There have always been a few companies who made separates that were smaller than the usual width of 430mm - Cyrus to name one. What is a more recent innovation is the arrival of the ‘lifestyle separate.’ This bridges the gap between a full size conventional separate and the more compact all-in-one system. Exactly where these products sit between the two points tends to vary between manufacturer. TEAC (who’s Reference 500 system was perhaps the first of these designs to hit the market) went to the effort of building their bespoke VRDS mechanism into a small separate while other manufacturers simply poured their all-in-ones into some larger boxes. In short, there is no definitive formbook for what a mini separate should be.
Pioneer have been on something of a stereo drive recently and not doing things by half either. The A70 stereo amp that went through the review process was an extremely impressive and very well thought out product which suggests that hopefully the rest of the range is equally impressive. The all-in-one market hasn’t been ignored either and the X-M71 all in one was a bit of a bargain for the asking price. Logically enough, here is the product that fills the bit in the middle. The P1DAB system that offers some of the benefits of either product in a slick halfway house. Has Pioneer struck the right balance?
The P1DAB sits as a smaller equivalent to the entry level separates and in pricing terms there is roughly a night in the pub’s difference in pricing between the two. Pioneer has sought to put clear water between the designs though. The full width disc spinners are all SACD players while the PD-P01 player in this system is CD only. This means that although the PD-P01 contains a 32bit/192kHz chipset that is similar to the full size players, it won’t be handling anything other than 16/44.1kHz. This is true of both the CD mechanism and the USB input that the Pioneer is additionally fitted with. This accepts iDevices and thumb drives but won’t play ball with lossless FLAC or WAV files, let alone high res ones. This is not the end of the world at the asking price - SACD is hardly a growth area - but it seems representative that Pioneer is artificially distinguishing between the two models. That said, the player does internally transcode up to 32/192kHz which is fairly impressive at the price.
The partnering SX-P01DAB is a more technically interesting proposition. This is a stereo amp with a built in DAB/DAB+/FM tuner and 75 watts of power. Like other amps from Pioneer that have passed through for review recently, this is a Class D design. Given that the other Class D amps that we’ve reviewed have been excellent and very musical performers, this is not a concern and it helps to keep the overall dimensions down and minimise heat build-up. Like the other Pioneer amps that have passed through though, it is important to note that the ’75 watt’ output of the SX-P01DAB is given into four ohms rather than eight. This is not the end of the world but it does mean that into a real world eight ohm load, the SX-P01DAB is not significantly more powerful than amps at a similar price point - although it is by no means underpowered either.
As well as the on board tuner and an input to connect the CD, the SX-P01DAB is fitted with a second analogue line input and a digital input. The latter is very useful fitment and gives the Pioneer a handy extra facility that many of the competition don’t have. As well as a reasonably sturdy pair of speaker terminals, the SX-P01DAB also has a single mono pre-out for connecting a subwoofer which is a handy addition at the price.
The final component in the system is the SP01 speakers. These two way standmounts are designed to complement the electronics and are slightly larger than the ones supplied with the XM-71 system. These make use of a high strength glass fibre mid bass driver that has seen use elsewhere in the Pioneer line-up and a 25mm soft dome tweeter. A rear bass port is used to augment the low end and Pioneer claims that the maximum power handling is - conveniently enough - the maximum output of the amplifier. Finished in an attractive gloss back, the SP01 looks smart enough although the effect is slightly undermined by Pioneer’s decision to mount the grill lugs on the speaker front so although there are no holes there are four very visible metal pins instead. They are rear ported but the amount of energy that the port generates seems to be fairly restrained so placing them close to walls is unlikely to present much of an issue.
The styling of the P1DAB is in keeping with the rest of the Pioneer range and I think it is one of the most aesthetically pleasing ranges of products they have ever produced. Some people might find that the result is a bit conservative but equally it is impressively timeless and shouldn’t look out of place in most locations. The build is also good and while none of the bits feel ‘high end’ they do feel more solid than their relatively low price might suggest. The review samples were in silver but black is also available.
