Brent has been a professional audio journalist since 1989, and has reviewed thousands of audio products over the years. He has served as editor-in-chief of Home Theater and Home Entertainment magazines, contributing technical editor for Sound & Vision magazine, senior editor of Video magazine, and reviews editor of Windows Sources magazine, and he also worked as marketing director for Dolby Laboratories. He's now on staff at Wirecutter.
The occasion of the press event at Yamaha's Buena Park, CA, headquarters yesterday was the launch of MusicCast, the company's new wireless multiroom audio technology. However, much of the attendees' attention was diverted to just one of the 20 MusicCast products: the YSP-5600 soundbar (pictured, right), which incorporates height speaker technology compatible with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X multidimensional surround sound formats.
The YSP-5600, which is slated to ship in December for $1,699, uses Yamaha's Digital Sound Projector technology. This technology employs multiple small drivers, each measuring about one inch across and equipped with its own amplifier. The phase and volume of these drivers are manipulated through digital sound processing to create focused beams of sound that reflect off the walls and ceiling to create virtual sonic images of speakers.
The soundbar incorporates 32 drivers in a three-line main array to simulate 5.1-/7.1-channel sound. Flanking the main array are two more arrays of six drivers each. These function the same way that conventional Atmos-compatible top-mounted speaker arrays do, reflecting beams of sound off the ceiling to simulate the effect of ceiling-mounted speakers. The drivers in these smaller arrays are pointed slightly upward, "just so the digital signal processor doesn't have to work as hard," Yamaha's Alex Sandeghian told me. The remaining two drivers are midrange/woofers, used to handle lower sound frequencies. (Sadly, we didn't get a chance to hear it.)
The enclosure looked to be about eight inches high, four inches deep, and 40 inches wide, which isn't enough to produce deep bass considering how much technology is packed inside. Thus, Yamaha will offer an optional $149 wireless subwoofer receiver that can be attached to any subwoofer; the transmitter is already built into the YSP-5600. With five HDMI jacks on back, there seems to be ample connectivity.
Plus, the YSP-5600 has MusicCast, which is the whole reason Yamaha showed it.
MusicCast is intended to compete with existing Wi-Fi multiroom audio technologies such as Sonos, AirPlay, Play-Fi, and AllPlay. It performs the same basic functions and adds some of its own. Its core function is that it allows all MusicCast devices to stream music stored on network-attached hard drives and computers, and it also accesses Internet streaming services (currently Pandora, Spotify Connect, SiriusXM, Rhapsody, and vTuner Internet radio).
All of this can be controlled through an app that runs on Apple iOS or Google Android devices. From the tablet or smartphone, you can control which music goes to which room, link rooms together so that they play the same music simultaneously, and control the volume in every room. Functions such as tone controls and dialogue enhancement are also available through the apps.
MusicCast offers several advantages over most competitors that I think are significant. First, it will be included in 20 Yamaha products that are either already shipping or slated to ship this year. Thus, it'll work in everything from a state-of-the-art home theater or stereo system to a soundbar to a tiny wireless speaker (such as the company's new $249 MusicCast Speaker, pictured above.) Yamaha's 2015 AV receivers will automatically be upgraded today through the Internet with MusicCast capability. Interestingly, these receivers already have a MusicCast logo on their top edges; Yamaha told us that only five or six consumers had actually contacted Yamaha to ask what it means.
Second, any sound source connected to a MusicCast device can be heard through all other MusicCast devices in a home. Yamaha demoed this with the new $599 SRT-1500 speaker base (pictured, right). With a few punches of the buttons on the app, sound from a TV plugged into the SRT-1500 through HDMI was sent to the other MusicCast devices in the demo room. Any source connected to a MusicCast receiver--even a record player--can be sent to all the other MusicCast devices.
Third, all MusicCast devices can both receive and transmit Bluetooth. Anything connected through Bluetooth to one MusicCast device can be piped to all the other MusicCast devices in a home. Also, any of these devices can send any signal coming through MusicCast to a Bluetooth speaker or a set of Bluetooth headphones, so you can, for example, switch to Bluetooth headphones to keep watching TV while your spouse goes to sleep or use MusicCast with the waterproof Bluetooth speaker you like to shower with.
