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Pioneer's UDP-LX500 plays all silver discs: from a humble CD to the latest 4K Blu-ray movies.
We live in an age of streaming; all the entertainment we could possibly want is there for us at the touch of a button. We can watch movies and TV shows on Netflix, catch-up TV from broadcasters, and for music, we’re equally spoilt for choice. Music lovers can choose from Tidal, Deezer, Spotify, Qobuz to name just four. So why on earth would anyone want to invest in a machine that spins silver discs at high speed, just to extract moving images or music? Isn’t that yesterday’s technology?
Well, I don’t think I’m alone in owning a huge number of CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs that I’ve enjoyed accumulating over the years. There’s no way I want to sell off my carefully curated collection of CDs, with their liner notes and special memories, no more than I would want to auction off one of my children. They are part of me. The same goes for my DVDs and Blu-rays. I subscribe to video and audio streaming services but there will always be a place for a good disc player in my home entertainment set-up, and I’ll wager that I’m not alone in that belief.
So imagine my pleasure when I recently got to spend a couple of weeks with Pioneer’s UDP-LX500 universal disc player, a device which can play everything from a humble CD or SACD disc, through to DVDs, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. If it’s round, silver and the size of a CD/DVD, this thing will play it, and, as I have discovered, play it exceptionally well. The video quality on this player represents the current state of the art, handling UHD Blu-rays with HDR, at a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. As well as a comprehensive range of manual image adjustment controls, the player also has pre-sets that tailor the output for different displays such LCD UHD TVs, OLED screens and even 4K projectors, so the image is automatically adjusted to be displayed at its optimum quality depending on what it’s being watched on. The support for HDR sources can kick in automatically (a firmware update for the new HDR10+ standard is on the way) and there’s also baked-in support for Dolby Vision HDR standard which supplies an image with a much greater dynamic range so that blacks are truly black and highlights don’t get burnt out. There’s also support for 36-bit color, which means you get to see fewer of those annoying bands of shifting color and light that sometimes show up in skies and sunsets.
I have to admit to having a soft spot for Pioneer, and I know I’m not alone in that, either. There’s a burgeoning market at the moment for classic pieces of hi-fi gear from the 1970s, with some Pioneer receivers, turntables and reel-to-reel tape decks fetching breathtaking money. The brand was always known for its awesome build quality and timeless design. Nothing, it would seem, has changed, because the UDP-LX500 visibly draws on that Pioneer heritage and shows it still has much to offer, even in this streaming-focussed age.
The Pioneer UDP-LX500 is built to a standard you seldom see these days. The remote control is
self-illuminating, ideal for watching movies in the dark.
The UDP-LX500 is probably the most robust and best-built disc player I’ve ever had the chance to review, alongside the Oppo UDP-205 UHD Blu-ray player. Sadly, Oppo pulled out of the market a year or two ago, so now Pioneer pretty much has this particular corner of the high-end market to itself. The UDP-LX500 is a full-width player and matches perfectly with Pioneer’s extensive range of AV receivers. Weighing in at 10.3kg it’s a beast of a unit and just oozes high-quality design and manufacture. One of the reasons for the unit’s heft is the use of a 3mm steel base plate underpinning the player’s 1.6mm thick chassis, as well as a chunky power supply, screened to contain any unwanted electromagnetic interference.
The UDP-LX500’s steel top plate purposely has no venting holes so that no mechanical sound escapes; likewise for the side panels which are made from aluminum alloy. Inside the case, the entire player is split into three separate blocks: the first block is reserved for the power supply, the second houses the drive and image-processing circuitry, while the third section is where the audio circuitry lives, well away from the power supply at the other end of the case.