There are a few small anomalies with the design of the Pioneer though. The first is something to take into account if you were planning to put the two bits any distance from one another. The only IR receiver is in the amp section. In order to be controlled by the (somewhat lightweight) remote, the CD player must be connected by an umbilical cable. This is not the end of the world for two units sold together but it is a bit odd nonetheless. The other issue that the Pioneer is still a CD based system in a world where CD is increasingly old hat. The receiver is equipped with functionality that is bang up to date but it would really have benefitted from having at least the option of being paired with a streamer or similar. For the asking price, the PD-P01 is a fine CD player but it is still just that.
In fact almost everything you choose to listen to on the Pioneer is imbued with the same fast, lively and entertaining presentation. It avoids being relentless or otherwise unwelcome but it manages to give pretty much anything a welcome spark of entertainment to it. More impressively, it manages to achieve this without glossing over detail or sounding forced. Incidental detail is generally well captured and the system manages to create a reasonably impressive soundstage for what is a fairly small pair of speakers. There is a convincing placement of musicians and instruments across the space between the speakers and even a bit beyond them. This is something that it present from low listening levels and you don’t need to drive the bolts out of the system to get it. This is perhaps a good thing as the Pioneer does start to harden up a little when pushed although once again, the behaviour is no worse (and in many cases better) than rival separates at the same price.
Substituting the supplied speakers for a pair of Mordaunt Short Mezzo 1’s reveals that the Pioneer achieves fairly impressive bass extension by virtue of recessing the lower midrange slightly. This is not too severe and far from unusual but this does tend to make the SP01 slightly better for music with a drum bass line rather than instrumental low end which can get slightly lost in the recessed area. The Mezzo’s also reveal that the Pioneer does benefit from being kept as a set as the speaker has clearly been voiced to work with the characteristics of the amp (and listening to components individually does suggest that the amp is the more characterful of the two) and creates a result that is more even than combining the- usually pretty flat- Mezzo’s.
This isn’t a blanket recommendation of the SP01 speaker though. Testing the electronics with the tiny but rather splendid Neat Iota loudspeaker revealed that if the electronics are carefully matched, the Pioneer is capable of working with speakers from the price point above the SP01 or even above that (given that the Iota is £550). Taken as a £150 speaker, the SP01 is very good though and the gloss finish is extremely smart and not commonly seen at the asking price.
Using the Arcam rBlink as a comparative test for both the analogue and digital inputs reveals that the P1DAB is an equally accomplished performer over the other inputs. Given the choice, I felt that the Arcam was a little more natural and smooth over the analogue output but given that it costs pretty much what the P1DAB does, it should not be a huge surprise that it might have a slight performance edge. If you were connecting a suitably equipped Freeview box or Smart TV to the Pioneer, the digital input would be a very welcome addition to the features on the amp.
The DAB reception was perfectly OK. The Pioneer picked up the same stations as the Tivoli PAL + radio I generally regard as the benchmark in this regard and the performance is perfectly OK - by which I mean that Pioneer does the best job it can with the rather grizzly signal that is DAB and I am sure that if we were lucky enough to have DAB+ it would sound rather better. FM is also fairly good although if you are intending to make use of this, using an aftermarket aerial would likely obtain the best results. The performance with the radio stations does rather emphasise that if the P1DAB was a network client, it would have another radio option that now frequently sounds better than DAB and offers a vastly greater choice of stations.
- Lively and surprisingly big sound
- Handsome design and good build
- Useful connectivity
- No network audio
- Slightly lightweight remote
- Slight loss of lower midrange with supplied speakers
Pioneer P1DAB Mini Separates System Review
The Pioneer P1DAB succeeds admirably at being a useful halfway house between the compact all-in-one and full size separate. As a collection of electronics for £550 it goes about making music in a way that is going to be fairly tricky to exceed by any great margin with ‘a la carte’ items. The inputs and facilities available are useful enough and the build, aesthetics and footprint are also all very well considered. After some time with the system, on balance, I would say that the speakers are worth selecting to partner with the electronics unless you have a bit more money to spend and the wherewithal to test them with the electronics.
In some ways, I do wish that Pioneer had been a little bit braver though. As a CD system, the P1DAB is excellent but I question whether a system with a bit more network capability might have been even more appealing even at a slightly higher price point. Even making the receiver section available separately might win some other customers who really aren’t looking for a CD player at this moment. Despite this, the Pioneer does an awful lot right and manages a genuinely appealing performance at a very reasonable price.
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