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Yamaha Goes Big With MusicCast Wireless Multizone Audio

Yamaha is bringing wireless multizone audio to a broad array of home audio products, not just to tabletop speakers and soundbars, the company announced.

All of the products will feature high-resolution audio decoding and playback.

In launching its first wireless multizone-audio products in about a decade, the company plans by year’s end to offer 20 audio products featuring proprietary MusicCast technology. The products include audio/video receivers (AVRs), a two-channel stereo receiver, a pair of powered left-right monitor speakers, two soundbars, an under-TV speaker base, an A/V preamp processor, and a single-chassis tabletop speaker available in two colors. More products are coming next year.

The two soundbars include the industry’s first active soundbar announced to date with object-based surround decoding. It uses Yamaha’s proprietary Digital Sound Projector technology to generate sound beams that that bounce off the walls and ceiling to produce surround- and height-channel effects, eliminating the need for surround speakers.

The first products supporting MusicCast are 10 networked RX- and Aventage-series AVRs and one home theater AVR/speaker package. All get a MusicCast firmware upgrade today (August 20).

The customer: With its MusicCast selection, the premium home-audio supplier wants to differentiate itself from most competitors by targeting customers who don’t want to play music for background listening, said Tom Sumner, senior VP of Yamaha Corp. of America. These consumers have a passion for music and movies, enjoy technology and gadgets, and want simplicity but accept “a little more complexity to also get more performance and versatility,” he said during a press preview in New York City.

The target customers also own a sizable music library, sometimes play CDs, recently started using streaming music services, want surround sound in their main entertainment system, and want to add music to other rooms, he continued. “We know our customer,” he said.

All of the products, however, also feature stereo Bluetooth with AAC to appeal to a secondary target of consumers who are drawn to Bluetooth’s simplicity, Sumner said.

The potential: The market for Wi-Fi-based multiroom-audio systems has grown crowded in recent years, and Sonos enjoyed more than a 90 percent share of retail-level dollar sales in 2014, Yamaha said.

Nonetheless, Sumner sees plenty of potential for Yamaha, noting that of 116 million U.S. households, only 3 million use a wireless multiroom system

As a top player in component home audio, Yamaha enjoys “broad brand awareness with a strong fan base” among the types of consumers that the company is targeting, he added.

The features: MusicCast technology streams music from networked computers, NAS drives, mobile devices, and any sources connected to a MusicCast product, including USB sticks, turntables, CD players, and TVs. In a MusicCast system, up to 10 different MusicCast devices can play 10 different songs simultaneously, though a two- or three-zone AVR could send one of those streams via wired connection to additional rooms.

Like other Wi-Fi multiroom systems, all functions, including song and source selection, are controlled from a mobile-device app.

All MusicCast components decode such high-resolution formats as Apple Lossless (ALAC) up to 96kHz/24-bits as well as FLAC, AIFF and WAV files up to 192 kHz /24-bits.  All devices play DSD files except for the single-chassis tabletop speaker and the two soundbars. DSD files are downconverted for playback on those devices.

Via Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, up to three MusicCast devices can stream high-res 192/24 files simultaneously. For simultaneous playback on additional devices, the system will down-res a high-res file to prevent the Wi-Fi network from jamming up. If all devices use an Ethernet connection, up to 10 devices at a time will play high-res files.

One high-res limitation occurs in link mode, which lets users send the same song to multiple devices at a time. DSD isn’t available with link mode, so users are limited to sending a single DSD song to only one device at a time. Nonetheless, users can still stream different DSD songs simultaneously to different devices.

And more: MusicCast also offers the following:

­­*Each MusicCast device incorporates embedded Rhapsody, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify Connect, and vTuner streaming services.

*All products are equipped with Bluetooth and the ability to retransmit a Bluetooth stream from a mobile device over Wi-Fi or Ethernet to other MusicCast products in the house.

*A TV connected to a MusicCast soundbar can stream TV audio to a tabletop speaker in the kitchen.

*Bluetooth transmitters in all MusicCast devices send music to Bluetooth headphones.

*And the line’s single single-chassis stereo speaker will be updated later this year to enable two to be used as separate left-right speakers. The speaker can’t be pressed into service as surround speakers for use with the opening-price soundbar.

The timetable: The 10 networked AVRs getting a MusicCast upgrade today are priced from $449 to $2,199, with another RX-series AVR shipping in September at $649. The home theater package getting today’s upgrade is the $699 YHT-5920 HTiB.

These products will be followed in September by the $2,999 Aventage CX-A5100 preamp/surround processor with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding. It will be the company’s flagship preamp/surround processor. Also coming in September are the $499 YSP-1600 soundbar and $599 SRT-1500 TV speaker base.

October availability is planned for a $649 R-N602 networked hi-fi stereo receiver and a $249 single-chassis tabletop stereo speaker, which will be available in black and white/silver.

In December, Yamaha rolls out the $799/pair NX-N500 powered monitor speakers and the $1,699 YSP-5600 soundbar, which is the first active soundbar announced to date with object-based surround decoding.

The YSP-5600 soundbar incorporates Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding and the company’s proprietary multi-driver Digital Sound Projector technology to beam sound off walls and the ceiling to deliver height and surround effects. Angled-up drivers direct height channels to the ceiling. It comes with subwoofer output.

What’s in a name? Yamaha first applied the MusicCast name to a wireless-multiroom audio system unveiled in 2003. It featured $2,199 160GB hard drive/CD ripper that distributed music to $599 amplifier-equipped tabletop clients. The clients would drive any pair of passive speakers. Because today’s version of smartphones did not exist, app control was not available.