The disc transport mechanism used in the UDP-LX500 has been built for rigidity and the double-layered chassis floats on springs to decouple it from the rest of the player. The disc drive is coated in anti-resonating paint and the top of the mechanism is covered with a thick damping plate, impressed with a honeycomb pattern (for rigidity). Together, the measures dramatically cut down on the mechanical noise from the spinning of the transport drive. Even the door to the player has special sprung-loaded dampers that pull tight when the door closes in order to stop any noise leaking out. I can honestly say I struggled to hear the discs spinning when starting up or playing, which is more than I can say for my plastic-cased Panasonic player which makes a right old racket, but you get what you pay for. My own cheap and cheerful Panasonic Blu-ray player cost a tenth of the price of the UDP-LX500. When this much thought has gone into the fundamentals, you just know this player is going to be something a bit special.
The rear of the Pioneer UDP-LX500 reveals all the connections you could need for both video and
The main circuit board for this behemoth of a player is a 6-layered design that aims to cut out ground loop noise and output data at a maximum of 18Gbps, as per the latest HDMI standard. Over in the audio section of the player, there’s a separate circuit board for processing audio from CDs and SACD with an AKM AK4490EQ DAC. If you press the button on the front marked ‘Direct’, the audio circuit is decoupled from the digital image/audio-processing circuitry to produce a really clean analog audio signal. Make no mistake, this player is about as good an audio disc-only player as you can get, which is more than can be said for most DVD and Blu-ray players. If you enjoy audio and video in equal measures, the UDP-LX500 will suit you well.
The front of the UDP-LX500 features a neat little blue power button and the whole feel is really high quality. The display is neat and tidy, with the disc tray sensibly mounted underneath. There’s a USB socket next to the power switch for playing music or videos you might have stored on a thumb drive. On the right side of the front panel, there is a row of four little buttons for controlling the disc transport; beneath them, there’s a larger Play/Pause button and a button for opening and closing the tray. There’s no headphone jack on this machine, so if you’re used to CD players with a headphone amp so you can listen to music without firing up the whole system, that won’t be possible with the UDP-LX500.
Around the back of the player, from the left to right, there is a pair of RCA phono outputs for analog audio out that you could connect to an external amplifier for playing CDs or SACDs through a home audio system. Next up is an Ethernet socket for connecting the player to a home network and playing back stored audio/video files, and an RS232 interface for specialist use. Alongside are twin HDMI outputs, one for the main image output plus a secondary one for sub/audio only, to connect with a receiver or soundbar. Pioneer has also included a Zero Signal Terminal that allows you to match the reference grounds levels of the player to whatever amplifier or receiver it’s connected to. And, if you have a compatible Pioneer AV receiver, there’s also a PQLS (Precision Quartz Lock System) function that reduces jitter-based audio distortion yet further when the player is connected via HDMI. As you’d expect, there are also optical and coaxial digital outputs for connecting the audio to other devices such as a soundbar or home audio system. Finally, there’s a USB port for connecting a storage device for playing back music or movies stored on a hard drive or SSD.
The styling of Pioneer's UDP-LX500 matches the company's range of AV receivers.
Finally, the Pioneer UDP-LX500 comes with a comprehensive and high-quality remote control that self-illuminates and can be programmed to adjust the volume, change inputs and power off most popular makes of TV. You just have to enter a code on the remote. The instructions for my loan machine were in German; thankfully I can read enough German to work that out and it took me 10 seconds to program in the code for my Panasonic TV. I also like the fact that there is a dimmer button on the remote that can dim or turn off the front panel display completely.
So now that I’ve described all the technology that’s gone into the UDP-LX500, what’s it actually like to use? Is it really worth the asking price? In order to test the image quality, I used a 4K UHD Blu-ray disc of
, the Warner Bros movie of the DC Comics character who is the half-ling brother of the king of Atlantis. I’ll be honest, this isn’t the sort of film I’d normally watch, but the kindly, occasionally mischievous PR contact at Pioneer loaned me the disc - one of the current 4K reference Blu-ray discs - in order for me to put the UDP-LX500 through its paces. I’ll be chatting film choices with him later.
