The Pioneer XW-NAC3 is a mini hi-fi that takes the unusual step of incorporating two iPod docks — if two iPods or Apple iPhones are plugged in, you're able to shuffle between music on both devices seamlessly. It's also got everything you'd expect in a £300 hi-fi system, apart from the baffling lack of FM radio and no Wi-Fi.
Pioneer XW-NAC3 mini hi-fi: Design and features
The Pioneer XW-NAC3 is well designed, as far as iPod docks go — we've seen far less conventional layouts before. The low placement of the XW-NAC3's screen on the front might be a minor concern if you plan to keep it on a low-slung coffee table or kitchen counter, though. All the buttons are arranged on the mini hi-fi's top around the two iPod docks and are clearly labelled. An input selector button switches between iPod playback, Bluetooth streaming, USB, and Internet radio (once it's set up).
Dual iPod playback is the XW-NAC3's defining feature. If you have two iPods or iPhones plugged in — in our testing we swapped between a iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and a 5th generation iPod Nano — you can play music off either, or press the centrally placed shuffle button to play music off both. Songs from both devices' music libraries are played: When a song finishes on the first device, the XW-NAC3 cross-fades into a song from the second. You can also use a smart shuffle feature that plays the first ten seconds of a song and then moves on, letting you quickly pick a song from either iPod.
USB playback is simple, with a top-mounted port that is hidden by a cap. The range of files played back by the Pioneer XW-NAC3 is impressive — as well as support for MP3, WMA, WAV and AAC formats, the FLAC format is supported, allowing high-quality lossless audio to be played on the XW-NAC3.
If you plug the Pioneer XW-NAC3 into your router via Ethernet — annoyingly, there's no integrated Wi-Fi — you're able to access tens of thousands of Internet streaming radio stations. We appreciate the inclusion — you've always got something to listen to — but in a product this expensive we would have liked to see Wi-Fi included for ease of setup and use. We're also unsure why FM radio wasn't included.
Bluetooth audio streaming — we used an iPhone 4 — works well with no drop-outs in streaming while we were within around 8 metres of the Pioneer XW-NAC3. Sound quality isn't as good as directly connecting a device for music playback, but in a pinch it's OK. Pioneer has a range of equaliser and DSP settings that make compressed audio sound a little better — bass and treble are slightly tweaked to make tracks played over Bluetooth a little less muddy.
Pioneer XW-NAC3 mini hi-fi: Sound quality
The Pioneer XW-NAC3 has excellent sound quality for its size — we'd put it on par with the audio from the Sonos Zoneplayer S5 and Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin, with warm and rich sound that could easily fill a medium-sized room. The XW-NAC3 doesn't have particularly strong bass, but treble is clear and mid-range tones are detailed and not at all muddy.
We were able to push the Pioneer XW-NAC3 all the way to its maximum volume without encountering any speaker distortion. The warm sound remains constant all the way to full volume, as well — it doesn't become harsh or booming. The Pioneer XW-NAC3 also presents a wide sound-stage, with good separation between its stereo speakers. Music sounds as if it's coming from a larger hi-fi system rather than a little single-cabinet speaker.
Pioneer XW-NAC3 mini hi-fi: Conclusion
If you're an iPod junkie, if you've got your digital music collection stored in a range of formats and devices, or even if you're looking for a convenient charging station for a couple of Apple devices at once, the XW-NAC3 makes a compelling argument for itself.
See all: Digital Home reviews