Pioneer Inno Review

I sure like the idea of being able to have my favorite XM channels with me wherever I go.
I sure like the idea of being able to have my favorite XM channels with me wherever I go.
I sure like the idea of being able to have my favorite XM channels with me wherever I go.


  • Relatively intuitive to use; easy to carry; good sound; built-in FM modulator


  • Napster can be finicky; shart battery life; can only record XM feeds while plugged into AC


XM Radio junkies have another enabler for their obsession with their favorite satellite programs. Pioneer’s appealing Inno (close kin to Samsung’s Helix) is a downsized upgrade to Pioneer’s bulky AirWare device which we reviewed last year. The Inno ($350) offers a band of attractive features including live on-the-go listening without an external antenna, a 10-minute memory buffer and a gig of storage that can be divvied up among XM tunes and your own music collection. Add the XM+Napster capability and you can later download songs to the PC that you’ve bookmarked on the device. For those new to satellite radio, this combination home, portable and car (with an optional kit) device makes a complete starter system.
Design and Features
Roughly the footprint of a deck of cards and a few millimeters thinner, the attractive Inno slips easily into a pocket or purse. At 4.5 ounces, it’s a little heavier than you might expect–if you’re comparing it to nanoweight MP3 players–but the size makes up for the slight heft.

The brushed aluminum finish is sleek and contemporary. Buttons are integrated into the surface of the device except for the volume and power buttons which are raised types. Cool blue backlights illuminate the buttons borders. A four-way directional keypads surrounds a button bearing the XM logo, which serves as enter and menu key.

You have to spend some time with the manual to learn how to navigate through the device. Ten buttons overall are responsible for getting you through all the record, channel, volume and MP3 features, and it’s not always intuitive getting around. To access your favorite stations, you hit the right arrow key, which you’d only guess by trial-and-error or by caving and reading the manual. Hitting the left arrow either jumps you through categories or allows for direct tuning using an onscreen dial pad.

The small square display uses color well, showing a blue antenna icon in the upper left corner when you’re in reach of an XM signal. A lime green battery indicator shows the time remaining in the quickly depleting charge. When you’re in XM’s reach, the XM logo appears top and center. If you’re out of range, you see My Music which includes any XM songs you’ve recorded, any Napster downloads you’ve synched with the device or any of your MP3 or WMA tunes you’ve downloaded to the device from the PC. White numbers read time of day on the upper right. The main display reads out XM channel, track title, remaining time and total length of the track.
Pioneer Inno Screen
Pioneer Inno Screen
Inno can record up to 50 hours of XM programming. By default it comes set to store 25 hours each of XM and PC files. You can change the partition but will lose all stored XM content if you do, so any such changes should be made from the get go. But you don’t buy Inno to load up on WMA files. The 1-gig of storage is too limiting for it to replace an MP3 player altogether. The ability to download songs from Napster is a nice add but not the killer app. You want to record XM.

Recording can be real time or scheduled. The device needs AC power in either case and a strong XM signal. The built-in memory buffer lets you record a song up to 10 minutes in length from the beginning even if you came in during the middle (as long as the device was on and tuned to that channel).

The TuneSelect feature stores favorite artists or song titles and automatically switches channels if the band or song appears elsewhere on the XM grid. None of my faves ever popped up, but I thought it was a fun idea. You can also bookmark songs or artists so you can remember them later. Then when you connect Inno to the PC using XM+Napster software, you can download songs to the Inno if you didn’t record it earlier.

You can also set the Inno to deliver data that’s retrievable via the Display button on the front panel. You can select stock quotes or baseball scores. I chose the latter but I wasn’t psyched about either since I don’t know which is performing worse right now: my stocks or my St. Louis Cardinals.

Pioneer Inno
Pioneer Inno
Setup and Use
The Inno comes with a gaggle of pieces and parts including a remote control, battery, earbuds, home dock, home antenna, AC power adapter, travel power cable, RCA audio cable, USB cable, carrying case and a CD-ROM with XM+Napster software. If you take Inno on the road you need the AC adapter and the travel power cable to charge the device. I wonder which will get lost first?

You can get the optional car kit ($70) with all the cables and adapters required to play back the unit through the car stereo (including a cassette adapter which is a better-sounding alternative to using Inno’s built-in FM modulator). It’s a messy solution with all the wires, but it works, and it’s a sound add to a long road trip.

Pioneer Inno Accessories
Pioneer Inno Accessories

Through the antenna repeater system in Manhattan, I was able to pull in the XM signal fairly easily without the external antenna. In the ‘burbs, it was more spotty. I loved being able to get reception on the fly. I could listen to the Cardinals game before dozing off to sleep in the way I used to listen to my transistor radio under the pillow as a kid. Even better, the next morning I just had to recharge the battery rather than plunk down money for a 9-volt replacement.

