Yamaha R-N803D MusicCast Network Receiver Review


In the heyday of analogue radio when traditional hi-fi was commonplace, the stereo receiver offered a convenient way to condense a number of components into a single box. The traditional receiver combined an integrated amplifier and radio tuner, cutting the component count of the average hi-fi stack. As digital radio and eventually streaming took over along with the dawn of the mini hi-fi and eventually the streaming system, the stereo receiver gradually faded into obscurity with only a small handful of manufacturers continuing to manufacture them today where they exist largely in the budget sector of the market. Today the term “receiver” typically refers to a multi-channel audiovisual hub, which while offering versatility in a home cinema setting usually fall short where pure sound quality is concerned.

With streaming on the rise, and with it the popularity of quality sound and traditional albeit modernised hi-fi, more receivers are gradually beginning to emerge – though with the tuners replaced by integrated software-based streaming platforms and the amplifier’s array of analogue connections supplemented by a digital socket or two.

Features

Yamaha’s R-N803D may appear to be a traditional receiver, even featuring an array of tuner controls and some rather retro vertical dials on its front panel. It’s packing some clever tech however including Yamaha’s MusicCast multi-room streaming platform, DAB and FM tuners and a 140W per channel integrated amplifier with an uncompromising array of analogue and digital inputs including a moving magnet phono stage. Its standout feature however is a calibration system known as YPAO, Yamaha Parametric Acoustic room Optimiser. Usually fitted to Yamaha’s multi-channel AV receivers, the R-N803D is the first stereo component to feature YPAO calibration. YPAO uses a microphone to interpret a series of test tones to determine the position of the speakers in relation to the listening position, and to optimise the sound of the system to produce an ideal response in the listening environment.

Hardware wise the 803D features an ESS Sabre 9006AS DAC supporting 192kHz, 24-bit high-resolution content. A pure direct switch bypasses the buffer amp and tone, balance and loudness controls, the latter a variable control allowing the level of loudness compensation to be adjusted to suit the human ear’s natural curve at low listening levels. The symmetrical power amp circuit is based on Yamaha’s ToPART (Total Purity Audio Reproduction Technology) with eight bipolar output transistors (four per channel) in a push/pull configuration.

Output power is rated at 100W RMS per channel (8Ω, 0.7% THD) with dynamic peak power rated at 140, 170, 220 and 290W into an 8, 6, 4 and 2Ω load respectively. Frequency response measures flat to within 1dB with signal to noise ratio rated at 100dB, 200MV input.

On the software side the 803D includes support for MP3, WMA, AAC, M4A, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC and DSD (2.8 and 5.6mHz) file formats. DLNA version 1.5 is supported as is Apple AirPlay with integrated wifi, ethernet and Bluetooth, the latter capable of not only receiving audio but also transmitting audio to any Bluetooth receiver. The amp can be entirely controlled by Yamaha’s excellent MusicCast app, available on both iOS and Android. The app allows virtually every function of the amp to be controlled in its entirety and negates the use of the provided remote. It’s the best way to navigate libraries of music on USB and server sources as well as the comprehensive streaming services on offer which include Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz, Juke and Pandora among others, though service availability is country dependent. A gargantuan library of internet radio stations and podcasts is also available at the touch of a button courtesy of the Airable database.

Initial Impressions

Out of the box the 803D is reassuringly weighty with a solid chassis, the front a thick slab of aluminium with large cooling vents on the top panel. A row of vertical dials – bass, treble, balance and loudness – are arranged along the front, as are pure direct and return / connect buttons and input selection and navigational dials, the latter with a press action to select an item or confirm a displayed value.

Visual feedback is via a central display with controls for the tuner are featured beneath. Two buttons independently switch either of the two available speaker outputs. Finally there’s a USB port to connect hard drives and flash media, a 6.3MM headphone socket and a power switch, a large volume dial and the 3.5MM socket for connection of the YPAO microphone.

I’m a huge fan of Yamaha’s amplifier designs. I like their modern style with their distinct retro character, and the 803 is no different. Its layout is thoughtful, intuitive and ergonomic, with silky smooth dials and tactile buttons. Minor criticisms concern the power switch and power direct button, both of which are physical switches. With the power switch engaged the units power status can be switched via the app. When in standby however there is no way to wake the unit via its front panel, and if the unit is switched off at the front it cannot be woken via the app. Similarly pure direct must be activated or deactivated via the front panel. Soft switches and digital controls would be welcome alterations here.

