One thing that you’ll notice if you ever attend CEDIA is that certain types of equipment are far more common than you would expect because of the type of Expo that it is. Since it’s geared towards the custom installer market, whole home solutions for audio and video are everywhere, offering a variety of ways to get your media anywhere that you want. One system that proved very interesting to me at the time was the MusicCast system from Yamaha. Using a single remote, you could control remote music stations (with or without an internal amplifier for speakers), as well as a Yamaha receiver, and since it operated over WiFi, it would work anywhere in the house. Yamaha was nice enough to send over their new RX-V2065 receiver, a MusicCast receiver (with line-outs but no amp), and a MusicCast Remote to evaluate how it would work for me.
- Design: 7.1 Surround Sound Receiver
- Codecs: All, Including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio
- Power: 130 Watts RMS x 7 into 8 Ohms, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, THD+N: 0.08%
- Connections: 5 HDMI In (2 Out), 2 Component Video In (1 Out), 4 Composite Video In (2 Out), Ethernet, iPod, Phono, 7.1 Pre-In, 7.1 Pre-Out
- Dimensions: 6.75″ x 17.1″ W x 14.4″ D
- Weight 27.4 Pounds
- MSRP: $1,400 USA
The Yamaha RX-V2065 receiver is set up like most modern receivers, but with one change that I imagine we will start to see more often: No S-Video connectors. While some people will object to this, or need to choose a different receiver because of this, I’m quite happy to see space on the rear panel start to free up as all of my gear now uses HDMI, save the Nintendo Wii and it’s Component output. The Yamaha does still have legacy video inputs with five composite video jacks (one of which is on the front panel) and two component video jacks, which are quickly becoming legacy inputs at this point. It also features five HDMI inputs, one of which is pleasantly available on the front panel. It also has speaker jacks for seven channels for the main system, as well as two channels each for Zone 2 and Zone 3. The Yamaha will also let you remap the Surround Back channels as Bi-Amp channels for the front two speakers, or the Zone 2 channels as “Presence” channels for your main theater, which serve a similar function to the new speakers in Dolby Pro Logic IIz.
Nice features to see also make it onto the Yamaha are dual HDMI outputs, dual 12V trigger outputs, an RS-232 port for custom installers, a smaller remote for the 2065 that contains all of the common functions, and full pre-outs so you can upgrade to an external amp if you wish to at a later date. The design of the MusicCast preamp zone player was much simpler, with RCA L+R and subwoofer outputs, a USB connector, a dock connector (for an iPod dock), and an Ethernet jack. The MusicCast Music Commander remote consists of a large LCD screen, a touchpad, and buttons for common playback functions (Play, Pause, Forward and Back), volume, and interacting with the interface. It was very nice to see the buttons for the very common controls on there, as remotes that are only a touchscreen often annoy me since you are totally unable to do anything without actually looking down at the screen.
Installing the V2065 was fairly intuitive if you have setup a receiver before, except for one case that I will cover. The majority of my gear is now using HDMI, and so hooking that up is very quick and easy, as are speakers (I use banana plugs to save me time) and an Ethernet cable, which is going to be standard on all receivers within another year or two I’d imagine. After I had everything connected, I ran through the initial setup, which included Yamaha’s YPAO room optimizer. Much like Audyssey, you connect an included microphone to the front of the receiver, position it at the common listening location, and the Yamaha will instantly bring up the on-screen prompts to measure your listening environment. I always make sure to turn off the HVAC system as well as almost anything else that might cause noise, so that I get as accurate a measurement as possible.
The Yamaha went through and did this quickly, but there were a couple of things about this that I wish were different. The speaker measurements were only in 6″ increments, so the time correction will not be as accurate as it might be with other systems. How well the human ear can distinguish between the 3″ that would be missing from if it allowed 1″ increments I can’t tell you, but as other vendors offer this, I wish Yamaha would as well. I also found it hard to go back and review the settings that Yamaha had made for levels and EQ on the various speakers. While I don’t expect everyone to offer the same level of detail that Pioneer does on their units (where you can export the data to a PC for analysis), I would like it to be easy to see exactly what the receiver decided, just so I can verify that it looks correct.
Hooking up the MusicCast unit was incredibly easy. I connected the zone player over Ethernet, and it quickly picked up an address using DHCP, and I connected the pre-outs to a Tivoli Model Two radio that I had setup in the bedroom. For the Music Commander, it was as easy as joining a wireless network, entering my security key, and then it was able to pick up both the receiver and the zone player, and allowed me full control over both of them. Finally, since the MusicCast system needs a DLNA server, they include a copy of TwonkyMedia with the units. I typically had used Asset UPnP but ran into an issue with how the RX-V2065 was seeing it (the MusicCast Zone player saw it fine), and while Yamaha was very quick to figure out the cause of the problem and was working on an update for it, I elected to use Twonky to make sure my software preference didn’t cause issues.
