The NX-N500 gets the benefit
of Yamaha's flexible MusicCast app. This provides multi-room and multi-source control and currently supports streaming from Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify, Sirius XM and Juke. If you tire of those options and want radio, no need to shut down. MusicCast includes vTuner to access worldwide Internet radio. The NX-N500 is intended to be a one-stop solution. If this were the only calling card for the NX-N500, it might be enough to satisfy a good portion of the audio public who feel assaulted by wireless and Bluetooth loudspeakers which demonstrate underwhelming sonic performance for the sake of cute convenience.

Luckily, Yamaha nurse greater ambitions. The NX-N500 is said to have been inspired by the NS-10 monitor, a prolific little speaker that has graced more recording studios and influenced more recordings than probably any other. I've had some personal experience with its sonic view point over the years so expectations were running high. Is the NX-N500 built like upscale audio furniture? No, it's consumer grade but with quality touches. The basic construction is MDF but with niceties of 3-way mitered joints for rigidity. The finish is tasteful stippled PVC in black or white. The front panel is attractively finished without grill covers. The drivers sport perimeter frames to enhance aesthetics, gloss finish on the woofer and a dual concentric matt stipple/gloss on the tweeter. There is a Yamaha badge on the lower front of each box. For high-frequency duty, Yamaha went with a 3cm soft polyester fiber dome tweeter protected by perforated metal. The material is knitted with high-density fiber (95 x 95 pieces of fiber per inch) with a finish thickness of 0.17mm which during manufacture reportedly takes more than 3 times longer for heat forming and cooling. The woofer is a 13cm polymer-injected mica diaphragm with a stiff rubber surround. The distributor quoted a break-in time of 100 hours.

The rear panels are decked out workhorse style, smartly laid out and surprisingly accessible considering the small size. The rear ports ensure un-muddied first arrival times. Amplification is built into both speakers as two Class AB amps per side with serious heat-sink fins on the rear. Power rating is 20 watts at .02% distortion/6Ωper for the tweeter and 24 watts at .01% distortion/ 4Ω for the woofer. S/NR is >100dB. Looking to their professional roots, Yamaha adopted a balanced circuit to minimize noise. Wireless ability does not mean no wires. There are two hefty 2-prong power cords, one per speaker, and two 6-foot umbilicals for between the speakers. One is an Ethernet signal cable, the other an XLR cable for balanced signal. There is a precautionary warning from the distributor to make sure that these umbilicals are connected on both speakers before plugging in the power cords. Doing it in reverse can cause damage. The hard controls are on the rear of the left speaker and offer access to input signal options. On the most basic level, there are push buttons and an analog volume pot. You can power up the NX-N500, step through source selection and even establish a private direct network connection should you have a wireless source but no router. Stepping through the sources changes the color of the front LED light. The LED also serves as a visual reference when establishing connections or doing software updates. Yamaha supply a credit-card remote that mirrors the functions on the rear panel. While this old school, it's comforting to know that if all else fails, you can still make music.

The simplest method for the majority of users will be to download an app to their tablet or phone. Yamaha's MusicCast app is simple and intuitive to set up. Unlike some proprietary software, it makes use of existing platforms like Apple Air. By not reinventing the wheel, Yamaha made integration simple. There is ample ability to incorporate existing MusicCast products in single or multi-room configuration plus streaming a single or different signal into multiple rooms. Provided that you have sufficient network bandwidth and speed, Yamaha provide you with a full home entertainment hub with a superb graphic interface that's attractive, adaptable and easy to navigate. The established Sonos software is a tough act to follow so Yamaha had their work cut out. MusicCast had a long and careful gestation period and appears ready to live up to the benchmarks set by the competition.

Given the spectrum of access Yamaha built into the NX-N500, the quality of support is tremendous. The comprehensive manual covers almost any situation and uses an easy "follow the bouncing ball" approach that's quick and intuitive. The MusicCast software goes the identical route with step-by-step visual guidance. There's even support on how to set up Spotify, Rhapsody and Pandora. Getting wireless devices talking to one another is a new challenge for the audiophile community but anyone familiar with 'pairing' will breeze through the setup procedure. The manuals and app are geared at making any beginner's journey as painless as possible.

Was integration perfect for me? Not quite but with the exception of some minor items, it did come close. Wireless integration of my Wyred4Sound Music Server wound up being a little primitive (think Windows Explorer tree) caused by the fact that the Wyred server runs headless and its functionality is controlled by an outboard app rather than onboard software (Mpad in my case). The MusicCast program could access the server directly but not the app. My simple solution was to opt for the USB connection to take advantage of my regular Mpad program. For server setups with integrated software, this should never be an issue. One other problem involved the USB signal. Although a wired connection is generally most reliable, I would occasionally encounter a loss of signal when switching between sources and be forced to physically reconnect. This loss of a digital handshake is something I encounter with professional gear as well. I would consider it a predictable anomaly. The only other shortfall was the current lack of support for Tidal streaming via MusicCast but since Yamaha support Apple software, I did have access to Tidal through that program. I would love to have done a head-to-head comparison but not at this time. Those were my only hiccups.

To evaluate the potential of Yamaha's NX-N500, I first had to gauge the quality of available source signals. The NX-N500 was discriminating enough to explore different inputs and resolution settings. Not all were created equal. From the start, the merits of higher resolution files was readily apparent. The best results came from the wired connection to the music server. This produced superior detail, dynamics and soundstage from local files and Tidal streaming. Wyred designed a clean circuit and it showed all the way down the playback chain. A close second was the wireless connection from the server. This gave up a small amount on all fronts, most noticeably as some dynamic compression. Third was Apple Airplay, tailored to be more forgiving. It was guilty of greater compression on dynamics and depth and additionally compromised on transient behaviour by dulling leading edges and prematurely truncating trailing edges. It remained pleasant but obviously lost information by direct comparison. Bluetooth was still a little further back in the pack but remains a decent alternative for those without access to better. These results were achieved using the highest quality resolution settings that the various programs would allow. If you opt for lower settings, expect inferior results.