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Yamaha WXA-50: a compact amplifier with an added network player compatible with the MusicCast app that includes Qobuz in Hi-Res!

The Yamaha WXA-50 amplifier with an added network player is not only a modern device that allows you access to your digital music stored on your domestic network, but also offers Internet radios and online music services. This includes Qobuz in Hi-Res which is enclosed in the Yamaha MusicCast Controller app with which it’s compatible, as well as many devices from the brand which can be added in multiroom-mode on the same network.

By Charlotte Saintoin | Testing Ground | August 24, 2017
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The rise of digital music has led to the birth of new types of devices: digital-to-analog converters (DACs) and network players, as well as combinations of these two with other elements (notably amplifiers) in order to offer autonomous compact systems which only need speakers to function.

Furthermore, even if it’s often possible to connect another audio source like a CD player to them, it’s not absolutely necessary with new compact systems like the Yamaha WXA-50, which is the object of this testing ground.

Indeed, the WXA-50, which is equipped with an amplifier, includes a network player allowing you to access digital audio files stored on your domestic network, Internet radios, and several online music services, including Qobuz in Hi-Res (high resolution audio up to 24-bit/192 kHz), thanks to the MusicCast Controller app available on Android and iOS. This control app is compatible with many Hi-Fi, audio and audio-video devices—including some digital pianos—from Yahama, and also enables multiroom control.

Furthermore, you’ll be able to use the internal digital-to-analog conversion circuits with a source equipped with an optical digital output, or even an iPod, iPhone or iPad, thanks to its compatible USB Type A input, as well as to a CD or DVD player, or any analog source, through the auxiliary input.

Let’s now take a look at this Yamaha WXA-50 amplifier with an added network player, of which there’s also a similar version minus the amplification part under the reference WXC-50.


Presentation

The Yamaha WXA-50 amplifier with streamer opts for a modern and discreet presentation, comprising its front face and the two titanium anodized aluminium sides. The shapes are smooth, especially the vertical edges that are shaped like quarter rounds and the volume knob that has a slightly truncated section which was introduced when Yamaha came back into the Hi-Fi sector with the release of the first AS series amplifiers.


On the front face, you’ll find, starting from the left: the window of the remote control receiver, the power button (which, when you hold it down for five seconds, allows you to configure the wireless network in conjunction with the WPS button of the LAN router), the source selection key (holding it down for five seconds will allow you to access the network settings through the MusicCast app) and the play/pause button.

Then there are three LEDs— two of which are multi-coloured—that, depending on their colour and state, will serve as indicators. Finally, there’s the volume button. It’s worth noting that the LED Status temporarily changes colour when you turn the volume up or down, going through the intermediate colours from blue for the lower levels to red for the higher ones.

A small remote control, whose source keys are the same colour as the indicator LED of the selected input, will permit you to use of the WXA-50 on a day-to-day basis and moreover offers six programmable keys enabling the instant access to memorized favourites, as well as a mute button.

Connectivity

The WXA-50 possesses an optical S/PDIF input, a network connector doubled by a Wi-Fi connection and a Bluetooth connection—the shared antenna is located at the back of the box, on the far right—a USB A input compatible with iPhones, iPods and iPads, and a stereo analog input.

Next to the two trigger plugs (an In and an Out, the former allowing another device to control the WXA-50, the latter enabling the control of another device by the WXA-50), a three-position slide switch enables you to leave the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections on, only the Bluetooth on, or to shut down both connections.


Then you’ll find an auxiliary stereo output that can be used to connect the WXA-50 as a source to a standard integrated amplifier, a subwoofer out and then the speaker terminals, non-isolated, beautiful models accepting banana plugs or bare wires. Be careful, though, we’re dealing with a switching amplifier, and the black terminals are not grounded and are carrying signals!!!

Manufacturing

The entirety of the internal space of the WXA-50 box is occupied, and the areas which are potentially dangerous on opening are protected by soft plastic covers. But despite the density, it’s all well-organized and you’ll have no problem accessing anything.


The main card—containing the network player section as well as several inputs, the digital-to-analog converter, the microcontroller and their power supply—occupies a large part of the left half of the box, while the rest hosts the amplifier and its power supply, which are integrated on the same card, as well as a small circuit board where you’ll find the speaker terminals and a relay switching the amplified signals to them.

