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I am in love with this player. The sound is amazing. I recommend you get a really good pair of audiophile headphones to get the full benefit of what this unit is capable of. Also the shipping was super quick from this seller.
Okay, lets get this out of the way right at the start: You're going to learn some things you might not like in this review. Don't hate me though, hate the knowledge.
What you need to know before you buy this DAP is that the buck doesn't stop here. You'll be spending a lot more money to get the most out of it. And here's why.
This DAP has extremely high quality audio output but only if you use it with the right accessories, right audio sources and correct settings.
Using this DAP to its full potential is not for beginners. It can be fussy and difficult.
To get the most out of it the following conditions must be met:
1. You MUST use a balanced headphone cable. There are very few reviews of this DAP online and nearly all of them show the reviewer using single-ended headphone cables, so they're almost all bogus. If you use a single-ended cable you're only using one of the two Saber DACs and only one of the Saber DAC/amp sets. Unless you have a balanced cable plugged in it doesn't even power on the other DAC or amp. Most headphones do not come with a balanced cable. You'll need to buy one separately. This means that before you buy your headphones you'll have to check that they are modular so you can replace the cable.
2. The manual says that when you plug in balanced headphones the DAP will automatically switch to balanced output. However, it doesn't. Yes, it will change the widget on the home screen to say "BALANCED" but it's not actually in balanced mode yet. You must open Settings in Android, go to Sounds and Notifications and scroll down to Sound and Notification. Go into Sound and Notification, scroll to Output. Tap on Output Select and set it to AGC. Then tap it again and set it back to Balanced.
You will IMMEDIATELY notice a dramatic difference in the sound quality as the DAP switches into balanced mode and engages the second DAC/amp combo.
3. You MUST use lossless audio or at least high bitrate audio sources. When you are using equipment of this grade there is a noticeable difference in sound quality between low-bitrate lossy media and lossless or high bitrate lossy formats because the jitter is extremely tight -- with low bitrate sources you will hear every peak rolloff in dramatic detail. It really is that significant.
4. You MUST use high quality headphones. By high quality I don't mean subjectively high quality -- I mean read reviews from sources where headphones were tested with actual testing equipment designed for testing audio components and select a good, neutral headphone. If you get headphones that have a significant bassy quality like Grados or Beats, you'll always have that bass colouring your listening experience. However, with a neutral headphone you can adjust the EQ to your liking. I chose the Sennheiser HD600 because it's fairly neutral while still being somewhat musical, and because I know the twin amps in this DAP can drive a set of 600ohm headphones if I use a balanced cable.
Other things you should be aware of:
* The Qualcom chipset that comes in this DAP has its own on-chip DAC. Some apps such as Soundcloud's Android app are hard coded to use the Qualcom DAC and will not send audio through the Saber DACs at all, resulting in significantly lower audio quality.
* There is no on-device app for adjusting audio settings. It's a bit fiddly. You have to do a combination of adjusting settings in Android's built-in Settings app under Sounds and Notifications and changing the DSP settings in the Music app that comes with the device. Connection settings are changed in the Settings app. DSP settings are changed in the Music app. DSP settings changes made in the Music app affect all other apps as well.
NOTE: The EQ in the music app only tunes sound output by the Music app itself -- it does not affect audio from other apps. This DAP does not have a system-wide EQ. If you want a system-wide EQ I recommend installing Viper4Android.
* Most external portable amps are single ended, even if one end or the other is balanced. Almost in every case either the input or the output is single ended. If you use an external portable amp you will probably lose your balanced output.
* You can improve rendering to your headphone of choice by installing Viper4Android and enabling ViPER-DDC. This will correct the signal for your specific headphone using one from a list of specially tuned profiles created for specific headsets, improving the overall tonality. Viper4Android also has several other useful features such as a system-wide EQ, some surround sound effects, a tube simulator and other fun and useful tools.
NOTE: Installing V4A is not for the faint of heart as it requires rooting your device. If you choose to do so proceed with caution as doing so will void your warranty and can result in bricking your device.
* Viper4Android has another useful feature: It will tell you if an app is using your Saber DACs or the lower quality SOC DAC. If you go to Menu > Driver Status in the Viper4Android app you will see "Processing:" -- if it is set to Yes the Saber DACs are in use. If it says No your app is using the SOC DAC.
* Almost any modding/tweaking process that you see online for the Onkyo DP-X1 will work on this DAP and the Pioneer XDP-100R will work on the DP-300R because they are basically the same device. The difference are:
DP-X1: Older model. Has flimsy connectors. XDP-100R: Rebrand of the Onkyo DP-X1. Better connectors but only one set of Saber DAC/amp. XDP-300R: Modification of the XDP-100R that has twin Saber DAC/amp configuration.
