Yamaha R-N803D Network Receiver Review

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Tired of talk of ‘amps that do everything’, Yamaha has actually built one

by Ed Selley Dec 24, 2017 at 6:27 AM

  • Hi-Fi review

    20

    Recommended
    Yamaha R-N803D Network Receiver Review
    SRP: £699.95

    What is the Yamaha R-N803D?

    The Yamaha R-N803D is the flagship stereo receiver from the company and sits roughly in the middle of the company’s extensive stereo line-up. Historically, a receiver was a stereo amp to which the manufacturer had added a tuner and sure enough, the 803D has one of these. It also has a truly enormous selection of other functions – I warn you now that the ‘specifications’ section of this review is going to be a fairly significant one – that means that the Yamaha has a different dynamic to some of the simpler stereo amps we have looked at in recent weeks.

    Of course, if there is a manufacturer that is well set up to successfully try and combine all the functionality present in the 803D, Yamaha is as good a choice as any. The 803D combines functionality from the MusicCast family of components, the more advanced stereo amps and then the company’s AV Receivers. This could all be a match made in heaven or it could just as easily be a product that never truly knows what it wants to be. It seems like as good a time as any to work that out.

    Specifications

    Yamaha R-N803D Specifications
    The R-N803D is a full width stereo receiver and the amplifier section it uses borrows mainly from the amps above it rather than below. The amplifier stage is a symmetrical one with the heatsink, output devices and general layout being mirrored across left and right channels. What is notable about this is that Yamaha doesn’t put the transformer between the two channels – as might be seen in a number of European designs. The PSU is an open basket type and moved off to one side so although the 803D is a symmetrical design, the amp stage isn’t centred in the chassis.

    This amplifier is a class A/B unit and although Yamaha quotes a selection of peculiar measurements on its website, will produce 100 watts into eight ohms with a good, low distortion figure. This should be sufficient to handle most speakers that the 803D is likely to encounter. There is also a switchable speaker A/B output to connect a second pair although this is tapped from the same amp stage so your two pairs of speakers will need to be reasonably benign. Volume is on a rotary encoder and shows levels in a manner more in keeping with AV Receivers.

    The reason for this is that the 803D differs from any other Yamaha stereo amp and indeed most rivals in that it is equipped with the YPAO EQ software that is more commonly encountered on Yamaha AV Receivers. This performs the conventional distance calculations and can then tweak the output of the 803D and the speakers to be more linear in-room. There is also a function called YPAO volume that works to fill out the performance at lower levels to sound richer and more convincing. Both of these can be switched in and out of on the fly.
    Yamaha R-N803D Specifications
    These core amplifier functions are combined with some very extensive connectivity – indeed a feature set that is pretty much untouchable. First up, as an amp, the R-N803D has four RCA line inputs, two of which have tape loops. There is then a moving magnet phono stage for turntable use. There is no stereo preout but there is a subwoofer output with adjustable crossover and the YPAO system can cope with a 2.1 sub/sat setup.

    From there, the Yamaha adds four digital inputs – two optical and two coaxial – which are 24/192kHz capable. USB sticks can also be read. This is joined by a DLNA 1.5 spec network renderer. This is also 192kHz capable and will additionally handle DSD. Since we last looked at a Yamaha streaming module, it has gained streaming services like I do weight over Christmas. The 803D now has integral support for Spotify, Deezer, Juke, Tidal and Qobuz. Should this not cover your particular service, the Yamaha has AirPlay and Bluetooth so you can stream them direct. All decoding is handled by a variant of the ESS Sabre DAC. Finally, as befits a device described as a receiver, the R-N803D is fitted with an FM and DAB+ tuner and can also access internet radio services.

    This is an enormously comprehensive specification but the Yamaha isn’t done there. Yamaha has equipped it with MusicCast which allows it to be selected as one room in an all MusicCast system and share network audio around the house. The R-N803D is also a MusicCast Hub which means that sources connected to the Yamaha can be sent to other locations around the house. Key to this all working in a manner that isn’t entirely frustrating is the control app. This is available for iOS and Android and, as we have noted in the reviews of recent MusicCast devices, it works very well. Yamaha has clearly designed it from the ground up to handle multiple rooms and it is impressively logical as a result. The only slight criticism I can make of it is that the search function for streaming services is a little on the slow side. There is a conventional IR remote handset too.

    Design

    Yamaha R-N803D Design
    From the moment that Yamaha launched the 1000 and 2000 series components all the way back in 2008, the company has shown a commendable willingness to go its own way in terms of styling. What is particularly impressive in the specific case of the R-N803D is that the additional functionality that it has over and above a normal amplifier hasn’t mucked about with these aesthetics. There is a display that gives relevant input information and volume as well as a wireless signal and whether YPAO is engaged. It still manages to look more a stereo amp than a multichannel one.

    It also manages to feel pretty solid. Compared to something like the Cyrus ONE which has two rotary controls and a single button on the front panel the Yamaha has seven rotary controls and fifteen buttons but they all manage to work seamlessly and with a pleasant sense of precision to them. The remote is a full size device that works well although – as we’ll cover – the volume ramp only really comes into its own at higher levels. The 800 series and below in Yamaha’s range don’t feel as wonderfully hefty as the higher spec models but this still a well assembled piece of kit.
    Yamaha R-N803D Design
    As partially noted already, what is no less noteworthy is that despite being one of the most functionally busy devices going, the Yamaha is impressively user friendly. It will largely behave like a standard stereo amplifier unless you specifically engage the additional functionality. Setup is simple (although still much easier to do via iOS than it is Android) and the wireless performance has proved entirely stable while in use here.