The Wi-Fi network module, mounted on the main card and built by Yamaha themselves, also includes the Bluetooth receiver. On the other side of the main card is located the bulk of the digital processing electronics, as well as the connector linking these electronics to the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module. You’ll find in this section a Toshiba TMPM462F15FG microcontroller, a model that can be used in an audio-video amplifier, equipped with, among other things, an Ethernet or even USB Audio control interface.

Thus, it’s this controller that will take care of the processing of all digital signals and will convey them to the digital-to-analog converter, an ESS Sabre 9006AS. This chip includes eight channels and uses ‘Hyperstream’, a proprietary technology involving a 32-bit recalculation at high frequency of each and every digital signal, whatever their original sampling, as well as the Time Domain Jitter Eliminator process.

Despite Yamaha being one of the pioneers of the digital amplification, it’s a Bang & Olufsen Icepower ICE125ASX2 stereo amplifier that is present in the WXA-50. It integrates its own switching power supply which uses two 20N50F MosFet Fairchild transistors that can switch a 13A/500V current.


You can see that the amplification stages possess coolers equipped with heat-conducting pads transferring the calories to the upper closure plate, while a small fan can be used as a support to help accelerate the cooling.

Application, sound

Let’s dive into the following iPad screenshots to discover in broad terms the MusicCast Controller application, which is relatively easy to use…

- Downloading of the MusicCast Controller application on the Apple Store

- Launching the application

- Requesting access to the medias

- Requesting logging on existing system

- MusicCast is now connected to the existing system

- Group function (Link) unavailable with a single device(!)

- Accessing settings from the gearwheel icon

- Room parameters

- The available sources menu, where you will find Qobuz

- Music servers available on the network


- Accessing the content of the DiskStation server


- Playback of a Hi-Res album from the Qobuz App


- The equalizer allowing you to change the sonic restitution


For listening, we have connected our Triangle Antal Anniversary reference speakers on the terminals of the Yamaha WXA-50 to evaluate his sonic qualities. We’ve tried streaming the digital audion signals from both the Qobuz app on MusicCast and from the optical S/PDIF input through a USB-S/PDIF connector linked to a PC streaming on USB from Foobar2000.

Within seconds of listening to the title For Whom The Bell Tolls from the Bee Gees’ album Size Isn't Everything, we aren’t surprised to find the rather clear and spacious sound typical of the Yamaha amplifiers, even though the amplification module is a Bang & Olufsen Icepower. It would not be surprising that the rather pronounced high frequencies—further emphasized by our Antal speakers equipped with a metallic dome tweeter, and thus slightly biting on the top of the spectre—are caused by the usage of an ESS decoding chip doing a sampling rate conversion.

So, we temporarily used the auxiliary analog input with the same title from the Bee Gees, decoded by a Leaf Audio DAC processing the digital audio files in native mode (Burr-Brown PCM5102 chip), and the reproduction showed itself to be less bright, though still precise and with a large specialization, as noticed before, but also a bit less typical of Yamaha.

After going back to the initial configuration, we got the same overall impressions while listening to the title Chaleur Humaine from Christine and the Queens’ album l'album Chaleur Humaine, with a particularly good specialization and a good audio staging, while the singer’s voice is well-defined and present, and the bass underlying the music are both clear and solid.

Let’s now move to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in the wonderful (and well-recorded) version of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Hans Graf. Still a great sonic transparency, which is very pleasing when listening to a symphonic orchestra with choirs, and plenty of details and colours, but the ESS converter-Triangle Antal speakers combination distils a bit too much treble for our taste.

This combination being less than ideal, according to us, for this classic masterpiece, we tried our Dynaudio Excite X14 speakers, which possess smooth highs, and the music reproduction is a lot more suitable to our ears. We get the amplifier’s qualities back, with a slightly more controlled restitution and a much more pleasing tonal balance.

Staying in the same configuration, the Yamaha WXA-50 offers a bright and energetic restitution of Granados’ Intermezzo from Goyescas, from the album Operatic Intermezzi, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Herbert Von Karajan. The beauty and breadth of the typically Spanish theme played on the brass instruments accompanied by the orchestra will send shivers down your spine.

To conclude, we liked the sonic performances of the Yamaha WXA-50—it would be wise to try it with speakers meant for the device—as well as its control through the MusicCast Controller application, which includes Qobuz in Hi-Res. It’s a modern device which shouldn’t be difficult to use for audiophiles, conventional or not, willing to try out digital music streamed from a computer network.

Specifications
Basic User Manual
Advanced User Manual
Yamaha Audio & Vidéo France

Playback capabilities

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Translated by Damien Izabelle

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