REVIEW: YAMAHA MUSICCAST VINYL 500 TURNTABLE
When is a turntable more than just a turntable? When it’s a streamer. Huh? Yamaha's MusicCast VINYL 500 Turntable also doubles as a full-featured MusicCast streamer. We take a closer look at what it is and what it does.
MusicCast VINYL 500 (TT-N503)
Wireless Streaming Turntable
AUD $899 RRP
The Yamaha MusicCast VINYL 500 sells in Australia for $899. It’s an attractive modern looking turntable, finished in a high gloss piano black finish, with a silver platter, feet and control buttons.
It uses a statically balanced straight tonearm (with detachable headshell) and comes with a factory fitted Audio Technica moving magnet cartridge. I wasn’t able to find out which cartridge it is from the large AT range, but it does have a user replaceable stylus (ATN3600L) which is very inexpensive to replace.
The turntable is driven by a small but torquey DC motor via a flat belt along the inside diameter of the aluminium die-cast platter. A felt mat is provided to cushion the LP from the platter surface. There is an included clear acrylic dust cover that can be fitted to the table to protect it and detaches easily when it’s not required.
What is somewhat unusual is the provision for two types of outputs. There is the choice to use the typical turntable phono output, but additionally, there's also a line level output, thanks to the small phono preamplifier built in.
This enables the flexibility to connect to a hi-fi amplifier with a good phono input or to connect to an amp that doesn’t have the phono stage. A small switch next to the RCA plugs toggles the function. The line level output also handles the output from the streaming services.
Setup & Installation
Unpacking the Yamaha is straightforward and easy to set up. The Owner’s Manual is comprehensive and easy to understand.
Once out of the box, simply fit the platter to the spindle, slip the belt onto the motor pulley, attach the counterweight and headshell to the tonearm and optionally fit the dust cover.
After balancing the tonearm, the stylus pressure will need to be set to around 3.5 grams. The manual has some great illustrations on how to perform this process, and it’s easy enough for even a vinyl newbie to get right the first time.
There is an anti-skate adjustment dial that is dead easy to set, simply set the number to the same as the stylus pressure (3.5).
Then connect the 12V AC adaptor into the rear of the Yamaha to power the unit, and a network cable that connects to your ethernet network. A wireless connection is also available but should be an “option B” to the hard-wired connection.
Connection to an amplifier is assisted by the choice of using the line out or phono out of the turntable. Should you choose to use the LINE OUT jacks, you can play back records, all network sources including internet radio and Bluetooth. Or by using the unit’s PHONO OUT jacks, you are limited to playing records only, as the unit’s network functionality won’t operate.
I connected both, as I have a Creek Evolution 100A that I’m currently evaluating for a future review, that has a good quality phono stage as well as your typical line level inputs. As mentioned, the selector switch at the rear of the Yamaha must be set to the correct output to operate correctly.
Ensure that the turntable is sitting level on a stable and vibration free surface. Stray vibration is the enemy of all turntables and Yamaha have applied some expertise in the design to provide isolation and immunity to this enemy, so helping out by selecting a solid surface is the least that you can do.
Lastly, and I can't believe that I’m suggesting an 'app' for a turntable, install the Yamaha MusicCast Controller app to your phone or tablet. Available for both Android and iOS MusicCast Controller is an app for controlling devices that support MusicCast.
The manual states:
It allows you to share music between multiple MusicCast compatible devices that are placed in different rooms. You can use your smartphone or other mobile devices as a remote controller, and easily select songs and make settings on the MusicCast compatible device.
In Use & Listening Tests
With the Yamaha MusicCast VINYL 500 set up, connected and the app loaded, I was keen to see how it would sound. First of all, I gave the turntable a workout using the phono out connection.
I found my pristine copy of Pink Floyd - Wish You Were. An album that is timeless and effortless to play over and over, the sound was effortless and calming.
The stylus tracked very well at the recommended 3.5g, and it filled the room with sound in the way that vinyl does so very well. The soundstage was huge in both height and width and with reasonable depth, in keeping with the price point.
Playing “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” the guitar solo was clear and distinct from the synthesiser, playing in its own space. When the bass line comes into the track, it is full with a touch of added boom, but not unpleasantly so. This is an area that digital music is generally better, but is not always as pleasant to listen to over time. Treble, however, is spot on and never harsh or annoying.
