Yamaha MusicCast 20

Wireless speakers are on the rise. With the growing popularity of smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, and tons of great-sounding wireless speakers like the Sonos One, the future of home audio is clearly wireless. 

Yamaha may not be the first company you think of when you think of wireless audio,  but the company is proving that it has something to add through the introduction of its Yamaha MusicCast ecosystem. 

The latest entries into the list of MusicCast-enabled devices include the Yamaha MusicCast 20 (reviewed here) and more powerful MusicCast 50. 

At over $230 (£199, AU$349)  the MusicCast 20 speakers aren’t necessarily cheap – especially when you consider the fact that they’re not as smart as the likes of the Echo or Sonos One – so are they still worth investing in? 

We put the Yamaha MusicCast 20 to the test to find out.

Design and setup

Like other wireless speakers, the Yamaha MusicCast 20 is designed to fit neatly on a bookshelf, but it’ll look at home pretty much anywhere in a modern-looking home. 

The speaker is a little larger than the Sonos One, but not overly so, and it still features a sleek and stylish design that won’t stick out too much.

Pretty much the entire face of the speaker is a simple speaker grill, while on the back you’ll get a power input and a screw hole to mount the speaker on a wall, if you so choose. On the top is where you’ll find all the controls – and there are quite a few of them: You’ll get power controls, volume controls, playback controls, and even an alarm button to set an alarm on the speaker. There are also three numbered buttons to assign favorite inputs, which is a handy feature for those that want to be able to juggle different inputs for the speaker.

Setting up the device is actually very easy. You’ll need the Yamaha MusicCast app to do so, but all you really have to do is follow a few on-screen instructions. 

Once it’s set up, you really don’t have to interact with the app at all, if you don’t want to. That’s because the speaker supports AirPlay and Bluetooth, so you can listen through your favorite apps. From the app, you can also set up a stereo pair, which again, was very easy to do by heading to the settings in the app and hitting the “MusicCast Surround/Stereo” button.

In general, the Yamaha MusicCast 20 speaker looks quite good. It's a bit bulkier than some other options, but still very manageable. It’s also easy to set up, and while we didn’t really use the MusicCast app much after setting the device up, in general the app is pretty well-designed.

Features

Unlike some of the other smart speakers out there, you won’t get a voice assistant on the Yamaha MusicCast 20, which is probably the biggest omission. That said, the speakers work with Alexa – so you can ask another Alexa device to play music on the speaker – but that’s wildly different from having Alexa or Google Assistant built right in. 

One of the big selling points for these particular speakers is that they work with some new Yamaha receivers for surround sound. You can only use them with receivers as the rear surround speakers, however, and not the main ones. So, you can’t, for example, buy five MusicCast speakers and use them for a 5.1-channel surround sound system.

While they're a bit limited, we actually quite liked using the speakers in a surround system – they sounded pretty good as surround speakers, and while it took us a minute to properly set them up considering you have to change the settings in both the app and on the receiver, once we did we found that they worked very well.

It was equally enjoyable using the speakers as a stereo pair. We’ll get into actual sound quality a little later, but as with any wireless speakers, using a stereo pair can seriously heighten the listening experience.

The main way in which we used these speakers was through AirPlay, and they work with AirPlay very well. Unfortunately, they don’t offer Apple’s new AirPlay 2 standard – so you won’t be able to use multiple AirPlay devices natively on an iOS device. 

Thankfully, once speakers are paired or set up in a surround system through the Yamaha app, however, they do all play your music.

Performance

While design and features are important enough, in the end this is a speaker so sound quality is perhaps the most important thing to consider. 

Thankfully, the Yamaha MusicCast 20 sounds pretty good.

Let’s start with the bass, which we found to be generally punchy and thick. There seems to be quite a boost in the higher lows, helping deliver a real kick in things like kick drums, and a smooth bass guitar tone. The bass extension doesn’t seem to extend as low as we would have liked, which ultimately results in a slightly less full tone compared to some other offerings, but all except the biggest mega-bass fans should still be perfectly happy with what’s on offer here. We found that despite being smaller, however, the Sonos One offers a little more in the low frequencies.

The mid range is decently well-tuned, but it’s certainly tuned. The low mids are decently warm, while the high mids are present enough for most situations. We found that there seemed to be a slight cut to the high mids, giving things like vocals and guitars a slightly laid-back tone.

The high end is perhaps the weakest frequency range on the Yamaha MusicCast 20, but it still doesn’t sound all that bad. Like in the low-end, there simply isn’t as much extension as we might have liked. Still, the bulk of the highs are relatively well-represented. Cymbals generally get plenty of body, while vocal sibilance helps the vocal cut through the mix a little more. 

Ultimately, we like the sound of the Yamaha MusicCast 20. It sounds a little more natural than some other smart speakers, despite the fact that it doesn’t extend quite as low or high as we would have liked.

Final verdict

Looking for a great-sounding smart speaker that works wirelessly and has a ton of features? Go for the Sonos One. The Yamaha MusicCast 20 has a lot going for it, but for most it just doesn’t compete with the competition. 

That said, there are a few situations in which it might be a better choice. If you’re looking to build a surround system and like the idea of using wireless surround speakers, then the Yamaha MusicCast 20 speakers are a great option. We also recommend this speaker to those that don’t mind the lack of digital assistant and who want a slightly more natural tone.

Ultimately, the Yamaha MusicCast 20 has a good sound-quality, nice design, and plays well with other Yamaha devices. It’s a great speaker … but in a world with more and more wireless speaker options, it’s not the best way to go.

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Christian de Looper

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