This is quite the offering — an amplifier presented with the design cues of Yamaha’s finest stereo components, loaded with networking abilities including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay, Spotify and all the benefits of Yamaha’s MusicCast multiroom system. The price, sir? Just $699. Say again, $699? Something has to give, right?

Equipment
The R-N303D does a lot in the networking space, but let’s start with its more conventional amplifier duties. It has six audio inputs in all — four analogue line-level (in the US one of these is replaced by a turntable input, perhaps a disappointing omission for vinyl lovers here), and two digital inputs, one optical, one coaxial. So the only obvious omission in input terms besides turntable is USB, with neither USB-B for computer connection nor a USB-A slot for plugging in sticks, drives or a smart device.

The back panel also has a single antenna connection for the DAB+/FM included here — there’s no AM here, but internet radio can be easily accessed through its MusicCast abilities.

There are two sets of speaker outputs, though we noted an unusual impedance limitation here. To run two sets of speakers at once (not that we ever suggest doing so), Yamaha’s recommendation is for using only speakers of 16 ohms and higher — and that’s quite the rarity these days. Even if you use only one set of speakers, Yamaha’s manual specifies they must be eight ohms or higher, saying “If you connect speakers with an excessively low impedance, this unit may overheat”. Interestingly every single one of Yamaha’s own currently listed speakers, from bookshelf through standmounts up to the spectacular NS-5000, is listed with nominal impedance of six ohms! We pointed this out to Yamaha Australia, who said they were impressed that we read the manual, and the requirement is perhaps overcautious.

Far more usefully, then, the twin speaker outputs can be used to switch between two set of speakers. (The manual also suggests you could use them for biwiring that have separate woofer and tweeter connections, but again, you’d need to be sure of their impedances.)

There is, however, a fairly high quoted power rating for this level of audio — 2 × 100W of power available into eight ohms, albeit measured with an allowance of 0.2% THD, a little high by hi-fi amplifier standards (though lower than many digital AV measurement standards often applied to soundbars and the like).

MusicCast
All Yamaha’s MusicCast abilities are included here, barring only the new MusicCast Surround which is soon to appear on the company’s next run of AV receivers and MusicCast soundbars. Besides the access to streaming services and network music shares, MusicCast is a multiroom platform which can share any of this receiver’s inputs with other MusicCast-enabled devices on your home network — each device is allocated a room, and you can group rooms with a master device under your control, and other MusicCast devices as slaves to follow its output. This has especial versatility given that Yamaha’s range of MusicCast devices is wide indeed, from receivers to soundbars to standalone and stereo speakers, and lifestyle audio systems.

MusicCast also has the clever trick of sending via Bluetooth (in addition to receiving Bluetooth streams), so that any Bluetooth speaker or headphones, regardless of brand, can be slaved to a particular MusicCast room. So if you’re using the R-N303 R for TV audio, say, you could listen on Bluetooth headphones at night. Or you might have a Bluetooth speaker within range in your open-plan kitchen and can pair that up with the hi-fi/TV sound in the main room.

Performance
We must say how impressed we were with the R-N303 D’s physical presentation. It’s solid, weighing 7.3kg, and while those vertical controls are mere buttons compared with the true pots and switches on Yamaha’s top amps, they maintain the quality hi-fi aesthetic — indeed with the silver unit supplied for review (black is the other option), we had a pleasing flashback to an amplifier from our family lounge system a generation back.

But of course the R-N303 D is thoroughly modern. For networking there is a cabled Ethernet socket or a Wi-Fi connection available, and you can make the connection through Yamaha’s MusicCast app, holding the Connect button on the front of the receiver to start the process of linking the app to the receiver. This uses a direct Wi-Fi link generated by the Yamaha unit, which is (in our moderate experience with MusicCast) sometimes slow to appear, and here we ended up connecting to Wi-Fi manually through the front-panel display using the button-busy supplied remote control. Thereafter it showed up immediately in the MusicCast app. As with a great deal of networking audio equipment, give the things a wired Ethernet connection if you can.

But once connected, all worked well. We performed the requested firmware update and then began enjoying the many ways the R-N303 D can receive streaming music.

The MusicCast app allows you to connect Tidal or Deezer subscriptions, or for Spotify it opens your normal Spotify app from which you can select the Yamaha as a chosen device. The Yamaha takes over the Spotify stream direct from the internet, not passing it wastefully via your device, which is used only for control.

For radio you really are spoiled. The MusicCast app offers internet radio and podcasts organised in the usual way, or you could open your preferred internet radio app and use Bluetooth or, for iOS devices, AirPlay to beam your station across.

