Yamaha MusicCast 20 and 50 Wireless Speakers Review

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Yamaha’s ongoing mission to make their products do absolutely everything continues apace

by Ed Selley Nov 13, 2018 at 7:26 AM

  • Hi-Fi review

    5

    Recommended
    Yamaha MusicCast 20 and 50 Wireless Speakers Review
    SRP: £179.00

    What are the MusicCast 20 and 50?

    The Yamaha MusicCast 20 and 50 are the latest additions to the Yamaha MusicCast family of products. Now four years in, MusicCast remains the most ambitious program of its kind. Rather than a subset of wireless products, Yamaha has built MusicCast into almost every single product they have launched since. This allows for systems of unprecedented scope and scale and it has influenced other brands to start to do something similar. Yamaha’s response has been to push further. At the time of writing, a MusicCast system could technically encompass an 11.2 AV processor, a turntable-based system and a self-playing piano.

    The only detractor in this is that systems of this nature still live or die on their standalone speakers and while Yamaha’s efforts in this area weren’t bad, they didn’t necessarily confer the advantages needed over the competition to get people thinking about bolting on a full home cinema system at a later date. The MusicCast 20 and 50 have been developed to address this.

    Additionally, Yamaha has made sure that these two new arrivals are bang up to date in other regards. None of the MusicCast family is exactly short on features but these two speakers have (somehow) managed to find more things to add to the roster. All this is irrelevant if they don’t sound any good though, so does this duo now represent the ideal starting point for a sprawling MusicCast system?

    Specification and Design


    Yamaha MusicCast 20 Specification and Design
    The MusicCast 20 and 50 are powered, all-in-one speakers that - while able to operate in various modes that we will come to - are, first and foremost, standalone devices. Both of them are built around the same decoding hardware and this is usefully comprehensive. Both speakers are capable of handling sample rates up to 24/192kHz and cover the major formats. Wired setup is possible with both speakers thanks to the fitment of an Ethernet port to both models but Wireless is likely to be the more commonly encountered option and both 2.4 and 5GHz options are supported.

    Where Yamaha has worked hard to engineer an advantage to MusicCast is the supported services. If we accept that Sonos is off in a world of its own in this area, MusicCast is still an impressive proposition. There is native support for Tidal, Qobuz (including hi-res access via Sublime+) Deezer (including Deezer HiFi), Spotify and Juke. They are additionally Alexa compatible so, with the right supporting hardware, you can shout at them and have every aspect of your life recorded for marketing purposes. If you find yourself using a streaming service that isn’t one of these, you can, of course, send that information via v4.1 AAC capable Bluetooth or AirPlay. This functionality is then supported by internet radio too, just in case this is all far too much choice and you can’t decide what to listen to at all.
    Yamaha MusicCast 20 Specification and Design
    As part of a multiroom system, speakers can be selected individually or grouped together to do the same thing. If being used with larger Yamaha components, they can also playback what that component is doing at the time. This is most potentially useful with sending a TV audio track to another room to keep up with something if you are wandering in and out of the room. Both models are then additionally able to offer some more advanced playback options too. If you buy a second one, you can use them as a stereo pair rather than a single point source. Additionally, if you have a compatible Yamaha AV receiver or soundbar, they can be employed as wireless surround speakers. In the case of the MusicCast 20, Yamaha has gone so far as to fit a keyhole mount on the rear panel for easy wall mounting.

    The MusicCast 50 is realistically, a little on the large side for this sort of thing (I’m not completely sure how many will even be paired up for stereo playback). Yamaha seems to have recognised this is the case and equipped the larger speaker with some standalone features to enable a more solitary existence. There is an RCA line input and an optical connection that should allow it to do some TV boosting in its own right, rather than simply be an adjunct to a soundbar.


    Yamaha MusicCast 20
    The MusicCast 50 is a stereo design (albeit from a single point source). The larger speaker mounts two 10cm woofers and two 3cm soft dome tweeters powered by two 35 watt amps (albeit with the 35 watt figure being generated at alarming levels of distortion). The smaller speaker is a mono unit with a single 9cm driver and 3cm tweeter, underpinned by a pair of passive radiators. Unlike the larger speaker, it uses one amp per driver and no THD figures are quoted.

    As well as boosting their specification from the original standalone MusicCast speakers, Yamaha has given the new arrivals a touch up in terms of their appearance. The MusicCast 20 and 50 are less angular and more visually appealing than the older MusicCast speakers. There are some other improvements too. Both speakers have a series of buttons on the top panel that allow you to move between various inputs, pause playback and put the speakers into standby. For me, at least, this is good thinking. Over dependence on apps can make these devices awkward to operate, for example simply getting them to stop in the event of someone calling you on the same phone you were using for control.
    Yamaha MusicCast 20
    At the same time, it is worth noting that the behaviour of these two speakers with the MusicCast app has not been anything like as bulletproof as other MusicCast products I’ve tested over the years. The MusicCast 50 was set up on my network, played for two hours before inexplicably locking up, forgetting all my streaming service logins and needing to be completely reset. The MusicCast 20 setup correctly and accepted my Tidal login before refusing to allow any other services to be added. When I compare this to the Yamaha WX-AD10 which has been in my possession for some time, neither of these speakers feels as quick or as stable but matters of software are something that can be corrected, so hopefully issues will improve.

