Amplifier Review

YAMAHA’S WXC-50 & WXA-50: AMPLIFIERS…From Any Angle

A pair of rinky, dinky amplifiers from Yamaha offer just enough facilities for a small footprint chassis, including MusicCast. Paul Rigby reviews the WXC-50 pre-amplifier and the WXA-50 integrated amplifier

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Both of these amplifiers arrive in an almost identical chassis, giving the pair a distinct ‘family’ resemblance that will allow both to easily fit into a living room environment. Both arrive with MusicCast Wi-Fi streaming as standard and come with a 48bit digital volume control. Both can also be mounted vertically to further minimise the overall footprint. They also support AirPlay and, where available, Spotify, Napster, Sirius XM, Juke and Pandora as well as DSD 5.6MHz and FLAC/WAV/ AIFF 24bit/192kHz. Finally, they both span 215 x 51.5 x 245.9mm.

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The first of the two amp boxes, the WXC-50 pre-amplifier. You can also turn off the Pre-amp mode and use the device as a simple network audio player. This box weighs 1.44kg. The 70W WXA-50 weighs in at 1.94kg. Check out the accompanying images to see a rundown of controls, sockets et al. The aerial is the home of the screw-in, multi-position, Wi-Fi aerial.

IN USE

To play the USB stick of digital files, I decided to download and install the associated and in-house developed MusicCast app on my iPhone 6S. USB file control was a lot friendlier via the app than punching buttons on a chassis and hoping for the best. Download and software installation was easy but the final set-up was overly difficult. It took me around 20 minutes when it really should have taken me, what, three?

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MusicCast is not a Bluetooth system but utilises a Wi-Fi connection. To install it, you press the Connect button on the front of either chassis for five seconds until the adjacent connection light flashes. Then you open the app itself and follow the onscreen prompts which involves bouncing between it and the phone’s Wi-Fi Settings screen. In that Settings screen, you wait for the MusicCast option to appear as one of the choices within the available local Wi-Fi connections list. Well it did, eventually. Nothing was seen until my third try but I finally connected without a problem once it made an appearance.

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Back to the app but my trial was not yet over. The app failed to complete the install sequence another three times but I got there at the fourth attempt. Why these issues occurred can only be conjecture. Was it down to my phone? Was it Yamaha’s fault? Was it something to do with my Wi-Fi signal? Was it something else? I can only say that no other, non-Yamaha, device had issues in my listening room or anywhere else in the building at this time.

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Nevertheless, once connected and installed, the app worked flawlessly. It showed the song title, sleeve art (not for WAV rips though), CD-type music controls plus EQ controls. My only gripe is that I would have like to have seen a report on the quality of the file type being played. For example, when playing the jazz piece, St. Thomas from Sonny Rollins, this is a 24bit/96kHz file but this information was never revealed by the app. I wish I could have seen that information on the app screen. I don’t mind the lifestyle facade that Yamaha is trying to promote here. I can even live with the irritatingly Apple-like paternalistic ‘we’ve-decided-that-you-don’t-need-the-information-so-we-won’t-give-it-to-you’, non-techie approach to the app but it would have been nice to have found the said figures buried somewhere, for those who really want it.

SOUND QUALITY

I began the sound tests playing a the CD version of Earth, Wind & Fire’s Let’s Groove. This group was a busy outfit on stage and within their arrangements. There is plenty going on here and it takes quite an amplifier to sort everything out. Even behind the conglomeration of the principle voices and instruments, there are plenty of subtle and tiny effects that pop up here and there.

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Have you ever seen those word association tests that psychologists use to diagnose the mental state of a patient? You say ‘good’, I say bad. You say ‘black’, I say ‘white’, you say ‘The Himalayas’, I say ‘Marilyn Monroe’. You know the sort of thing. Well, if you said, ‘bass’, I would say ‘Yamaha’. Such is the company’s reputation and concentrated effort to effect a low frequency-based personality. If any knows how to ‘do’ bass, Yamaha’s yer man.

Through the WXA-50, I was most impressed by that signature Yamaha bass. Impressed, not because there was a lot if it – there was – but because of how the bass power was integrated within the soundstage. The amount of focus placed upon the bass gave it a sharp, short, ‘bam!’ of an arrival. The punch was in then out in a jiffy, giving the bass a tremendous transient speed and response that provided drive to the entire track. The tightness of the bass was allied to its careful positioning in the soundstage. There was no hint of blooming or any threat of it infecting the midrange. This meant that secondary percussion, such as wooden block strikes, on the track My Love from the same group, where not only recognisable but also integrated their own reverb tails. Any bass smearing at all would have veiled such delicacies.

