Yamaha WX-021 AND WX-051: Much more than meets the eye

At face value, the Yamaha WX-021 and WX-051 look like stylish wireless speakers. But as it turns out, their talent set extends well beyond that description: they’re part of the MusicCast ecosystem, and they offer some clever surround capabilities, too.

By Deon Schoeman

 

Wireless, Bluetooth-capable lifestyle loudspeakers have become all the rage. They come in a broad range of sizes, applications and capabilities, ranging from small and basic to smarter, larger and more expensive offerings.

The Yamaha WX-021 and WX-051 are relative newcomers to the brand’s product line-up and also join the burgeoning MusicCast ecosystem. The latter fact provides some indication that these compact, elegantly styled units are capable of more than their appearance suggests.

As you can see from the accompanying images, the smaller WX-021 is a compact, cylindrical device, while the larger WX-051 has an oval shape. Functionally, the two share virtually identical feature sets.

The major difference relates directly to their size. The WX-021’s more compact form factor makes it easier to place, even in smaller spaces, while the larger WX-051 has a bigger footprint and is heavier too.

However, the WX-051’s more generous dimensions allow it to accommodate different and larger drive units, and more powerful amplifiers, which translates into a bigger sonic performance – better suited to larger spaces, in other words.

It also offers the ability to connect ancillary components via a pair of auxiliary analogue inputs and a Toslink optical digital input, further boosting its versatility.

AT FACE VALUE

Both Yamahas are available in white or black, with the former perhaps the more glamorous choice, while the black looks smart, but in a pragmatic and businesslike way.

A glossy-finished top panel is home to a touch-sensitive control set, while much of the speaker body is enclosed by a fine metal mesh to protect the driver complement.

Concealed at the rear of the base is a receptacle for the supplied AC power cord, as well as an Ethernet port for wired connection to a home network. There’s also a USB port, but it’s meant for service use only, and won’t accept any USB-based storage devices.

As already mentioned, the WX-051 gets additional input options. These include a stereo minijack socket and a stereo RCA input set, as well as a Toslink optical digital input, allowing connection of ancillaries such as a TV set or a CD player, for instance.

Despite their compact size, the two Yamahas are surprisingly heavy, endowing them with a reassuringly solid, quality feel. The bases have a rubberised outline to ensure stability, even on smooth surfaces.

The WX-021 can also be wall mounted, thanks to the provision of a mounting aperture on the rear panel. But given its 2,2 kg weight, make sure the wall mount is sturdy, and screwed deeply enough into the wall to support the speaker.

As mentioned, the WX-21 and WX-051 belong to Yamaha’s MusicCast ecosystem, which means they’re part of a dedicated, networked multiroom system that allows any number of MusicCast-compatible devices to be linked, wired or wirelessly, across a home network.

They can be used to seamlessly share source content, and to be controlled either individually or collectively via Yamaha’s MusicCast app, available for Android and iOS devices.

The MusicCast ecosystem is being expanded continuously and not only includes wireless speakers such as the duo under scrutiny here, but also AV receivers, soundbars and even subwoofers.

Already, it’s possible to put together a completely wireless AV system comprising a MusicCast-compatible AV receiver, soundbar, subwoofer and surrounds – an appealing prospect that I managed to put to the test during this review.

That system could then be one of several MusicCast zones in a home also featuring more WX-021s and WX-051s in other zones around the home.

You can also link two WX-021s or WX-051s together, forming a stereo pair operating in a single zone. Frankly, the possibilities are endless, while the app-based control system is seamless, and user-friendly.

UNDER THE COVERS

One of the reasons for the WX-021’s substantial mass relative to its size is the fact that it contains no less than four drivers: a 30mm soft-dome tweeter, a 90mm mid/bass driver, and a pair of passive radiators.

The bass radiators are a more accurate and effective alternative to a conventional bass port, especially in the context of the compact enclosure, and the fact that it’s also crammed with 40 watts worth of digital amplification.

Each driver gets its own amplifier – a 15-watter for the tweeter, and a 25 watt amp for the mid/bass driver, for 40 watts of total system power.

The WX-051 ups the output ante by linking a pair of 100mm woofers to a duo of 30 mm soft-dome tweeters. Two 35 watt amplifiers – one for the tweeters, one for the woofers – deliver a combined system power output of 70 watts.