On the back an impressive array of analogue inputs includes four line inputs, a moving magnet phono stage and two of line level outputs for connection of recording devices, a very welcome sight on a modern receiver. Two coaxial and two optical inputs allow for connection of digital devices with a single antenna terminal serving both DAB and FM. RJ45 ethernet and a screw-in wifi antenna on a standard SMA connector sit above the speaker terminals, which can accept bear wire or banana plug connections, once the fiddly end caps are removed.

Two pairs of terminals cater for those who insist on bi-wiring, or allow a second set of speakers in a second room. The multi-room capabilities of MusicCast negate the second use, but the flexibility is there should you want it. Personally I would have removed the second terminals and associated circuitry in favour of a USB B computer input which to me would be infinitely more useful, but the 803D’s array of connectors trumps that of many rival products. Finally there’s a mono sub woofer terminal, trigger out jack and an IEC power input – a welcome change from the permanent power cables usually found on Yamaha amps of this style.

The included remote leaves much to be desired. It’s a slim but chunky unit with an array of small buttons, none of them particularly tactile in operation though they do respond well. It’s also fairly non directional, meaning that it will still function reliably when vaguely aimed in the receiver’s general direction. It’s nice to see a remote included, but it is negated by the use of the MusicCast app and was left in the box for the duration of the review. I also wish Yamaha would switch to using standard RC5 codes so as to enable their remotes to control, and their devices to be controlled by the remotes from other components. This would be particularly useful as it would enable the control jacks on certain MusicCast components to control the volume and power status of other amplifiers fitted with control inputs.

Setup

Setting up the 803D was an effortless procedure. The amp connected seamlessly to an existing MusicCast network. Hardwired via Ethernet, a 5 second press of the connect button was all that was required for the iOS version of the MusicCast app to pick the receiver up on the network, and a few taps later the room was assigned and the receiver ready for use. The MusicCast software has matured since its introduction to the point where it is undoubtedly one of the best streaming platforms on the market, its software in my opinion having overtaken any of the audiophile manufacturers leaving my previous favourite, Cambridge Audio, lagging behind and positively embarrassing many of the others. Only Sonos can edge the Yamaha in terms of features, though only because of its native support for Apple Music. Were Yamaha to add Apple Music support within their app, negating the use of AirPlay, they would without question come out on top.

I covered the MusicCast app extensively in my review of the CD-NT670D so I will spare the details here for reasons of brevity. While the app has since received many updates, some of them revising its user interface, its basic functions remain the same. One of those updates of particular note to me was enhancements for assistive technology users on the iPhone. I welcome Yamaha’s commitment to user feedback and applaud them for taking accessibility seriously.

Yamaha also win points for making almost all of a device’s settings available either via the app or the web-based configuration page, accessible by typing the IP address of any MusicCast unit into a browser. For those of us for whom visual impairments render display on the unit itself inaccessible, it’s nice to be able to independently configure a unit via it’s app or a browser, without having to resort to creative use of a smartphone camera and OCR app to navigate the depths of a device’s menus.

Yamaha’s commitment to the MusicCast system in general is commendable, with regular updates to improve performance and add further features to the devices. The 803D received a couple of updates during the month or so it was installed in my system. Other manufacturers updates are often far too irregular and their products can quickly feel dated or obsolete as a result, but the same cannot be said for the MusicCast system which to Yamaha’s credit is always evolving. The system is a joy to use and makes my resident streamer feel archaic. I eagerly await the day Yamaha announce a MusicCast streamer in the Reference line to match their top end amps. Such a product will likely become an addition to my own system.

The MusicCast app allows access to all aspects of the 803D’s configuration, including configuring the YPAO calibration, though calibration must be initiated and saved via the front panel. I’d like to see the ability to start and save calibration from the app so that configuration could be initiated from the corner of the room in which you should stand to avoid interfering with the YPAO procedure.

YPAO

YPAO is accessed by connecting the provided microphone at which point an interface is displayed on the unit’s screen. Pressing select will begin the series of test tones, during which it is advised to stand clear of the speakers. The microphone must be placed in the listening position at head height. This is particularly important, as simply placing the mic on a sofa results in a very odd EQ result and inaccurate judgement of speaker distances. Once configured and saved, the microphone can be disconnected at which point the settings can be tweaked if desired.

