Pioneer N-50 Elite Networked Audio Player

Pioneer made the official N-50 announcement today. Here are the vitals (from Pioneer):

Networking: AirPlay-compatible, DLNA 1.5, vTuner Internet Radio, Ethernet, Wireless LAN and Bluetooth ready (requires separate devices)
Inputs: Asynchronous USB DAC (32-bit/192kHz), S/PDIF (Coax & Toslink), Ethernet/LAN input, front panel USB for Mass storage/iPod/iPhone/iPad digital
Outputs: RCA, S/PDIF (Coax & Toslink)
Other: “Made for iPad, iPhone and iPod”, iPhone or Android remote apps, 2.5” Full-Color LCD Display, included remote and more...
File Formats Supported: WAV (24-bit/192khz), FLAC (24-bit/192khz), MP3 (320kbps), WMA (320kbps), AAC (320kbps) and Ogg Vorbis (320kbps).

All wrapped up in "Armored Chassis Construction (16 lbs)" for $699.

“Utilizing Pioneer’s audio heritage, we wanted to create a networked audio player that can handle a wide range of music formats, including high-resolution audio that enthusiasts and music lovers are now asking for,” said Chris Walker, director of AV marketing and product planning for the home entertainment division of Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. “These new networked players enhance any digital music so even audiophiles, who love listening to every detail of their music, will find these networked audio players a must-add to their existing high end system. Both models are the ideal complement to any existing home audio/video system that’s missing networked audio capabilities.”
Hey! I love listening to every detail of my music! Sounds like we need to hear one!

Check out the Pioneer website for more information on the N-50. There's also the N-30 ($499), the 50's little brother that offers the networking functions but eliminates the DAC (and the armored chassis).

COMMENTS
Stephen Scharf's picture

So I take it the Pioneer will not support ALAC or AIFF?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

No ALAC or AIFF support according to the one-sheet from Pioneer. Which is a rather large drawback for a fair % of their intended market.

Stephen Scharf's picture

So...it supports "mp3-equivalent" iTunes downloaded content as AAC at 320 kBps, but not ALAC or AIFF at 16/44, 24/96, 24/172 or 24/192?

That's like coming out with a photography image editing application that does not work on Macs.

What were they thinking? 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

More like a photography image editing application that doesn't support .jpg ;-)

Stephen Scharf's picture

There ya go...wink

Face's picture

No lossless WMA, no thanks. 

robpriore's picture

Perhaps this network player and others like it may address some of my issues.  At this point I'm really quite interested in the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport because it loads the cd data into memory and then sends the data in perfect time to the DAC.  I'm not sure if this network player reclocks with as much precision as other brands, though this whole class of playback is in its infancy, IMHO.  Here's a big question for everyone on here:  how can I get some PC software that loads CD data into memory similar to Amarra?  And do you think that will sound as good as the PS Audio PWT?  Seems to me if you can take the data from the CD, buffer it in RAM, and then send out to your DAC via USB - through the appropriate USB/SPDIF converter (i'm using the MF V-Link which sounds much better than the pricier bel canto), then you should have some superior sound coming from your computer cd-rom than ANY transport at any price without RAM loading.  You can pay big dollars for a transport so this is really captivating me.  Any help would be welcomed!

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Ideally you want the computer that's serving your music performing the least amount of extraneous processing as possible. So the last thing you want is to have it read/error correct in real-time from its noisy internal CD drive. The preferred method is to rip your CDs to, and then play back from, a hard drive.

Many of the PC-based media players offer “Memory Play” and other useful features including J River Media Center, JPlay, and Foobar2000 to name just a few.

jmall's picture

I love the idea of a dedicated media player but why-oh-why don't very many have USB output?  I mean many of the *best* DACs use it...

Oh well.  J River and JPlay remain.

Jeff

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I mean many of the *best* DACs use it...

It's always hard to tell when someone's tongue is in their cheek online but I'd agree that many of the best USB DACs use USB.

jmall's picture

Hi Michael,

Wasn't meant to be tongue-in-cheek...  I have an Arye QB-9.  What I really meant was that a dedicated media player (done in hardware as opposed to software) would probably sound better then a computer that has 100s of different settings to contend with.  The fact that this does have an async DAC is fine but I'll bet it's no contest against my QB-9.  Mind you I am quite satisfied with my sound - especially using JPlay in hybernate mode (on a dedicated laptop).  But my "gut" is telling me that a dedicated hardware player (a-la Byston BDP-1 - except with a USB out) would sound better.

Jeff

PS - great website BTW :)

deckeda's picture

Seems like a very similar product, even if both companies primarily sell surround sound receivers that already have most of this functionality, decent 24/192 DAC often included. 

To me, this an Ethernet DAC talking to a DLNA server running on a computer with up to 24/192 WAVs or FLACs. I'm not clear on why that's not being trumpted by Pioneer nor any of the surround sound receiver makers who also have Ethernet. It should be the primary focus of the marketing effort, with extended how-to's and creative setup ideas offered.

All the other stuff the N-50 can do are OK but either not unique or else not audiophile-related.

What I'd want however is to take it an important step further, with iTunes-awareness, and/or music player awareness from something like Pure Music/Amarra etc. that recognizes the DAC is connected via Ethernet. Not all of us have dedicated computers for playback or want to tether via USB or the rest.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Oddly enough, the Marantz NA7004's DAC is a bit (hah) more limited - WAV (16/48) and FLAC (24/96) according to the specs.