Both enclosures feature a lot of sturdy, solid and acoustically inert composites, which ensures the drive units operate off a stable, resonance-free platform.

Remember, this is not a portable, rechargeable speaker, but an altogether more sophisticated device, designed to deliver room-filling sound despite its compact enclosure.

Also not apparent is just how extensive the feature set of these two MusicCast speakers is as far as connectivity, source selection and music file compatibility are concerned. Network connectivity is either via the 10/100 Ethernet port, or wirelessly using the 802.11 Wi-Fi protocol.

I’ve already discussed the Yamahas’ membership of the MusicCast family and the possibilities that opens, but source versatility is impressive.

Unlike the WX-051, the WX-021 can’t be physically connected to any source components such as a CD player or a TV, but the MusicCast app does allow both speakers to be linked to a host of on-line and network-linked sources.

These include Tidal, Deezer and Spotify Connect, as well as Qobuz and Napster (which are not available in SA). Internet radio is well supported, including a powerful search engine, and the ability to store favourite stations.

Since the WX-021 and WX-51 are DLNA and UPnP compatible, they will recognise and play source material saved on network-attached storage (NAS) devices on the same network, as long as the files are compatible with the speakers’ capabilities.

File types supported include WAV, MP3, WMA, MPEG-4, AAC, FLAC, ALAC and AIFF. Lossless formats are supported up to 192 kHz/24-bit resolution, but the Yamahas aren’t compatible with DSD files.

Bluetooth 4.2 using the AAC and SBC codecs (but not apt-X, sadly) makes it easy for any Bluetooth device (smart devices, audio players, laptop computers) to stream content to the Yamaha. It’s also AirPlay2 compatible, which allows iOS devices to serve the Yamaha with content.

Finally, the WX-021 can be controlled using Amazon Alexa voice commands, as long as you have a Connect ID and an Alexa-enabled device.

SETTING UP

I ran the WX-021 and WX-051 in various configurations. Local Yamaha importer/distributor Balanced Audio provided a pair of each of the speakers, which allowed me to try them individually, in different zones, and together as a stereo pair.

I was also able to check out their capabilities in a surround sound role, wirelessly linked to a Yamaha RX-A3080 AV receiver (review pending) via the MusicCast app, with the YAS-408 MusicCast-capable soundbar/subwoofer combo (review also pending) taking care of the front and LFE channels.

Connecting and activating the speakers was relatively simple, although getting the Wi-Fi connection to work in the AVSA listening studio was made more difficult by the poor Wi-Fi connectivity. Still, I eventually got it all to work – and in situations where the Wi-Fi signal isn’t compromised the process is quick and simple.

The MusicCast app is intuitive and reasonably well laid out, but enjoys being viewed on a larger screen than my regular iPhone 5S – an iPad Mini 4 was a far better choice, offering ample screen real estate to browse the app’s varied controls and functions.

The app allows rudimentary tone adjustment via sliders for trebles, mids and lows, as well as the choice of a bass boost function. I ran the tone settings flat, but ended up using the bass boost for the extra low-end authority it provided, without muddying the sound.

SOUNDS LIKE

Starting off with the smaller WX-021, I was taken by surprise by the speaker’s rich, full sound which belied its compact size. It delivered its wares with a real sense of presence that’s unusual for a standalone speaker, let alone one as diminutive as this one.

There was plenty of volume potential for the Yamaha to be used in even larger rooms and open-plan spaces.

The WX-021 is inherently a forgiving speaker, making the most of what it’s offered – including MP3 files, and lossy, low-bandwidth Internet radio. By the same token, it rewarded quality source files with a sound that took on a distinctly hi-fi-esque nature in terms of tonal breadth, headroom and pace.

Indeed, the WX-021 never really sounded like a small, single point-source speaker – there was an omni-directionality to the delivery that allowed for a substantive, tonally saturated and authentic performance.

Of particular note was the ability of the speaker to establish a more than adequate low-frequency foundation, linked to a fattish but well controlled midrange and sweet but detailed tops.

Sound quality apart, it was the sheer ease of use, and the Yamaha’s ability to draw from a wide range of on-line sources, as well as its ability to communicate with other MusicCast components, that made it an impressive example of the wireless music art.

