Pioneer has always been a leader in the car audio and DJ audio markets in Australia, but ever since the death of the KURO it’s been a bit listless with its home audio. It’s got an excellent range of A/V recievers but lifestyle products like wireless audio have been neglected.
All that is about to change. We had a hands-on demo of Pioneer’s SMA Wi-Fi speakers yesterday, and we came away very impressed.
First up, we were given a demonstration of the XW-SMA1, the entry-level, $399, basic model in the line-up. We say ‘basic’, but it’s got all the same technical features — Wi-Fi networking, AirPlay, DLNA, HTC Connect, Wireless Direct, a USB port and a 3.5mm auxiliary — as the more expensive XW-SMA3 and XW-SMA4.
The XW-SMA1 has two 3-inch speaker drivers and a single 3/4-inch tweeter, in a body that’s roughly the size of the Sonos PLAY:3 it competes with. It’s more versatile than the Sonos system, though: Pioneer’s SMA speakers don’t need a Sonos Bridge-equivalent component to work wirelessly.
We were given a demo of an iPhone and iPad playing music wirelessly to an XW-SMA1 when it was connected to a Wi-Fi network. AirPlay support means that a wide range of iOS apps will be able to play music wirelessly on the SMA range — and music streaming apps like Spotify and Rdio are a natural fit.
The XW-SMA1 sounded great, especially considering its small footprint. The speakers have been designed in consultation with Pioneer audio guru Andrew Jones, who is the company’s chief sound engineer responsible for some pretty high-end products.
Absent from our hands-on demo was the $499 Pioneer XW-SMA3. Looking and sounding exactly the same as the XW-SMA1, it’s got an integrated rechargeable lithium-ion battery that promises four hours of playback at full volume and six hours at half-volume.
It seems like an excellent product to keep plugged in in your living room or bedroom in a multi-room audio setup with other Pioneer SMA speakers, and to then take outdoors and leave by the pool or out at a picnic.
What’s most interesting about the XW-SMA3 is how it’ll work with one of the features Pioneer’s put in all its SMA speakers — the Wireless Direct mode, which creates a temporary one-to-one wireless network.
Using this, you could create a strong, high-speed Wi-Fi link between your smartphone and the XW-SMA3 when you’re using it outdoors, and stream music from your smartphone or a streaming service like Rdio straight to the XW-SMA3. Imagine setting up your picnic, putting down the XW-SMA3, turning it on and playing music from your smartphone or tablet — no wires required, no finicky Bluetooth pairing needed.
The big brother of the SMA family is Pioneer’s XW-SMA4. With the same feature-set as the smaller models, it would seem to be a hard sell at $499 — but that’s before you see (or hear) the sound quality that the bigger enclosure and extra dollars means. With the same two 3-inch speakers, but two 3/4-inch tweeters and a built-in 4-inch subwoofer.
Frankly, it sounds great. From the few minutes we had to listen to the XW-SMA4, it’s easily competitive with the Sonos PLAY:5. Strong bass and clear treble means the XW-SMA4 should make for a good lifestyle hi-fi system for your living room: it’s the serious music listener’s pick of the SMA range. It’s still reasonably small — you could fit it on a bookshelf, or a coffee table, or next to your TV.
Like the other models in the SMA family, the XW-SMA4 doesn’t have to be used wirelessly. And not having a dock isn’t an impediment. Since it’s got a USB port, and since it’s got a 3.5mm input, you can play your MP3 player, or charge your iPhone or Android phone or Windows phone while you’re playing music from it.
From our short time with them, we’re really keen on the idea of all three models in the Pioneer SMA wireless speaker range. We can’t wait to get our hands on them to try them out properly.