If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the consumer electronics industry has spent most of the past decade being terribly nice to Denon’s micro hi-fi systems.
Yet despite myriad competitors for its crown, the Japanese giant has enjoyed an extraordinary class dominance, its 2010 Award for its D-M38DAB system being just the latest in a long line of successes.
Still, Yamaha is back for another tilt at the title, its aggressively priced MCR-550 system featuring a built-in iPod dock –complete with digital rather than analogue audio throughput to its DAC – that makes it even more compelling.
Yamaha’s no newcomer to this category, either. The MCR-550 celebrates the 10th anniversary of its PianoCraft micro hi-fi range by incorporating every electrical and mechanical advance the company has accumulated over the years, and also new speakers: the NS-BP200s were designed by a drive-unit engineer responsible for the company’s high-end Soavo range.
The speakers’ partner, the CRX-550 CD/receiver, features a pleasing aesthetic symmetry and durable, tactile controls.
4mm-friendly speaker terminals plus 3.5mm and RCA phono inputs adorn its rear, together with both a DAB aerial socket and a subwoofer output.
On top, meanwhile, there’s a USB input to complement the iPod dock, ensuring that – network streaming aside – this little system is just about as contemporary as it ought to be.
A somewhat old-fashioned sound
Yet surprisingly, its sound is rather more old-fashioned than we’d expected.
Yamaha’s A-S500 amplifier had led us to expect great things from the MCR-550, yet, even in a big room, with its speakers on solid stands in free space, it can sound flabby and imprecise, its bass lacking the precision and expression necessary to engage fully with complex rhythms.
With simpler tracks – Rumer’s Slow, for example – it’s altogether more comfortable, with sweet, expressive treble and a natural facility with voices. The trouble is, neither we nor you listen exclusively to that kind of music day in, day out.
However, remove the NS-BP200s from the system, and the Yamaha is a much more compelling proposition. The CRX-550 electronics – available in isolation for about £220 – are excellent.
Compared with the D-M38DAB, there’s still a trace of excess in its bottom-end, but whether you’re listening to CD, iPod or DAB, there’s also an agility and excitement that the complete Yamaha system sadly lacks.
So the Denon retains its crown, at least for now. The MCR-550 is a solid competitor, and taken in isolation, the CRX-550 CD/receiver is something of a star, both technically and in value terms. But we’d still buy a D-M38DAB…
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