With this in mind, it is excellent to see the company putting more effort into its two channel product line up. The last few years have seen a range of separates come to market which include “emerging technologies” like network audio as well as more traditional Pioneer offerings such as SACD. The company has historically been less active in the half width and micro categories but has recently been releasing more products into this highly competitive sector.
The X-HM71 (another Pioneer tradition is the less than snappy naming conventions) is one of four such models now sold by Pioneer. Sold with speakers for an impressive £350, the specification inclusive of AirPlay, UPnP playback and integral iPod dock as well as the more conventional CD and FM/AM radio looks impressive as does the claimed 50 watt output. Can the X-HM71 deliver the goods though?
The Pioneer is built around a Class D amplifier which is a logical choice for systems of this nature. The 50w output is slightly misleading in that this is presented into an impedance of four ohms rather than the usual eight and no distortion figures are given for the output. As I’ve said before this category has some rather ‘creative accounting’ when it comes to power figures which seems to be a hangover from the boombox days when PMPO measurements where the norm and allowed manufacturers to claim that something made of the plastic normally holding Milk Tray chocolates had a 1000w output. The X-HM71 is not the worst offender here and seems to have enough power in use.
In feature terms, the Pioneer is well specified but there are some curious fittings and anomalies. The most visible of these is that the Pioneer has both a built in iPod dock, a Apple certified USB input and AirPlay. The dock is fitted to the top panel and is covered by a hinged flap when not in use. This uses the traditional dock connector (which if correctly implemented should work with the Lightning adaptor). You can then select AirPlay as an input on the X-HM71 and use that as well. I partly understand the reasoning for the dual fitting (after all not all iDevices have AirPlay) but over time, the number of devices without it- to say nothing of the number of devices that won’t have that fitting) will reduce. Given the X-HM71 has a USB input as well, it would surely have made more sense to remove the dock which now has a very finite life span. Pretty much the only feature that a USB connection cannot do that a dock can is access non “iPod” related audio- but most devices that can do this can use AirPlay. Still, AirPlay is a welcome feature and one that should win the Pioneer a fair few friends.
The other welcome addition is the DLNA approved UPnP networking. The Pioneer is capable of acting as a UPnP client and is supplied with a wireless aerial as standard which means that unlike the Onkyo, there are no addition costs involved in getting the X-HM71 running in free space. The Pioneer is slightly more limited than the Onkyo in that it seems to have maximum supported sample rate of 24/44.1kHz whereas the CR-N755 can go to 24/96kHz. The end result is swings and roundabouts; the Pioneer is easier to get going than the Onkyo but the Onkyo can do more once you do so. As a result of the network player being fitted, the Pioneer also has a vTuner supported internet radio system. Unlike the Onkyo, there are no subscription services such as Spotify available.
The other inputs are more conventional. The Pioneer has a CD player, AM/FM tuner (like many other units in this category, the Pioneer works on the largely correct assumption that there is nothing that internet radio can’t do that DAB can) and a USB input for reading USB drives as well as Apple equipment. Around the back, there is a single line input, a video monitor output (not tested) and a subwoofer output. This means that the Pioneer does without digital inputs of any type which puts it at a slight disadvantage in comparison to units from Onkyo and Denon. If this is to be your only system, this could see you at a bit of a disadvantage.
The other decision that Pioneer has taken is that the X-HM71 is only available as a package. The more sophisticated and expensive XC-MH81 can be purchased on its own but buying a X-HM71 will result in you becoming the proud owner of a pair of S-HM71 two way bookshelf loudspeakers. Each speaker is a rear ported design mounting a 120mm paper woofer and 20mm soft dome tweeter. While hardly cutting edge, this is usually an effective pairing for good results at sensible money. The speakers appear to be available in a choice of black, black or, um, black.
There are pros and cons to doing this. On the plus side, you can walk out of a shop clutching a single box that holds all the bits you need to get up and running. The speakers are going to be designed in such a way as to compliment the X-HM71 and presumably never put it under undue strain. It must also be said that at £350 for the unit and the speakers, the Pioneer is pretty good value.
The counter to this is that the speakers, while nothing too offensive, are going to lose out to more expensive designs and you compelled to own them whether you want them or not. Most of the competition at the price point offers the choice of buying the unit with and without speakers which increases the purchasing options somewhat.
The build of the X-HM71 is solid enough. The controls feel reasonably substantial and the decision to fit binding posts on both the rear panel of the unit and on the speakers is a good one. The display is a full colour unit and looks pretty slick for the price. It is quite a bit smaller than the expanse of black on the front panel would suggest though and it fairly hard to read at a distance. The supplied remote is fairly typical of the genre and includes a great many buttons. It feels fairly lightweight but works well enough. The good news for iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad owners is that there is a control ap for the Pioneer as well that means the remote need not be constantly used.
Switch to something more upbeat like Younger Brother’s A Flock of Beeps and the Pioneer has more poke than you might expect from those relatively small speakers. This is not the sort of bass that you feel in your chest cavity but neither is it the sort of anaemic ‘phutt’ you get from very lightweight speakers. Everything is a tradeoff and there are some aspects of the speakers’ performance that show how this extension has been achieved. The first is that there is a fair amount of activity from the bass port. An outright ‘honk’ is avoided but there is audible energy to the bass from it. The second is that there is some audible midrange suckout in the lower midrange that results in a loss of fine detail. This is not too serious but is an absolute limitation of this size and design of speaker.
The internet radio implementation is good however. I didn’t find much or anything in the way of dead links and connection was usually fast and efficient. The Pioneer managed to sound pretty good with lower bitrate stations and this behaviour is consistent across other inputs too. Ultra high compression material will still sound rather hissy but material down as far as 128kbps MP3 sounded listenable enough. In my opinion the internet radio is easily good and stable enough to make the absence of DAB a non issue.
The multiple Apple inputs also performed as expected. The physical dock and USB connections are apparently both digital outputs but the performance of them is not radically different to a well implemented analogue connection. One thing to take into account is that the Pioneer does not support ALAC playback (over UPnP as well) and this will limit the options for true Apple disciples. AirPlay is perfectly listenable and as flexible as ever but the response of the X-HM71 to commands from the iDevice is rather slow. Pressing pause will result in music continuing to play for a few seconds before it stops. This is not the end of the world- and there are no lipsync issues with video once up and running- but it isn’t the slickest implementation I’ve ever seen. The same goes for the control ap which is also a little laggy. The menu trees for various source selection processes are also a little confusing and the ap really needs a ‘now playing’ button to return you to and material playing at the time.
Removing the supplied speakers and switching to a pair of Mordaunt Short Mezzo 1’s brings some improvements to performance and suggests that there is very little in absolute terms between the X-HM71 and the Onkyo CR-N755. The Onkyo is slightly more open and lively but the Pioneer has a warmth and involvement with voices and instruments that is hard not to like. The amp of the Pioneer is easily capable of driving the Mezzo’s and there is plenty of headroom with them. If you were looking to upgrade the speakers at a later date, the X-HM71 can certainly drive most likely candidates.
- Good feature set
- Warm and involving sound
- Good value
- No digital inputs
- No high res audio support
- Slightly sluggish AirPlay and control ap response
Pioneer X-HM71 All-in-One System Review
Equally, if you have a slightly larger budget, the limitations of the Pioneer have to be taken into account. Next to the Onkyo CR-N755, the Pioneer lacks high resolution audio, subscription music service support and digital inputs. If you have the extra budget to get the Onkyo’s wireless dongle and a suitable pair of speakers, it can achieve more and sound slightly more spacious and punchy while you do so. For £350 though, this is a very clever and effective performer.
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