Digital Life

Home stereo: Yamaha set to give Sonos a fight

The problem with whole-of-home wireless audio systems is that they tie you to the brand. Trying to work your existing speakers in gets very complex very fast. But your speakers are too good to throw away, right?

The problem with whole-of-home wireless audio systems is that they tie you to the brand. Trying to work your existing speakers in gets very complex very fast. But your speakers are too good to throw away, right? So who wants even more speakers dotted around the house? The market leader, Sonos, does offer a little 55-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier that ties in a pair of non-Sonos speakers, but if you want to dial in your existing 5.1-channel surround system, well forget that.

Hooray for Yamaha. Its MusicCast system is easy to set up and run, it sounds just as good as you want it to, it's beautifully made, flexible and, most of all, it can work in with much of whatever you have right now. The MusicCast range is comprehensive and it's just the tip of the iceberg: all future Yamaha audio components will be MusicCast compatible.

Yamaha's MusicCast whole-of-home system lets you incorporate your own speakers.
Yamaha's MusicCast whole-of-home system lets you incorporate your own speakers. Photo: Supplied

I don't object to Yamaha's speakers, it's just that I have a house full of great speakers bought over many years that don't happen to be Yamahas. I can set all these up for MusicCast by powering them with any number of MusicCast amplifiers. There are a couple of two-channel stereo models, a 5.1, four 7.2s, and two 9.2s. Some have Dolby Atmos, and several have a phono input for a turntable, meaning vinyl can be networked painlessly.

The Sonos amp? There's no phono input, and if you want home theatre they'll suggest the single soundbar the brand offers and maybe a pair of rear speakers. If a soundbar is OK with you then MusicCast offers two with separate subs, and a soundbase as well. There's also a micro music system and the stand-alone ISX80 music player.

The wonderful French speakers in my 5.1-channel movie system are great for both music and movies, so all I need do is replace the current surround amp with a MusicCast model and it will hook into the Yamaha system with a few taps on the iPad. I can include existing ceiling speakers in the bedroom by using the second zone of a 7.2 home theatre amp. In the study I can use a stereo amp or Bluetooth speakers. MusicCast will power any brand of Bluetooth speaker.

Can you see the possibilities? The word is flexibility. And, look ma, not a cable in sight. MusicCast works with both compressed and high definition music formats including, in some cases, DSD at full resolution.

The company sent around a clutch of components for road test, including an ISX80 of which I became very fond. With the MusicCast app on my iPad (quick and effortless) it was playing Pandora in no time, returning excellent quality for its $699. Oh, OK, maybe it gets a little high-endy with the occasional sharp treble note, but as background music it's terrific and fills a large space easily, without any audible distortion even at maximum volume – and that's loud.

I was less impressed with the $349 WX030 stand-alone speaker. The touch controls can get kind of vague and the set-up is a tad more complex. I found the sound quality a bit ordinary, and no match for the base Sonos speaker, the Play One ($50 cheaper at $299), or for the base speaker in Denon's whole-of-home Heos system, the Three, which admittedly is $529. I'd go for MusicCast's NXN500 bookshelf speakers, $999 a pair, that sound better than any of these.

Sonos has had the whole-of-home market pretty much to itself since 2005 and is so entrenched that the bulk of hi-fi dealers steer customers into it by rote. Heos has given it a shake, but MusicCast's flexibility and range belts it out of the field.

All these systems are ideal for people who are setting up a whole-of-home system for the first time, but MusicCast will win the heart of anyone who's bought lots of equipment over the years and wants new speakers like they want the black plague.

I love my speakers. I love filling the house with music just as much as I love a great movie in full surround. I even love vinyl. So I'll take the Yamaha system, thank you, and get it all.