Yamaha WXA-50 Streaming Amplifier Review
Just add speakers and you're good to go
What is the Yamaha WXA-50?The Yamaha WXA-50 wireless streaming amplifier is a new concept from the manufacturer that is designed to enable you to build a system around the integrated stereo amplifier itself or use it as a way of adding streaming and wireless capability to an existing system. The WXA-50 supports MusicCast, which is Yamaha's multiroom system, allowing you to build or add to an existing home network and listen to multiple sources in multiple locations. The built-in stereo amplifier can deliver 70W per a channel but if all you need is a pre-amp, then Yamaha also offer the WXC-50. Both products support high resolution audio and come with an included remote control, although you can also control them using the MusicCast app. The price of WXA-50 is a not-instubstantial £429 as at the time of writing (November 2016) although if you already have an amplifier the WXC-50 only costs £299. So is the WXA-50 a solution looking for a problem or is it a useful addition to your existing system? Let's find out.
DesignIn terms of its design, the WXA-50 is a genuinely attractive piece of kit with curved edges and a stylish finish. There is a black aluminium top cover with a punched metal grille and a high quality rigid metal body with a grey metallic finish. The whole unit is quite small, measuring 214 x 52 x 214mm (WxHxD) but it weighs in at 1.94kg and, as result, it feels nicely engineered and solidly constructed.The front panel is composed of a large volume dial on the right and some simple buttons to the left, including power, input and play/pause (which also doubles as the connect button when setting up a MusicCast network). Towards the middle of the front facia are three indicator lights, one shows the status of the unit, one shows if it is connected to a wireless network and one shows if it is paired with a Bluetooth device.
The WXA-50 is attractively designed and extremely well made despite its diminutive dimensions
Connections & ControlThe connections are all at the rear, along with a detachable antenna for the built-in wireless and Bluetooth capabilities. In terms of the connections themselves the WXA-50 certainly has enough to cover most needs. There is an Ethernet port for a wired connection if you prefer that approach to a wireless one and there's a switch at the rear that allows you to select wireless off, Bluetooth on or Bluetooth and WiFi on. There's also an optical digital input, a USB port, a stereo analogue input, a stereo analogue output and an output for an optional subwoofer. Finally there are in and outs for a 12V trigger, a remote in and a two-pin power connector.The provided remote control is rather small and fiddly but since the WXA-50 supports MusicCast, you can also use the MusicCast Controller App to control the amplifier instead. If you do decide to use the provided remote it has everything you need to select an input (Bluetooth, Network, USB, Optical and Aux), as well as adjust the volume and select mute. There are play/pause and skip buttons, as well as six presets that you can use to setup your favourite network or USB sources, such as internet radio stations, albums or songs, then just press a button to instantly hear that station or song. The remote might be small but it will certainly get the job done, just don't drop it down the back of the sofa.
There's a decent set of connections but the provided remote control is small and fiddly
Features & SpecsThe headline feature as far as the WXA-50 is concerned is the inclusion of Yamaha's MusicCast multiroom system which means that any source connected to the amplifier can be heard on any other device in the MusicCast network. It also means that any source connected to another MusicCast device can also be listened to via the WXA-50. The beauty of MusicCast is that it is included on so many Yamaha products (AV Receivers, soundbars, wireless speakers etc.) that you can gradually build up a multiroom network without even realising it. MusicCast is very easy to setup and thanks to its well designed and intuitive app, it's also easy to use, allowing you to control multiple devices simultaneously.
MORE: What is MusicCast?
Yamaha offer the WXC-50 pre-amp and WXA-50 amplifier, both of which can add MusicCast to an existing system, but since the WXA-50 has 70W per a channel (into 6 Ohms) of built-in amplification, it can also be used to create a separate system by simply adding a pair of speakers. The included connections mean that you can connect your various sources to the amplifier and use it as a two-channel system. As well as the ability to listen to other sources and devices connected via the MusicCast multiroom network, the WXA-50 also has DLNA (v1.5), Bluetooth (SBC/AAC) and AirPlay, allowing you to stream music from paired devices. The MusicCast app also allows access to streaming services such as Internet Radio, Spotify, Napster, Qobuz and Juke!
