- 1 Features
- 2 The Packaging
- 3 Initial Impressions
- 4 Usage
- 5 The Sound
- 6 Summary
As the variety of music sources available has increased, so has the size of our hi-fi systems. The basic systems of yesterday consisted of an amplifier, cd player, turntable and a cassette deck. These days, our kit racks are groaning under the weight of DACs, streamers, docks, phono stages, and many more devices covering every imaginable music source.
For audiophiles with higher end systems, these devices are necessary – with each source component, preamplifier, and converter being chosen so that its characteristics perfectly match those of their system. However; for audiophiles on a budget, or in listening spaces where space is an issue, more compact systems are required.
Realising this, Yamaha developed their R-N500 – a powerful integrated amplifier, FM/AM tuner, DAC and streamer in 1, amp-sized package. Loosely based on the award-winning A-S500, the R-N500 aims to offer a quality all-in-1 hub for all of your music sources – significantly reducing the footprint of your system, while retaining high quality audio and an extensive feature list.
Packed into its solid, aluminium-fronted chassis are a wealth of technologies to get the best from all of your music sources. A powerful 2X 80W amplifier provides ample power to drive any decent, price-appropriate loudspeakers, and 2 sets of speaker outputs allow you to bi-wire your speakers or run a second set in another room.
The pure direct circuit allows you to bypass the tone controls and other unnecessary circuitry for a more direct signal path, while Yamaha’s continuously variable loudness control allows you to retain tonal balance at any volume level to compensate for the human ears lack of sensitivity to high and low frequencies at low listening levels.
Yamaha’s ToP-ART (Total Purity Audio Reproduction Technology) features a direct symmetrical design from input to output, with the left/right channels organized in a straight, symmetrical layout for highest signal purity and lowest noise and distortion.
5 Analogue line inputs are provided, including a moving magnet phono stage and 2 tape loops. The phono stage is the same as that found in the budget A-S201 – which is no bad thing. It’s a fine sounding stage, perfect for a basic turntable – and there are plenty of inputs should you wish to upgrade it later.
The built-in, fully featured DAC features 2 optical and 2 coaxial inputs, as well as a front-mounted USB port for FAT16/32-formatted mass storage devices, and mobile devices – including apple’s iProducts – the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
You can stream content from DLNA media servers, or mobile devices via apple’s AirPlay or the NPController app. The latest firmware also supports Spotify Connect – giving you access to millions of tracks direct from your receiver.
The unit supports WAV (PCM Only), MP3, WMA, MPEG-4, AAC and 2 channel FLAC at sampling rates of 192KHZ for WAV and FLAC, and 48KHZ for all other formats. The Texas Instruments PCM5101 DAC employed by the unit can support sampling rates of up to 32-bit, 384KHZ – Yamaha don’t specify a maximum sampling rate or bit depth for the optical or coaxial connections
An onboard FM/AM tuner allows you to listen to analogue radio – with 40 presets for your favourite stations. The unit can automatically fill the presets with stations, or they can be manually assigned.
The tuner supports RDS – the Radio Data System, a system used in many countries, can display information such as the current time, text defined by the radio station you’re currently listening too.
Basic antennas are provided – a wire antenna for FM, and a plastic framed AM loop antenna which can be affixed to a wall or stood on a fold-out stand. If you’re serious about radio, you’ll get better sound with outdoor antennas – and the R-N500 uses standard coax and bare wire antenna connectors, so using outdoor antennas won’t be an issue.
For a greater variety of stations, the R-N500 supports the vTuner internet radio service giving you access to thousands of online stations and a huge library of podcasts from all over the world.
The unit features independent power supplies for the analogue and digital sections, as well as an eco mode that reduces power consumption by up to 20%. In standby, the R-N500 draws just 0.1W – much less than many other AV components. There’s also a sleep timer that can be set to turn the unit off after a set period of inactivity.
If you wish to disable the power-saving features, you can do so in the units configuration menu – Yamaha recommend disabling them if you wish to play music at high volumes.