Midrange was incisive, for the price, digging out all of those little sound effects that I mentioned above, allowing the ear to seek them out without too much trouble. Yes, there was a slight spotlight shining on the upper mids during vocal crescendos but mainly at high volumes. It wasn’t a big problem, though. For the most part, I enjoyed the tremendous clarity that the midrange afforded and, for the price, the detail that it presented.

Turning to Sonny Rollins and his track, St. Thomas running via the USB port from a USB stick at 24bit/96kHz and controlled via the MusicCast app, I was impressed by the midrange insight that, for the price, provided space and air for the complex percussive sequences on this track. Drums were punchy but also characterful, tracking the complexity of the different drums well while cymbals strikes were relatively fragile, despite that slight spotlight giving the treble a tad of stridency at high volumes. Again, though, I saw this effect mostly at higher volumes and considering the price tag it was not a great problem.

Finally, I turned to Bluetooth and Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me played as a MP3. Yamaha has implemented MP3 streaming well and the processing produced a pleasant and, considering the poor quality of the inherent file type, relatively sweet presentation that never grated or hurt the ears. Vocals were comparatively well rounded, avoiding the thin and edgy sound from other, less well realised, hardware.

Next up was the preamp, the WXC-50. For this test, I turned to ‘old technology’ and a pair of Class A power mono blocks. The small in stature but wholly meaty Valvet Classe-A Mono-amps A1r, to be precise. I’ve always enjoyed their open-ended and focused output and they have been used when shelf space has been lacking. As such, they pair up very well with the similarly low footprint WXC-50. Hooking up is easy with the A1r mono blocks sliding into the Pre Out sockets at the rear of the Yamaha chassis.

The reason for connecting the A1r blocks was to show that the Yamaha can connect to older hardware or hardware lacking in modern connective facilities. The thought of using the A1rs with a USB source and as part of a streaming set-up was an intriguing one.

I began with a slightly more traditional source, CD and back to Earth, Wind & Fire. The combination of the dynamic and high energy track, Let’s Groove, the bass rich Yamaha and the punchy A1r produced the sort of low end that can punch through brick walls and keep on going further than Godzilla in a bad mood. That, of course, is another benefit of the Yamaha preamp, you can tailor its musical personality, depending on what you connect to it. Yes, that slightly strident edge to the app mids was evident at higher volumes and during crescendos but, once more, at normal volumes it was no great concern.

Generally speaking, mids were insightful, detailed and with a slightly clinical edge that enabled the WXC-50 to dig deep into the mix to extract even the most subtle and shy of effects that often resided within the complex arrangement of this song. Solid state fans will adore the sound from the Yamaha, which could easily become a dictator of a small, wayward country, such is the measure of strength, power and no compromise approach it has to sound.

Turning to the USB port and Sonny Rollin’s higher resolution source via St. Thomas, the Yamaha successfully fed a relatively open and spacious signal, for the price, to the monoblocks. The result combined an energetic yet detailed output that was full of texture and character, especially from the Rollins saxophone while the percussion produced a musical and dynamic presentation, brimming with energy and motive power. Piano was a little strident at times but that was of no real surprise at this price point. The piano has to be the most difficult of instruments to control for any budget component and the Yamaha made a good fist of the chaotic and disorderly frequencies from it.

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Finally, taking advantage of MusicCast and streaming Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me from iPhone 6S I was once again impressed as to how the Yamaha delivered the low quality MP3 to the ear. That is, in a relatively mature, dignified and listenable manner. Tonal balance was pretty good for a MP3 while Gaye’s delivery was smooth and easy on the ear.

CONCLUSION

Both units offer an attractively small footprint that bodes well, obviously, if you are bereft of desk and shelf space. The little integrated amp offers just enough connections to satisfy most music fans. This little amp also offers a big sound: powerful and detailed for the low price it demands. Excellent value.

The preamp, meanwhile provides a goodly selection of features that is ideal to upgrade older technology or extend the facilities of a hi-fi system lacking in certain areas.


YAMAHA WXA-50 MUSICCAST WIRELESS STREAMING AMPLIFIER

Price: £430

Web: uk.yamaha.com/en

Tel: 01908 366700


GOOD: value for money, small footprint, focused bass, detailed mids

BAD: slight midrange stridency at high volumes, temperamental MusicCast app

RATING: 7


YAMAHA WXC-50 MusicCast Wireless Streaming Preamplifier

Price: £300

Web: uk.yamaha.com/en

Tel: 01908 366700


GOOD: value for money, feature selection, small footprint, incisive mids, punch bass, 

BAD: midrange stridency at high volumes, MusicCast app connection

RATING: 7

To watch of video of both units in action, click HERE.