Fourth, MusicCast works with high-resolution audio, something most wireless multiroom systems can't handle. I was surprised to hear that it even works with DSD.
The system works with a free downloadable app that looked both simple and visually friendly. It transmits over an existing Wi-Fi network, instead of creating its own wireless network as Sonos and Samsung Shape can. The MusicCast devices can work as signal extenders, in a sort of daisy-chain configuration, in case your Wi-Fi network doesn't reach your entire home. Because of network traffic limitations, you can use only as many as 10 MusicCast devices per network, but for most homes that should be plenty.
Will MusicCast take a chunk out of Sonos, which now dominates the wireless multiroom audio market? I don't know, but I left Yamaha's event thinking MusicCast offers enough advantages that many audio enthusiasts--and especially Yamaha enthusiasts--will choose it over its competitors.
[Update, 8/20/15, 7:15 a.m.]
Here is Yamaha's official press release:
Yamaha today introduced MusicCast, a new way to bring music to every room in a home wirelessly with control provided by a simple app. Designed to easily work with an existing home Wi-Fi network, MusicCast offers access to a huge range of audio content from virtually any source. These include streaming services, Internet radio channels, digital music libraries, Bluetooth devices, and even external sources connected to MusicCast products, such as TV set-top boxes, Blu-ray Disc players and turntables. By year end, Yamaha will offer over 20 MusicCast enabled products spanning a broad array of categories including AV receivers, wireless speakers, sound bars, Hi-Fi components and powered monitor speakers. To watch a video about MusicCast, visit http://4wrd.it/MUSICCAST_VIDEO.
All MusicCast products support Bluetooth playback, which allows users to listen to any content played on the system via their mobile device. Alternatively, a MusicCast device can output a Bluetooth stream, allowing transmission to Bluetooth speakers or headphones.
MusicCast also supports wireless playback of high-resolution audio files for a true high-fidelity listening experience with exceptional sound realism and detail.
MusicCast offers unprecedented versatility through the integration of a wide range of products, enabling a MusicCast system to provide true surround sound, including multidimensional Dolby Atmos and DTS:X in a main TV room, while streaming the audio content to other rooms throughout the home.
"MusicCast is the wireless multiroom audio system for those who want more than just background music," said Bob Goedken, general manager, AV Division, Yamaha Corporation of America. "Now you can build the ultimate home theater or Hi-Fi system in your main entertainment room and expand it easily with wireless speakers, sound bars, or additional receivers in other rooms, like a kitchen or bedroom, with a single app to control it all. Or you can start with a single wireless speaker and expand over time. No other system provides access to all your content and such a wide range of listening experiences."
The free MusicCast app can be downloaded starting today and is available for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets. The app lets users browse content and play it back in each room of a home or link rooms together. With its unique personalization features, the user can choose from preloaded room images or change the color of buttons to represent each room in the home, or even take pictures of their own home and assign the images to each button. The content source buttons can also be customized to rename, remove or reorder selections for easier operation.
All Your Content
MusicCast includes Pandora, Spotify Connect, Rhapsody and SiriusXM Internet Radio streaming services, as well as thousands of free local and international Internet radio stations. All MusicCast products support Bluetooth playback, so virtually any streaming service can be accessed via Bluetooth from a mobile device.
The app provides easy browsing and playback of all music libraries on network-connected mobile devices, computers and storage devices including USB memory sticks. It also provides access to external sources connected to MusicCast products; content from TV set-top boxes, gaming consoles, CD and Blu-ray Disc players, turntables, etc. can be played in any room.
MusicCast can even select terrestrial AM/FM radio stations for playback throughout the home when linked to a tuner-enabled MusicCast device. Both Internet radio and terrestrial radio stations can be saved as "Favorites" for quick in-app recall.
Unlike other wireless systems on the market today, MusicCast supports true high-resolution audio formats to deliver more accurate reproduction of sonic details, presence and atmosphere. MusicCast components are compatible with Apple Lossless (ALAC) up to 96 kHz / 24-bit, as well as FLAC, AIFF and WAV files up to 192 kHz / 24-bit. Most MusicCast models also support single-device playback of DSD streams up to 5.6 MHz.
