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Yamaha’s MusicCast Vinyl 500 Wi-Fi Turntable (model TT-N503) is a nearly perfect marriage of good-ol’ analog and the best of today’s digital technology. The Vinyl 500 is the first turntable that can stream vinyl records to both Yamaha MusicCast wireless speakers and Bluetooth speakers and headphones.
This gorgeously elegant turntable can also be incorporated into any traditional Hi-Fi system, whether or not there’s a phono pre-amp in your ensemble. And best of all, its flexible design is suitable for both the vinyl novice and the seasoned audiophile.
It starts with a solid turntable design
Yamaha’s analog-to-digital magic trick starts with a high-quality turntable design, including a substantive base constructed from MDF (medium density fiberboard) that’s complemented by adjustable, vibration-dampening feet. MDF is valued for its rigidity and vibration-dampening properties, which is essential for good turntable performance.
The Yamaha comes standard with a die-cast aluminum platter and a straight tonearm outfitted with an Audio-Technica MM (moving magnet) cartridge. This is a belt-drive design with an isolated DC synchronous motor that’s physically isolated from the platter that spins the record. During setup, you simply slip your finger through one of the holes in the platter and slide the belt over the motor pully.
Belt-drive turntables are coveted for their ability to reduce vibration. Direct-drive turntables, like the Cambridge Audio Alva TT I reviewed in March, emphasize higher torque and quicker start/stop times. As a general rule, high-end direct-drive turntables cost considerably more than good belt-drive models (The Alva TT costs a cool grand more than this Yamaha model).
So one of the characteristics of the Vinyl 500 that really impressed me was how quickly this turntable was able to start and stop—its performance in this area was much closer to direct-drive turntables than it was to belt-drive models. That’s sure to appeal to first-time vinyl enthusiasts.
Add networking and MusicCast
You’ll get the most benefit from the the Vinyl 500 if you also own other speakers and wireless components based on Yamaha’s MusicCast multi-room audio technology. Yamaha offers a broad array of compatible speakers, soundbars, and A/V receivers that do. The Vinyl 500 can act as both a source to stream vinyl and as a MusicCast preamp to receive streamed music from any MusicCast supported service.
On the hardware side, there’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Vinyl 500 connects to Yamaha’s MusicCast app just like any other MusicCast network player or speaker. For this review, Yamaha also sent me two MusicCast 20 speakers.
Setting up the Vinyl 500 and the MusicCast 20 speakers was a relatively straightforward experience, although I did need to apply firmware updates to each unit. What I found particularly perturbing was the fact that the Yamaha 500’s firmware update couldn’t be done via the MusicCast app. And I couldn’t use the unit with MusicCast until the firmware update was completed. I had to perform the update with button-press combinations on the turntable itself. There was no clear indicator of the firmware update’s progress, which non-technical consumers will find confusing. Yamaha’s on-screen prompts said that once this firmware was completed, all future firmware updates could be performed via the app. I hope that by the time you read this, Yamaha will have performed that update at the factory to make things less confusing for all.
With the firmware updates completed, I added the Vinyl 500 as a source and assigned it to a room in my home (in this case, the living room). Once assigned to a room, I could integrate the Vinyl 500 into an entire MusicCast ecosystem. If you’re not familiar with MusicCast, you’ll find a great primer here. The Vinyl 500 is also compatible with Apple’s AirPlay ecosystem.
A world of music possibilities
For purposes of this review, I tested the Yamaha in a variety of different setups. For a minimalist setup you can pair the Yamaha turntable with a pair of MusicCast-enabled speakers and call it a day. Think about it: You can have only the Vinyl 500, two MusicCast speakers, and play your vinyl and music from your favorite music-steaming service or local music server anywhere in your house. This setup with a pair of MusicCast 20 speakers worked flawlessly for me.
If you already have a stand-alone Hi-Fi sound system, just use the Yamaha’s line output and its built-in phono preamp to plug into that existing setup. I connected the Yamaha to my Anthem AVM 60 pream/processor set up the MusicCast 20 speakers as a stereo pair in another room.
If you have a high-end setup, you can use the Yamaha’s phono out to connect to an outboard phono preamp. You should be aware, however, that if you use the Vinyl 500’s phono outputs, you will lose MusicCast functionality. MusicCast only works when the turntable’s line outs are active.
