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Yamaha NX-N500 | Yamaha N500 MusicCast Speaker Review

Yamaha looks to its pro division for the newest member of MusicCast

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

7

Recommended
Yamaha NX-N500 Network Powered Speaker Review
SRP: £599.00

What is the Yamaha NX-N500?

The Yamaha NX-N500 is the latest member of the increasingly extensive range of MusicCast components and takes the form of an active speaker with network and wireless functionality built into the chassis. This sort of product has become a popular addition to the model ranges of a few companies as it offers a convenient solution to the use of space in a modern household while at the same time allowing for a reasonable sized enclosure for drivers.

In the case of Yamaha in particular, there's more than a little pedigree in this area too. The company has been making active speakers for decades and the NS10 monitor in particular has established a reputation for being one of the most regularly encountered active monitors in the world. It isn't an accident that the NX-N500 is the shape and size it is and sports a pair of white drivers.

The catch is that while there are some definite benefits to using active speakers, studio refugees are not always the best way to achieve this as they have different requirements. Can the NX-N500 balance the twin requirements of providing flexible and friendly wireless audio while building on Yamaha's active pedigree?

Specifications

Yamaha NX-N500
The NX-N500 as delivered to you the customer is a pair of two-way active standmount speakers. It is important to stress that the Yamaha is a pair of active speakers rather than an active/passive partnering. This means that each speaker contains an amplifier and power supply and that each speaker will need its own mains socket. While slightly more demanding on your mains outlets, this means that the active sections of both speakers are identical and that their performance should benefit from very low crosstalk and interference.

Of course, as splitting a digital signal into mono is time consuming and fiddly, there is still a 'master/slave' relationship to the speakers as one has the digital input board as well as other setup connections. This information is then shared between the speakers via two separate connections. The first is a balanced audio line that runs on an XLR connection between the two units. The second is an 'L-R Link' that works via Ethernet and presumably serves to keep the latency of the speakers correct when working wirelessly and as part of a wider multiroom setup.

Internally, each speaker uses a 45 watt amp for the mid bass driver and a 25 watt amp for the tweeter. Yamaha is at pains to stress that the amps are 'analogue' but then doesn't go on to clarify exactly what sort of setup the amplifiers run. Each enclosure has a fairly large rear port to aid the bass response.
Yamaha NX-N500
The appearance of the NX-N500 is extremely similar to the HS5 active monitor from the pro audio section of the company. The two models share basic cabinet architecture and both make use of a 3cm tweeter (this seems a little on the large side and is mainly down to Yamaha measuring the entire assembly rather than just the radiating area). This is partnered with a 13cm woofer made from Yamaha's own 'PMD' type plastic. The HS5 uses different amplification though as it is designed to achieve the 'warts and all' presentation required of a studio monitor while the NX-N500 is designed with a view to doing the best job with multiple sources.

While there are a few of these active designs hitting the market, the Yamaha has a specification that leaves it looking very competitive. The NX-N500 has UPnP streaming including and up to DSD5.6, AirPlay, Apt-X Bluetooth, Internet Radio, Spotify Connect (as well as Napster and Juke), high res USB, an optical digital input and a 3.5mm analogue input. While an RCA analogue input might have been welcome too, there is no doubt that this is a very well specified product for the price. As the physical inputs of the Yamaha are on one of the speakers, you will need to put a degree of thought into your connections and possibly choose longer cables but this is no more than what you would have to do with any pair of active speakers of this nature.

As part of the MusicCast range of products, you can also use the Yamaha as a member of a larger family of devices and it can replay content being received by another device in the chain. When you consider what the NX-N500 can do, the asking price is pretty reasonable.

Design

Yamaha NX-N500
The NX-N500 is finished in a black crackle design and is largely a symphony in black save for the white midbass driver. Given that Yamaha is capable of producing some excellent finishes at very reasonable prices, it might seem slightly incongruous that the NX-N500 is so 'wipe clean' in terms of what has been chosen for it but this is not accidental. The NX-N500 (and to much the same extent, the HS5 with which it shares a chassis) are designed to emulate the legendary NS10. Even people who's interest in such matters is basically zero will be able to look at the NX-N500 and recognise it on a primordial level. In reality, while it isn't the prettiest device that Yamaha has come up with of late, the NX-N500 will still work in most rooms without drawing much attention to itself.
Yamaha NX-N500
Looking past the crackle finish, the build quality of the speakers themselves is extremely good. The cabinets feel solid and well constructed and save for a visible join in the wrap on the underside of the speaker, there are very few connections or other visible joins. The back panel of the master speaker is fairly busy but logically laid out and the setup procedure – like other members of the MusicCast family – is pretty straightforward although for whatever reason, I still don't find setting up MusicCast products on Android to be terribly easy.