In terms of looking at Network Players as Ethernet DACs, this is potentially misleading due to a number of reasons a main one being their limitations in dealing with various file formats. DACs don’t care about file formats, Network Players do because they’re essentially computers.

What I'd want however is to take it an important step further, with iTunes-awareness, and/or music player awareness from something like Pure Music/Amarra etc. that recognizes the DAC is connected via Ethernet. Not all of us have dedicated computers for playback or want to tether via USB or the rest.

I’m not sure I follow this point – are you saying you’d like to use a PC or Mac to serve the Network Player via Ethernet? As opposed to the Network Player ‘discovering’ network-attached storage devices and streaming from them?

deckeda's picture

If you've decided to use 3rd party playback software, it'll have you designate the DAC in the setup prefs, yes? Or the OS will, maybe. Could any of them see an Ethernet-connected DAC?

That's why these network players seem to need a known-server, the DLNA piece running on the computer. To me that's a kludge and part of the file format limitation you'd never have if connected via S/PDIF or USB, with a distinct tie-in to the OS' sound software or 3rd party player.

What I'm saying is, I see a market for an Ethernet DAC, and network players (regardless of how they ultimately see the music library) are a different kettle of fish that don't yet play or access music with the freedom, flexibility or usually the ease of use that computer playback offers. It's as if by connecting via Ethernet, these cheaper boxes are offering a promise of something with half baked delivery. For the full meal ya still gotta hook it up like a normal DAC, to which I ask the obvious: why not then just get one of those instead?

The dedicated solutions that most succcesfully replace the computer for playback and storage are usually self-contained and more expensive. (SooLoos, Olive).

John Grandberg's picture

The USB input on the N50 really sets it apart from most similar devices on the market. I'm not sure how useful it may be, but it sure is unique. Since the role of a streaming audio player is generally to replace the computer in your audio setup (or at least create distance), it's interesting that Pioneer thinks people will end up using them directly together. 

Michael, I'd like to see your take on this device, if you can get your hands on one. I'll give it a shot as well - I've got an ongoing review/information thread HERE about streaming audio devices. 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Yea, streaming/network players seem to be in various states of evolution.

Potential buyers have to be clear about a) what they want/need and, b) what a particular device actually delivers.

Stephen Scharf's picture

The customers DO know what they want, these companies clearly don't. 
More to the point I think what needs to happen is that the companies that are producing these network receievers/players need to start doing is really understanding their customer's  needs; that is, do some meaningful Voice of the Customer [VOC] work. There IS a right way to do this; I know because I do it for a living. And based on a deep understanding of customer needs, develop a meaningful set of customer and then product requirements that result in solutions and product embodiments that truly fuilfill those customer needs. It's clear from this discussion that these companies are not doing that, they are basing designs on a technology "push" rather than a customer "pull", and the result of that are products that do not represent value propositions for customers. 

A notable example of this was the Rega DAC that had adaptive USB support only for 16/44 rather than asynchronous 24/96 while HRT was selling DACs for $149 that did have this capability. Someone at Rega dropped the ball on that one...

deckeda's picture

... in positions of power don't always need focus groups nor VOC input to find success. There have been times the customer doesn't know what they want or is possible until shown. One such company licensed a technology present in both network players mentioned here.

joster's picture

Hi Stephen,

I feel quite close to your "reasoning". Now, although I do appreacite the Rega "philosophy"/products, the question is:

Is the Rega DAC adaptive USB implementions better?

From their site one can read "synchronously clocking the digital data with our receiver PLL" but I presume is the same as adaptive USB.

Regards,

José Terreiro

deckeda's picture

Take a look at the proliferation of USB inputs on surround sound receivers. That they are not rare is meaningful, because for what the N-50 or NC7004 cost you could buy a receiver, deactivate all the video, EQ and tuner portions ---amplification too--- and still get the same network functionality, nice DAC, music server capability, multiple S/PDIF inputs, and so on.

From a marketer's perspective no 2-ch audio customer would add such a solution---but they could if they knew to do so, and I bet you it would work just as well. Or well enough to matter. These USB inputs are setup to slurp songs from iPods and USB sticks and to assume control of navigation on them. I've yet to see one act as a high end, dedicated DAC input. They're limited to 16/44 (or maybe 16/48) resolution, these network players and surround sound receivers' USB inputs.

They'll snag an iDevice's digital output stream, but not deliver a hi res iTunes Home Sharing stream intact such as you and Michael have both recently written about regarding the Camera Connection Kit's USB port ...

Cross this additional feature off the audiophile's list of things to get excited about. Again, you've got traditional DAC input and the limited Ethernet "pull" functionality. Everything else is for the more casual listener. There for convenience.

John Grandberg's picture

I hadn't exactly thought of it that way.

As someone who is primarily a headphone listener, I consider front panel controls and a useable display to be essential features. Thus, a home theater receiver used in such a way is probably not a good option for me. But it is a good option for someone else using an iDevice or Android remote, and listening through speakers. 

alexandrov's picture

Why most of these players don't support the very popular APE format and don't recognize cue files? Most of my music consists of CD images (ape+cue files)...

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