The Yamaha R-N500 may just be the ideal streaming system. Whether your music collection consists of CDs, vinyl, high-resolution audio files stored on a NAS device or just a Spotify Premium subscription (or all of the above), the R-N500 can play it all.
For an astonishingly wallet-friendly £350, this one-box system has an impressive list of features to play your tunes. All you need to do is connect the R-N500 to the internet, add speakers, and you’re ready to start streaming.
With Alt-J’s Breezeblocks streaming from our server, we’re immediately struck by how big and spacious the R-N500 sounds. Instruments and voices are easy to place in the airy soundstage. It has a warm, full-bodied balance that’s characteristic of Yamaha’s sound, combined with a squeaky-clean, smooth presentation that’s lovely to listen to.
There are rich layers of detail here, while the smoothed treble ensures you won’t hear any bright or sharp edges. It’s an easy-going approach that suits all kinds of music files, whether a 24-bit/96kHz Tom Waits album or the Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack streamed over Spotify.
We just wish it would sound more energetic and enthusiastic. The R-N500 knows exactly how to deliver all the right notes at the right time – it just doesn’t have the drive to do it. Tom Waits’ raucous, atonal vocals on Bad As Me lack bite and dynamism.
The lively, sprightly tune of Pink Martini’s Donde Estas, Yolanda? sounds laidback, when it should be bubbling over with nimble-footed excitement.
Piano keys, percussion, and blaring trumpets and trombones have a lush, solid weight to them, but they could be punchier, more precise and agile. Dynamically, it’s rather restrained and lazy. We want the Yamaha to let loose and flaunt its musical ability – it would make the R-N500’s performance all the more engaging.
The system does need careful speaker matching. Our reference ATC SCM 50 speakers aren’t natural partners by a long shot, but they do show off the large scale and refined detail of the R-N500’s sound.
The B&W 685 S2s (£500) are a much better fit – the system sounds perkier and more upbeat, the treble regains a hint of sparkle, and it’s a touch more interesting to listen to – even if you lose out on some of the openness.
Features and connectivity
There’s little this Yamaha can’t do. Plug it into your home network (via ethernet only, there’s no wi-fi), and you can seamlessly stream all your music files stored across laptops, smartphones, tablets and NAS devices. File compatibility is extensive: you can play anything from standard MP3s to hi-res 24-bit/192kHz FLAC and WAV files through the R-N500.
AirPlay and DLNA support are also available, and with Spotify Connect, vTuner internet radio, and FM and AM tuners on board, you have access to more music than you can shake a glow stick at. This is an extremely well featured system. Stream quality is stable, everything works without a hitch, and we didn’t experience any dropouts during testing.
There are multiple digital and analogue inputs if you prefer a wired connection, and even a moving-magnet phono stage for plugging in your trusty old turntable. The front panel USB port is multi-talented, too: it will play and charge Apple devices, and also play audio files stored on a USB stick or flash drive. There are two things the R-N500 can’t do: wi-fi and Bluetooth.
We didn’t miss either feature during testing thanks to just how easy it is to access music on our smartphone or NAS box, although not everyone will be able to place their kit within easy reach of their network router. Those who want the added convenience of wi-fi and Bluetooth can simply buy separate modules from Yamaha, for around £50 each.
Build and design
We’re puzzled every time we look at the R-N500’s relatively budget price tag, as it looks every inch a premium quality piece of hi-fi kit. The all-metal construction is built well, and the unit is sturdy and classy in equal measure.
It feels like an expensive product, too. Those beautifully machined dials and tonal controls on the front panel are wonderful to use. They’re weighted just right, and turn so smoothly. They also bear more than a passing resemblance to the ones on Yamaha’s retro-styled flagship A-S3000 amplifier (£4000) – it’s no wonder we keep thinking the R-N500 costs more than it does...
Sadly, there are no glowing volume meters, but the large, crystal-clear, informative and easy to read display suits the R-N500’s more modern and complex needs, so we can’t complain.
We like using the neatly designed and intuitively laid out NP Controller app more than the old fashioned remote handset. The free app’s responsive, organised layout looks best on a tablet’s screen, but the smartphone version is equally easy to get along with.
All inputs are laid out in one screen for lightning-fast source-switching, and using a touchscreen to browse through endless lists of songs and radio stations feels far more natural than tediously pressing buttons or using the fiddly ‘Select’ dial on the unit.
The free app streamlines the user experience, complete with a virtual dial that mirrors the one on the unit – although this can be a little buggy and unresponsive at times.
The physical remote may be old hat, but it’s at least reliable and useful for changing the volume in a pinch.
The R-N500 exudes a superb, high-quality retro feel while also delivering all the trappings needed for the modern-day music lover.
It’s good value for a product of its kind, and is a great system for anyone with a sprawling collection of music files, or simply wanting to take their first steps into hi-fi.
All the Yamaha needs is a fresh bout of energy, (and a touch more precision and punch), and that big, rich sound will be a force to be reckoned with. Definitely worth an audition.
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