I could not detect any speed variations or wow or any artefacts that would indicate a cheaply made turntable. The noise floor was also satisfyingly low, with very few pops and crackles to be heard on good quality vinyl and the ones that are there, are quite muted.
Listening to the same album through the line out, was not as quite as good. The internal phono preamp is not as refined as one on a good quality amplifier or dedicated phono stage. The soundstage was noticeably smaller and less three dimensional and seemed flatter with diminished dynamics and reduced frequency extremes. But it's a welcome addition for someone that doesn't already have a phono preamplifier.
Turning my attention to music streaming, it seems counter-intuitive to use the turntable for this purpose, but you quickly get used to it. The turntable sits there with a couple of small lights on the panel. Otherwise, you wouldn’t know where the music was sourced from, as Yamaha's MusicCast Controller app does all the work and does an excellent job at it, with a slick and intuitive interface.
And it's versatile, with special attention given to multi-room and multi-device setups. This means that if you have another MusicCast device in another zone or room, you can stream your vinyl to another room or use your app to control the music in any zone. Ah, now this is starting to make sense to me. It’s all about convenience and flexibility. Nice!
The app gives you the ability to stream any audio via Bluetooth from your smartphone or tablet and play it on a single MusicCast device or multiple devices in linked playback mode. Or perhaps to stream music from a MusicCast device to a Bluetooth speaker or headphones in another zone.
This flexibility is outstanding. Ideally, it works best with other Yamaha MusicCast devices but also works with any Bluetooth device or powered loudspeaker, soundbar or amplifier as part of a home stereo system. It can be wired or wireless and doesn’t need to be hard wired to a loudspeaker.
Apple Airplay is also an option and aids in flexibility, something that could be handy at a dinner party where your guests can stream their own music through to the sound system.
As far as supported streaming services go, the most popular is Spotify, with the sound of the paid premium quality subscription being clean, detailed and very enjoyable. I found it to sound cleaner and overall more enjoyable than the record, playing the same track through the line out connection (although my best preference is for the record played through a decent phono stage) — ditto for TIDAL and Deezer with potentially much higher resolution streaming quality.
You also have the option to use internet radio with literally hundreds of stations available. How about podcasts? Yep, they are also catered for by the MusicCast Controller app.
Another useful feature is the ability to stream from an internal server on the network. It found the music on my laptop and my NAS library and happily played 24bit 88.2kHz WAV files, and the sound was great!
You couldn’t possibly run out of music content. If you’re bored by your choices of music, you only have yourself to blame. I can assume that the list of internet services will grow with time as firmware and app updates are released, keeping your turntable up to date with the latest services.
I found the MusicCast Controller app to be rock solid, stable and proficient at quickly finding and delivering music. It’s one of the better apps out there and certainly benefits from the enormous resources of Yamaha. My only gripe is that there is no volume control option, though I can understand why it needs to be a fixed output level.
I know what you are thinking at this point. Yes, this turntable does a lot of really cool things besides play records, but if only it would respond to voice commands, then it would be perfect. Well, I’m pleased to tell you that it connects to Amazon Alexa for a hands-free experience. Depending on how you view it, voice control is growing exponentially and is becoming a “must have” in many homes.
Is the Yamaha MusicCast VINYL 500 the turntable of the future? I don’t think that all turntables made in the future will use the same feature set. Sometimes you just want to play an album, and the VINYL 500 does so, as advertised. As a standalone turntable, it's easy to recommend. It works perfectly, sounds great and looks timeless.
Although it is possible to get this level of turntable performance for a bit less money, when you factor in the onboard phono stage and the flexibility to use either, it could sway your decision.
The added flexibility of having a device that can stream wirelessly to another part of the house is potentially a huge bonus. Perhaps you need a single device that can do it all, play records and stream internet music. And with so many music streams available, the Yamaha MusicCast VINYL 500 has all bases covered.
If you've already invested in other Yamaha MusicCast devices, then it’s a done deal to add this turntable to the family and gain all the benefits of the MusicCast ecosystem. Either way, this is a worthy purchase at the asking price, and likely the evolutionary (rather than revolutionary) start of Hi-Fi products with similar functionality.
For more information visit Yamaha.
See Yamaha at the 2019 StereoNET Melbourne International Hi-Fi Show in Room Lake 3, October 18-20, Pullman Hotel, Albert Park. Tickets on sale now.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.
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