Portable music players are all over the map these days. Sometimes, I just can’t figure out what the hell is going on, which one to buy for myself and which ones are worth reviewing. I’m not happy with how Pioneer has designed this 100r music player, so let’s just get right into it.
Build and Design
The screen is beautiful, as is the aluminum casing for the unit. I’ve no gripes at all when it comes down to how this player feels and it definitely puts out a high-quality vibe from top to bottom. I’ve just got to ask… What is up in the weird top and bottom edges? Both of these metallic pieces can be unscrewed and removed, so why are they there in the first place? This is, in fact, the most intrusive exterior design for a portable player that I’ve ever seen. I cannot stress how not pocket-friendly this thing really is. The unit itself with these pieces unscrewed is already too large, having the rest of it attached just makes it all that much more unbearable. It does not fit well in my hand either. Despite that, the screen is very responsive with its touch sensitivity, very fast and unlikely to hang or get stuck while typing quickly on its digital keyboard.
Oh boy, another expensive player that can only meet maybe 5 to 6 hours of nonstop play. Seriously, I just can’t take it anymore. I have an old $25 Sansa Clip that offers me roughly 9 hours. How is this justified in today’s market? The truth? It isn’t and only a select few audio reviewers are okay with it. Yes, the player is powerful in output, but just like the Cowon Plenue M that I reviewed a short time ago, this Pioneer also gets quite hot in a short amount of time.
This has to stop. How is it that the Cowon Plenue D can shell out the player that has 80 hours of battery life that only costs about $180 now (the Plenue D) yet so many other manufacturers of very expensive portable players have garbage quality batteries? How does that work… more importantly, why is this at all a thing that we have to deal with?
Nothing was given love and care here, this is a literal copy and paste of Android UI for music folders…because this player runs on an Android platform. Thankfully, the UI is good, not great, though, just good. But, I’m marking off points because Pioneer didn’t touch the UI to make it their own type of unique experience here in the 100r. It is basic but very functional. Bins and folders are laid out very well and I love the top area scrolling tabs that let you shift through Albums, Artists, DSD tracks and other specific types of bins for file type browsing.
This is okay stuff, everything else bugs me. Thanks to Wifi and full access to the Droid market, you can download music apps to your heart’s content. For now, the stock UI Droid Music folder is still lacking any personal touch by most products that use it. I want a new, unique experience, something tailored by human hand at Pioneer. Instead, I got a copy and paste of the stock Music app for Android phones. Yep, Pioneer has their own music app…but it’s not branded by Pioneer, it is actually Onkyo-branded. If you hadn’t heard, Onkyo bought Pioneer a few years ago…
Not going to lie, I hate the method the stock Android Music app uses for Album Artwork. I can’t get it to stop zooming in and cropping the image, and it is always blocked by some text, or some other nonsense on the screen. This is one thing Cowon does better than anyone, they make sure Album Art is front and center, vivid and without anything to deter you from looking at it.
That experience is the complete opposite of how Android does it on the 100r. I can’t stand it. I’d prefer to not mod the UI and download another app entirely just to get a decent viewing experience, but it seems that is what they want you to do so I am recommending you ignore Onkyo completely and get Foobar’s beta app instead. It is still incomplete, yet still infinitely more user-friendly and enjoyable.
The 100r sports an ESS 9018K2M DAC…which is severely outdated…I’m talking iBasso DX90/ outdated by a few years. The DAP also uses a 9016K intended for amplification needs. I am having a very hard time here believing someone sat at a table somewhere in an Onkyo meeting room and told everyone the 100r should be using a years old DAC inside this $700us player, the same DAC used in the $299 iBasso DX90…oops wait, there are two 9018’s inside the DX90, not just one. There is only one inside the Pioneer 100r and it costs more than the price of the DX90 that is now obsolete.
Implementation is more important than the DAC choice and this is a rare case where there is a bit of a clarity boost between my old Rockboxed DX90 (superior to the standard Mango OS in clarity for the DX90’s software) and the 100r. Marginal, at best. This was a very poor design choice and this DAC has no business being at the forefront and core of a $700 unit. No business at all. The only real benefit here is that Onkyo and Pioneer managed to squeeze just a bit more sound stage out of it vs the Cowon Plenue M (1794A DAC).
This means little to me because the EQ system on the 100r isn’t noteworthy. It is pretty much an average EQ without anything special going on and Cowon’s Jet-Effect, as well as Rockbox on the DX90 so sublimely destroys the 100r across the board, that I cannot go into further detail without actually getting very upset. Truly, the experience is garbage on the 100r by comparison. Worse yet, it isn’t very responsive even with high levels of bass or treble added on either end.
Bass and Midrange
At this price, it isn’t a value product. The quality of the audio is superseded by the price of the unit, so the price to performance is low and there just isn’t any getting around it. Does it sound bad? Absolutely not. I think the DX90 sounds great, I think the Cowon Plenue M sounds very good as well, but this product came out after them, used the same general components and ended up sounding almost the same to the Cowon Plenue M. If I don’t boost the treble, I can’t tell them apart.
Fiddling with the upper end always yields a better result on the Cowon, but as far as midrange goes? Nah, it’s identical in my book. I didn’t like the way the Cowon portrays tone and texture, it is flat and neutral and so is this 100r. Objectively, I cannot fault it for that because that is a sound preference and entirely subjective. Objectively, the sound quality is very nice in literal quality.