* Data transfer to the DAP is extremely slow. In most cases you're better off taking the MicroSD card out of the device and copying files onto it from your computer, then putting it back in the DAP.
* The DAP sometimes 'forgets' that it's supposed to be in balanced mode and will switch back to single-ended mode without updating the menu in Settings. You'll notice this has happened especially with heavy headphones up in the 600ohm range because you'll lose a lot of tonal definition. When this happens you have to go into Settings and toggle the output setting to Off and then back to Balanced. Sometimes it has to be switched off and back to Balanced 2-3 times.
Radio Paradise is a free listener supported radio stream. If you go into the options of their app you can set it to use FLAC lossless streaming and enjoy an unlimited supply of free lossless music.
UPDATE: I have now owned three of these - two of the international version and one domestic. None of them has worked for more than a half-year. The first two had charging problems; and the third simply stopped turning on. Pioneer does not stand behind this product; so you should not buy it.
My XDP300(r) is a great DAP. But mine stopped charging after about six months. I was first advised to send to US Pioneer for repair, but they said it was not covered by warranty. They returned the unit to me opened up. Next, I returned it to the seller in Japan, who passed it along to Pioneer's Japan service center. They would not repair it because it already had been opened (by Pioneer's US service center). Finally, I was sent a "reconditioned" version that worked intermittently at first, but quickly stopped working at all. The warranty headaches were not worth the few bucks I saved on the initial purchase price.
This player is well built, navigates the UI quickly and sounds fantastic. I am running it with BGVP DM6's and a Yinyoo balanced cable. It works great with Tidal and the built in player works well for any downloaded hi res files you may have. You'll spend a little time disabling/uninstalling all of the bloatware, but it is worth it to run a full version of Android. I originally purchased the FiiO M9 and was terribly disappointed. The sound from the balanced output with the same setup was terrible. Also, the player was soooo slow to navigate. Lag for days. Upgraded to this player, which is an older model, to find better quality, faster response and better sound. You won't be disappointed.
The dislikes first: -Short battery life. Mine, brand new, gives me maybe 3 or 4 hours, at best. I turn it off when I don't use it and try to keep the screen time to a minimum. It turned off all the applications I don't need. - The size. It is a large player. Let's say a bit bigger than a big smart phone like the Samsung 7 I've got. It's not thick, but it's wide. Not for all pockets. If you carry it in the front pocket of your pants, you'll have a hard time bending forwards. - No good case for it. It is pretty difficult to find a case for it. I've found some flimsy expensive leather contraption that will not protect it well. I couldn't find a strong plastic case that will help in case it falls.
BUT! Here's what I like: - The operating system is strong and fast and efficient. I've had a few players before, this one is easy and reliable. It rarely, if ever bogs down. - Tidal. Tidal comes installed on it. And, as I've read before, it is a great machine for that program. I've let a sound engineer try it with a pair of Shure SE836 and he said it was the best he ever heard "Aja" from Steelin Dan. Crystal clear! Tidal is rendered with all its glory and clarity. And that was the primary reason I bought it for. - Memory. The pioneer accepts two 200gb cards. I've got just one 256 gbs card. And it works. It works flawlessly. I intend, once it is full, to get a second card. And I expect it to work the same as the first one. - The balanced plug. I've read the first review of Amazon and done the adjustments in the settings suggested by the very helpful reviewer. I even bought a special adapter that goes from 3.5 mm to 2.5 mm. And it does make a difference! I've never heard music that clearly! - The Sound! The sound is incredible, amazing, super clear, vibrant, musical, etc. Yes! That is why I bought 2 of those. I am convinced that I am listening to a system that's worth 10 thousand dollars when, really, my set up (Pioneer player and Shure SE846) is maybe $1500. We have a Fiio m9, it's less than a month old. We compared the two players with my son, he's a virtuoso musician, plays 4 instrument. It wasn't even a contest. The pioneer was much much better. Strong bass, tight, clean, projecting beautifully in the mix. Brilliant mid range with just the right amount of texture and depth. Gorgeous highs, soaring effortlessly above the rest with defined lines and sculpted contrast. I listen to all sorts, from rock to jazz, to hip hop to classical to country to oldies, to whatever. Everything is carved with care and precision by the pioneer XDP-300R. - The price: I am not rich by any means. I just happen to love music. So, although it was not cheap, I can still say it was an easy choice for me to get that player. It had all the features I needed and then more. I think this machine is a steal because of the quality it provides. I have a few different set up in my home, some Klipsch, some Linn, some Martin Logan, some Pioneer, some Marantz, some Rotel. And, although some are very, very good, the pioneer with my trusted Shure SE846 are now my reference for listening to music with the maximum of details and depth. That's why I got 2 of those. One for me, one for my son.