Yamaha’s NP controller app, available for both iOS and android, allows you to control every feature of your R-N500. You can control the R-N500’s user interface, and stream content direct from your device.
The app allows you to change sources, control the volume, and even control the onboard tuner and internet radio. The only thing lacking is the ability to alter the configuration menus or initiate a firmware upgrade via the app – the same can be said for many streamers, but it’s an oversight nonetheless.
As with most Yamaha products, a thick, strong box keeps the R-N500 protected during its travels to your kit rack. Rectangular strips of polystyrene keep everything in place, and provide designated slots for everything from the remote, to the batteries and provided antennas.
The A-S201 is wrapped in a foam-like cloth material, neatly taped in 2 locations. The power cable, with its plug wrapped in a plastic bag with the usual plastic pin cover, is neatly tied and situated behind the unit – it’s plug fitting into a designated slot in the polystyrene block.
It’s a very neat presentation, similar to that of the budget A-S201 Integrated Amplifier.. A great first impression.
Lift the R-N500 from its packaging, and the great first impressions continue – it’s reassuringly weighty, its full metal chassis feeling solid and substantial. There’s no flex in the casework, and the top panel is nicely damped – yielding only a dull metallic ‘thump’, with only a slight rining, when tapped.
Despite a multitude of inputs and outputs, Yamaha have managed to retain a clean, neat layout on the rear panel. The block of IO connections includes 2 optical, 2 coaxial, 4 line ins, 2 rec outs, and the input for the moving magnet phono stage. There’s a mono subwoofer out, but sadly no stereo pre outs.
2 Pairs of solid speaker terminals can accept bare wire or banana plugs. If you want to use banana plugs, you’ll have to remove the little end plugs – these are a pain to remove, and require a thin tool such as a bent paperclip or pair of tweezers. The terminals themselves are solid – with no flexing when inserting banana plugs.
Unusually, there’s no speaker impedance switch – though the amp does provide an impedance setting, which adjusts the power supply to deliver the appropriate amount of power to your speakers. To alter this setting, you’ll have to power on the amp and alter a setting in a hidden advanced configuration menu – which is a pain; Yamaha should’ve implemented a simple switch. Generally, leaving the amp set to 8 Ohms will be just fine – I didn’t mess with the setting and had no problems.
A single RJ-45 jack is provided for connection to your network. There’s no onboard WiFi, or even Bluetooth – for those, you’ll need Yamaha’s YWA-10 and YBA-11 adapters. Both adapters require power – and as there’s only 1 DC out jack on the rear of the unit, you’ll need to find a second power source should you wish to use both together.
This is a huge oversight – most, if not all, streamers on the market have at least WiFi connectivity built in. It’s unusual for a stereo setup to be within reach of a router – something which Yamaha should’ve foreseen.
The power cable is permanently attached – this means there’s no bulky power plug protruding from the amp, but does mean if the cable should become damaged the amp will require servicing – perhaps a plug-in power cable would’ve been better.
The front panel of the A-S201 features a multitude of controls. The tone, balance and loudness controls immediately stand out – they’re large, vertical dials similar to those found on the equipment of yesterday. They’re physical knobs, too – no digital potentiometers here, which is nice to see.
The usual bass, treble and balance controls are all catered for, as well as Yamaha’s variable loudness control. This control allows you to adjust the tonal quality of the sound, to compensate for the human ear’s lack of sensitivity to high and low frequencies at low listening levels.
The tone and loudness controls have click stops in their central, flat positions (or in the case of the loudness control, at the maximum position). When moved to the centre, they produce a solid click and lock in to place – They feel great, a welcome departure from the usual cheap afterthoughts found on a lot of equipment.
A large volume knob features on the right-hand side of the front panel, along with the pure direct button, and a dial used to select options in menus and navigate the player’s user interface. The volume control is smooth to turn – it does use a digital potentiometer, but it appears to be of decent quality. Turn it quickly though, and the unit takes half a second to respond – causing the volume level to jump abruptly, rather than the expected gradual increase.