MusicCast AV Receivers
Starting today, owners of the recently launched RX-V 79 and AVENTAGE RX-A 50 Series of Yamaha network AV receivers will be able to perform a firmware update to enable MusicCast capabilities. Supported AV receiver models include the RX-V479, RX-V579, RX-V679, RX-V779, RX-A550, RX-A750, RX-A850, RX-A1050, RX-A2050 and RX-A3050. This represents every one of the latest Yamaha network AV receivers.
Next month, the CX-A5100 preamp/processor, a new companion to the MX-A5000 11-channel amplifier, will become available for those seeking an "AV separates" solution for uncompromising home theater performance. The new model will feature Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based multidimensional sound technology, the latest HDMI specs including HDCP 2.2, balanced subwoofer outputs and many other enhancements including MusicCast.
Also in September, the slimline RX-S601 will join the roster of MusicCast enabled models, providing a 5.1-channel AV receiver solution for space-challenged installations.
Additional details on the CX-A5100 and RX-S601 will be made available through separate announcements.
MusicCast Wireless Speaker
The MusicCast Wireless Speaker, available starting in October, features a 2-way design with a large passive radiator combined with Yamaha's digital sound processing for amazingly clear, room-filling sound from this compact model. Choose from solid black or white with a silver accent to fit beautifully in any room of the home. If counter space is limited, the speaker offers a threaded mounting hole, allowing for wall mounting using commercially available brackets.
MusicCast Sound Bars
Yamaha will introduce a MusicCast Sound Bar and a MusicCast TV Speaker Base in September, both of which offer a single-body design for those seeking an easy way to enhance their TV sound without having to connect multiple speakers. Both feature Yamaha's exclusive Digital Sound Projector technology for true (vs. virtual) surround sound and HDMI connectivity with 4K Ultra HD and HDCP 2.2 support for compatibility with today's 4K TVs and sources. The MusicCast Sound Bar (YSP-1600) sports eight speaker drivers plus dual built-in subwoofers in a slim, 2.5"-tall design suitable for placing in front of a TV. The MusicCast TV Speaker Base (SRT-1500) features 10 speaker drivers plus dual built-in subwoofers in a solid wood MDF enclosure that can be used as a base for most 32-inch to 55-inch TVs.
These models will be followed by the MusicCast Sound Bar (YSP-5600) slated for introduction in December, which will support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X using Digital Sound Projector technology to deliver true multidimensional sound.
MusicCast Hi-Fi and Powered Monitor Speakers
Yamaha will also offer MusicCast products designed for discerning music lovers who crave the company's signature "natural sound" Hi-Fi sound quality. This includes the R-N602 network Hi-Fi receiver, available in October, and the NX-N500 powered monitors, available in December. Additional details on these models will be made available through separate announcements.
MusicCast Products, Pricing and Availability
The following Yamaha MusicCast products will be available exclusively at authorized Yamaha dealers on the dates and at the prices noted below:
RX-V779 ($849.95, Now)
RX-V679 ($649.95, Now)
RX-V579 ($549.95, Now)
RX-V479 ($449.95, Now)
RX-S601 ($649.95, Sep.)
AVENTAGE RX-A3050 ($2,199.95, Now)
AVENTAGE RX-A2050 ($1,699.95, Now)
AVENTAGE RX-A1050 ($1,299.95, Now)
AVENTAGE RX-A850 ($999.95, Now)
AVENTAGE RX-A750 ($699.95, Now)
AVENTAGE RX-550 ($549.95, Now)
AVENTAGE CX-A5100 ($2,999.95, Sep.)
YHT-5920 ($699.95, Now)
MusicCast Speaker (Black; $249.95, Oct.)
MusicCast Speaker (White/Silver; $249.95, Oct.)
MusicCast Sound Bar (YSP-1600; $499.95, Sep.)
MusicCast TV Speaker Base (SRT-1500; $599.95, Sep.)
MusicCast Sound Bar (YSP-5600; $1,699.95, Dec.)
Network Hi-Fi Receiver
R-N602 ($649.95, Oct.)
Powered Monitor Speakers
NX-N500 ($799.95/pair, Dec.)