The tuner section delivered good FM through our roof aerial; we tried the string antenna provided and it wasn’t enough for strong FM reception in our neighbourhood but it did pull in digital DAB+ stations just fine. Selecting DAB on the Yamaha should initiate an auto-tune; it didn’t for us, so we forced one using the remote control and soon had them all running. There seemed no easy way to shuttle through DAB+ stations — each one had to load and start before we could move to the next, so for easier recall it was definitely wise to put our favourites in the ‘presets’, as they’re called on the unit, or ‘favourites ‘as they’re called in the MusicCast app, for which you get a healthy 40 placings.

MusicCast has an excellent network music streaming function under ‘Server’, through which we could navigate to shared music folders on the network and play music even at high-res. While your server software will govern some conversions, the Yamaha handled MP3, WMA and AAC, then Apple Lossless up to 24-bit/96kHz, and WAV/FLAC/AIFF up to 24-bit/192kHz, and DSD at 2,8/5.6MHz. All the high-res formats also supported gapless playback.

Even more conveniently, the inclusion of AirPlay put the Yamaha within reach of our Roon software, so we could use Roon to access our combined collection and push it all out, with track control from the Yamaha remote, albeit at a maximum of CD quality transmission.

While you could hear the inherent quality limitations of some sources — internet radio especially and digital radio to a lesser extent — the file-based replay succeeded in both delivering enjoyable music and in doing so without any audible glitches. We had the choice of app or physical remote to nudge up the volume, and though Yamaha gives its remote the usual high button count, the important volume keys are usefully prioritised. We gave some of the lesser gems from Paul McCartney’s four-disc ‘Pure McCartney’ compilation a stream this way, with the Yamaha driving high-quality but average-sensitivity standmounts (oh no, six ohms nominal impedance), and the Yamaha proved a little workhorse at pushing through plenty of energy and drive, and the front panel tone controls for bass and treble made it easy to give our standmounts a single tap of bass to fill out their sound nicely. These are subtle tone controls, not bloating but reinforcing the lower frequencies to enjoyable effect.

We noticed no apparent ill effects from cranking listening levels, though having switched from an amplifier at 10 times this price, it was clear that there was less of that hi-fi inky blackness of a low noise floor on which subtle details and forensic soundstaging can add magic to a performance.

Yet the Yamaha’s great achievement is how much it can deliver in this department in terms of power levels. The danceable Tom Jones track In Style and Rhythm bounced out of the speakers under the Yamaha’s direction, Tom full and forward up front, the bass big and well-delineated, and only once the full arrangement was in swing did we need to bring the volume back from the slightly silly levels we were enjoying. Dinah Washington’s powerful vocal on Mad About The Boy also got a bit shouty when taken up towards a reference level listen. But things were, on the whole, very impressive for the price. The amp projected the bass line of Colours Fly Away from The Teardrop Explodes solidly, preventing the often thin delivery of this track. It didn’t throw the full soundstage and dynamics of Chick Corea’s Australia from the speakers, but it certainly kept the elements clear and the piano well imaged, particularly in the less dense portions of this fast-moving arrangement. Indeed it seemed to savour simplicity — Gershwin’s two-piano Rhapsody in Blue performance (a modern recording from his own piano roll) was a delight, perhaps because a Yamaha Disklavier had been used for playback of the rolls! High sensitivity speakers will maximise what you get from its reserves, as would lower impedance models, were they allowed. Still, even after hours of playback the R-N303 R was only moderately warm at the back right of its grilled top, so our six-ohm speakers weren’t seeming to cause untoward distress.

Conclusion
It’s a matter of some wonder that Yamaha can deliver so much in the way of connectivity at this price, and yet still include amplification of a power and quality that can drive all but difficult speakers with dynamics and musicality. There is more available in the world of amplification, of course, and those seeking the finest expression of music may wish to expend further funds up Yamaha’s range of stereo hi-fi.

But the achievement here is for those without such funds, who can enjoy the R-N303 R’s highly competent playback while plugging up a full system and gaining access to the modern world of streaming and multiroom operation under app control. An entry-level triumph. 

Yamaha R-N303 D
Price: $699

+ Amazing features for the money
+ MusicCast multiroom platform onboard
+ Impressive pricing

- No phono in, no USB, no AM
- Speaker impedance limitations

Inputs: 4 x line-level RCA analogue pairs, 1 x coaxial digital, 1 x optical digital, Ethernet, antenna, Bluetooth, FM/DAB+ radio, MusicCast
Outputs: 1 x record out RCA line-level, 2 x speaker pairs , 1 x 6.5mm headphone out
Output power: 2 x 100W into 8 ohms (40Hz-20kHz, 0.2% THD)
Dimensions (whd): 435 x 141 x 340mm
Weight: 7.2kg
Product page: https://au.yamaha.com/en/products/audio_visual/hifi/r-n303d/index.html

The R-N303 D went on to win our 'Amplifier of the Year under $1000' category in the 2019 Sound+Image Awards.