REFERENCE SYSTEM

Apple iPhone 6S

Astell & Kern AK120 digital player

Leema Elements CD Player

Rega Brio-R amplifier

Spender S3/5R2 speakers

Acoustic Research Radiance One Speakers

Black Rhodium/Chord Shawline  cables

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33 Comments

  • Reply
    Paul Brockwell
    30th December 2016 at 1:59 pm

    The Yamaha WXC-50 does indeed display the bit rate and file type of music being played. It’s on the EQ settings menu, under Audio Information tab. I’ve had the unit since the first batch were delivered and it’s always been there. Otherwise a great review.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      30th December 2016 at 3:07 pm

      Is that on an Android phone Paul?

  • Reply
    Paul Brockwell
    30th December 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Yes indeed it is. I agree that had that file information not been available to me I wouldn’t have been impressed. Thank you for the review, I’ve been looking out for a while for a quality write up.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      30th December 2016 at 3:59 pm

      Hi Paul
      Ah, I tested using an iPhone which failed to feature that information. Hence my criticisms.

  • Reply
    Soz
    29th January 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Really enjoined the review, but feel that it needed context, like how it compares to something at the same price point like the best sellers Marantz MCR511/611?
    Thanks

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      29th January 2017 at 8:21 pm

      Thanks Soz, sorry I just didn’t have access to the Marantz kit at that time. Hope you got enough information from the review to help, though.

  • Reply
    Mike Johnson
    28th March 2017 at 7:03 pm

    Paul, I enjoyed reading your review of the Yamaha amp and preamp. I am considering the pre amp with a set of Paradigm shift A2 powered speakers. I found your review very helpful.
    I am not too computer savy and I have a Mac computer in the next room to where the preamp will go and was wondering which would be the best input to use for a wired connection between the two.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      28th March 2017 at 8:32 pm

      Hi Mike – a safe connection between the Pre and Mac is the USB ports of both. They are easy to connect, cables are relatively easy to source and the resolution always has the potential to reach the maximum available potential.

      • Reply
        ENRICO
        29th March 2017 at 3:06 pm

        Hi Paul,
        very useful review.
        I just bought a Yamaha WXC and I use it as preamp paired to a Musical Fidelity M1 PWR power amp.
        Would I get better sound to use the Yamaha WXC just as a streamer connected to an integrated amp like the Rega Brio?

        • Reply
          Paul Rigby
          30th March 2017 at 12:44 pm

          You can certainly do that, yes. And the Brio is a fine sounding amp, I recommend it. On the back of the Yamaha there’s a player/pre switch. If you switch it to ‘player’ then the WXC50 will just send line level output from the pre-outs and the Rega amplifier can control the volume. You could also use the AUX BUS outputs but you’ll get a better sound quality from the pre-outs.

  • Reply
    Richard N. Thewlis
    18th May 2017 at 10:39 am

    Hi Paul, good in depth detailed review with attention to detail like it. I currently own a Cambridge CXA60 DAC, a Cambridge Audi BT100 Bluetooth aptX receiver, Samsung BDJ7500 Blue – Ray (my fill in CD player for now) & a pair of Bowers & Wilkins 365 S1 speakers on stands. In the very near future are a Rega Planar 2 and a Cambridge Audio CP2 Phono / pre amp. So I’m covering phono nicely (I hope?) and currently streaming music from Spotify Premium over aptX to aptX Bluetooth via simple hand held android. My question is I wish to play wired or over the internet high-res music. This led me onto Tidal / Qobuz with the Qobuz “Sublime” service winning my vote at the minute (not yet subscribed). with 16bit / 44.1kHz throughout the catalogue and 30-60% reduction on buying high-res 24bit / up to and including 192kHz. So I pay my £219.99 annual subscription but then I need to be able to play music at such high-res. Bluetooth is now out of the question. My CXA60 has a usb port to accept BT100 but isn’t a true USB standard port (unlike the CXA80’s). I’ve pasted a link of the back of the CXA60 for clarity below. I am told Qobuz compatible hardware is limited but the Yamaha WXC-50 is (and possibly the Oppo Sonica DAC [but I already own a DAC]). So do I purchase the WXC-50 (and have a multi-room benefit too) or can I somehow get a small laptop to link up (via USB) to my CXA60 direct (but recall my CXA60 doesn’t have true USB). Finally (hope I’m not boring people here!) will the WXC-50 act as a phono amp for my turntable too, instead of the Cambridge Audio CP2 or are 2 seperate pre-amps better? Alternatively is there a whole different direction I should take to streaming high-res music that I haven’t even contemplated?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      18th May 2017 at 12:30 pm

