Silver machine

From UHD Blu-ray down to video CD, Pioneer’s LX500 premium-level disc player spins the lot with pride.

Our full review is below, or you can read the original magazine pages as PDFs by clicking right >>>

Time moves on. First DVD players, then Blu-ray players and now Ultra-HD Blu-ray players, went from expensive and rare to mere commodity items. My favourite premium brand of disc spinners (and that of many others), Oppo Digital, has now unaccountably decided to stop making them. So just when I think that times are darkest for those of us who like their equipment to have that little extra, along comes Pioneer Electronics with the UDP-LX500, a $1999 high-end universal disc player. Hoorah!

So, ‘universal’, huh? How universal? There’s a list of disc logos printed on the cover of the manual (a real 60-pager, no downloads required!). They are Ultra-HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD Audio/Video and Super Audio CD. Inside, the manual also lists audio CDs, along with all the writeable and re-writeable versions of CDs, DVDs and BDs (apart from DVD-RAM). Not playable is HD-DVD (of course), nor VCD. I’d call that universal.

Oh, ah! I take some of that back. I popped a Video CD into the player, and yes it played. (No, it wouldn’t play HD-DVD. Yes, it would play DTS-encoded CDs, although the credit for that probably belongs to the Denon AVR-X3500H AV receiver I was using correctly determining the audio format.)

There’s also fairly universal digital media file support. For lossless audio there’s MP3, WMA, MPEG2-style AAC, Apple-style AAC and OGG. Those last two support up to 96kHz sampling, it seems. For lossless there’s WAV, FLAC, AIFF and ALAC, all at up to 192kHz. Plus DSD64 and DSD128. It will also show photos in various formats, and some video formats (MP4, WMV, AVI, FLV and 3GP).

All that stuff is playable from disc, from USB plugged into one of the two USB sockets (one each on the front and back panels), or from the network. You may want to reserve the rear USB socket, though, for persistent storage for Blu-ray functions. There’s no built-in memory for that.
As for network stuff, there’s no Wi-Fi in this unit. It’s Ethernet, but we’re pleased to see that it’s full gigabit Ethernet, rather than the half-hearted 100Mbps connection provided on most players. That ought to mean it can handle just about any quality and bit-rate of video streaming from your network. With recent machines using 100Mbps Ethernet, we’ve been finding that a good Wi-Fi network can actually outperform the cabled connection, but not, as here, if you’ve got the gigabit speeds available.

There are two HDMI outputs. One is the main output for audio and video, while the other is for audio only, providing support for home theatre receivers that may not be able to cope with the newer video formats.

▲ ‘Direct’ switches off the HDMI outputs
to deliver a cleaner result
when listening to music only.

Audio is also available in S/PDIF format, via both optical and coaxial connections. And it’s available in two-channel analogue form. Indeed, on the front panel (and on the remote) there’s a button labelled ‘Direct’ (see above) that switches off the video and digital audio HDMI outputs, so all that comes out is cleaner analogue. I did not like the position of this button on the front panel. It’s in a line with most of the transport controls, right next to the disc tray. I pressed it way too many times, especially when meaning to press the open/close button. The latter is located below the Direct key. But we like the function of it — we’ve noticed significant improvements in performance from such options in the past (notably last issue when reviewing a Yamaha stereo receiver, for which we recommended taping the button permanently down).

The analogue audio output level is a little confusingly specified at 200mV RMS at -20dB. That works out to 2V RMS at 0dB, which is the long-standing standard since the introduction of the CD back in the 1980s.

This is a mightily well-built unit. It’s full component size and weighs in at more than ten kilograms.

Oh, if you ever get bored, or perhaps insufficiently bored, dig through the menus and you can find 119 pages of ‘Software licence’ text.

And if you decide that perhaps the UDP-LX500 isn’t quite high-end enough for you, then consider the UDP-LX800. It costs twice as much, weighs three kilograms more, and features XLR outputs for stereo sound.

Hooray for full-function remote controls. The one provided with this player has lots of keys, so you can enter numbers and change things like audio track or subtitle without digging through menus. There are keys for changing player resolution, and there’s even a ‘Source Direct’ setting so that if you prefer to use an external scaler, you don’t have to fiddle with settings all the time. Unusual keys: one to change HDR functionality, another to change HDMI colour settings. There’s even one for changing the playback area for SACDs between CD layer, stereo section, multichannel section. These things can also be changed through the set-up menu.

Very little set-up is required since there’s no Wi-Fi. Just plug in the cables and away you go.
In use

I only had one problem with this player. I initially couldn’t get a picture or sound out of it. But that’s because, as mentioned earlier, the ‘Direct’ mode was on accidentally and I had it connected via HDMI. Familiarity soon fixed that problem.