Although I could get reception in New York City, it was a come-and-go signal—especially as I walked around both in the apartment and on the street. I’m used to that with AM and FM reception when I drive through Manhattan so the dropouts didn’t seem that unusual for a radio. The difference is that the record capability is one of the major selling points of this device. If I heard a song that I liked, hit the XM button to record the song, and then lost the signal midway through, that recording became useless.

The other thing I noticed, especially in the 100-degree heat, was the exceptionally warm operating temperature of the device. I might appreciate a pocket warmer on a December day but it wasn’t a welcome addition in August.

Size, memory and live XM listening make Inno far superior to its predecessor the AirWare. It truly is a portable music player. Once you memorize which button does what, it’s easy to operate, get to your favorite stations easily and toggle between stored and live music. I would like to see a cable box-like Last button to take you to the previous channel. You can forget where you were with so many stations to flip through, and if you hit a channel-change button by mistake you may not find your way back.
Overall the sound quality was very good. I ditched the earbuds as I do with any MP3 player and used my comfy Etymotic ER-6 buds instead. Being able to sit on a sofa in New York City and listen to any of 170 channels of programming is really fun. I could have scrolled around for hours and never gotten bored. I just wish there were more terrestrial repeaters to ensure a steady signal from anywhere. Escaping inside a pristine XM Café or Real Jazz signal while I’m walking through Times Square is my idea of a great Broadway musical.

Recording is easy. Press and hold the XM button and you’re recording the current song. From the recording menu, you can select current music or a scheduled recording. I wish the clock radios in hotels around the country were as easy to set as the timer on the Inno. You want to be sure you have a solid signal, though. I tried using the terrestrial signal and nothing recorded even though I was able to tune into music. So I did what the manual prescribed and connected Inno to its cradle and to the external antenna (two of the pieces and parts that are sure to get lost if I take the ensemble from the house).

Pioneer InnoWhen I followed the rules, so did the music. Inno not only changed the channel to Top Tracks at the scheduled time, but delivered Clapton, Jackson Browne and Led Zeppelin to the library. Even better, when I turned my head sideways to read the text on Inno in its sideways orientation on the cradle, the display switched to landscape mode to accommodate my view. Nice touch.
For all its recording prowess, Inno is high-maintenance. For XM addicts, it might not be a challenge to keep Inno plugged in and bringing in a live signal for the 8 hours a month required to maintain active status–and hold on to your recordings. After all, if you’re shelling out $13 a month for XM service, you do want to get your money’s worth. And those 8 hours can be spread out over multiple sessions so that makes the requirement more reasonable.

But I found out what happens when you don’t reach the 8-hour minimum in a one-month period. All the music I had recorded from XM vanished. That’s quite a punishment for missing a few hours of connection. If you have an annual subscription to XM and miss a month while traveling abroad or dealing with medical issues, should you be stripped of your stored content? I say no.

This isn’t just an XM issue. It’s the way many subscription-based digital music services operate. I guess XM and Napster’s response would be that any song you want to own you can buy from Napster and download to your PC and the Inno. Those won’t disappear. But the digital music world sure feels a lot like Big Brother.

I loaded the XM+Napster software according to instructions, but Napster seemed to recognize me from a previous version on my PC and told me Inno wasn’t compatible with my Napster to Go service. I didn’t want to delete the songs in my Napster library so I went into Windows Media and synched tunes from there. That route worked fine and my Martin Sexton library of tunes loaded in no time, filing in between Led Zeppelin and Top Tracks. I like that WMA and XM tunes can play together well in the same music list.


I like the Inno. It’s a great size, has a readable, detailed display and is easy to navigate. Reception depends as much on your location as anything, and I put it through two pretty tough tests: cacophonous New York City and a tree-filled suburb. The signal cut out in both places when I’d move the device just a few inches from a sweet spot. But I couldn’t expect any more under the less-than-ideal conditions.

Live XM on the go is a very appealing feature. The recording function isn’t useful in that mode, however, unless you just want to grab a tune you like because you need a strong signal via external antenna to ensure high-quality recordings. Maybe that will improve down the road.

Inno’s flexibility is its biggest strength. It plays at home, in the car, and on the road. It’s not about being an iPod replacement so its modest 1-GB of storage doesn’t bother me much—in this generation. Sure, I’d like to store all of my music on one of these babies, but that’s down the road when storage costs come down. It’ll happen in time.

The negatives that stuck out were Napster’s finicky behavior and the Inno’s short battery life. Live radio sucks up a lot of juice. I got through a Cardinals’ game and a couple of hours of music before it was time to fuel up again. I won’t be taking Inno on my next trip to Tokyo, but I sure like the idea of being able to have my favorite XM channels with me wherever I go.

  • Intuitive to use
  • Easy to carry
  • Sounds good
  • Smart design and idea
  • Napster can be finicky
  • Short battery life