      Thanks for your message, Richard. OK, well, just picking out a few points from you missive:
      1: A separate phono amp is ALWAYS better than a built in example. Stick with the CP2 on that score and use it even if you buy the Yamaha.
      2: You may not have the choice but, if you do, do not use a computer as a digital source. It is a *computer*, it is busy doing computer-type things all of the time and it doesn’t know how to produce a good quality digital signal. Laptop sources introduce lots of noise because of this. The only decent laptop source is a dedicated unit with software in it that literally shuts down 90% of Windows to act as a music manager only. For Windows? Something like JRiver, Audirvana for the Mac.
      3: Get a dedicated CD player ASAP. Even better? use a dedicated solid state music player. Rip your CDs to that laptop of yours using a quality ripper (i.e. dBpoweramp) to a lossless format, connect the music player to your hi-fi and let that be your ‘CD player’. This arrangement will be far, far better than a budget CD player or your Samsung (next to no jitter, you see from all of those moving parts). Plus, you’ve got yourself a mobile player as a bonus.
      4: Yes, hi-res files should be played wired only. Wireless will cripple any hires benefits. Wireless is only good for lossy files.
      5: The Yamaha would provide plenty of networking benefits, that’s true and is certainly a good option for you.
      6: As for other options? I’d need a budget price from you for that one 🙂
      7: One alternative is the Cabasse Stream Source which, so I hear, also supports Quboz: http://theaudiophileman.com/cabasse-stream-source-island-stream/
      Oh, if I didn’t answer your question, shout at me again…

  • Reply
    Manu
    6th June 2017 at 10:17 pm

    Hi There, Just need to ask a simple thing as i am considering to get wxc-50- Pre Amplifier , If i plug in a optical input and connect a optical out to other player and simultaneously if i connect a subwoofer to the subwoofer out of wxc 50 pre amp unit, will the subwoofer and the optical output work simultaneously ..Like i just need to use subwoofer out and optical out of this pre amp together nothing else .. I may sound like a dumb but 300 pounds man, come on ..pls help me if u can.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      7th June 2017 at 1:03 pm

      If you connect a sub woofer then you’re doing nothing else but connecting a speaker, a powered speaker yes, but a speaker nonetheless. Plugging in an optical – which presumably will head straight for a music player or some other source? That’s a different thing and the Pre sees it as such so there will be no clash. Finally, there’s no such thing as a dumb question – at least not here. So don’t be afraid of asking.

  • Reply
    Clark Bird
    18th June 2017 at 11:14 pm

    I just purchased a pair of KEF LS50 wireless speakers. They have numerous options for inputting the music and are self-amped, to boot. USB, ethernet, RCA analog and optical in for hard wired plus wi-fi and bluetooth for the wireless. Right now, I have them plugged via the RCA Pre-amp out jacks of my (10 year old but still works great) Yamaha home theater receiver. I’m thinking an option with these Yamaha WXC units would be to wire them in such a way as to have the optical out be a better source for the KEFs than the RCA’s, if that makes sense. My goal is to get more into the hi-resolution music via Tidal or Roon, et al, plus I have around 15,000 songs in our iTunes library. I know the KEF’s can make all of this sound better if I get the right gear to feed them. They also have built-in DAC’s, along with the internal amplification. So, will either of these Yamaha units fill the bill? Would the pre-amp one work best because I don’t need additional amplification? Or, would you recommend some other route? Call me spoiled, but I do still want them to work as my front right and left speakers when playing movies and video through our Apple TV (v.4) unit or our Blu-ray player. Thanks

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      19th June 2017 at 11:55 am

      Hi Clark – so the aim of this would be too access the new Tidal update for the WDC-50? Is this a TV-centric system? Are you looking to achieve anything else?

  • Reply
    Clark Bird
    19th June 2017 at 11:29 pm

    Hi Paul. Sorry if that was a bit obscure. I would agree that it’s a TV centric system as we use the AppleTV and Blu-ray units to view all things video. One example of my dilemma is that the Gen 4 Apple TV is linked to the Sony 65″ TV via HDMI; the Sony then sends the audio only via its optical out to our Yamaha amp, the RCA pre-outs from the amplifier to the KEF’s. Seems I’m stepping down from the best possible cable (HDMI) to the RCA analog cables to feed the KEF’s, which I purchased to be the strongest part of my system, not the weakest. They’ve inspired us to just listen to music a lot more, too, because they sould amazing.
    Since my post, I’ve noticed that the Yamaha pre-amp unit has an optical out jack; I’m thinking this would maintain the integrity of the digital signal from the HDMI inputs all the way to the KEF’s. I’ve even thought of getting a good optical cable splitter to send an additional signal directly to the KEF’s. Ultimate goal: get the best sound possible out of the speakers. I have a Mac Mini running through the TV also (via HDMI). It’s occurred to me that TIDAL or ROON would look great on the TV, as well. Thanks

