This week we reviewed the Pioneer UDP-LX500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player. Sold for 999 euros, this high-end model has been repeatedly acclaimed by the specialized press. Winner of the EISA award for Best 4K Blu-ray player 2019-2020, it is an alternative to the sorely missed Oppo 4K Blu-ray players, but also the Panasonic DP-UB9000 4K Blu-ray player that we reviewed last year. It is also more affordable than the Japanese manufacturer’s flagship model, the Pioneer UBD-LX800, which is sold for €2299.
The Pioneer UDP-LX500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player has an audiophile design with a reinforced chassis and carefully selected audio components to extract all of the details from Hi-Res Audio recordings. It also features very high-quality video circuits to provide an incredibly rich image, particularly with high dynamic range images shot in Dolby Vision and HDR10.
After spending several months in its company, here is what we thought of the Pioneer UDP-LX500.
Pioneer UDP-LX500: the brand
In 1937, the founder of Pioneer Corporation, Matsumoto Nozomu, successfully developed Japan’s first dynamic hi-fi driver. The following year (1938) he founded his company, which was called Fukuin Shokai Denki Seisakusho.
Spurred on by the success of this first model, Pioneer developed its catalog and became a supplier for radio receiver manufacturers. The company also made its first high-end phono player by using a stock of tonearms made by the company Venus (based in the United States) and stored in Osaka. The 40s saw the company progressively expand and open its first factory in Tokyo. The factory was made bigger in 1951 to keep up with the growing demand for drivers that was fuelled by the development of the first commercial radios. Pioneer then produced classic dynamic drivers, tweeters, and coaxial drivers. Its catalog also included horn loaded tweeters such as the PT-2 and the PT-3.
The first Pioneer speakers were released in the 50s, notably the Pioneer CS-A which was the first in a long line of acoustic speakers, as well as the first integrated amplifiers such as the HF-10A. From 1955, Pioneer began producing televisions. In 1956 the brand’s first audio lab with an anechoic chamber was built. Pioneer was set to become one of the major players in the global hi-fi audio and video market.
In the 60s and 70s, Pioneer broadened its catalog to provide stereo amplifiers, radio tuners, turntables and hi-fi systems, such as the C-500 and S-75X that were released in 1967.
In the same year, the SE-30 hi-fi stereo headphones were released, replacing the SE-1 model that was released in 1960.
In the late 60s Pioneer entered the car audio market, where it is still well established today: the TS-10 and TS-20 rear car shelf speakers, TP-F85 stereo with FM tuner and P-10L and P-16L built-in speakers set the ball rolling.
The Japanese brand continued to innovate and develop its catalog, and in 1979 even produced a pair of electrostatic headphones (SE-100) with a dedicated amplifier (JB-100). In 1972, it released the PL-1200 direct drive turntable to compete with the renowned Technics SL-1200.
The 1980s marked the arrival of digital image and sound, with the first optical video discs, known as LaserDiscs, and the first audio CDs. Pioneer excelled in both fields with groundbreaking devices such as the CLD-1200 (1988), which could play audio CDs, video CDs and LaserDiscs. During the same period, Pioneer’s TV range was developed with cathode-ray tube models that were up to 29” (23cm) wide, as well as rear-projection TVs, which were the only way at the time to achieve a large image in your living room (up to 50”/127cm for the SD-P5030 released in 1989).
Pioneer also embraced the shift towards digital in high fidelity and introduced the P-D1 CD player in 1982. The CD was loaded vertically in this player and remained visible behind a semi-transparent hatch. Three years later, the Japanese manufacturer released the first multi-CD player: the Pioneer PD-M6, which featured a charger that could hold 6 audio CDs.
In the 90s, Pioneer secured its position in the optical disc player, TV and large rear-projection television markets. The manufacturer also drew attention to itself in the DJing market with the CDJ-50 (1994), the first CD player that allowed DJs to mix and scratch in digital format. Pioneer also introduced mixing desks and DJ headphones, such as the SE-DJ5000 (1997).
As an active member of the DVD Forum, Pioneer played a part in the unification of this new video format in 1995, in collaboration with Toshiba, Hitachi, Matsushita (Panasonic), Sony, Mitsubishi, JVC, Philips and Warner. In late 1997, Pioneer released the Pioneer DV-7 DVD player, but also the world’s first universal video player: the Pioneer DVL-9 could play DVDs, LaserDiscs, video CDs and audio CDs.
In December 1997, Pioneer launched the first high definition 50” (127cm) plasma screen: the Pioneer PDP-501HD. For the Japanese manufacturer, this was the beginning of a decade of innovation and excellence in the field of image technology that culminated with the Kuro plasma TV range.