Another rotary dial is used to select inputs – I much prefer direct-access buttons. It too though feels great to turn, with minimum resistance. Pressing either the FM or AM select buttons will switch to the tuner – it would be nice if, when connecting a USB device for example, that source were automatically selected.
Controls for speakers A+B, tuner controls, and a display dimmer are provided, along with a physical power button; rather than the usual standby control. The display panel is neatly situated above the tone controls, with a minimal surrounding gap, lending to the clean, uncluttered appearance.
And, finally, a headphone jack allows you to connect headphones for private listening. There’s no dedicated headphone stage – the signal is fed directly from the power amplifier section. That said; it still sounds pretty decent, and the 2 record outputs allow you to connect a better headphone amp if you’re a fan of the phones.
The R-N500 is supplied with a Yamaha system remote. This remote is unusual – not only can it control the R-N500 and all of its features, but it can also be setup to control a complete entertainment system – including your TV. The user manual provides an extensive list of IR codes for various brands of TV and AV kit, allowing you to configure the remote to output the correct IR codes for your particular model.
It’s solid, if a little light – and fits well in the hand thanks to the thumb-sized indent which allows it to sit perfectly in the hand.
The buttons have a nice tactile feel, though due to the sheer number of buttons locating them can, at times, be difficult. Essential controls such as the volume are easy to find – the rest just take some getting used to.
The remote takes standard AAA batteries, situated behind the rear cover – a welcome departure from the frustrating coin cell arrangements that are becoming more common as remotes become more compact
There are several methods for controlling the R-N500. Many functions can be accessed using the units front panel, or you can choose to use the remote control. Yamaha’s NPController app provides full control of the unit from your android or iOS smartphone – and that’s what I chose to use throughout this review. Some features may differ as a result – while I’ve tried to keep things as consistent as possible, there may be some options within the app that aren’t available from the unit itself.
As previously mentioned, the R-N500’s built-in tuner can receive both FM and AM analogue broadcasts. There’s no onboard DAB or DAB+ – which is a shame, given the impending digital switchover.
40 Presets, combined across the 2 broadcast bands, allow you to store your favourite stations, either manually or automatically. In automatic mode, the R-N500 will scan from the lowest frequencies, automatically filling the presets as it locks onto strong signals. In manual mode, the current station is stored in the next empty preset – there doesn’t appear to be a way to select a specific preset in which to store your station.
Presets can be accessed using the remote control or the navigation buttons on the front panel – unfortunately, the front features no direct-access preset buttons, so you must scroll through until you find the station you want. RDS does make this easier – but not all stations broadcast RDS signals, so there may be times you find yourself struggling to remember frequencies. I’d also like to see the ability to name presets so they can be recalled more easily.
The front-mounted USB port allows you to connect USB mass storage devices or an iPod,iPad or iPhone. You can browse the content on your device using the navigation keys on the remote, or the dial on the front of the unit.
The navigation menu is easy to use, and self-explanatory. Unfortunately, if operating the unit from the front panel, skipping tracks must be done with the navigation wheel – it would be nice if the tuner preset controls could double as skip controls for USB devices.
If you’re using an iDevice, 2 play modes are available – normal and ‘simple play’ mode. In simple play mode, playback is controlled using the iDevice itself, with only the input name displayed on the units display.
The usual repeat and shuffle options are present; you can choose to repeat only the current track or the current album (or folder in the case of mass storage devices), and can play tracks in random order.
Playing From a Server
You can use the R-N500 to play files from any DLNA-compatible NAS or PC on the same network. If you’re streaming from your windows-based pc, you must first configure media streaming options – a simple process detailed in the R-N500 manual.
If you want to play FLAC files, it’s worth noting you’ll need server software that supports the playback of FLAC files, or a NAS that supports FLAC file playback.
