You're as likely to see the word Yamaha on a dirt bike** as you are on Elton John's piano as you are on one of their 12 million AV Receivers running right now in the United States. The world's largest instrument manufacturer and number one AV receiver maker also builds professional speakers for stadium concerts, has a special division manufacturing wood trim for luxury automobiles and, should you ever visit Japan, even makes routers and designs IT systems for airports.
It's a little mind boggling, to be honest.
So here they are in 2015, the masters of many domains, pushing to innovate new product lines. Sure, international corporations want to build newer-better-bigger things to sell as many newer-better-bigger things as possible. Yet, spend more than twenty seconds with any Yamaha engineer, tech specialist, or marketing executive, and there's a connection. A spark of mutual geekary.
These Yamaha guys and gals love what they design and sell. They're excited to talk to you about it. And it's not spin.
Wireless Multi-Room Audio (WMRA) has been a fairly niche market, with high-end installers turning to products from companies like Sonos. But, with the near-ubiquitous adoption of smartphones and Wi-Fi, Yamaha hopes to grow the market by creating their own WMRA system...
The idea is simple: wireless freedom. Access to all of your audio content -- from digital files to physical media to streaming services -- anywhere in your home, controlling one room at a time, multiple rooms together, or the whole house from one smartphone app so elegantly designed even the biggest technophobes can approach with confidence.
To create a MusicCast wireless audio network, you need four things:
- Audio Sources (digital, analog, physical, streaming, whatever)
- A Wi-Fi (or ethernet) network
- The MusicCast app for iOS or Android devices (the remote controller)
- MusicCast-enabled speakers, sound bars, stereo receivers, monitors, and/or AV receivers (the devices).
MusicCast operates on 802.11n Wi-Fi (2.8Ghz) and can connect up to 10 products simultaneously. It supports every audio file format under the sun, including high resolution codecs like Apple Lossless (ALAC) up to 96 kHz / 24-bit, as well as FLAC, AIFF and WAV files up to 192 kHz / 24-bit. For those interested in DSD, Yamaha says, "most MusicCast models also support single-device playback of DSD streams up to 5.6 MHz."
MusicCast products are also Bluetooth enabled. A pretty standard feature on the surface, yes. But in addition to the ability to receive Bluetooth signals, MusicCast devices can also transmit Bluetooth to any Bluetooth speaker or wireless headset. That means you can connect non-MusicCast products as well as use MusicCast to privately listen to any audio source in any room in your house.
The one Bluetoothian caveat? Individual MusicCast products don't simultaneously transmit AND receive Bluetooth. Meaning, if Bluetooth is your "source," you can't then transmit that audio to a second Bluetooth device in the same room. There is, however, a workaround using multiple MusicCast products.
But I'm getting ahead of myself...
How Does MusicCast Work?
MusicCast has been designed to seamlessly integrate every single audio source in your home, and make it playable in any room with a MusicCast enabled device. You're watching the SuperBowl and want to hear the big game in the kitchen? Check. You subscribe to Spotify Premium or Pandora or Internet Radio and want to stream it the whole house? No problem. You have an extensive vinyl or SACD collection that's only ever played on your main system? Great. Your digital music library is on a DLNA-compatible computer hard drive? Done. Hell, you can even watch a Dolby Atmos Blu-ray and hear it in any other room (though, admittedly, not in Atmos and without the picture).
Literally, anything with a wired or wireless audio output can become a MusicCast audio source.
The MusicCast App (pictured above) is the heart of the system. It's visual and simple and so easy to navigate, you'd think it was a native iOS or Android app. Users begin by inputting their MusicCast devices as well as defining the listening environments, or "rooms". For our discussion here, let's say you have a 7-channel Yamaha AVENTAGE ("ah-vehn-taj") RX-A1050 AV Receiver in your living room (review forthcoming!), one MusicCast speaker in the kitchen, and a MusicCast Sound Bar in the master bedroom. That's three rooms and three devices, with each device input becoming a potential "source".
The MusicCast app defaults to stock images of various devices and rooms, but this is all customizable. Choose between stock images, a simplistic color scheme, or use your own photos of your gear and/or rooms. You can also rename rooms and sources and inputs on those sources.
After setup and app-customization, you're ready to go. MusicCast is as easy as one, two, three...
- Select a room
- Select a source
- Select a song.
You can run each MusicCast room independently or link rooms together to create a multi or whole-home music experience. This too is three steps of easy:
- Tap "Link"
- Select the "master" room (the room with the source you want to distribute)
- Select additional rooms to link
That's it, save for setting your volume, which you can do from the master volume, or by setting each room's volume independently. The great feature here is that "volume up" is a slow process to prevent accidental overload, while "volume down" is effectively instant.
How Do I Get MusicCast?
