Yamaha MusicCast STUDIO - NX-N500
Here’s how much we like the N500s — we saved their review as a treat, for when we had finished writing up the other units and the whole mechanics of set-up and app use. When that’s done, we said to ourselves, we’ll spend some quality time sitting in front of the N500s.
Yamaha cites the classic NS-10M Studio Monitor as the inspiration for the N500s, a little smaller of course, but sporting those white woofers. Before our critical listening we’d had a good indication of the sonic abilities of these little active USB/Bluetooth/AirPlay/MusicPlay speakers over the preceding week as they popped on and off regularly as we ran through MusicCast on the other units, linking and unlinking, master and slaving, while also getting a good warm-up in general use as TV speakers in the bedroom.
So when we sat them in an ideal stereo position on stands rather too wide for them, tweeters at ear height, we were ready to enjoy. There's some deep bass capabilities, beats powerfully well supported as well as taut and tight. One fine example came when Pandora decided to stream The Flaming Lips 'Waitin’ for a Superman' - the bass drum on which emerged absolutely monumental, yet without impeding either Steven Drozd's noodling guitar or Wayne’s telephonic vocal.
From the iPad itself we streamed the techno soundtrack to 'Run Lola Run', the bass pumping along enjoyably hard, just slightly overreaching to mask the overlaying vocals and spoken word.
We upped the quality to high-res streaming through MusicCast’s ‘server’ access to networked music, again finding navigation lists a little slow to load on the control device (on Wi-Fi), but the music itself fine to stream despite its high resolution to the N500s (on Ethernet we experienced only occasional pauses, perhaps once an album). The available dynamics of the N500 were well demonstrated by some 24-bit/88.2kHz Holst, a Chandos recording of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (HDtracks). Tricky choral passages rose without resonance from murmur to full-throttle — without, of course, the full weight and sheer impact that a larger pair of speakers would offer, but nevertheless delivering a beautifully imaged and toned soundstage with more weight than you would imagine from speakers so small.
When we switched to 'Fragile' by Yes (24/96), we doubt even Chris Squire himself would object to the power behind the bass guitar at the start of 'Long Distance Runaround', while the cupboard acoustic around Jon Anderson’s vocal was clear and intact.
Sometimes we felt there was a slightly lean lower midrange, and we found radio voices were clear and real but could emerge a little thinned compared to their natural tone. But on the whole, sonically, we haven’t been as delighted by a small pair of active speakers since discovering AktiMate’s original Midi, one of our all-time favourites.
And look at the facilities here. Indeed, we''ve got so carried away listening, we haven't even run through their size and driver count. The NW-N500s are 28.5cm high, 17cm deep and something over 20cm deep — the left speaker a little deeper given its connections nad heatsink. Each sports a 3c, dome tweeter and that five-inch white woofer, while their internal power resides in the left speakers and is quoted at 2 x 45W.
For inputs, you have Bluetooth and AirPlay, USB-B to play as a DAC direct from your computer, an optical digital input, and an analogue auxiliary minijack input. You can connect them to the network either by Wi-Fi or, as we did, Ethernet.
The connections are perhaps more than you would expect — there are TWO mains cables, one to each speaker, and despite their wirelessness the two must be connected together by an admittedly impressive XLR male-to-female lead, and by a connected data lead. The three-metre length of these limits the possible separation of the speakers.
There is a master gain knob on the left speaker (the one with all the connections); we left it full up — we did get blasted a few times when switching sources or linking units, but this seemed preferable to getting off our arse to manually turn up the knob when encountering quiet sources such as network streaming classical music.
A little credit card remote is provided — clear enough, though the volume buttons have no particular priority and take a bit of pressing to go quickly up or down. Granny’s thumb may not be up to holding the useful six preset buttons down a full five seconds, as is required to set these Bose-like presets to link directly to “albums or songs stored on the PC/NAS, internet radio stations and streaming stations”. We were able in this way to store Pandora stations, tracks on the network (though later these were inactive) and internet stations easily (apart from that hard five-second stab of the button). As with Bose SoundTouch, this is a marvellous way to get straight to your music when you come home at the press of a single preset button.
GIven that speaker units from some multiroom systems have no remote controls at all (which we think is a point-dropper), the remote provision could be considered a considerable bonus.
The left speaker has an LED light with a wide variety of possible colours — the excellent printed manual even has a fold-out page to list all 25 possible messages it may be offering by flashing or holding these different colours. Useful when you need them!
As we load this onto AVHub this review is still in progress, but we've done enough listening to be loving these speakers. Even without MusicCast, as USB or AirPlay or even plain active speakers, we'd give them a rave. But of course the MusicCast app allows the NX-N500s to enjoy wireless access to streaming sources and networked music shares. The MusicCast app links directly to Pandora and internet radio, and to music on your own devices. Navigate through Shares to music on your PC or NAS drive (or to iTunes if you use our third workaround here).
You can also share the various inputs with other MusicCast deivces and/or an additional Bluetooth speaker or heapdhones — being able to share the USB input may be particularly useful for sharing computer music around the home.
This is true hi-fi product which is boosted by its wireless multiroom abilities into something truly special. $999 for all this? Sold sold sold.
Product page: Yamaha Music Australia
Here are the links to the rest of our extended MusicCast review:
Other MusicCast reviews on AVHub include:
NOTE: If you plan on using a subwoofer in conjunction with these speakers, read an article on how to correctly tune the subwoofter's volume, phase and crossover frequency controls to exactly match the Yamaha MusicCast Studio NX-N500 loudspeakers HERE