Media Streamer

Pioneer Elite N-50 Network Audio Player

ARTICLE INDEX

Design of the Pioneer Elite N-50 Network Audio Player

The first thing you notice about the Pioneer Elite N-50 is that it is very heavy. The player is a full-size audio component and it weighs just over 16 pounds. The front panel is made from brushed aluminum and the overall design is very clean and elegant. The front panel is accented by a bright 2.5" full-color LCD display. To the right of the display is a Function button, which is used for input selection, along with a set of four transport buttons for Stop, Play/Pause, Reverse Skip, and Forward Skip. On the far left of the player is the front USB input for an iPod or USB device. Above the USB input is the Power button as well as a small LED to let you know that the player is in Standby mode. There are also two blue LEDs that indicate when "Pure Audio" or "Hi-Bit 32" processing is enabled.

Moving on to the back of the player, you find one set of stereo RCA output jacks as well as optical and coaxial digital outputs should you want to bypass the analog stage of the player. There are three additional digital inputs including optical, coaxial, and USB. The digital inputs allow you to use the N-50 as a D/A converter. Below the digital outputs is the all-important LAN connection so the N-50 can join your home network.

The N-50 does not include built-in support for wireless networking, but Pioneer does offer the optional AL-WL300 wireless network adapter for use with the N-50.

To simplify connectivity, Pioneer includes a USB-A jack to the right of the LAN adapter on the N-50 to provide the DC voltage required to power the AL-WL300. Just above the USB input on the N-50, Pioneer also provides an adapter port for the optional AS-BT200 Bluetooth adapter. The AS-BT200 allows A2DP Bluetooth-enabled devices such as Apple, Android and Blackberry smartphones to connect to the N-50.

The substantial feel of the N-50 is due in large part to the construction of its chassis. The underside of the N-50 has a rigid under base which Pioneer says "eliminates external vibrations and provides a superior damping effect." This design creates a partial dual chassis for the N-50.

A look inside the player provides a small glimpse at what Pioneer put into this audio player. The digital and analog processing take place on separate circuit boards and there are two EL transformers, one dedicated to digital processing and the other dedicated to the analog output. The N-50 uses an AKM Semiconductor AK4480 32-bit/192 kHz D/A convertor. Pioneer includes "Hi-Bit32" processing which up-samples audio sources to 32-bit/192 kHz. The N-50 also has a "Pure Audio" mode which bypasses the internal DSP and also turns off the DSP power supply.

The N-50 provides integration via several software technologies. The N-50 is a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) version 1.5 certified DMP (Digital Media Player) and DMR (Digital Media Renderer). This means that the N-50 not only plays media that it finds on a DLNA server, it also receives and renders music sent from a DLNA controller. The N-50 is also certified for Apple's AirPlay technology, which allows you to wirelessly stream music from iTunes as well as Apple devices. We will explore the DLNA and AirPlay functionality in more detail later in the review.

As for internet services, the N-50 provides access to internet radio via the vTuner service but it does not provide native support for popular streaming services such as Pandora, Rhapsody or Spotify. From a format perspective, the N-50 supports FLAC, MP3, WMA, AAC, AIFF, ALAC and WAV. FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec), ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) and AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) are popular formats offered by online music stores that sell high resolution audio tracks. The N-50 supports playback of FLAC files up to 32-bit/192 kHz, AIFF files up to 24-bit/192 kHz and ALAC up to 24-bit/96 kHz.

The remote for the N-50 is narrow and has lots of tiny buttons, too many of which are the same size.

The remote is not backlit.

Pioneer also provides an application called the Pioneer ControlApp, which is available for free on Apple's App Store or from the Google store for Android. The Pioneer ControlApp allows you to control the N-50 from your favorite Apple iPod, iPhone, iPad or Android device.