Last year when I heard the Premier line was going away I was a bit disappointed. I thought products like the ODR (Optical Digital Reference) DEX-P9, DEH-P880PRS were going to be the last of its kind. But at CES 2010 that all changed. In the pursuit of pure sound perfection Pioneer Electronics announced the release of the Stage 4 product line, an ultra performance, reference standard audio system designed and engineered specifically for car audiophiles and music enthusiasts seeking the ultimate in-vehicle listening experience. It uses advanced materials and innovative technologies with the goal of achieving the most accurate audio reproduction. Included in this new lineup is a new head unit, the DEX-P99RS, a single CD tuner/digital media player, built to produce an extremely high level of sound quality, signal processing and media playback flexibility.

Once I unboxed the Pioneer DEX-P99RS my eyes lit up. It’s been quite some time that a piece of equipment really impressed me. The DEX-P99RS is Pioneer’s new competition-grade CD tuner packed with many integrated features that any enthusiast would be drooling over. The shiny copper chassis, shiny elegant faceplate gold plated RCAs and its cool looking remote also had me salivating a little.

The elegant faceplate reminded me of the twin knob head units of yesteryear but with modern cues such as a digital OEL display, and acrylic and black brushed aluminum. Simple but sophisticated. Many of the modern features such as a USB connection have been integrated into this head unit. With the supplied USB cable, you can connect a wide variety of audio players such as an iPod or most any player or USB storage device that will play WMA, MP3 and WAV. If you use an iPod you have the option to control it right from the head unit. According to Pioneer the USB connection is connected straight with the DSP section, providing better sound quality than regular USB head units. This should make it possible to play high quality lossless audio from your USB device. Other accessories such as Bluetooth wireless adapter, Sat Radio and HD Radio are also available.

Under the hood this thing is packed with many awesome features. Many of them are from their award winning ODR system from almost two decades ago. Features such as L/R Independent 31-Band Digital Equalizer, Auto Time Alignment and Auto EQ, and 24-Bit AKM DACs are just some of the features any enthusiast would be dreaming about. Also included is a 4-way Digital Signal Processor Crossover. The level of adjustment is unbelievable, especially considering everything is built-in. It allows you to alter settings separately, including time alignment between speakers and left and right channels, for tweeter, midrange, midbass and subwoofer, as well as the ability to adjust the entire frequency band from 20Hz to 20kHz independently. All this is possible due to the 32-Bit Binary Floating-Point DSP for high-precision and highspeed sound processing which offers all the horsepower needed to do all these tasks with a high level of accuracy.

In a high-end product like this you would expect great build quality and it is superb. It has a copper chassis, as you might expect. (That of course eliminates magnetic induction noise.) The printed circuit board gets the same attention to detail: High slew-rate operational amplifiers used in high-end home audio for its precise gain and sound linearity characteristics along with custom-made capacitors to Pioneer’s “Reference Standard” fill the printed circuit board. The circuit trace path lengths are symmetrically laid out left and right and kept as short as possible to minimize noise and maintain sonic purity.

All the features that can be accessed through the faceplate can also be accessed with the included remote control. Smart and convenient. The included hardware allows you to mount the remote on any flat surface or on the steering wheel.

The product manuals are very well-written and detailed. Going through it and reading about all the features really gave me an itch. I wanted to install this thing in my car. After a few phone calls and some convincing I was able to “borrow” this unit for a few more weeks.

The installation was pretty straightforward. I hooked up the required power wires. The DEX-P99RS has 8 RCA outputs, sub L+R, low L+R, mid L+R, and high L+R. The initial setup menu allows you to configure this. My set up calls for a three-way system therefore I was able to turn off the high L+R.

