subwoofers tend to take over a tad too much but there are sufficient onboard controls to tailor it to your listening environment.
OK, so we were expecting the SBX-N500 to be good, just not this impressive, and with all factors considered we have absolutely no qualms in bestowing it a very hearty AVForums Recommended Award.
Ease of Use7
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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