The Pioneer PDP-508XD and Pioneer KRP-500A also made their mark with an image boasting excellent contrast along with rich and intense colors. These last two plasma TVs left Japanese factories in 2008 before production ceased definitively, as it had become too expensive to maintain.
To this day, Pioneer remains a key player in the car audio (Pioneer Car), hi-fi and home theater (Pioneer) and DJing (Pioneer DJ) sectors. The Japanese manufacturer is known for its car radios and car speakers, but also its hi-fi amplifiers (Pioneer A-10AE and Pioneer A-40AE), smart amplifiers (Pioneer SX-S30D and Pioneer NC-50D), DAC amplifiers (Pioneer A-50DA), network audio players (Pioneer N-30AE and Pioneer N-70AE) and audio CD players. It also excels in the home theater market with its A/V receivers (VSX, VSX-LX and SC-LX ranges) and Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray players.
Pioneer UDP-LX500: packaging & accessories
The UDP-LX500 Blu-ray player comes in a large cardboard box, designed to protect the device from the hazards associated with storage and transport before it arrives in your living room. Wrapped in polyethylene foam, it is held securely in place inside the box by thick polystyrene blocks.
List of included accessories:
- Power cable
- Infrared remote control
- Batteries for the remote control (AAA x 2)
- User manual
- Safety warning
Pioneer UDP-LX500: presentation
The Pioneer UDP-LX500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player is a high-end model that benefits from the developments made by the Japanese manufacturer in the hi-fi field. For example, it features a three-block structure designed to isolate its power supply from the analog and digital circuits. As a result, interference is drastically reduced and audio and video performance is optimized.
The Pioneer UDP-LX500 is able to read all existing optical discs: audio CDs, SACD, DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray. It can also read video and audio files stored on USB flash drives and portable USB hard drives, and via the local network (DLNA).
Pioneer UDP-LX500: design
Double-layered chassis, isolated compartments
The Pioneer UDP-LX500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player features a double-layered chassis whose 1.6mm base is reinforced with a 3mm steel plate. This design lowers the device’s center of gravity and provides excellent rigidity. It prevents the transfer of external vibrations to the inner chassis, guaranteeing superior disc playback.
The blocks for the power supply, the optical disc player and the digital and analog processing are separated and placed in three different isolated compartments to eliminate electromagnetic interference.
Lastly, the main circuit board uses a 6-layer structure that optimizes the transmission of the digital signal, reduces grounding impedance and eliminates digital noise. The signal-to-noise ratio in audio/video signal processing is significantly improved, which allows for greater precision in HDMI signal transmission.
Dolby Vision and HDR10
The Pioneer UDP-LX500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player handles videos shot with a wide dynamic range, whether they use the Dolby Vision or HDR10 standard. Paired with a 4K Ultra HD TV compatible with HDR and/or Dolby Vision, it provides images that are brighter, have better contrast and are more detailed and nuanced in light and dark areas. This 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player also provides many video output settings to support all televisions and projectors, whether or not they are HDR and Dolby Vision compatible. Lastly, it is able to convert signals with a standard dynamic range (SDR) to transmit them in high dynamic range (HDR) and vise versa.
High fidelity stereo sound
The Pioneer UDP-LX500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player’s audio section also received special attention. It features a high-precision DAC and a direct mode on its stereo analog audio output.
This Pioneer 4K Blu-ray player also features a second HDMI output dedicated solely to audio. It is compatible with the proprietary PQLS (Precision Quartz Lock System) technology, which eliminates the distortion caused by synchronization errors (jitter). When the Pioneer UDP-LX500 is connected to a compatible Pioneer A/V receiver via HDMI, the transmission of the digital audio signal between the two devices is controlled by a high-precision clock.
Pioneer UDP-LX500: key specifications
- Three-block ultra-rigid chassis
- Quiet drive mechanism
- SDR/HDR conversion with display profiles (OLED, LCD, projector)
- Video adjusting
- Dolby Vision and HDR10 compatible
- Dual HDMI output
- 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, HD1080p Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, recordable Blu-ray discs (BD-R DL, BD-R LTH, BD-RE DL)
- DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, recordable DVDs (DVD-R DL, DVD-RW, DVD+R DL, DVD+RW)
- Audio CDs (CD-DA, SACD), recordable CDs (CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW)
USB flash drives and hard drives (FAT16 and FAT32 formats)
- MP4 (.mp4):
– Maximum resolution: up to 380 x 2160
– Video: MPEG 2, H.264, H.265, VP9µ
– Audio: AAC, MP3, HE-AAC, AC-3
- WMV (.wmv):
– Maximum resolution: up to 380 x 2160
– Video: WMV9, WMV9AP (VC-1)
– Audio: WMA, MP3, LPCM, AAC, AC-3
- AVI (.avi):
– Maximum resolution: up to 3840 x 2160
– Video: MPEG 2, H.264, H.265, VP9
– Audio: MP3, AAC
- 3GP (.3gp):
– Maximum resolution: up to 3840 x 2160
– Video: H.263, MPEG4, H.264, H.265, VP9
– Audio: MPEG-4 AAC
2 x HDMI outputs (one audio)
2 x USB-A
1 x S/PDIF RCA coaxial output
1 x S/PDIF Toslink optical output
1 x RJ45 Ethernet
1 x RS-232C
1 x Zero Signal coaxial (for joint grounding with compatible Pioneer devices)
1 x RCA stereo line output
- Power consumption: 28W (0.45W in standby mode and 1.3W in network standby mode)
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 435 x 118 x 337mm
- Weight: 10.3kg
Pioneer UDP-LX500: configuration
Over several months, we were able to use the Pioneer UDP-LX500 with different televisions, including the LG OLED65E9 and the Samsung QE55Q90R QLED TV, as well as with the BenQ W2700 4K Ultra HD projector (NorStone Jura HDMI cable and Audioquest Cinnamon HDMI cable). We were also able to enjoy its multichannel audio qualities by connecting it to the Onkyo TX-RZ840 A/V receiver and an Elipson Prestige Facet 5.0 home theater speaker pack.
We were able to enjoy the sound quality offered by its audio DAC and stereo analog audio section by connecting it to the Atoll IN200 Signature stereo amplifier (Viard Audio Premium HD RCA-RCA cable), along with a pair of Elipson Prestige Facet 8B speakers and the REL Acoustics T9i subwoofer.
When it is first turned on and the HDMI output for the player has been selected on the television, the initial setup menu is automatically launched. You can then choose the language of the interface, then select the resolution of the connected television or projector (Auto or forced from 480p/576p to 4K) and the native image format (4/3 or 16/9).
Pioneer UDP-LX500: remote control
The Pioneer UDP-LX500 Blu-ray player’s remote control has a rather classic design. The central part features the traditional arrow keys and the enter button, used to navigate through the player and disc menus. There are also Top and Pop Up buttons for Blu-ray and DVD menus, a Return key, and a Home Menu key to access the player’s main menu. It is important to note that the latter is not available when a disc is playing.
However, this remote control provides access to different settings and information while the disc is playing via several dedicated buttons:
- Display button: displays information at the top of the screen about the content being played, such as the video codec, chapter number, elapsed runtime, audio track number, audio codec and status of the subtitles (on/off).
- Function button: displays the same information as the Display button and lets you change certain settings, such as playback mode (random, shuffle), audio track, camera angle (when available), subtitles (language and text type), and even the speed and style of a slideshow when looking at photos.
- Video P. (video parameter) button: video parameter settings with the possibility to save three profiles. It is possible to adjust the brightness, contrast, hue (color balance), chroma level (color density/saturation), sharpness and DNR level (video noise reduction), as well as the maximum brightness level during HDR to SDR conversion (100, 300 or 700 lumens depending on the connected television). The latter is particularly useful for TVs and projectors that don’t handle HDR content.
- Audio P. (Audio parameter) button: the two adjustable parameters are the Digital Filter (applied only to the audio DAC that powers the stereo analog audio output) and Audio Delay.
– The digital filter can be set to one of three values that primarily affect the top end of the response curve (the highs): sharp (linear curve, more analytical sound), short (reduced highs, more neutral sound) and slow (greatly reduced highs, softer sound).
– The Audio Delay function lets you correct delay between the image and sound.
If you want to customize the settings a little more, you simply have to press the Home Menu button on the Pioneer UDP-LX500’s remote control. This lets you access the source selection (Blu-ray disc, USB device and DLNA servers), as well as the settings interface.
The least one can say about this menu is that it has a stark and somewhat outdated appearance. However, it has the advantage of providing a wide range of settings for the HDMI video output in order to adjust the signal depending on the connected television or projector.
This menu lets you alter the video and audio output settings, adjust certain HDMI setting, configure the network connection, etc.
Pioneer UDP-LX500: our impressions
Pioneer UDP-LX500: video playback
As we turned it on, the Pioneer UDP-LX500 surprised us with how quiet it was, not unlike the very high-end Pioneer UDP-LX800 that we reviewed a while ago. The tray was also very discreet when it opened thanks to the optical player’s effective damping. When the disc was inserted, the rotation was barely audible during analysis of the disc and remained silent throughout playback.
With the Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague Blu-ray disc (1080p), we were able to test the upscaling quality of the Pioneer UDP-LX500. By forcing the output resolution to 1080p/24 (using the Resolution buttons on the remote control), the LG OLED television handled the upscaling. The image was vibrant, but the colors seemed a little too saturated and the noise was emphasized in certain areas of the image.
