Pioneer XW-SMA3-K Wireless Speaker Review

Pioneer's new wireless speaker looks good on paper but how does it sound?

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Recommended
Pioneer XW-SMA3-K Wireless Speaker Review
SRP: £269.00

Introduction

The move to a wireless future continues unabated and now the makers of speakers and docks are jumping on the bandwagon. We’ve seen a number of audio solutions over the last few months, the majority of which offer the more traditional approach of including a physical dock along with various wireless options. However, the recently reviewed Elipson LWs went the whole hog, ditching any form of physical connection, in favour of something rather more ethereal. The newly released Pioneer XW-SMA3 doesn’t go quite that far, ditching the dock in favour of wireless playback but retaining a USB socket, Ethernet ports and an audio jack.

Aside from the less than snappy name, the XW-SMA3 looks very interesting, offering a wealth of wireless options including AirPlay and UPnP playback, along with touch sensitive keys and a built-in rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery. It’s even certified water-resistant for use outside and includes sound tuning and driver design by Pioneer’s speaker guru Andrew Jones. Despite the decent specifications, it’s reasonably expensive at around £269, thus a lot will depend on the audio quality. So let’s connect the XW-SMA3 to our network and see if it delivers the goods.

Design

The XW-SMA3 looks very much like a traditional centre speaker, with only the touch sensitive controls on the front and the small moveable aerial at the rear giving away the speaker’s true purpose. The XW-SMA3 sports a classically minimalist design, comes in an attractive matte black finish and the excellent build quality gives it a solid and well-engineered feel. The entire speaker measures 320 x 180 x 145mm and weighs 3.5kg, enough to give it some mass but small enough to make it portable.

The front is dominated by the speaker grille, which can’t be removed, and along the bottom lip there are some basic touch sensitive controls and indicator LEDs. These controls include standby/on, input and volume +/-, whilst the LEDs indicate when the speaker is on, which input is selected, the strength of the network connection and status of the built-in battery. The XW-SMA3 also comes with a small remote control that has the same matte black finish on the front and a gloss black finish on the back. The buttons include the same controls as found on the front of the speaker, along with play/pause and skip forwards/backwards.

Pioneer XW-SMA3-K

At the rear is the aerial which can be moved out of the way if necessary and a hand hold for carrying the speaker, which when combined with the wireless capabilities and built-in battery make it genuinely portable. There is also a button for both network setup and wireless direct connection, depending on how long you hold the button down. There are two recessed areas at the rear with rubber plugs, behind which are all the physical connections. The rubber plugs can be moved out of the way but are attached to the speaker, so they can’t be removed completely. In the left hand area is a 10/100 Ethernet port and an Apple certified USB socket for wired connection and charging of an iDevice. In the right hand area there is a socket for the power adapter and an AUX IN using a 3.5mm jack.

Features

In terms of features the main selling point of the XW-SMA3 is the inclusion of various wireless options that have been designed to meet most people’s needs. First of all there is built-in WiFi which allows the speaker to be easily connected to your wireless router, allowing you to stream music from a Mac, PC or mobile device. The XW-SMA3 is also DLNA certified for UPnP networking, which allows the speaker to work as a Digital Media Renderer (DMR), commanded by a Digital Media Controller (DMC) such as a smartphone or a PC. Thus you can play music from a PC in one room but by operating your smartphone in another room.

The XW-SMA3 also includes Wireless Direct which allows for direct connection with a compatible Wi-Fi enable device such as a smartphone, Mac or PC without the need for a router. This feature allows you to stream your music wherever you want and whenever you like but it’s worth pointing out that Wireless Direct is unencrypted and thus may be less secure. The XW-SMA3 is also compatible with HTC Connect, allowing you to stream high-quality audio from suitably equipped HTC devices, without the need for a separate app.
The XW-SMA3 also includes AirPlay, which is a welcome addition and justifies the absence of an iPod dock. Whilst a physical dock is useful, especially for re-charging your iDevice (wireless playback really hammers the battery), the introduction of AirPlay will gradually make docks redundant and it avoids issues with different types of connectors. Besides if you don’t have AirPlay or need to recharge your iDevice you can use the Apple certified USB port at the rear, although the XW-SMA will need to be running off the DC adapter if you want to recharge. The inclusion of AirPlay will certainly prove popular, allowing you to play music from your iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac or PC with iTunes and you can also control the volume from your device.

In terms file support the XW-SMA3 can playback MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC and FLAC, which should keep most people happy and it’s no slouch in the audio department either. The XW-SMA3 uses two 7.7cm woofers, a 2.6cm tweeter and a central bass reflex port, allowing the speaker to deliver a dynamic sound despite its compact size. It has also been 'sound tuned' by Andrew Jones, Pioneer’s world-renowned Chief Speaker Engineer, to deliver a smooth response and optimal sound from such a relatively small body. The addition of a built-in battery and water-resistance mean that the XW-SMA3 is genuinely portable and, when fully charged, the battery can give you about six hours at 50% volume.

