The MusicCast ecosystem is too vast to picture in a family portrait, as we have done with some others in this group test. From lifestyle speakers through amplifiers and AV receivers to a piano and the Vinyl 500 networked turntable reviewed last month, Yamaha has been spreading its streaming and multiroom platform across a wider product portfolio than any of its main rivals; only the third-party platforms like Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay could claim a larger list of compatible models.
But of course all MusicCast products include AirPlay, plus Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and DLNA network streaming. They can form a multiroom system under app control using your home Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and they can also work with third-party control systems such as Control4, ELAN or RTI. So this MusicCast 50 wireless speaker can be part of a whole MusicCast home of connected audio. As an interesting bonus, the MusicCast 50 can be pressed into service as the rear speakers in a MusicCast surround group (as pictured below) — a scenario we’ll be investigating next issue.
How does it perform as a standalone wireless speaker? It’s an attractive medium-sized unit, its oval shape angling its stereo speakers naturally to assist a stereo spread from its twin 3cm soft-dome tweeters and 10cm woofers, and the glass top-plate giving it a touch of class to top off a nicely unobtrusive design, whether in black or the white of our review unit. Being 40cm wide it takes up a larger space than the 29cm-wide HEOS 5, say, but it is lower in height and rather less obtrusively ‘look at me’ in design.
It has an arc of indicator lights at the rear of its top, and a second arc of touch controls at the front, including volume, source select and three presets, though oddly, no pause button. Although in day-to-day use you will likely be using your smart device to control the Yamaha anyway, since the control app is so good, on those occasions where you want to shut it up quickly with the physical controls if the doorbell rings, you’re best powering it down or switching to an unused input.
Those inputs include a full-size Toslink optical input, and two analogue inputs, one on minijack and one using RCA phono sockets. The full-size optical input is surprising at this level; even the more expensive Bluesound Pulse Mini offers a combo minijack for optical in, while the HEOS 5 has a single analogue minijack input.
We’re used to MusicCast taking a few connection attempts before success, but this time full marks, everything going smoothly first time, followed by a firmware update. We’re very familiar with the app but it is stable, clear and intuitive even for beginners, and with a good number of neat options to investigate (see below).
These include bass and treble controls, which we didn’t need, though our review model of the MusicCast 50 had its ‘Bass Booster’ on by default, and this we found preferable to the slightly thin sound delivered without this EQ in operation.
Even then, the Music 50 is not one for extravagantly woofing up the bass, though that’s not to say it can’t deliver any — Erykah Badu’s I’ll Call U Back emerged with a full rich bassline, but on older less ‘phat’ material the low-end comes without the deep resonances manufactured by the HEOS 5. This allows it a more natural flavour, akin to the accurate sound of the Bluesound Pulse Mini in this group (our April-May 2019 issue), though without quite the scale and clarity available from that more expensive model. The MusicCast 50 could nevertheless deliver a broad boom for the beats of The Prodigy’s Firestarter, while its nimbleness and lack of bass dominance kept things pacy and fun further up the frequency spectrum. The MusicCast 50 is theoretically capable of receiving and playing high-res audio up to 192kHz, though here that’s more a case of compatibility than actual delivery; nevertheless we played full CD-quality FLACs from Tidal, while from our network music shares we were able to stream 24-bit/192kHz files without any buffering issues. This ability to ‘just work’ with FLAC, WAV, AIFF and Apple Lossless (in addition to the lesser MP3, AAC and WMA formats) is of great value; nothing spoils listening like a bunch of files that won’t play, or stutter as they do. We also like that the MusicCast app can be set to show the file-type clearly as it plays.
While musical and accurate in its sound, there’s not much up the very top; the ambience and acoustic to recordings was absent, so the 24-bit/192kHz file of Night Train by Antonio Forcione & Sabina Sciubba was delivered with good tone and detail, but its open airy quality smoothed away. Quite often, also, we found ourselves pulling back from too high a level, where edgy midrange material could begin to get shouty; there’s not quite the power here (2 × 35W measured at 10% THD) to let the MusicCast 50 fully rock out. The HEOS 5 HS2 and especially the Pulse Mini can push louder and fill larger spaces.
The MusicCast 50 instead makes its mark as unobtrusive and accurate-sounding lifestyle audio. It’s smart, it’s attractive, and it’s highly capable in the many ways it can access music — the perfect extension speaker from a main system in a MusicCast home. But then, if that’s what you want, or anything else indeed, the MusicCast range can oblige, and we’d point you especially at Yamaha’s $999 NX-N500, true stereo networked hi-fi speakers which outperform everything in this group test up to, and in some respects including, the KEF LSX.
NOTES ON THE MUSICCAST APP:
Yamaha’s MusicCast app is easy to use yet has a great many features available. Different MusicCast devices are listed by room (1); select the room to see all the sources available (2); we chose Tidal and soon had CD-quality music streaming from its HI-FI level subscription (3). You can group rooms from the first screen and set up useful preset groups to be accessed later. And each MusicCast device can Bluetooth out to another Bluetooth speaker (of any brand). We have more on MusicCast and other MusicCast reviews online: go to www.avhub.com.au/musiccast.