When we forced the output resolution to 4K, it was the Pioneer Blu-ray player that handled the upscaling and the television simply displayed the image without modifying it. The result appeared softer, with more natural colors (less saturated) and less noise.
Likewise when playing Kill Bill in 1080p via the local network (file stored on a computer in the next room). The upscaling of the original file to 4K resolution provided a significant increase in detail and precision, without generating any artefacts or outlines that were too bold. During the black and white opening scene, the close-ups of Uma Thurman and David Carradine were particularly well rendered.
With the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Mad Max: Fury Road, the Pioneer UDP-LX500 player provided a visually rich image. The cinematography of Miller’s movie was perfectly rendered, with ideally saturated colors, a huge amount of nuance and intense contrast. Because the brightness of HDR content was adapted to the characteristics of our TV’s OLED screen (screen type set to OLED in the Pioneer menu), high contrast was expertly handled (no overexposed white) and the dark areas remained detailed (the blacks weren’t underexposed). It was a real treat for the eyes!
Pioneer UDP-LX500: audio playback
To test the Pioneer UDP-LX500’s analog audio section, we used the Atoll IN200 Signature stereo amplifier, connected to a pair of Elipson Prestige Facet 8B speakers and the REL Acoustics T9i subwoofer.
On the soundtrack of Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague, the stereo decoding and transportation of the 5.1 soundtrack was perfectly handled. The sound was very spacious, the soundstage was wide and even enjoyed a nice sense of depth. The Pioneer player had a sense of scale and the dynamic shifts were perfectly reproduced by the Atoll, whose power reserve was effectively utilized. The benefits provided by the subwoofer were undeniable: music had more substance and truly swept us away.
This impression was confirmed with the dynamic soundtrack of Mad Max: Fury Road. The stereo sound was by no means frustrating. The lateral sound effects were present, the voices clear and centered, and most importantly, the impact and energy of the action scenes were excellent. We had no trouble getting swept into the heart of the action.
It is possible to play audio files shared over the local network or stored on a USB flash drive by selecting “Source” in the Home menu. The Pioneer let us play FLAC and DSD audio files and display the album artwork when it was available in the selected folder. Navigation through the interface wasn’t very smooth, but it was still rather straightforward. The integrated DAC proved to be precise. The sound was rich, the voices textured and the instruments were realistically restituted.
Lastly, we inserted Millie Jackson’s album Still Caught Up (1975) into the Pioneer UDP-LX500 player’s disc drive. We weren’t disappointed and the Pioneer UDP-LX500 proved to be on par with many of the audiophile CD players on the market. Spatialization was wide and the different elements were precisely distributed throughout space, and even in depth. The Pioneer player’s DAC ensured precise decoding with a nuanced sound that was bursting with details.
Pioneer UDP-LX500: compared to…
Panasonic DP-UB9000: the Panasonic player offers more features, notably direct access to Netflix in 4K Ultra HD. It also has a wider range of connectors and features an XLR balanced stereo output and a set of preamplified outputs across 7.1 channels. The Pioneer UDP-LX500 almost keeps pace with the Panasonic player when it comes to image quality and the RCA analog audio output. However, the Panasonic’s upscaling and HDR management are slightly better.
Pioneer UDP-LX800: the difference between these two Pioneer Blu-ray players mainly concerns audio quality. The Pioneer UDP-LX800 features a double Sabre ES9026Pro DAC and even more powerful audiophile components, integrated inside a balanced structure. The power supply is also more robust, and the RCA output is accompanied by an XLR output. Although the Pioneer UDP-LX500 performs almost as well as the LX800 when it comes to image quality, the latter’s audio performance is more impressive.
Pioneer UDP-LX500: conclusion
More affordable than the Pioneer UDP-LX800, the Pioneer UDP-LX500 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player is still an outstanding model. It is particularly well-suited to be used with an HDR and/or Dolby Vision compatible UHD 4K television, OLED TV, QLED TV or 4K Ultra HD projector.
This Blu-ray 4K Pioneer player is also ideal for 4K and 1080p TVs and projectors that are not HDR compatible. The highly efficient HDR to SDR conversion with the ability to adjust the maximum brightness level in three different profiles means you can enjoy native HDR content without the image being too dark.
The only fly in the ointment is that it isn’t possible to play video files with DTS encoded soundtracks via the local network or from a USB device: the only compatible codecs are AAC, MP3, HE-AAC and AC-3 (Dolby Digital). Moreover, the interface used when navigating through USB files or files shared over the local network is somewhat austere and isn’t always very reactive.
What we liked
- The image quality, including the upscaling of sources with a resolution inferior to 4K.
- The numerous video settings to adapt the displayed image to the TV’s specifications.
- The ease of use.
- The audiophile analog audio output.
What we would have liked
- DTS compatibility for network and USB video playback.
- For the interface not to have been so stark.
- Analog Pre-out outputs.