Pioneer Electronics Duo Series XW-NAC3-K Docking Station for iPod Review

As posted to Amazon. ***

Worthy of your attention, if you can find it at a reasonable pice. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is a bit of a joke. Pioneer is selling it directly to consumers at less than half the MSRP, and I found it at my local big box members-only store for 70% off MSRP. I bought it on impulse, and I'm keeping it despite my three-star review, because I like it and I have the technical skill and patience to manage its ease-of-use issues.

If you want to get the maximum value for the features of this product, you had better be a geeky sort of gadget enthusiast, or have such a person handy. To wit:

  • Bluetooth audio is neat, but setting up the connection is not a task Aunt Susie is ready for. And you'll probably never guess how to put it into pairing mode. "No device connected, press play to pair" in the display would have helped.
  • Internet radio is neat, but it has a small screen and a clunky interface for browsing available stations. You can add custom stations to your radio by registering at a special website. That's neat, but not for the technologically meek.
  • It has two distinct systems for bookmarking Internet radio stations. And the buttons on the remote for accessing these systems are labeled "CLASS," "T.EDIT," "PGM" and "CLEAR." I had to read the manual to understand how they work, and I'll have to spend 10 minutes explaining to my wife how to listen to NPR with this radio. This is a particularly disappointing shortcoming.
  • Internet radio is achieved via a 10/100 ethernet connection. That's cool, but WiFi would have been nice.
  • Since this is marketed to Apple people, it would be good if Apple's "it just works" AirPlay technology was supported. I imagine it is possible for this feature to be added via a firmware update, but I am not optimistic this will ever happen. That's a pity: this would easily be a four-star product with AirPlay support.
  • It has the ability to wake you up in the morning. But setting this up is not trivial, and I suspect it doesn't make a reliable alarm clock. I won't be using it this way.
  • Here's now you know you're in the future: this thing doesn't even have an FM tuner. Who needs radio: we have the Internet!
  • It claims you can plug it into your "HDTV" to display photos or YouTube videos stored on your iPhone. This is accomplished using a composite video connector, which is guaranteed to look rather poor on an HDTV. Don't buy this for its video capabilities.
  • Its support for DLNA is nice. But Apple doesn't have any interest in DLNA, so you can't use this feature to get access to your iTunes library, which is probably what you want if you're considering an Internet-enabled iPod/iPhone-compatible radio like this. Instead you have to set up a separate DLNA media server on a computer on your network and that's not something just anybody can (or wants to) do. Again, AirPlay support would make this a non-issue for the customers Pioneer is obviously targeting with this product (namely, Apple people).
  • It has no battery backup for the clock. And even though it's on the Internet, it doesn't know how to use NTP to set its clock automatically.
  • Most of the radio's features cannot be accessed without the remote. The designers probably felt fewer buttons on the unit would make it more attractive. I agree, but I still think it was the wrong decision.

Enough criticism. Here's what I like about this product:

  • Two docks for iPhones/iPods. That's pretty neat. It can crossfade in shuffle mode between each one. That's kind of silly, but might be cool for parties or something.
  • The sound quality is adequate, especially for its size. Unless you have very high standards, this can fill your room with music or news.
  • Its fit-and-finish is quite good. It's a very attractive product.
  • Although the setup process wasn't as easy as your Mom might like, it's really great to be able to listen to podcast or Internet radio stations on this. Our local NPR station's program stream sounds great, and no more FM static.
  • If you use this device to listen to music on your DLNA server or on a USB drive, it claims support for a wide variety of formats, including FLAC. I don't need FLAC support myself, but I suspect there are certain people who will appreciate the device's wide format support.
  • It doesn't specifically claim to support the iPhone 4, but it works fine.

So to summarize, it's a cool radio that--just like me as a schoolchild--doesn't quite live up to its potential. If you can find it at a bargain price, go for it.

12/9/2011 Edited to add: Pioneer has just announced the X-SMC3-S Music Tap and X-SMC4-K Elite Music Tap, each of which has WiFi and AirPlay support. They'll be available in October but not at blowout prices.