The WXA-50 includes sound processing technologies that are designed to deliver a better listening experience, regardless of the source quality, the listening environment, or the kind of speakers you’re using. When listening to audio from smartphones or other compressed sources, the Compressed Music Enhancer is designed to improve the sound at all frequency levels, whilst volume-adaptive EQ automatically adjusts the bass / treble balance according to the volume level. The Advanced Bass Extension provides a deeper, richer low-end sound, intended for compact or in-wall speakers and a Direct Mode allows you to play back high-resolution audio sources just as they are without any processing.
The WXA-50 also benefits from Yamaha’s advanced audio technologies and circuit designs, with preamp circuitry designed to minimise digital jitter and the same high performance ESS DAC found in their high-end AV receivers. Yamaha’s proprietary power supply ground configuration, called DAC on Pure Ground, ensures that the power supply will never negatively affect sound quality. The 48-bit digital volume control provides much greater precision than conventional digital or analogue controls and a highly rigid, metal chassis supplies the stability necessary for powerful, clear music reproduction. The WXA-50 supports high resolution audio formats, including DSD 5.6 MHz, FLAC, WAV and AIFF at up to 192 kHz / 24-bit, and ALAC (Apple Lossless) at up to 96 kHz / 24-bit for iTunes.
There are plenty of useful features, headlined by the inclusion of Yamaha's MusicCast multiroom system
Setup & TestingThe diminutive nature of the WXA-50 means that it can easily be added to an existing system without taking up too much space. You could even use it on your desk as a way of creating a two-channel system or bringing streaming content and MusicCast into your office. To make installation even easier, the WXA-50 can be mounted horizontally or vertically. The feet can be removed and the amplifier placed in specially provided supports for vertical mounting, making it easy to place the unit out of the way. Once you've installed the Yamaha, all you need to do is connect some speakers to the high quality speaker terminals at the rear – bare wire, banana plugs and spades are all possibilities. If you have an active subwoofer, you could also connect that the Yamaha.
For professional installers the amplifier only measures 214mm wide and 42mm high without feet, so it will easily fit into a 1U (19-inch) rack, and the WXA-50 offers various custom installation functions, so by using several units it’s easy to create an extensive home audio system. It also has a trigger in/out, wired LAN connectivity, a Wireless Off function and Web setup compatibility.
Once you've decided where to install the WXA-50 and connected the speakers, all you need to do is connect your various sources to the amplifier using the optical digital input, stereo analogue input or the USB port. We started off by using the WXA-50 as a simple two-channel system by connecting a variety of sources including a YouView PVR, an Apple TV, an Ultra HD Blu-ray player and a PS4. We also paired the amplifier with our iPhone 6 using both Bluetooth and AirPlay and naturally we created a MusicCast multiroom system in conjunction with the RX-A1060 AV Receiver that we were reviewing at the same time. We used a number of different speakers including a pair of JBL Control Ones and a pair of B&W 686 bookshelf speakers, as a way of replicating a two different types of possible installation.
You have the option of using the Ethernet port for a wired connection but, assuming you want to create a wireless connection, just attach the antenna and make sure the wireless is switched on at the rear. Then all you have to do is download the MusicCast Controller app to your phone or tablet and use it to set up the amplifier. You simply follow the instructions on the app and within a minute or so the WXA-50 will have either created a MusicCast network or joined your existing one; you can also use the MusicCast app to control the amplifier and all your other MusicCast compatible devices. Finally, you can turn the amplifier on by just pressing any button on the front panel and the One Push Play feature initiates playback of the previously selected source.
Yamaha WXA-50 Video Review
PerformanceOverall we found the WXA-50 to be a solid little amplifier that could deliver a composed and assured performance, regardless of the audio sources we used. We certainly found that it handled TV programmes very well, delivering an open soundstage whilst retaining focused dialogue. The music in documentaries was rendered with a nice sense of stereo separation, allowing for good localisation of instruments. When we moved on to dramas such as Stranger Things on Netflix or Preacher on Amazon Prime, the WXA-50 handled them both very well, providing a decent sense of envelopment and a well defined mid-range. The higher frequencies were nicely represented and there was some bass presence, depending on the speakers being used but clearly if you can add an active subwoofer to handle more of the heavy lifting that would undoubtedly enhance the amplifier's performance.