    This would be good because the physical construction of both speakers is excellent. The use of high quality, soft touch plastics at the main points where you make contact with them is well judged and the touch panel at the top of both is responsive. The isolating material at the base ensures that they stay put on whatever surface you place them on and they feel usefully inert once placed. Compared to the Dynaudio Music speaker reviewed recently, they might come across as a little conservative but equally, they will work well in a variety of situations.

    Yamaha MusicCast 20
    As well as boosting their specification from the original standalone MusicCast speakers, Yamaha has given the new arrivals a touch up in terms of their appearance.

    How were the MusicCast 20 and 50 tested?

    Both speakers were connected to a Huawei B311 router wirelessly where they were able to access a Melco N1A NAS drive and various on demand services. Bluetooth was tested via an Essential PH-1 smartphone and AirPlay with an iPad Air. The MusicCast 50 was additionally tested with the optical feed from an LG 55B7 OLED. Material used included lossless and hi-res FLAC and AIFF, Tidal, Spotify, Deezer and Qobuz, internet radio and - in the case of the MusicCast 50 - broadcast and on demand TV.

    Sound Quality


    Yamaha MusicCast 20 Sound Quality
    The process for putting the MusicCast 20 and 50 onto a wireless network is the same as every other MusicCast product and while not the absolute slickest method I’ve tested of late, it does work consistently well. Previously mentioned hiccups aside, both speakers have then proceeded to work in the manner you might expect.

    What is immediately interesting is that while both speakers share many aspects of their performance in common, they are also intriguingly different in some other areas. Starting with the larger of the two speakers, the MusicCast 50 manages to do two critical things. It sounds larger than it is and manages to generate something approaching a sense of stereo from a single point. For the avoidance of all doubt, something like the Klispch R41 PM is going to make the MusicCast 50 sound like a single speaker because it is, but listened in isolation in front of you, the Yamaha does a better job than many rivals.

    This means that the performance when being used as a booster for a TV is also pretty good. The MusicCast 50 does a good job of keeping dialogue clear and easy to follow and it adds a sense of weight and scale to material that is absent from most TV speakers. There is a bass enhancement feature in the app but this is perhaps a little too much of a good thing. Switching it on boosts the bass but it loses some of the integration and control that there is when it is switched off.
    Yamaha MusicCast 20 Sound Quality
    The generally positive showing has two characteristics that may or may not influence how you perceive the Yamaha. The first is that the MusicCast 50 has top end that cannot be provoked. Nothing I’ve played on it has upset the upper registers at all. While it can handle a hi-res signal from a server or Qobuz Sublime+, Yamaha seems to have taken the decision to set the speaker up to handle compressed audio without ever losing its sense of control and refinement. This does mean that genuinely high quality recordings can lack a little sense of bite and attack, coming across as ever so slightly smoothed off.

    The other slight complaint is that the MusicCast 50 doesn’t feel like it has huge reserves of headroom. It is perfectly capable of filling a normal UK lounge but it never feels like there is much left in the tank after you set that sort of level. This will again be a subjective area - and you can double up if you want - but this doesn’t feel as grunty as the equivalently priced Klipsch, for example.

    By contrast, the mono MusicCast 20 is a slightly different beast. For £200, this feels like better value - a stereo pair for £400 would still undercut a single MusicCast 50 and if you didn’t need any auxiliary connections, this would be how I’d spend the budget. The reason for this is that the MusicCast 20 is a rather livelier and more engaging performer than its bigger brother. It is still an extremely smooth and controlled speaker but it has a bit more get up and go to it. For a kitchen or similar, using one of them will work well and two of them would allow for the stereo width its big brother can lack. Once again, the best results are achieved with the bass boost turned off. The two passive radiators manage to imbue the MusicCast 20 with more than reasonable low end.

    Yamaha MusicCast 20
    the MusicCast 50 has a top end that cannot be provoked

    Conclusion

    As noted, a multiroom system, no matter how clever the more far flung models, lives or dies on the strength of the entry level point. MusicCast is unprecedented in terms of its scale and flexibility but these all important products weren’t necessarily of the standard of some of the more expensive models. The MusicCast 20 and 50 get much closer to the standards required to make starting out with MusicCast a more practical proposition. They aren’t perfect - I’d like to see the software experience get a little slicker and there are competitive products that sound a little better - but the impressive functionality suite and the sheer scope of the products you can add to the system goes a long way to making up the difference. The MusicCast 20 is the more impressive of the two products but both of them have enough merit to earn our recommendation.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £179.00

    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    8

    Connectivity

    8

    Sound Quality

    8

    Ease of Use

    8

    Features

    10

    Value for Money

    8

    Verdict

    8

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