I am not at all a fan of how this 100r exudes bass either. Sadly, it falls into the same trap that I fell into with the Plenue M: it just doesn’t want to respond much to bass boosting via its own EQ system. I can raise it +5dB and hear and feel almost no change. I just tested with the most responsive to EQ headphone I’ve ever experienced, the Focal Elear, with an end result that was unsatisfactory and unjust by comparison to what I know the Elear can achieve through other sources, especially down below in the bass range.
With Foobar’s music app, I can achieve more, but still not on par with the level of deepness I can gather with the older DX90 from iBasso that is running a modded firmware called Rockbox. I can get the Elear to dig so deep on that, I cannot do so on the 100r. Quality aside, which is nice enough, the response,dynamics and deepness factor are all lacking. This is a linear sounding portable player, no doubt about it.
Similarly to the low-end, I cannot EQ up the treble and expect much of a difference. When I attempt the same with the Plenue M from Cowon, I can achieve a brighter, more enjoyable sense of air, dynamics, and brightness. There really are no qualities that stand out in this player, I’m afraid. I yearn for more up top and I am actually quite treble sensitive. I refuse to use this DAP with my Noble K10c, which has excellent treble experiences pretty much on any source I feed it to…except the Plenue M and the 100r it seems. This Pioneer 100r lacks what I’d call a beautiful top end and portrays itself in a more flat, uninspiring way. I detect very little sparkle and luster on levels that I would call audiophile grade on most of my headphones.
When treble tests are needed, I revert to my Grado GH1 these days. Sadly, the 100r takes away that gentle bite and sparkle that I liked very much in my GH1, something that the DX90 from iBasso (but only with the Rockbox firmware) is capable of achieving with proper EQ. My K10 is not done justice at all, nor my Audeze Sine or TFZ S5. This really bugs me, because the quality is not the problem. It has good quality just like the Cowon does. It is a question of style and dynamics that I find extremely unappealing, boring and forgetful. Being too flat from top to bottom is not a good thing in my book.
As mentioned, Pioneer squeezed a bit more staging property over the Cowon Plenue M, which doesn’t sound that much different from the iBasso DX90 with proper EQ via Rockbox’s immensely detailed EQ system. If I leave both players on a flat EQ, I can’t tell them apart even with a two-way switch out to the same headphone. It only becomes clear that I am listening to the 100r when I EQ treble a bit, which results in a more effortless, aired out appeal after +4dB up top gets added to the 100r. I guess that is a good thing, but still…+4dB is what it took to alter the sound enough to hear a difference? I’m not cool with that. Why bother even have an EQ then if this is the case? With that boost comes noticeably more air up top and in turn, you can sense a larger spatial field around you in the sound stage.
Man…what went wrong here? This player’s build quality and access to the Android market is really all it had going for it. Sure, Wifi and Bluetooth work very well on this player, but the battery life drains faster than my tub after I take a bath. Never mind if you are using .DSD and Bluetooth at the same time, you’re going to drop that battery off to 0% so fast you’ll not know what hit you.
There is no reason to make this player like it is when the Cowon can reach the same loudness factor and push with their little Plenue D and it’s immense 80-hour battery life. Cowon’s Plenue S and M (lol) also have issues here, so what’s the deal? Pioneer should have known that most players at the time of this product’s release had this problem, yet they still implemented it into their 100r.
Look, I really disliked this player. It is immensely obvious this is a source DAP with features first, quality second. It was piggybacked by what was already designed into the Android platform, Pioneer and Onkyo added nothing to it of their own. The UI is just okay and the build quality is superb. I really enjoy using the player via Bluetooth and being able to play with Android apps on this player is great.
Beyond that, I don’t see a valid excuse for making this player like it was when the year just prior to release, Cowon released their Plenue M with similar problems. This is the red flag that consumers should be aware of, when other consumers are okay with these problems and still rate it high, when they don’t talk about the very obsolete and old DAC used in this product and when hardly anyone wants to talk about its poor battery life. Pioneer is just taking the first steps into Hifi sources, so I hope they can do better than this with future products. I am not impressed, especially not for $700.
plays MP3, MQA, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, and AIFF
plays Direct Stream Digital (DSD) files (.dff and .dsf formats up to 2.8MHz resolution)
DSD files are converted to PCM for playback
ESS Sabre® 32-bit/192kHz DAC for bit-perfect playback of high-resolution audio files
built-in headphone amp
Bluetooth with aptX audio coding for high-fidelity streaming with compatible devices
Android™ OS 5.1.1. with Google Play™
com Direct Download high-resolution audio files
streams Internet videos from sources like YouTube
built-in Internet browser
32GB internal flash memory
dual microSD card slots for cards up to 64GB
7″ color touchscreen
analog volume wheel provides fine level adjustments
built-in rechargeable battery provides up to 16 hours of playback
high-speed USB interface (cable included) for drag-and-drop file transfer and battery charging
cast aluminum casing
output impedance: 16-300 ohms
total harmonic distortion: 0.006% (1kHz)
detachable protective bumpers
3″W x 5-3/4″H x 1/2″D (3″W x 5″H x 1/2″D without bumpers)