The Pioneer DVD-304S is designed for a very specific market segment. Being a SCSI device by definition makes it less accessible to the masses. DVD-ROM drives, regardless of interface, have also been slow to become integrated in home systems. Combine the two and you're left with only two drives competing for this segment-the Pioneer and Toshiba's SD-M1401. The only other SCSI DVD-ROMs are previous-generation units 6X and slower, most no longer available new. So if you're looking for one of these, it comes down to Pioneer vs. Toshiba.
For reading pressed data CDs, the Pioneer has the slight edge by virtue of its superior and more consistent CD-ROM Winmark scores. The two virtually tie in the other pressed CD areas, with Toshiba's better access times not helping in the application-level tests.
With pressed CD-DAs, the Pioneer strays from its 12X CLV rating in certain situations, contributing to potential quality issues that certainly would not be acceptable to audiophiles, but most likely would be tolerated by casual music listeners. The Toshiba, on the other hand, extracts audio more slowly, but avoids any quality issues in our testing. We aren't completely satisfied with either, but would prefer the more stable output the Toshiba provides.
CD-RW media readability is a serious issue with our Pioneer evaluation unit. Despite the nice sequential transfer rate graphs we produced from it, it was essentially useless reading CD-RWs. We unsuccessfully tried Verbatim, Sony, and Memorex media. Toshiba, though, had no issues with CD-RWs that we could find. Sequential reads with the -RWs were on the slow side, but reliability was consistent with all three brands we tried with it: another point for Toshiba.
Finally, the Pioneer failed to reach 10X DVD sequential transfer rates in our testing, while the Toshiba did not. For some reason, the Pioneer would top out at 8X, then reduce speeds at the outermost portion of our test DVDs. Those who own data DVD applications will appreciate the higher speeds Toshiba offers.
We have a hard time recommending the Pioneer based on the trouble spots we just outlined. Whether the issues are firmware-related, or specific to our evaluation unit, we cannot be certain...we would have loved to receive a second sample to compare with, but we could not get one without significantly delaying this article. If we are able to find a resolution to these issues one way or the other, StorageReview.com readers will be the first to know.