Setup

Setting up the XW-SMA3 is relatively straightforward and Pioneer actually offer a number of different options depending on what devices you have available. You can connect the speaker to your wireless router by using the WPS button on the router and the setup button on the rear of the XW-SMA3. Alternatively, you can connect the speaker to your router directly using an Ethernet cable or using a device already connected to your router, either via a cable or wirelessly. You can also connect to the router by just copying the settings from your iOS device and finally you can use the Wireless Direct feature and connect directly with compatible devices.

In most cases the connection is made using various button configurations and the XW-SMA3 comes with a setup guide the size of a wall chart to take you through all the different permutations. Whilst this might initially sound daunting, the setup guide is well written and the good news is that once you are connected, you shouldn't need to set the XW-SMA3 again. During testing we streamed music from the iTunes account on our Mac over WiFi and an Ethernet cable, we connected our iPod and iPhone 4S using the USB cable, WiFi and Wireless Direct and we also listened to Internet Radio using our iPhone. We had no problems connecting any of these devices, regardless of which approach we took, although we did find the speaker a little slow to respond with AirPlay sometimes.

Audio performance

The audio performance of the XW-SMA3 was actually very good and clearly the design and tuning have paid dividends as the resulting sound was warm and involving. The size and nature if the speaker itself obviously limits the amount of stereo separation possible but the sound had a remarkable level of detail and nuance. When listening to Suede’s Still Life we were surprised at how precise the XW-SMA3 was with the orchestral instrumentation at the end of the song. Whilst some may find the smooth and warm sound of the XW-SMA3 a little subdued, we really enjoyed it and found it quite involving. Although not perfect, the speaker was certainly capable of providing a very engaging experience and avoided the pitfalls of sounding like a mono box. The midrange and top end of the speaker had a pleasing richness and realism and, as a result, songs such as Adele’s Skyfall retained a degree of believability.

Considering the compact size of the XW-SMA3, the bass response was quite impressive and the sound had a reasonable amount of presence in the lower frequencies. The bass managed to maintain enough detail to compliment the higher and mid-range performance, without becoming too boomy or distorting; for example, we found Nick Cave’s gravelly voice to be very effectively delivered in his song O, Children. Given the portable nature of the XW-SMA3 it was good to discover that it was reasonably flexible in terms of placement and could be positioned around a room without generating too much bass and swamping the higher frequencies.

However, the XW-SMA3 is a little lacking in the power department with its 2 x 10W struggling to fill a large size room. It did perform very well in smaller rooms like an office, bedroom or kitchen and in these environments it could deliver enough power to make for an enjoyable listening experience. Given the speaker's portable nature, this is good news but it does really preclude it from being used outdoors. The main issue with the XW-SMA3's lack of power is that you can experience some distortion once the volume control is turned up too high. So if you’re the kind of person who enjoys listening to music at high volume levels, then the XW-SMA3 may not be the wireless speaker for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer listening to music at volume levels where you can still distinguish fine detailing in your favourite recordings, then the Pioneer can certainly deliver.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Warm and involving sound
  • Surprising amount of bass
  • Impressive wireless capabilities
  • Flexible setup and portable

Cons

  • Could be louder
  • Price

Pioneer XW-SMA3-K Wireless Speaker Review

The Pioneer XW-SMA3 looks like a traditional matte black centre speaker until the controls on the front and aerial at the rear hint at the speaker's true purpose. The design is attractive, the build quality excellent and the overall minimalist approach is very appealing. At the front there are some basic touch sensitive controls and LED indicators below the speaker grille and at the rear are some basic connections. There is also a small remote that repeats the controls, along with additional buttons for play and skip. The XW-SMA3 uses two woofers, a tweeter and a central bass reflex port, and has also been 'sound tuned' to deliver a smooth response and dynamic sound from such a relatively small body. The addition of a built-in battery and water-resistance mean that the XW-SMA3 is genuinely portable and, when fully charged, the battery can give you about six hours at 50% volume.

The main selling point of the XW-SMA3 is its wireless capabilities and these are quite impressive, including built-in WiFi, DLNA certification, Wireless Direct, HTC Connect and Apple's AirPlay. There are also some physical connections at the rear, including an Apple certified USB connector, an Ethernet port and a 3.5mm audio-in jack. Setup is very straightforward and Pioneer provides a number of different methods to cater for just about any combination of devices. The file support is also generous, with the XW-SMA3 supporting MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC and FLAC and performing very well with all the devices we connected. It could be a little slow with AirPlay sometimes but were able to stream music and listen to internet radio with ease. The speaker was also genuinely portable and we found the flexibility it offered to be quite useful, allowing us to take the XW-SMA3 from room to room.

The overall audio performance was impressive considering the speaker's size and whilst the stereo separation was obviously going to be limited, it was capable of a surprising amount of detail. The XW-SMA3 could deliver a very warm and smooth sound that might be considered slightly subdued by some but one we found very enjoyable. We were also surprised at how much bass the speaker could deliver, far in excess of its size. However, the XW-SMA3 wasn't as loud as we would have liked and whilst we had no problems using it in an average sized room, it would struggle outdoors despite its water resistant nature. Ultimately the Pioneer XW-SMA3 is a very flexible and well-designed wireless speaker that offers convenience and performance in equal measures - Recommended.

Recommended

Scores

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7

Value For Money

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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