I opted to take the easy way out and ran the auto EQ and time alignment. This process involved securing the supplied microphone on the driver’s side headrest and going through the Auto EQ and Time Alignment menu. With the car off and parked in a quiet location, I pressed and held the EQ button. The face opened allowing me to access the 1/8” plug for the mic. I set the listening position for the left side and chose “auto N/W”. This mode will automatically select the crossover points and slopes for you. Once you hit the start sequence it begins to countdown allowing you to exit the inside of the vehicle. A few minutes later the job was complete.

I scrolled through the menu to see what the “auto” settings were. I noticed that the crossover points were different from what I had them on my previous setup. I was also able to see all the time correction values, but the Auto EQ values couldn’t be viewed. I popped in a CD and gave it a quick listen. I was very impressed with this initial setup. The level of detail throughout the entire spectrum was staggering. But the crossover points bothered me so I went in and set them up manually. The built-in crossover is very flexible. Not only can you adjust the crossover points, it allows you to set the level, phase, and slope. These features can be accessed by using the Multi-Control knob. Simply press the Multi-Control knob, select Audio and rotate to select the NW1 function. Pushing the Multi-Control knob left and right will select the band you want to adjust: SW-HPF, SW-LPF, Low-HPF, Low-LPF, Mid HPF, Mid-LPF, High-HPF and High-LPF. Once you select the filter you want to adjust turn the Multi-Control knob to select NW 2. This will allow you to select the cut-off frequency for each band. I set the SW-HPF at 20Hz and SW-LPF at 50Hz. That took care of the subwoofer. I then moved on to setting the Low-HPF to 50hz and the Low-LPF at 500Hz. This took care of the mid-bass drivers. The Mid-HPF was set to 500Hz and Mid LPF to 20kHz, which took care of the two-way components.

Since the High speakers were turned off during the initial set up it did not allow me to select it. By pressing the Multi-Control knob up and down, you can adjust the level for each frequency band. The Mid and High can be adjusted from 0dB to -24dB and the Low and SW from 6dB to -24dB. Turning the Multi-Control knob to NW 3 allows you to set the slope for each filter. I selected a slope of 24dB/Oct. for all the crossover points with the exception of SW-HPF and Mid-LPF which were set to pass, thus allowing no filtering. Pressing the Multi-Control knob up and down at this stage will set the phase from Normal to Reverse. When I was done I pressed the “B” button to exit out.  Wow, even better! The soundstage moved forward and higher. I continued to tweak with the EQ settings and it just kept getting better. I did this by simply pressing the Multi-Control knob to the Audio setting and selecting EQ 2. Pushing the Multi-Control knob left and right let me select the frequency band while pressing it up and down adjusted the level. The settings are automatically stored when you exit. Once done, I was really impressed with the level of detail and the clarity. It created a wide stage with plenty of depth, making for a very lifelike experience.

I liked the Pioneer DEX-P99RS “all-in-one” so much during the review that I continued to hook up the rest of my accessories. Since my other head unit was a Pioneer, I simply hooked up the P-bus cable and I had access to Sirius, XM, and Bluetooth adapter
once again. The USB connection provided a direct digital connection path. I ran the USB cable to the center console which now connects to my iPod. Pushing the volume control scrolls through all connected sources. The only thing I lost was my navigation system which didn’t bother me a bit (especially since use my Garmin on my smartphone). However, a larger display would have been nice. The three-line display was a little tough to read at times considering all the information and features this head unit has. The display is plenty bright and can be configured to match the backlight of your dash. At night it is a thing of beauty, but the glossy face makes it a little tough to see at times on those sunny days because of the glare. I also found the volume control a bit tough to use. It’s set too shallow and the smooth knob makes it a tough to rotate. Luckily the supplied remote control looks and works awesome. The aforementioned little quirks were clearly overcome by its superior sound quality. I am truly impressed by the build quality and can’t praise enough the DEX-P99RS’ sonic excellence. I think this "mere" CD player is a brilliant, truly high-end reference level product (with an MSRP to match: $1349) that shows that not all CD source units are made the same. And I think it’s found a new home in my dash.

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