I really appreciated the Vinyl 500’s high-tech muscle when I had records playing from my main analog setup and streaming to three different rooms: the living room, kitchen, and family room. It was so cool to know that I could set up a multi-room audio system without needing a single wire run. I should note, however, that you can only stream vinyl by linking rooms—you cannot select the Vinyl 500 as a source from another room.
I gave the setup some simple challenges, too: I played one MusicCast 20 speaker connected to Wi-Fi and the second with an ethernet cable in two different rooms. There wasn’t any hint of latency. I then upped the ante by moving both speakers to different rooms. I set them up as a stereo pair with one connected wirelessly and the second hardwired. No delay between the two here, either. When I engaged the main listening room too with its analog connection, I heard zero latency between the Hi-Fi system and the remote room. Walking around the house, the analog and digital setups remained in perfect sync.
But things don’t stop there. The Vinyl 500 also has a Bluetooth radio onboard, too. Connect a pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones and you can stream your vinyl directly to your favorite pair of wireless cans. The Yamaha supports the SBC and AAC codecs, but you won’t find hi-definition codecs such as aptX HD or LDAC here.
I do want to mention one completely bizarre behavior when the Vinyl 500 is connected with its line outputs with MusicCast: As you’d expect, the Vinyl 500 shows up as a source (phono) in the room you assign it to. When I selected the Vinyl 500 as a source, the MusicCast app communicated with the Vinyl 500 and stopped its motor from playing a record. I could replicate this behavior every time. One would think that pressing the phono input on the app would then start the Vinyl 500 playing again. Nope. I needed to go up to the turntable and manually start the record playing again. I brought this anomaly to Yamaha’s attention.
As I mentioned previously, I tried the Yamaha Vinyl 500 in several configurations. For purposes of critical listening, I connected the Yamaha Vinyl 500 via its line out to an Anthem AVM 60. Speakers were Revel Ultima2 Salons powered by two Benchmark AHB2 power amplifiers in a bridged mono configuration.
I tested both Yamaha’s internal preamp and also connected and tested the phono output with a Cambridge Audio Alva Duo phono preamp. The Yamaha’s internal preamp is decent for the casual listener. However playing the Yamaha Vinyl 500 via the Cambridge Audio Alva Duo elevated the turntable’s performance in seemingly every aspect. Unfortunately, you lose MusicCast functionality in this latter configuration. The midrange—especially vocals—had comparatively greater detail, definition, and air with the Cambridge Audio Alva Duo. I preferred the top end too, feeling that it has more air. Therefore, if you’re connecting the Yamaha to a revealing Hi-Fi setup, you’d do well to add an external phono preamp to elevate the Yamaha’s performance. Note that if you want to engage MusicCast, you simply flick a switch on the unit’s rear panel to direct the audio back to the unit’s line output.
My observations below reflect my setup with the Cambridge Audio Alva Duo.
The Yamaha proved itself to be a solid midrange performer. Playing the Eagles Live, the Yamaha impressed me with its musicality. The Vinyl 500 compelled me to put down my note pad to sit back, relax and enjoy classics like “The Long Run,” “New Kid in Town,” and “Life’s Been Good.” I don’t always get that feeling with every piece of audio gear I review. The Yamaha’s performance with dynamics, vocals, and instruments was very good.
Turning to orchestral works, I spun up John Williams’ score for Star Wars: The Force Awakens on 180g vinyl. The Yamaha had no problem conveying the breadth and depth of full orchestral works. Trumpets on the main Star Wars title were smooth and well extended. Drums burst forth with ample weight and dynamics. But the Yamaha Vinyl 500 relished tender movements, too, capturing the brilliance of the strings and flutes on “The Scavenger” and “Rey’s Theme.”
If you’ve longed to pair the analog luxury of a turntable with the digital power of a multi-room audio system, you need to consider Yamaha’s MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable. It will let you stream your records to any room in your home or to any pair of Bluetooth headphones. And when paired with a high-quality external phono preamp, the Vinyl 500 will satisfy the audiophile in you, too. There is no easier way to add vinyl to your listening experience.
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