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      20th June 2017 at 8:59 am

      Hi Clark – I wondered if you had considered simplifying the system and plugging the KEFs directly into the TV via the optical on the KEFs. Take the old Yamaha out of the chain to purify the chain then connect a Tidal-ready device directly into the KEFs but leave it out of the TV loop. Doing it this way would give you shorter and more direct links from each source, hopefully enhancing sound quality.

  • Reply
    thi
    5th September 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Hello Paul,
    i have a few questions
    -when streaming via USB : does the wxc50 support a usb-portable harddisk instead of a memory stick ?
    –> if so : does it show covers flawlessly ? (when a “folder.jpeg is in the cd-map of the current played Album)
    -can i make mixed playlists ? –> e.g : 2 tracks from Harddisk, followed by to tracks from Spotify and then save this as a new playlist ? (and edit this playlist later-on ?)
    -can i empty the current playlist ? -> i do ask this because my experience is that this is not possible with spotify-app on an IPAD, only possible with spotify-app on an iphone/android phone !!

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      14th September 2017 at 8:57 am

      I’ve asked Yamaha to respond to this one – bit of a delay because they’re preparing for a range of hi-fi shows. Will get back to you ASAP.

  • Reply
    Wade Souza
    6th September 2017 at 2:59 am

    Hi Paul, Nice review. Here is my question. Do you see the preamp in the Yamaha as a higher end product that should improve markedly on an existing system vs buying a free standing audiophile preamp (say a Parasound P5). Presently using a Logitech Squeezebox for internet radio/streaming running through an Acurus R11 preamp to a McIntosh MC250 power amp (rebuilt and upgraded unit). The signal from the Logitech goes via video cable to a Cambridge Audio 740C for use of the DAC then into the Acurus. I have been told the Acurus is probably the weak link in the chain as a 20+ year old preamp without any updating and no functional remote.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      6th September 2017 at 6:06 pm

      Hi Wade – well, the P5 is a lot more expensive than the Yamaha and is expected to be superior on that basis alone (it is). The P5 would be recommended if your budget will stretch.

  • Reply
    Lorenzo
    28th September 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Hi Paul, thank you a lot for the reviews! I’m looking for a preamp like the wxc-50 that can do anything and connect directly to a power amplifier, so i would ask if you know some alternatives for other pre/dac/streamer, maybe with better quality… Sorry for my English, all the best!

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      28th September 2017 at 4:53 pm

      Can you be a bit more specific? I assume that the Yamaha is not what you’re looking after? Why not? What are your requirements and budget?

      • Reply
        lorenzo
        28th September 2017 at 6:02 pm

        Sorry Paul! I’d like to know if there are some better alternatives to the wxc-50 for using like a preamp! I need something that can be used as a preaml/dac/streamer all in one with my power amplifier… I hope now it’clear

        • Reply
          Paul Rigby
          28th September 2017 at 9:13 pm

          What sort of budget are you looking at Lorenzo?

          • Lorenzo
            29th September 2017 at 10:17 am

            Maybe 600/800 euros!

          • Paul Rigby
            29th September 2017 at 9:27 pm

            Cambridge DacMagic Plus – £350. You can add a streaming module to the back.

  • Reply
    Lorenzo
    4th October 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Yeah Paul, very nice idea, like a CXN or a 851N, but there are only one last problem, they have no analogue inputs, and I have a turnable to connect.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      4th October 2017 at 2:39 pm

      I’m on the move and so can’t check but, from memory, isn’t there a pair of unbalanced outputs on the rear, to the left? To plug in a phono amp? Failing that, at this price, I’m scratching my head to think of one. It’s the streaming inclusion that I find difficult, at this price. I can think of a Auralic Altair but that is around £1,700.

      • Reply
        lorenzo
        4th October 2017 at 3:37 pm

        I think the same, is very hard to find one! So is hard to find Dac/Preamp with analogue inputs, under 1000 £ I think that there is just the Teac UD-503, do you know some other rivals cheaper?

        • Reply
          Paul Rigby
          4th October 2017 at 4:59 pm

          The Lead Audio Northern Fidelity? €700 I think.

          • Lorenzo
            4th October 2017 at 8:00 pm

            Nice idea! It’s the first that i ear about it…it seems hard to find but i will try! Thanks a lot!

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