Okay, so while I won’t be rushing back to watch
, I have to tell you that I was utterly stunned at the image quality delivered by the UDP-LX500 on my Panasonic 40-inch UHD LCD TV. The first thing that hits you is the absolute stability of the image. It’s something you really notice when the credits are rolling. There’s no flicker and you can read the tiniest name of the carpenter or catering assistant of the second unit. When it comes to the main film action, the speed and precision with which images are rendered and their incredible clarity makes them seemingly leap off the screen. As I said, I don’t enjoy comic hero films, but I was totally transfixed by the superb quality of the images; for me, the experience was so much better than going to a cinema. The image quality is so high I’d just love to see it driving a really large OLED screen. It must be simply breathtaking...
Next up, I moved over to the audio side of things. I hitched the UDP-LX500 to a high-end Cambridge Audio Edge system that I’m currently reviewing. I used the analog RCA outputs from the UDP-LX500 and connected it up to the Edge Streamer. Then I slipped in one of my SACD recordings from Spanish music legend, Jordi Savall, he of
Tous Les Matins Du Monde
film fame. The result was simply awesome. I pressed the ‘Direct’ button though I’m not sure how much difference it made. Regardless, the result was simply a sonic depth and resolution that I’ve seldom experienced from a disc player. There’s no doubt about it, Pioneer hasn’t just addressed audio as an afterthought here... it’s a fundamental aspect of the player’s performance and appeal. Intriguingly, there is a more expensive version of the UDP-LX500, the UDP-LX800, which offers an even higher quality of audio output using twin 768kHz/32-bit ESS Sabre DACs, but that’s a test for another day. For the vast majority of people, the Pioneer UDP-LX500 will prove to be as satisfying a CD/SACD player – quite possibly the best they’ve ever had - as it is a 4K Blu-ray playback device.
There’s nothing to criticize about this amazing disc player. Nothing. It can handle everything from a humble CD all the way up to the latest UHD Blu-ray disc, and there’s no absolutely no hint of compromise in the way it goes about its business. While it’s above the range of what many people might want to pay for a mass market movie and music player, I actually think its breathtaking performance makes it exceptional value for money and it would be great as a part of any home cinema/music set-up. There’s just so much to like about it. If movies and music are your thing, and you have an extensive collection of discs, then I can’t recommend the Pioneer UDP-LX500 highly enough. It’s relatively affordable, built like a tank, and, most importantly, delivers the goods with genuine zest and panache.
£999.99 / €999 / $1,099
Three-Block Internal Layout
Ultra-Rigid Construction without vents
Double-layered chassis with 3mm steel plate for rigidity and low centre of gravity
6-Layered main circuit board for high S/N ratio
Rigid and quiet UHD BD drive
Ultra HD Blu-ray playback
SDR/HDR Preset Mode for LCD/OLED/projectors
HDR10 (HDR10+ update coming)
Dolby Vision (Low Latency Compatible)
36-bit Deep Colour/‘x.v.Colour’
Precision D/A Conversion (AK4490EQ DAC)
Direct Function for Pure Analogue audio output
Dual HDMI outputs
PQLS Jitter-less Sound Transmission via HDMI
Disc Information On-Screen Display
Continued Viewing Playback
30 sec Skip Forward/10 sec Skip Back
Auto Power Off
Firmware update (via USB or Ethernet)
Self-Illuminating Remote Control
BD-ROM (UHDBD/3D BD/BD)/BD-R (DL)/BD-R LTH/BD-RE (DL)
DVD-ROM (DVD-Video/DVD-Audio)/DVD-R (DL)/DVD-RW/
Audio CD (CD-DA/SACD)/CD-ROM/CD-R/CD-RW
HDMI 2 Out (1 Main for Audio/Video, 1 Sub for Audio)
Digital Coaxial Out
Digital Optical Out
USB 2 In (1 Front, 1 Rear)
Analogue Audio Out (Unbalanced)
Zero Signal Terminal
Power Requirements: AC 110-240 V, 50/60 Hz
Power Consumption: 28W
Power Consumption During Standby: 0.45 W (Full)/1.3 W (Network Standby On)
Dimensions (WxHxD): 435 x 118 x 337mm
Weight: 10.3 kg
The UDP-LX500 universal disc player from Pioneer is one of the most versatile players on the market
at the moment.