    Yamaha R-N803D
    What is no less noteworthy is that despite being one of the most functionally busy devices going, the Yamaha is impressively user friendly

    How was the R-N803D

    The Yamaha has been tested with both wired and wireless networks. These have been used to access content on a Western Digital NAS Drive as well as Tidal and Spotify. Some additional testing has been carried out via an Oppo Sonica DAC and the phono stage has been tested with a Michell Gyrodec running an SME M2-9 Tonearm and Gold Note Vasari Gold and Nagaoka MP150 phono cartridges. A pair of Totem Sky standmounts were used along with the Spendor A1 and a pair of Acoustic Energy AE1 Classics. Some Bluetooth testing was undertaken with a Motorola G4 and the MusicCast functionality tested by using a Yamaha WX-AD10 on the same network. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, Tidal, Spotify and Tidal as well as vinyl.

    Sound Quality

    Yamaha R-N803D Sound Quality
    Key to Yamaha’s entire philosophy and sufficiently ‘core’ to what they do that it is printed on the front of every product is that of a ‘Natural Sound.’ This is obviously not a measurable concept and something of a statement of the blindingly obvious – I’m not sure any hi-fi brand has ever set out to make an ‘unnatural sound’ – but after a little while with the R-N803D, it does start to make a degree of sense.

    With the streamer section running, the way that the Yamaha goes about playing the 24/48 remaster of Peter Gabriel’s So is very convincing. The way that the opening Red Rain is delivered is composed, detailed and has a pleasing flow to it. For a device using an ESS Sabre, the Yamaha is a comparatively warm sounding device but not to the extent where it becomes bloomy or sluggish. It is extremely easy to listen to the Yamaha for an entire day, moving through a wide selection of material and it won’t jangle a nerve so much as once. It has a musicality and togetherness that is consistently appealing.

    You can of course point to rivals like the Audiolab M-ONE and Rega Brio in particular and note that the Yamaha simply doesn’t have the bite and sense of drive that these two amps do. This can be balanced against the refinement and space that the Yamaha brings to its performance (as well as the armada of extra features). What is more surprising though is that despite the notional 100 watts at its disposal, the Yamaha doesn’t feel anything like as potent as the Cyrus ONE and even the Rega feels like it has more power at its disposal. Part of this is down to the volume control – as a decibel related device, it will always have less immediate power on hand than a conventional pot but will still produce usable gain where those amps will generally have run out.

    Interestingly, the YPAO software can go some way to correcting this. Running the setup with two speakers arranged in a conventional position across one wall, the amount of ‘correction’ that is applied is relatively low but the results are fuller and richer than without and sounds more convincing at lower volume levels. It also helps thinner and more aggressive recordings sound better with it engaged as well, although high-res material can sound a little over full and bloomy when it is engaged. Given you can switch in and out of YPAO from the app at any time, I think it is a useful feature to have available. This usefulness will only increase if you can’t have the speakers against the same wall.
    Yamaha R-N803D Sound Quality
    No less handy is the phono stage. Yamaha has a solid track record with internal phono stages and this is another solid example that can compete with devices in the £100-120 range. There is sufficient gain to ensure that moving magnet cartridges, if not high output moving coil designs, should be boosted to a decent listening level. The phono stage – and indeed all the inputs of the R-N803D – are extremely consistent in their performance suggesting that the amplifier stage imparts most of the character. If you like what the Yamaha does with one source, you are likely to be happy with what it does across all of them.

    The only area that the R-N803D really falls short is the headphone amp. This has limited gain and when used with a pair of Bowers & Wilkins P9s it never sounds truly right. The dynamics are a little limited and there is a graininess to the treble that is not enjoyable. Switching to a more sensitive pair of Audio Technica ATH-MSR7s is slightly better but still not comparable with most similarly priced rivals. If you really need excellent headphone performance, this probably isn’t the amp for you. Equally, both the Bluetooth and AirPlay implementations are excellent and round off the biblical connectivity nicely.

    We have covered MusicCast on a few occasions before so there is no need to re-cover everything it does here. Suffice to say that the R-N803D is able to join a system that makes most rivals look very limited by comparison. With everything from compact speakers, to sound projectors to active speakers, you can assemble whole house audio that meets whatever needs you might have. Simply to try it, I was able to send the Gyrodec playing via the phono stage to a WX-AD10 on a completely different system in another room. Latency is nigh on perfect and it genuinely conveys a sense of the analogue at the same time.

    Yamaha R-N803D
    Given you can switch in and out of YPAO from the app at any time, I think it is a useful feature to have available

    Conclusion

    8
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Truly biblical specifications
    • Refined, accurate sound
    • Easy to use

    Cons

    • Can feel a little lacking in outright power
    • Poor headphone amp
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 1
    You had this Total 0

    Yamaha R-N803D Network Receiver Review

    Like a number of recent amplifier review conclusions, I have to start this one with a degree of context. If you only need an amplifier with analogue inputs, the Yamaha puts up a good fight but loses out to simpler and more dedicated models like the Rega Brio and Audiolab M-ONE. These products do less but they do it extremely well.

    The thing is though, the R-N803D is not a normal amplifier. It does so many things that the Rega and even the Audiolab cannot get anywhere near that it seems a little pointless to make a like-for-like comparison. The Yamaha needs fewer external sources to do what it does, it can handle room situations that rivals cannot, and it will do so as the hub of a supremely flexible multiroom system. The R-N803D might not be the champion of a single area but its mastery of so many of them means it is entirely worthy of recommendation.

    MORE: Read All Stereo HiFi Amplifier Reviews



    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £699.95

    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    8

    Connectivity

    9

    Ease of use

    8

    Features

    10

    Audio quality

    8

    Value for money

    8

    Overall

    8

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