Once you’re up and running, playback of content is the same as with USB – controlled by the remote’s navigation keys or the wheel on the front of the unit.
The vTuner internet radio service is built right into the R-N500, giving you access to thousands of internet radio stations around the world. The unit also supports the vTuner bookmarking service – to use this function, you’ll need to sign up for an account and provide the MAC address of this unit.
You can browse stations by location, genre, recently added or most popular. There’s also an extensive library of podcasts which can be filtered by location or genre.
The amount of content available is mind-blowing – the chances of running of of music are slim. It would be nice to see a search option – as scrolling through endless lists of stations can be a time-consuming process.
Sound quality of internet radio will depend heavily on the station you’re listening too. Most broadcast in low bitrate MP3 to save bandwidth – and as a result, sound quality suffers. Many do sound better than the analogue tuner though, which is a plus.
Streaming From Devices
The unit offers several options to stream from devices such as smartphones, PCs or tablets. Apple’s AirPlay technology is built right in, allowing you to stream from any iDevice, apple TV, or iTunes-equip Mac or PC on the same network. You can even power on the unit with your airplay-compatible device, after enabling an option in the units configuration menu.
Using the NPController app, you can stream music directly from your smartphone or tablet’s music library. Content is delivered over the network – meaning there’s no loss of signal as is often the case with other streamers that employ technologies such as Bluetooth.
Yamaha’s hi-fi components are designed to follow their key principal – ‘natural sound’ – remaining as faithful as possible to the original performance. The R-N500 can definitely be described as a ‘natural-sounding’ amp, favouring detail and refinement over power and excitement.
Play the goo goo dolls’ Better Days, and the piano and vocals simply sound sublime; there’s a certain warmth to the track and plenty of detail for the Yamaha to get stuck into.
At times, it’s a little too smooth – play a track such as ‘Rock Show’ from Halestorm’s The Strange Case Of… album, and the Yamaha fails to convey the excitement in the track. it’s like being at a rock show while the crowd around you browse Facebook and tweet pictures of the £1.50 meals they bought during the refreshments break.
Unsurprisingly for a world-renowned manufacturer of musical instruments, the R-N500’s strength is in its ability to accurately reproduce the sound of a musical instrument; the subtle nuances of the piano, the breath through a woodwind instrument, or the resonance of a drum. Play ‘Can’t Take it’ by the All American Rejects’, and the Yamaha makes short work of the powerful, orchestral backing allowing the powerful vocals to take centre stage.
Whether you’re listening to internet radio, a CD transport connected via a coaxial cable, or files from a USB stick – the smooth, refined sound of the R-N500 remains the same. I like the consistency – though I find myself longing for more excitement and ‘get up and go’.
‘Like You’ from Evanescence’s The Open Door album displays a beautifully wide, open sound stage Amy Lee’s voice hanging in the air, dead centre; while the music flows around her.
There’s certainly no lack of power – bass notes are delivered with precision, the R-N500 maintaining a vice-like grip on the drivers.
It’s certainly not a bad sounding amp; but as the opening drum fill of ‘November rain’ fills the listening room, I’m losing interest. The R-N500 fails to grab my attention long enough to prevent me lowering the volume.
In terms of features, it’s hard to beat the R-N500. A powerful integrated amplifier, fully-equipped network streamer, and DAC would ordinarily cost a lot more – and require a full kit rack. However, the unit lacks several important features – there’s no WiFi, meaning you must locate your stereo next to a router or Ethernet socket, use a wiFi bridge, or run cables around your house – all things the average consumer doesn’t want to have to deal with.
However; in terms of sound, the R-N500 could benefit from more excitement and rhythmic drive. It’s too natural, too laid back. If you favour detail and refinement over excitement and fun, or just want to shake the room with sheer power, the R-N500 is the amp for you.
If you want the music to stir your soul as well as your stomach, consider Yamaha’s A-S500 and match it with a different streamer. Sorry, guys – this one wasn’t for me.