Yamaha is launching MusicCast with 20 new products, some of which are available now (and getting a firmware upgrade today), with the rest hitting the market by year's end. As mentioned above, the app is free, while MusicCast devices run the gamut from $249.99 wireless speakers to their flagship $2,999.95 flagship pre-amp/processor. Here's a rundown of the MusicCast-enabled devices for 2015 (with expected MSRPs):
RX-V479AV Receiver ($449.95)
RX-V579 AV Receiver ($549.95)
RX-V679 AV Receiver ($649.95)
RX-V779 AV Receiver ($849.95)
AVENTAGE RX-550 AV Receiver ($549.95)
AVENTAGE RX-A750 AV Receiver ($699.95)
AVENTAGE RX-A850 AV Receiver ($999.95)
AVENTAGE RX-A1050 AV Receiver ($1,299.95)
AVENTAGE RX-A2050 AV Receiver ($1,699.95)
AVENTAGE RX-A3050 AV Receiver ($2,199.95)
YHT-5920 Home Theater in a Box ($699.95)
MusicCast Speaker (Black or White/Silver -- $249.95)
R-N602 Network Hi-Fi Receiver ($649.99)
YSP-500 MusicCast Sound Bar with Dolby Atmos & DTS:X ($1,699.95)
NX-N500 Powered Monitor Speakers ($799.95/pair)
Yamaha was gracious enough to invite a few home theatre journalists (and me?) to their Buena Park, California offices for a quick tour and a product demo. This "home" combined four "rooms" -- one AVENTAGE RX-A2050 AVR, one SRT-1500 MusicCast TV Speaker Base, two MusicCast Speakers, and one YSP-1600 MusicCast Soundbar. The app was simple to use, offered instant gratification for those who just want things to work, along with access to menus and settings for tinkerers and tweakers. Each speaker system played individual or in groups or as part of the whole.
In short, MusicCast works as promised.
Next, Yamaha demonstrated high resolution audio files via the R-N601 Hi-Fi Receiver as well as the NX-N500 powered monitor speakers. I'm personally much more of a surround sound guy and wouldn't classify my two-channel tastes as audiophile, but Yamaha's monitors are incredibly dynamic and nuanced in how they approach music with a wide range of frequencies. I don't know exactly what types of files played, nor did we compare them to lesser grade file formats of the same music, but I can say high res audio too works well.
Overall, it was a pretty quick demo, but a promising one. If Yamaha finds success with this product line and it grows, it's very easy to imagine current and future Yamaha fans building wireless multi-room audio networks in their homes at all different price points. From the audiophile with terabytes of music to the casual listener who wants a convenient way to supply tunes for the backyard barbecue, there's a MusicCast product for you.
Wait... Did You Say Dolby Atmos Sound Bar?
Hell YES yes we did.
Careful readers may have noticed an interesting product listed above. Sometime in December, Yamaha is releasing the $1,699.95 YSP-5600 MusicCast Sound Bar with support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based surround sound. It was also on hand for the demo, but purposely left disconnected so as not to distract from MusicCast.
In other words, I have no idea how it sounds. But here are a few fun facts:
The YSP-5600 has 46 individual drivers, twelve of which are dedicated to reproducing front height right and front height left sound objects. In this sense, this sound bar recreates a 7.1.2 Atmos experience. It will also launch with DTS:X capabilities as well as support for Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD MA, and Dolby Surround (it up-mixes stereo, 5.1, and 7.1 content into Atmos).
No subwoofer will be included at this price, a bit of a bummer if you ask me, but customers can opt to add a $149.99 wireless sub transmitter to pair any brand sub to the sound bar.
It's not cheap, but this could be the ultimate wife-approved / apartment-friendly Atmos set up to date. Time will tell, but every single journalist in the room did a double take when Yamaha pointed it out. Smart move in keeping it disconnected; we could have spent another hour on this alone. Personally, I can't wait to test it out (cough, hint, hint, cough) later this year.
Oh, and the YSP-5600 does MusicCast.
MusicCast is available today on Yamaha's latest AV Receivers and one HTiB system. You can purchase them online (via the links above), at your favorite AV gear store, or through Yamaha's network of licensed dealers and installers. If you already own any of the above-listed products, you should have gotten a new firmware update this morning. Once you do this firmware upgrade, download the free app from your iOS or Android app store, and you're ready to control up to 10 MusicCast-enabled devices.
With 20 or so minutes of hands-on with MusicCast, it's a very impressive system that's stupid-easy to use, but customizable to the point where enthusiast geeks can tweak as much as they want.
If you're in the market for Wireless Multi-Room Audio, MusicCast is a must-demo.
**Editor's Note: Yamaha Motorsports is now completely separate from Yamaha's musical instrument and audio companies.