The Pioneer A3 speaker system is a rugged and versatile AirPlay-compatible sound system with a raft of features. This Pioneer A3 review looks at how the specs compare to rival systems; what the sound quality is like and offers setup advice. See also Group test: what's the best speaker set?
A key feature for the Pioneer A3 XW-SMA3-W is AirPlay, Apple’s propriety wireless audio and video streaming solution. This ensures that once the Pioneer A3 is connected to your home network it can accept music from any iOS or Mac OS X device. Bouncing music to the Pioneer A3 is as simple as clicking the AirPlay icon and choosing it from a list, and it works as well with your iPhone as it does your Mac. As an aside it also supports DLNA and HTCConnect, for non-Apple devices, so it’s actually one of the more versatile speaker systems we’ve come across.
Aside its wireless versatility, the Pioneer A3 also a built-in portable battery which holds between a four and six hour charge, and it’s water resistant to IPX2 rating (which means it’s protected against drops of water falling to a 15 degree angle – rainproof, essentially). All of this makes it ideal for taking outside into the garden for an English summer or BBQ.
The sound has been tuned by Andrew Jones, Pioneer’s Chief Speaker Engineer (don’t worry: we’ve not heard of him either). He does a good job though, the tuning is fine, but the sound quality is so-so overall. The Pioneer A3 is neither the loudest, or strongest speaker system we’ve ever heard. The bass is especially a bit tame.
Setup was a bit of a nightmare as well. This is more a problem we have with Apple’s AirPlay than Pioneer, however. There’s simply no easy way to connect two devices that don’t have screens or keyboards (your router; and a speaker system). The result in this case is an A2-sized Quickstart sheet with eight different options dependent on the router system you have setup. We opted for connecting via an Ethernet cable and accessing the settings through a web browser. The Pioneer web setup interface could be better; it didn’t scan for networks automatically (so you need to know the name of your network) and you also need to choose the correct password protection type (WPA, WPA2, TKIP, AES, and so on). We’re lucky because we know (WPA2-PSK AES), but this isn’t consumer-level information (it isn’t even listed on AirPort Setup) so we worry about potential customers struggling. Pioneer seems to have a placed few video tutorials online to help people through.
A fair comparison is Sonos, which has an easier setup system that involves connecting a Dock device to your router, and then pressing a button on both the Dock and Speaker. It seems a shame that Apple is being outdone by Sonos in the ‘it just works’ stakes.
Having said that, AirPlay is a joy to use once it’s up and running. You can stream any audio from iTunes on a Mac, or any iOS device. You can even stream the audio from your computer straight to the Pioneer A3, which is great for playing music with Spotify or from Youtube (you can’t do this on a Sonos system). So once the Pioneer A3 is set up it is a great system.
Which only leaves the matter of price. £269 is fairly comparable for a system of this stature: it’s in the same region as the Sonos Play:3; half the price of a Bowers & Wilkins Air but more than a Philips Fidelio.
Even though it seems a good system, we can’t help feeling that the Pioneer A3 is a little more than most people would want to pay for a single speaker.