The app itself on both Android and iOS is a good one though. It is logically laid out and easy to use. Where Yamaha has been especially clever is that it has clearly been designed from the outset to be used as a multiroom controller and this logic and common sense means that it grows with your equipment and never seems overwhelmed by it. The supplied remote control is less brilliant though. It is a tiny little thing just waiting to be consumed by sofa cushions and while the range seems to be acceptable, it is very directional. I imagine that Yamaha feels, you're likely to stick it in a drawer once you have completed setup but it still feels a little half-hearted.
Yamaha NX-N500
As a MusicCast product you can use it as part of a larger family of devices and it can replay content being received by another device in the chain

How was it tested?

As a standalone unit, the NX-N500 speakers were placed on a pair of Soundstyle Z60 stands and connected an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas mains conditioner for power. They were connected to the household wireless network and accessed a Western Digital NAS for streamer testing while being connected to a Lenovo T530 ThinkPad to have the USB connection checked. Bluetooth testing was carried out with an LG/Google Nexus 5 and AirPlay testing via an iPad Air. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and ALAC, Spotify, internet radio services and some compressed material.

Sound Quality

Yamaha NX-N500
Once set up, the Yamaha proved to be largely stable and well behaved on the network and neither high resolution files nor high activity from other devices proved too problematic for it. It did blot its copybook slghtly on one occasion by losing connection to the app while streaming which then broke down into a series of stutters – which were hard to silence on account of the app being unable to connect.

These quibbles aside, there are many positives to be seen in the performance of the NX-N500. Perhaps most importantly is that this is clearly a well sorted active speaker. You can make use of pretty much every watt of amplifier power that the unit has without it ever sounding strained or lacking in control and this suggests that everything has been carefully designed with this in mind.

Of course, you could point to the upper echelons of the volume being so accessible as being an indicator that the Yamaha isn't the loudest device going and in an absolute sense, this might be correct in that the NX-N500 won't level buildings but there is enough power on tap to fill a good-sized UK room with something in reserve and you'll be making most neighbours aware of your presence if you push the Yamaha to its limits.

At slightly more sensible levels, the presentation of the Yamaha is generally very good. While this is undoubtedly a more forgiving product than a true studio monitor, it retains the ability to present a fundamentally honest portrayal of the material you've given it. The unadorned and simple recording of Depeche Mode's Dream On is captured with a wonderful space and realism to it. Dave Gahn's vocals are rich and detailed and everything feels impressively cohesive, helped in no small part by the Yamahas being excellent at creating a convincingly three dimensional soundstage that has a realism that no single point source can easily match.
Yamaha NX-N500
There is also a pleasing sense of fun to the way that the NX-N500 makes music. With the punchy and invigorating Alpha Female by Wild Beasts, the Yamaha powers through the beats with agility and cohesiveness that keeps the excitement and general energy of the track in one piece and allows you to enjoy it. That it does this while still delivering a deeply satisfying vocal performance is pretty impressive for a sensibly priced speaker.

The only area where the Yamaha does struggle slightly is the bass response. This takes a little time to get a handle on as the absolute extension seems OK but the problem is that between the lower midrange and this little pocket of bass is a section where the Yamaha comes across as a little lightweight. The amount of detail that it extracts across the whole frequency response leaves it sounding fast and lively rather than actively thin though which is a help. If you take the speakers off their stand and place them directly on a tabletop – or in this case a Quadraspire QAVX rack – it serves to boost this lean area so it is possible that the Yamaha has been voiced with this in mind.

Where the Yamaha has also been voiced with great care is how it handles different bitrates and recording qualities. It does a genuinely wonderful job with the 24/96kHz FLAC of Craig Armstrong's Crash and lets this ultra high quality recording shine through very effectively. You can then stop the track, switch over to 6 Music on a good but not great 256kbbps internet radio connection and the Yamaha still sounds good. It does a fine job of allowing recording quality to shine through without rendering poor sources unlistenable. Given that some vastly more expensive equipment can struggle to achieve this same balance, it makes the Yamha a very capable partner for a wide variety of sources.

A final area of strength for the Yamaha is that it sounds excellent as a Bluetooth source and is very stable once connected. The actual business of connection is not entirely straightforward – the Yamaha had no desire to connect to the Pioneer XDP-100R at all and put up a little fight to be connected to the normally well sorted Nexus 5 – but once the initial connection was made, it re-paired quickly and easily and has excellent range and stability while it does so.
Yamaha NX-N500
Where the Yamaha has also been voiced with great care is in how it handles different bitrates and recording qualities

Verdict

Pros

  • Accurate, lively and detailed sound
  • Excellent feature set
  • Very flexible

Cons

  • Lacks outright volume
  • Some app instability

Yamaha NX-N500 Network Powered Speaker Review

Viewed through the wider prism of MusicCast, the NX-N500 is a slightly unusual product. It isn't a perfect fit in terms of viewing it as one room of several but augmenting the already impressive range won't hurt at all. If you consider the Yamaha as a standalone product, this compact active speaker starts to make a lot more sense. It has the connectivity and flexibility to stand in for a great many other components and do so with a performance that is genuinely convincing. The NX-N500 will perform best in smaller rooms and especially used on a desktop but for a wide variety of applications, Yamaha's clever little active speaker is likely to be just the ticket and deserves recommendation at the price.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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