The issue that I ran into hooking up the receiver is that I have a Nintendo Wii, which outputs component video along with analog audio, but all of the component jacks on the rear of the receiver are setup with digital audio inputs. Thankfully, Yamaha had a new firmware available that allows you to remap one of the analog audio inputs to a component video input, but it has to be done with the front display of the unit and not using the OSD. While I realize that fewer and fewer people will be using a setup like this in the future, I’d prefer that certain video and audio inputs not the grouped together by default, and instead we can attach a device as we wish, and then map those inputs together using the OSD, as it makes it much easier.
As a receiver in my system, the RX-V2065 did a very respectable job. My recent standard album for listening has been Radiohead’s In Rainbows, and once again I went back to this as soon as I had used the Yamaha for a while. Listening to Reckoner, and the cymbal that floats in the air off to the right during the opening, the Yamaha had a similar amount of detail and air as my usual Onkyo 706 has. It didn’t have the detail that far more expensive components I had recently reviewed did, but it also wasn’t getting lost in the rest of the music. Overall, listening to two channel music through the Yamaha was enjoyable in my room.
When watching TV programs or a Blu-ray disc through the Yamaha, we felt it brought us into the film or show we were enjoying. I did not have speakers to use for testing the presence channels that the Yamaha can deliver, but with my 5.1 setup it performed very well. One thing that I like to use on recent receivers is their adaptive volume feature, in this case Adaptive DRC. I’ll often stay up later than my wife watching TV or sports, and if I keep the volume low, the standard mix often leaves the surrounds too low to hear most of the details, or other sounds too loud relative to the vocals. Adaptive DRC, and similar features from other companies, reduces the difference between the loudest and softest sounds to make it easier to listen to things at non-reference levels without missing details.
I will say that the Adaptive DRC made it far easier to listen to TV or watch a movie at night. Vocals were always present, and all the details from the surrounds that I might have missed before were there for me as well. However, the one complaint I would have is that the DRC is almost too aggressive in how close it makes things in volume. Often sounds were no longer loud or soft, but one standard volume. Perhaps Yamaha could provide a setting of High, Medium, Low and Off instead of just Auto and Off in the future. The existing configuration made it easier for me to watch movies at lower volume levels, but additional fine tuning would make it even better.
The main feature that I was after was how well the MusicCast system would work in my house. I had the receiver in one room, and the remote and zone player in a separate room. Almost all of my source material was FLAC, though there was some mp3 sourced material as well. Most importantly to me, the zone player and receiver did not drop often when playing FLAC files. There would be a bit of a delay when initially buffering them, or changing tracks, but I’ll gladly accept 2-3 seconds of waiting there to avoid gaps during the track. As I mentioned earlier, my usual DLNA server didn’t cooperate well with the 2065 (though it worked fine with the remote and zone player), but the included software from Twonky Media worked fine for both units.
While playback of music was great through the Zone Player and the 2065 Receiver, selecting the music to playback was a bit more of a struggle. The MusicCast Commander has a different style interface with a large LCD and a separate touchpad for control, but unfortunately this makes it not the easiest thing to scroll through a large list of artists. It also would take a bit of time to populate the list of artists each time I went to and from that page instead of keeping it stored in memory to make it quick. What the remote really needed was a way to quickly scroll through this list, either with a page up and page down button, or something like the scroll wheel on an iPod where you can go faster or slower.
Much of this I blame on the DLNA protocol and it not being designed well for larger music libraries. Whereas a Sonos or Squeezebox system rely on their own base hardware or software to generate the library that you then browse, the DLNA standard is open and so you can see many different products working together, but that also means that your server software might not be an ideal fit for your playback hardware. Had the MusicCast Commander remote been a little quicker to navigate through my large library, it did a great job of controlling the Zone Player, as well as all three zones on the main receiver. The interface on it during playback worked well, and since it used WiFi I could use it anywhere on my network and not worry about line of sight or other issues.
There were many things that I wanted to try out on the Yamaha MusicCast System, and it came very close to providing me with everything I was after. It had a receiver that was fine at handling movies and music, it was able to provide wireless access to my entire music library around the house, and it had a single remote that allowed me to control everything from one device. Since it was able to do all of these things, that’s what makes it disappointing that some of the interface issues made enjoyment of it not quite perfect.
I would like Yamaha to redo their OSD to be 1080p instead of the 480p that it currently is, since text and icons look a little fuzzy, as this could also make it easier to do music playback with a longer list of artists and songs visible onscreen. For the MusicCast Commander remote, the one feature it really needs is a way to quickly scroll through the list of artists and albums in your music collection. It worked wonderfully aside from that complaint, and I’m sure that Yamaha can find a way to improve this in the current or future versions, or possibly do what Sonos has done and develop an iPhone app that can perform the same functions. If you want to have a single, unified system that can be controlled around the house from a single remote, with total access to your music library, the Yamaha MusicCast system can perform that task for you and I can’t think of another vendor that can do it in the same way.