Pioneer has introduced a system that appeals to not only the distinguished ear of the audiophile, but to those that are willing to spend a little more for a lot more sound. Pioneer’s X-Z9 is an all-in-one stereo solution that brings audio fidelity into the digital home with its Apple iPod interface, XM and Sirius satellite radio support and networking capability so you can stream music from your home PC.
Features and Design
The X-Z9 system is made up of two, 3-way bass-reflex, 50 watt speakers with a 13 centimeter cone woofer on the bottom and a coaxial mi-range driver and tweeter above. The frequency range of the system is 36Hz to 50 kHz and each speaker weighs a bit over 21 pounds. Both speakers have a beautiful piano black glossy finish as seen on other Pioneer Elite products and are ported on the front of the speaker. On the front mesh grill the Pioneer logo is displayed and on the back of the speakers are gold-plated cable connectors.
The brains of the X-Z9 is the Pioneer Parallel Amplifier which provides 50 Watts per channel of continuous power, a built in AM/FM tuner, Super Audio compact disc player (SACD), and is both Sirius and XM radio ready. On the front of the X-Z9 is the main power button, a USB input (to play music directly off your thumb drive), front audio input connections, and headphone jack. On the back is the power cable, Sirius and XM radio inputs, Line in and out jacks, as well as a phono jack for the audiophile who still swears that a scratch free Vinyl, with a high-end stylus sounds better than any CD ever could. There is an iPod input with cable that allows the X-Z9 to control your iPod and display its information on the X-Z9’s OEL display. The AM and FM antennae inputs as well as the Ethernet jack and speaker connections finish off the rear panel. On the top of the X-Z9 is a touch sensitive control panel for basic operation. The face of the X-Z9 has a shiny black finish with a gun metal black volume wheel and the front panel display. The remote is a bit bulky but will control all the features of the X-Z9 – including iPod operation. There is a slide down cover that hides the Sirius and XM radio controls, numeric keypad and programming options. Everything you need except great tunes comes provided by Pioneer including the manuals, speaker wire, batteries for the remote, the iPod cable, AM and FM antennae’s, non-skip pads for the speakers and even cleaning cloths to keep those glossy black speakers fingerprint free.
Image Courtesy of Pioneer
Performance and Use
Once our test system was set up, we began putting it thru its paces; we started off with the easiest and most common daily audio source, the iPod. Connection was easy using Pioneers large white 5 foot cable. Once connected, the Home Media Gallery started up and immediately allowed us the options of selecting the iPod for our music source, followed by Playlist options, or we could select our music by Artists or Albums. Once we selected Artists, the names were immediately displayed on the screen for us to scroll thru alphabetically. You can choose either individual songs, or entire collections to play. Our tests started with Earl Klugh’s Angelina followed by Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major; both vastly different but capable of testing various frequency ranges on the X-Z9. The sound stage was impressive with no adjustments required and the depth of the sound placed each instrument in the correct perspective to the listener. So, we were impressed with the softer side of music, but since that’s not what we listen to everyday, we shook it up a but by adding Paolo Nutini’s New Shoes as well as some Pink Floyd. Whatever we threw at the X-Z9, it not only threw it back at us with crisp clarity, it allowed us to enjoy music in a new way. Hearing brand new tones or riffs in music that you’ve known forever is like running into an old college friend you haven’t seen for years. You’re still familiar with them, but you learn something new and it’s great to catch up. Listing to the X-Z9 was fun, and offered surprises with each track. There was however no way of fast forwarding or rewinding on the iPod which is a bit annoying, but didn’t take away from the overall experience. The X-Z9 allows the listener a fresh way of enjoying music plain and simple.
After some time with the iPod it was time to explore the SACD quality of the X-Z9, needless to say, we were dually impressed. As of February 2008, there were only around 5000 SACD’s available for purchase, so the titles are few and are heavily influenced by jazz or classical music. We did locate a Norah Jones Hybrid SACD of Come away with me and Kind of Blue by John Coltrane and Miles Davis. The music was clearly at another level and to put it simply, sounds more pure. The untrained ear can hear a difference and the experience of listening to music begins all over again. The only way we can really describe the effect is to slightly cover your ears and that’s CD, take your hands away and that’s SACD. If you haven’t heard a SACD before, and you’re really into music, you owe it to yourself to listen to one.
Home Media and Networking Test
We tested the system via connection to the DLNA compliant Ethernet connection and the experience was similar to the iPod connection – easy to operate, and the music sounded great. The system does a good job of managing the audio source and allowing easy integration. The screen on the X-Z9 is nice, but there are some delays when waiting for longer titles to scroll across, making instant gratification somewhat delayed. When the screen is being used, it goes black and just the words are lit up, and while in stand by mode, it switches to the opposite where the background is lit up and the letters are black. The latter was much easier to read and we would have preferred Pioneer giving the option to choose which display you prefer. You can however dim the display, turn it completely off or disable the reversing of the display altogether.
Other features in the Home Media Gallery include the Sirius and XM radio inputs. The X-Z9 does not have the satellite radio’s built in, but is considered “ready” by only needing a tuner (with subscription) to plug in to the X-Z9. The USB interface is a great idea and we’re glad Pioneer included it, you can simply plug a thumb drive into the system and play your music that way. Playable codecs include MP3, LPCM, WAV, WMA, AAC and Flac. There are several ways to adjust the sound manually on the X-Z9 including switching sound modes to presets including Vivid, Exciting and Relaxing for whatever genre of music you’re listening to. There are also more basic treble and bass up or down controls. To add even more bass to your music, you can select the Loudness button. In most cases when selecting Loudness, you invite background hissing or static noise. Some of this was prevalent in our tests and unless absolutely required, we preferred to keep it off. Also available to fine tuning your music is the Sound Retriever. The purpose of the Sound Retriever is to help replace the data lost in audio during the WMA, MP3 or MPEG-4 compression process. During the compression process sound depletes and leaves uneven sound images. The Sound Retriever uses technology that brings back some of that lost quality. Each playback function on the system can have sound retriever on or off, and those settings are automatically saved for future use.
The Pioneer Elite X-Z9 is a solid system with few quirks that make it enjoyable for those that are just into their music and want a system capable of great sound and lots of features. The quality of the sound, combined with the functionality and overall design make this a good investment choice for an all in one audiophile solution. Priced at around $1800.00US, it’s a great deal compared to the cost of building an independent system piece by piece.
• Excellent Sound
• Lots on interface options
• Bulky remote
• Display options
• No FF/RW on iPod