On the back is a selection of sockets that puts most soundbars to shame. There’s an ARC-compatible HDMI output, two optical digital inputs, an Ethernet port and a socket for the IR extender. Add these to the 3.5mm input and USB on the front and you’ve got one well-connected soundbar.
If your TV supports Audio Return Channel (ARC) then you’re laughing. Connect a single HDMI cable and you can send audio from your TV to the Pioneer, while the Pioneer sends AV signals in the opposite direction. That means you don’t have to rig up a separate optical cable.
However, the lack of HDMI inputs causes a slight complication. The Pioneer's setup menus, YouTube and DLNA content have to be viewed onscreen through the HDMI output. Therefore the Pioneer needs to be connected to one of your TV’s HDMI inputs.
But with no HDMI inputs on the Pioneer, other equipment like Blu-ray players and TV receivers needs to be connected to different inputs on your TV. So if you’re watching a Blu-ray film and you want to adjust the Pioneer’s setup menu or watch YouTube, you have to switch inputs on your TV.
It sounds petty, but constantly having to skip back and forth between inputs can be annoying – with a couple HDMI inputs, all your external kit could have been connected to the Pioneer and fed into a single input on the TV.
The SBX-N500 makes up for its socketry shortcomings with a cracking set of features, headlined by DLNA-certified music, video and photo streaming from networked PCs, smartphones and tablets. Using the Pioneer’s onscreen menus, you can delve into your MP3 collection remotely and play your beloved tunes though its speakers, without having to pull out discs or load tracks onto a USB drive. The Pioneer can be used as a player/controller and renderer.
This is all made possible by the built-in Wi-Fi connection, which also supports Wi-Fi Direct, allowing you to beam content directly from mobile devices without going through a router. On a related note, these are the first soundbars to support Miracast, which allows you to replicate your phone or tablet’s screen on your TV, securely transmitting video up to 1080/60p.
If you’re fed up with your own content, the built-in YouTube portal puts millions more videos at your disposal. It also supports the ‘Send To TV’ feature, which beams YouTube videos from a mobile device to your TV and allows the device to act as a remote.
If you prefer a simpler way of streaming music wirelessly, there’s built-in Bluetooth too. In fact, these Pioneer soundbars are the first to offer Bluetooth transmitters, allowing you to pass music to headphones or speakers.
File support is excellent – via DLNA you can stream MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, APE, AVI, WMV, DivX HD, MP4, 3GP, FLV, JPEG, PNG and GIF, while from USB you can play all of the above plus FLAC.
Like most soundbars, the SBX-N500 tries to make up for its lack of rear speakers with a ‘Surround’ mode that expands the width of the soundstage. It’s joined by Dialog and Night modes, lip sync adjustments and Game/Movie/Music equaliser presets, plus Phase Control and Sound Retriever enhancements. There are built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoders too.
The class D amplifier kicks out a total of 140W, supplying 2 x 35W to two 66mm full range cones and 2 x 35W to a pair of built-in 77mm subwoofers