Pioneer N-30 Network player

Pioneer has two network players this budget-priced N-30 and the better - featured N-50 (£499) that was in our group test last summer. Quite right too, as its only failing (in our book, composed for hifi enthusiasts who are dedicated music lovers) was its dearth of gapless playback capability. It was something that was always destined to be rectified with a firmware update (and accessible) since it was never a restriction of the BridgeCo DM860 chip under its bonnet.

This N-30 is merely a network player, so that it will not have its bigger brother's package of digital inputs to allow other sources to make use of the unit's double AK4480 '32-bit' DACs configured in dual differential manner. Nor does it feature the N-50's more considerable chassis with dual base plate and on board DSP that supplies a 'sound retriever' designed to enhance the sound of compressed media. This might be of little impact to those whose primary focus is 'bit perfect' playback of CD rips and high resolution downloads.

A colour screen reveals album artwork along with the bitrate/sampling frequency of a file. AirPlay is built in too, which makes it a buy for 'Apple households', while the A type USB socket on the fascia provides playback from memory sticks and a digital connection. Along with adding gapless playback, the functionality of this USB input expanded to 24-bit/192kHz, and additionally added and N-50 and AIFF and ALAC playback. The unit can be driven via the supplied IR handset or Pioneer's free ControlApp (iOS and Android).

Where the Sansui was heard to smooth on the leading edges of the percussive elements in the Rain Tree Crow track, the Pioneer demonstrated an ability to startle us with its sharp performance of transients. The image was notably three-dimensional as sound effects seemed to leap from darkness, making the performance compelling. Joan Armatrading's 'Willow' sounded 'dry' and was delivered with low-end punch that was commendable, although the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6 player seemed to add physical weight - and feel - to bass advice.

Pioneer N-30 Network player photo