After that, my first impression was one of true quality. This gets an early fillip because when you press the Open/Close button, the tray slides out with almost none of the characteristic mechanical whirr. It’s the smoothest tray I’ve seen on a device since, I think, I reviewed the $14,000 Proceed PMDT Modular DVD Transport more than 15 years ago. That touch of quality is offset a little by the manner in which the unit tends to pause and consider things for a second, such as when you give the tray a little shove to close it. Nothing seems to happen, then in it pulls.

Before getting to movies, I’d just like to touch on the analogue output. I had the new KEF LSX wireless speakers to hand, so of course I plugged them in. I spun a few of my SACDs — Roxy Music’s ‘Avalon’, a few tracks from ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ — and DVD Audio discs for analogue playback. The sound was truly first-class. These little speakers are remarkably revealing, and what they revealed was a superb stereo soundstage and flawless decoding of the disc content. The performance was similar with high quality source material played from the network.

The transport controls are about as fully implemented as any other unit I’ve seen. There are plenty of fast-forward and rewind speeds, along with slow motion and single frame stepping, both forwards and in reverse, at least for DVD and Blu-ray. For Ultra-HD Blu-ray you can slow motion (1/2, 1/4, 1/8 and 1/16×) and frame step forwards, but not backwards.

Have I mentioned that this unit supports Dolby Vision picture encoding for Hugh Dynamic Range in addition to regular HDR10? Dolby Vision is the better system, allowing 12 bits along with dynamic metadata than can define the HDR presentation scene by scene (though HDR10+ is on the way from certain manufacturers to compete with this advantage).

Here the picture quality was as good as it gets with Ultra-HD. Upscaling from 1080p, 1080i and even 576i to Ultra-HD output was also very good indeed. There was no way of changing deinterlacing settings, but the automatic performance was extremely good. It was not tripped up by any of my 576i/50 test clips. It was tricked briefly by the most difficult bit of ‘Miss Potter’ on 1080i/50 Blu-ray. That was the only misbehaviour I detected with this unit.

I do like gigabit Ethernet connectivity. Once I realised that it had this, I fired up the DLNA controller software on an Android tablet and sent a 100Mbps Ultra-HD video from my NAS to the player. With most devices this stutters, whether played by Wi-Fi or by Ethernet. The data rate is just a little too high for 100Mbps Ethernet to handle without having to pause and buffer.
But with this player, it just played, smoothly and perfectly. Encouraged, I went and took some random video at 200Mbps, the highest my camera will do, and played it back from the network.

Again, perfect. (That turned out to be 1.1GB for a 60-second clip!) The various UHD clips I’ve gathered over the years all played perfectly and looked glorious with one exception. Even though the unit supports Dolby Vision on Ultra-HD discs, it didn’t recognise it in a couple of clips streamed from my server. It played them, but they came out with funny colours. A firmware correction would likely fix that.

The unit played every clip I had available, from old SD MPEG2 taken from broadcast TV, through to HEVC HDR at Ultra HD. It was fine with an MKV movie. It was fine with an ancient WMV thing one of the kids did at school a decade ago.

Initially I was worried about photos because the manual says it supports maximum resolutions of 4000 × 3000 pixels. That’s 12 megapixels, which is pretty much entry point for even camera phones these days. However I’ve lately been playing with a 42-megapixel camera, and it turned out that the Pioneer was fine with displaying even these 7952 × 5304 pixel images — perhaps not displaying them to best advantage, however. When I displayed my Ultra-HD resolution test image (see above left), it was clear that it was being bottlenecked to 1080p (below) rather than full resolution being preserved. However, when I played the same test image as an Ultra-HD video file, it was displayed at full resolution.

▲ PHOTO BOTTLENECK: One of the Pioneer’s only glitches is shown here, an UltraHD test photo (detail left) is down-ressed to 1080p (detail right) before display.

All music up to the specified maximum sampling worked very nicely too. Thanks to the fast Ethernet connection, even DSD128 streamed flawlessly (DSD128 has a bit-rate
of 11.3Mbps).

What you won’t find with this player are any interfaces for internet services such as Spotify or Netflix, nor is there Apple AirPlay.

The Pioneer UDP-LX500 is a seriously impressive universal disc player. It’s so very close to the perfect disc player, short of being a touch more responsive, not bottlenecking high resolution photos and allowing manual forcing of film or video deinterlacing modes. And if that’s the most significant criticisms one can level at a product this versatile, that in itself is impressive. 

Pioneer UDP-LX500
Price: $1999

+ First-class all-round performance
+ Gloriously smooth disc tray
+ Gigabit Ethernet

- Seems to run network photos through a 1080p bottleneck
- Location of Direct’ button

Tested with firmware: UDP-LX500 V01.02
Inputs: 1 x Ethernet (gigabit rated), 2 x USB (1 on front panel)
Outputs: 1 x HDMI (A/V), 1 x HDMI (audio only), 1 x optical digital audio, 1 x coaxial digital audio, 1 x stereo analogue audio
Others: 1 x RS-232C, 1 x Zero Signal
Dimensions (whd): 435 x 118 x 337mm
Weight: 10.3kg
Warranty: Two years