For years, if you wanted to take your first steps into hi-fi you had to go either for a cheap micro system or, if you wanted better sound, spends hundreds on a separates set-up. There was no middle-ground.
No more. The Pioneer P1DAB is a set of compact stereo components, comprising a CD player and a stereo receiver on top. The company is also working on a network-enabled device, which will form an additional tier. Stacking hi-fi may be a little Eighties, but that hasn’t deterred the firm from doing it.
Pioneer P1DAB review: design
Each unit has a face fashioned from a nicely tactile slice of brushed aluminium. Similarly styled buttons and dials adorn the sides, flanking large, purposeful displays.
Available in silver and black, it looks as if someone has shrunk a couple of Pioneer’s AV amps. It’s nicely put together, too: buttons have a satisfying click while dials turn with a nice degree of resistance.
The Pioneer S-P01 speakers are of the glossy piano-black variety and house a 25mm tweeter and a 12cm woofer. At the back is a reflex port and a single set of speaker terminals, while protruding from the front are tiny posts that the speaker grilles latch on to. It’s not as subtle as a few tiny holes, but given their silver finish it’s safe to say this is probably intentional.
Pioneer P1DAB review: connections
This is a stripped-down affair, aimed at a more traditional clientele. There are no bells and whistles like wireless streaming and Bluetooth, although we suspect that this could be available on the in-progress network player unit. If you want to plug in your TV, Blu-ray player and a games console, this is not the system for you.
The receiver unit has two pairs of analogue RCA inputs, as well as digital coaxial and optical inputs and an aerial socket for the DAB/FM tuner. Outputs cover a subwoofer, headphones and speakers (the latter are standard terminals, which means you can connect your own cables – and we’d recommend doing just that).
The CD player has RCA and coaxial outputs, as well as a USB input for memory sticks and Apple devices. It’s not as neat as an iPod dock, but this way it caters for Lightning connectors as well as the older 30-pin plugs. If you’re an Android user, however, you’re out of luck.
Pioneer P1DAB review: control
Once it’s properly set up, remote communication is responsive: the unit switched seamlessly between CD tracks and radio stations.
It also controls Apple devices pretty well, although commands are limited to play, pause and track skipping. If you want to choose artists and albums from a menu, you’ll have to get up and do that on the iPod itself (unless you have a very long cable).
Pioneer P1DAB review: sound quality
Time to load up some CDs, and we start off with a bit of Buena Vista Social Club. Here the Pioneer shows itself to be an energetic unit, charging along with a good amount of power and little hesitation. It has a good level of articulation and a nice grip on rhythm thanks to a crisp top-end and a direct midrange.
Bass could dig deeper and punch a little harder, but overall it’s a pleasingly a neutral, well-balanced sound. Despite being a smaller unit, the sound is never lightweight and thin: it’s a solid, lively performance with a sense of ease. We could listen to this thing all day.
The Pioneer P1DAB-K is worlds apart from smaller traditional micro systems like the Denon D-M39 DAB, our 2012 System Product of the Year. You might expect that for a £200 difference, but the Pioneer represents a sizeable jump in sound quality, with bigger scale and a higher level of detail. We’d go so far as to say that it’s not far off a traditional separates system.
The tuner works well too, with both FM and DAB keeping a firm grip on signals. Daft Punk’s Get Lucky (via BBC Radio 1) had plenty of funk and bounce, while political bickering on LBC 97.3 was crisp and clear (if not always sane). Radio, as always, needs a good signal to work properly.
You can go without the packaged speakers if you like: the XC-P01 DAB package has just the stereo receiver and CD player, and costs £400. But we wouldn’t: we think the speakers are pretty good for the money.
Our go-to Q Acoustics 2020is are more competent on paper, but with this system they lack drive and excitement. The Pioneer speakers, on the other hand, are clearly designed to match the units, giving a cohesive, upbeat performance.
For the best sound, keep them at least 20cm away from the wall (it stops the bass from being too overstated). And although all the photos show the receiver and CD player stacked up one on top of the other, we’d recommend putting them side-by-side to isolate them better from unwanted vibration.
Pioneer P1DAB review: verdict
The Pioneer P1DAB is a missing link, plugging the age-old gap between the traditional micro system and higher-end separate components.
It combines small size and simplicity with high-quality sound for those who want the performance of separates without giving up too much space.
This is an excellent introduction to the world of hi-fi. Nice one, Pioneer.