When it came to movie soundtracks the WXA-50 obviously struggled to deliver the immersive nature of a surround sound mix but with less bombastic films it was able to deliver a decent performance. It clearly is never going to replace a real surround sound AV Receiver or even a good soundbar in this context but it was able to give reasonable account of itself. It could certainly go loud without distorting and the amplifier should be able to handle an average sized living room. Ultimately though, if you're going to use the WXA-50 in conjunction with a computer on your desk, it would be highly effective but if you plan on using it with a TV you might find the number of connections limiting. In that situation a MusicCast soundbar like the YSP-1600 might be a better option or even a proper surround sound AV Receiver.
If you're looking for a two-channel amplifier for music listening then the WXA-50 will certainly fit the bill, especially as it then offers a number of additional options in terms of wireless connections. We found both the Bluetooth and AirPlay connections to be both robust and effective, allowing us to enjoy music streamed from both an iPhone 6 and an iPad. The same was true when it came to MusicCast and as we expected from previous reviews, the network created was excellent allowing us to not only listen to sources actually connected to the WXA-50 but also other sources within the multiroom system. We were also able to dispense with the fiddly little remote control and use the MusicCast Controller app to control the entire system, which meant not only the WXA-50 but also the RX-A1060 which was included in the network.
The ability to use MusicCast is obviously a big selling-point of the WXA-50 and it certainly handled all the various music we played through it with ease. As we said at the beginning of this section it delivered a composed performance and managed to give an epic track like Suede's Still Life a suitably symphonic sweep. The same was true with more sparse recordings like Kate Bush's This Woman's Work, with its simple vocals and piano. If we had a criticism of the WXA-50, it often sounded a little restrained, lacking some of the enjoyment we feel with a Yamaha amplifier. We used the direct mode for unprocessed listening to high resolution audio files and the WXA-50 handled them well, whilst the compression enhancer was useful when it came to more compressed streams. We also found the advanced bass extension could be useful with smaller speakers like the Control Ones, giving them a bit more low-end presence.
The appeal of the WXA-50 will very much depend on what you're looking for, so if you want a small and flexible amplifier around which to build a two-channel system, then it might be just the ticket. It could also be your first step towards building a MusicCast multiroom system. However if your main goal is to add MusicCast to an existing system, then the WXC-50 might be the more sensible option, dropping the unnecessary amplification and costing less. The built-in amplification of the WXA-50 is certainly capable of handling a variety of speakers but we sometimes felt it was trying to be all things to all people without really excelling in any one particular area. The reality is that there are better amplifiers available and cheaper ways to add MusicCast to your home but the WXA-50 remains a beautifully designed and well-made little amplifier with an interesting concept behind it.
This great sounding little amplifier could be the first step towards building a complete multiroom system
- Good all-round amp
- Easy to setup and use
- Flexible installation
- Decent connections
- Includes MusicCast
- Attractive and well made
- Sound is rather restrained
- Remote is small and fiddly
Yamaha WXA-50 Streaming Amplifier ReviewThe Yamaha WXA-50 is a great little amplifier that offers a number of genuinely useful features. It's attractively designed and well made, whilst its small size means you can fit it just about anywhere. The fact that you have the option of vertical or horizontal installation is also a nice touch. There is a decent set of connections at the rear and the inclusion of WiFi, Bluetooth and AirPlay means that you can stream almost anything to the WXA-50. Of course the headline feature is the inclusion of MusicCast which allows you to create a multiroom system or add the amplifier to an existing network. The fact that MusicCast is included in the majority of Yamaha products means that it's a great way of building a multiroom system without even trying. It's also easy to set up and very flexible to use, with a robust performance and support for high res audio.
The WXA-50 includes 70W of two-channel amplification and although we found the overall performance to be very good, we did find the sound to be slightly constrained at times. It will obviously depend on what type of speakers you pair the amplifier with but clearly given its size and power it is better suited to a good pair of bookshelf speakers than floorstanders and if you can add an active subwoofer that would certainly help with some of the heavy lifting. The WXA-50 remained composed and assured but it lacked the sheer joy we often associate with Yamaha, perhaps sounding a bit too composed. If you're looking for a small amplifier around which to build a two-channel system then the Yamaha WXA-50 is certainly worth considering but at a price of £429 there is a lot of competition. Of course, the big selling point is the inclusion of MusicCast but if you already have a system it might make more sense to go for the Yamaha WXC-050 pre-amp and save yourself some money.
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Ease of use9
Value for money8
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