It should be noted that the YPAO volume setting must be disabled to use the variable loudness control, though the bass, treble and balance controls remain active. YPAO volume acts similarly to variable loudness, automatically adjusting the high and low frequencies for more natural low level listening. YPAO is also disabled in pure direct mode.

The subwoofer crossover frequency is adjustable to 40, 60, 80, 90, 100, 110, 120, 160 or 200Hz. The speakers can have a low cut filter applied if a sub woofer is enabled. Speaker distance calculates the distance between the speakers and listening position and a delay is applied so that sound from each speaker reaches the listening position at the same time. The level of each speaker is adjustable in steps of 0.5dB to ensure equal balance at the listening position.

I found that once the microphone position was optimised, YPAO was accurate both at guessing speaker distances (which it did correctly to within 20 centimetres) and optimising the EQ to compensate for deficiencies in the room and setup. It correctly guessed that right channel bass was weaker in the system owing to some obstacles placed behind and to the left of the left channel speaker, and compensated for these deficiencies in a noticeable but pleasing way. I did find that critical listening was best with the EQ compensation disabled. My test was however extreme and presented the amplifier with a scenario that was not at all ideal, and in a better room I would likely have it enabled. The YPAO volume function worked tremendously, producing a clearer more natural sound at low volume with a pleasing but not excessive boost to the high and low frequencies. As the volume was raised the compensation appeared to adjust, and it did not degrade the listening experience when the amp was pushed to high volumes.

Sound

The 803D has a smooth, even-handed and ultimately natural tonal character. A smidge of mid warmth and a touch of top end brightness perhaps, but certainly not to the point where fatigue is an issue. At low levels it’s a pleasant listen, improved with careful use of the loudness function or with YPAO volume enabled to increase the level of bass and top end detail. At high levels it rocks with bags of power at the ready. It throws out an excellent stereo image with well defined instrument separation and excellent control of large drivers. The low end is smooth rather than light-footed, described by one magazine as “lumpy” – a descriptor that I would not agree with. It’s no speed demon for sure, but it’s not rhythmically inept. The level of detail elsewhere is such that any minor low end deficiencies tend to go unnoticed when in the midst of a good album and the volume gradually drifting toward the top end of its scale.

In its pure direct state it’s an amplifier that imparts little character of its own – tuned with a slight low end emphasis perhaps. It simply gets on with the job of delivering clean, quality power to the loudspeakers in an extremely entertaining and addictive manor. With YPAO enabled, it adjusts to suit your environment but its character remains, even though the sound with YPAO enabled is heavily dependent on how it measures your room, and thus heavily dependent on microphone placement.

I must give special mention to the tuner which is truly excellent. Yamaha’s DAB tuner is one of the cleanest, clearest and least digital-sounding implementations of digital radio I have ever heard and listening to it provide background music for the best part of a month has been a real pleasure. Internet radio is brilliant with an overwhelming choice, but that choice is so vast that it doesn’t offer the same experience of flicking through the available station list to discover a new local station or some interesting programming on a popular station – BBC Radio 4’s Christmas run of vintage comedy for example or Greenday’s summer Hyde Park concert broadcasting on Absolute Radio.

The phono amp too is excellent. There’s no special tech here, but its simple moving magnet stage is clean and quiet and will do a good moving magnet or high output moving coil cartridge justice. So too is the headphone stage which mimics the character of the amp, with plenty of power to drive difficult cans and the same smooth, addictive presentation. It was also dead silent with no idle hiss, a particular bugbear of mine with many amps.

Summary

To summarise, Yamaha’s R-N803D is a stereo receiver packed with clever tech and plenty of connectivity. The intuitive retro-inspired design, brilliant software and the thoughtful implementation of its many features are the icing on a particularly sweet cake. Great sound rounds out the package, earning the R-N803d a thoroughly deserved recommendation. For £800 it is a real bargain, and if you’re looking for a capable amplifier with streaming abilities, or even considering separates, the R-N803D should be high on your shortlist.


About Ashley

I founded Audio Appraisal a few years ago and continue to regularly update it with fresh content. An avid vinyl collector and coffee addict, I can often be found at a workbench tinkering with a faulty electronic device, tweaking a turntable to extract the last bit of detail from those tiny grooves in the plastic stuff, or relaxing in front of the Tannoys with a good album. A musician, occasional producer and sound engineer, other hobbies include software programming, web development, long walks and occasional DIY. Follow @ashleycox2

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