What are the MusicCast 20 and 50?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
How were the MusicCast 20 and 50 tested?
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.
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.
- Outstandingly flexible specification
- Refined and capable performance
- Part of a very comprehensive product family
- Can sound a little safe
- MusicCast 50 feels a little pricey
- Some minor software gremlins
Yamaha MusicCast 20 and 50 Wireless Speakers Review
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