Predictably, the WX-051 eclipsed its more compact sibling in every sonic department – which is saying something, given just how engaging tonally expansive the WX-021 turned out to be. It certainly played louder when required, and reached lower too, while delivering an even fuller, more generous and more immersive sound.

Again, I was struck by the substance of the sound: the fact that I was listening to a single speaker instead of a stereo pair never got in the way of enjoying the music.

There was plenty of pace, too, with good rendition of even finer detail, and an overall sense of clarity that allowed unhindered access to the music’s essence.

If stereo is a must-have, you can pair two WX-051s or WX-021s together to create a compact, stylish and completely wire-free stereo system. The results were astonishingly good, with fine focus, excellent imaging and generous staging.

In smaller spaces, a pair of WX-021s configured in stereo made a compelling case for replacing a more conventional, bulkier and cable-connected set-up. The inconspicuous presence of the two speakers, the convenience of wireless operation, and the versatility of the MusicCast system further added to their appeal.

Replacing the WX-021s with the larger WX-051s further strengthened the concept’s attraction, offering more urge, more muscle and more headroom, together with a meatier sound that ensured enhanced presence, but retained the airy imaging and clear detail of the WX-021s.

Both WX models performed satisfactorily in a wireless surround role, although their appeal relies more on the convenience of their wireless status any specific sonic prowess. Certainly, they were up to the surround job, but in voicing terms, they didn’t seamlessly match the front channel performance of the YS-408.

Granted, the surround sound role is arguably less critical than the front channel delivery, but a system where the WX-021s and WX-051s would be able to perform LCR and surround roles would offer a more sonically seamless performance.

For now, though, the WX speakers can only be implemented in a surround role.

Setting up the WX-021s and WX-051s as individual rooms or zones in a multiroom system – a core feature of the MusicCast ecosystem – was a quick and easy process, and once completed, allowed centralised control of each room/zone from the app.

The only proviso is that all the speakers have to be connected (wirelessly, or via Ethernet) to the same network. You can get all zones to play the same source material simultaneously, or choose different source material for each zone, while also controlling the volume of each room independently.

Again, it’s a case of an elegant solution offering convenient installation and intuitive operation, while delivering decent sound, too.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Yamaha WX-021 and larger WX-051 changed my perception of single-speaker sound in primarily background music applications completely. Both speakers sound dynamic and substantial enough to enjoy the music they’re playing, without feeling short-changed on the sonic front.

Yes, the delivery isn’t stereo, but then, you’re not analysing soundstaging and imaging while pottering around the kitchen, relaxing on the patio, or reading in the family room. In a single-speaker role, they have more than enough presence and momentum to make the music enjoyable.

However, as MusicCast speakers, the ability of these WX models to be linked as stereo pairs, operate as surrounds, and to be incorporated into a user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing multiroom system, elevates their appeal far beyond the single speaker role.

Add to that their ability to draw material from a variety of sources – including Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay – as well as their compatibility with Amazon’s Alexa voice command system, and the Yamaha WX-021 and WX-051 emerge as innovative home entertainment solutions with convenience, versatility, appealing aesthetics and satisfying sonics on their side.

VITAL STATS

Yamaha WX-021 MusicCast
Power output: 40 watts (1 kHz, 10% THD)
Drive units:
– 1x 30mm soft-dome tweeter
– 1x 90mm mid/bass driver
– 2x 90mm passive radiators
Connectivity: 802,11 Wi-Fi, 10/100 Ethernet
Wireless: Bluetooth V4.2 and Apple AirPlay 2
Supported file formats: WAV, MP3, WMA, MP4 AAC, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF
Dimensions (WxHxD): 150 x 186 x 130 mm
Weight: 2,2 kg

Yamaha WX-051 MusicCast
Power output: 70 watts (1 kHz, 10% THD)
Drive units:
– 2x 30mm soft-dome tweeters
– 2x 100mm mid/bass drivers
Connectivity: 802.11 Wi-Fi, 10/100 Ethernet
Inputs: Toslink digital optical, stereo minijack, stereo RCA
Wireless: Bluetooth V4.2 and Apple AirPlay 2
Supported file formats: WAV, MP3, WMA, MP4 AAC, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF
Dimensions (WxHxD): 400 x 112186 x 200 mm
Weight: 4,5 kg
PRICING
WX-021: R5 380
WX-051: R8 080
SUPPLIED BY
Balanced Audio