The MusicCast app
As mentioned, the room images make the home screen of MusicCast extremely inviting, and emphasise the multiroom abilities of the system.
To control any given room, you tap that picture, and you’re presented with a new screen for that device (shown above for the WX-030 speaker unit). This includes all the physical inputs available to the device, plus the options of AirPlay and Bluetooth, plus internet radio, Spotify, Pandora, the music stored on your device itself, and ‘Server’ for DLNA music shares on your network.
So this screen doubles as a remote control for input selection, plus a way of choosing music to send to your selected MusicCast player. Select Pandora, and you’ll be invited to input your account information, and then a sidebar appears on the right (see above) to control Pandora within the app. We were also asked if we wanted to pass this account information to our other MusicCast devices, which we did, but later had to re-input the information anyway for each device we used it on.
Most of the other music sources work in a similar way, opening a sidebar on the right, allowing navigation in the usual ways.
All this worked highly effectively. We could see the playlists on our smart device itself (above), we could see DLNA shares on the network and could navigate (sometimes a little slowly), by all the usual options of folder, artist, artist/album etc. We ran our usual test files to see what file types it could stream and what it couldn’t, and it came out extremely well - pretty much everything except multichannel FLAC and one DSD file (DSD is listed as supported at both 2.8 and 5.6MHz). So MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC and WAV up to 24-bit/192kHz, AIFF, Apple Lossless even, all passed through the system and played through the MusicCast units.
Internet radio again opens in a sidebar, with the usual navigation options including a podcast section. But it badly needs a search option or at least an alphabetical jump list - good luck finding your podcast of choice among the thousands presented in one long list for each country. The scrolling is good but the names don’t load until a second or two after you stop, so you’re guessing as to where you are, and after a few minutes we just gave up searching for, for example, Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2.
For Spotify the MusicCast app diverts you to the dedicated Spotify app and you send to the desired unit by the ‘Connect’ button.
Also in the app you can change inputs - each device’s individual physical inputs are listed on the same screen as the music sources (the screen on the right shows the STUDIO N500's input screen). All these can also be shared with other MusicCast players using Linking. Given that Yamaha has included MusicCast on its receivers, that’s a whole lot of versatility! Share TV sound, CD players, vinyl from your turntable - anything you can connect to your MusicCast players or a MusicCast-equipped receiver, you can share. Compare that with most rival systems which offer a single minijack analogue input for sharing, and the possibilities seem enormous.
One omission in the app is that the hard volume buttons on your controlling device don’t affect the level within MusicCast, which is handy on some rival systems to nudge levels quickly on the fly. But with potentially multiple volume sliders controlling different units, perhaps this was tricky to implement.
Back on the room screen, there is a link button at top left which then invites you to select a ‘Master’ and then link other players to it. You will always control that master player, and the linked players will output the same audio. On the room screen, the linked players disappear, leaving you with the master player, which will now display, say, “+ 2 rooms”.
The volume bar still appears as a single slider in the app, but when selected it splits into multiple controls for the different players. We like Yamaha’s implementation here which prevents rapid (perhaps accidental) volume shifts - slide it up, and the bar only gradually fills behind it as the volume ramps up; you can drop back to the desired volume without ever overshooting. Volume reductions, however, are instant. It’s good practical thinking.
Linking the players worked perfectly once our little Wi-Fi issue (see set-up) was sorted. It’s easy to do on an ad hoc basis, but think first which unit you wish to use as master and which as slave - since you’ll have access to the inputs of the master, but not of the slave. So if you want to share an input to a particular player, you must have that as the master.
Sync times were as perfect as we could wish with streaming or networked music, even between two devices in the same room. There is an inevitable delay when forwarding an actual physical input to another MusicCast device, and an even longer one when slaving using Bluetooth transmission (see Bluetooth bonus, below). This delay is understandable and indeed inevitable; it’s unlikely to be a problem when playing music, but it does become relevant when, say, using Bluetooth headphones slaved to the soundbar to watch TV. The delay of about 0.2 seconds was enough to put things out of sync with the TV image, so you may need to compensate using any available sync settings on your TV and/or Blu-ray player.
The “+ 1 room” indicator on the room tiles seemed a bit sticky - we regularly had rooms saying things like “WX-030 + 0 Rooms” long after a link had been cancelled. But it didn’t seem to impede operations at all.
Do you have a tablet and a smart device? Or will several people want to control the system with their own devices? We found this to be a problem. Just as our Pandora account details didn’t port between units very well, the system doesn’t feed back to other controllers very well. If we started a track playing in the kitchen from our iPod touch, then our iPad couldn’t always tell us what track was playing - it sometimes continued to show the track IT played, something else entirely, though it could still start and stop the music.
Within the app you can rename and reorder your rooms, add pictures, and change the size of each room ‘cell’ to fit more or less on the screen - as mentioned, this is now possible simply by pinching or pulling the images on the room screen. You can update firmware, edit the sources shown for each player, and check account information for Spotify and Pandora.
When you’re playing music, there’s a further set of controls next to the volume slider - the pop-up you see changes depending on the payer. For the N500 speakers, the WX-030 speaker unit and the lifestyle ISX-80 (screen shot, right) it offered a sleep timer (turn off after 30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes) and three-band EQ - high, mid, and low adjustment (we usually tweak these settings to our preference - it is to Yamaha’s credit we left everything flat, as supplied).
But on the soundbar we were offered control of the sound mode and Clear Voice - especially handy feedback since the visual indicators on the bar itself are confusing.
The Bluetooth bonus
Also hidden away here in the individual player controls is one of MusicCast’s secret weapons - the ability to use any Bluetooth speaker as an additional linked player. Each MusicCast player can send to one non-MusicCast Bluetooth speaker (or Bluetooth headphones, if you like). So you can use anything you already own as part of your MusicCast system, even stick a Bluetooth receiver dongle into a dumb audio system and stream to it like that.
Can you link multiple rooms and still have each of them linked to a different Bluetooth receiver? Yes you can! We linked the soundbar and the N500s individually to different sets of Bluetooth headphones, then we linked the two rooms, and soon the music was flowing from all four. You can mute the master players and the sound will still come from the Bluetooth slave.
One limitation seemed to be that AirPlay can’t be rebroadcast to a Bluetooth slave. In the scenario above, all MusicCast inputs could be sent to the headphones, but when engaging the units externally via AirPlay, only the master unit would play. Nor, it turned out, can you even share an AirPlay input with a normal MusicCast slave, but the slave remains visible to AirPlay devices, so you can instead address both units simultaneously from the AirPlay source.Still following us? Don’t you love networking!
There is also the obvious range limitation of Bluetooth - you may be able to pair with some other Bluetooth speaker but will you be using it within Bluetooth range of the MusicPlay unit? Consider your home layout carefully, and maybe test the range using your current smart device. But for our Bluetooth headphone experiment, all was well within the same room and slightly outside.
Here are the links to the rest of our extended MusicCast review:
Other MusicCast reviews on AVHub include: