FOR Decent balance; striking design; reasonable timing AGAINST Lack of dynamics and expression; closed soundstage
Yamaha WX-030 £200
You know when you meet your friend’s partner for the first time and they weren’t at all how you’d imagined? Well, having spent some time with Yamaha’s imaginatively designed ISX#80 wireless speaker, we weren’t expecting this unassuming little box to be its other half.
Without resorting to clichés, it is fair to say we like unassuming if it means the focus has been put on sound quality. Judging by the Yamaha WX#030’S slanted quadrilateral design, three sides of which are grilled to emit sound, we feel reasonably sure that’s the case.
Backs against the wall
Beneath the WX#030’S modest exterior, a claimed maximum power of 30W feeds a 30mm tweeter and 9cm woofer, which is in turn aided by a passive radiator – here’s a speaker designed to sound a lot bigger than it looks. That, of course, means no stereo unless you’ve a pair, but Yamaha’s Musiccast multi-room system makes that kind of grouping simple, and the fact you can hang the WX#030 from the wall means a second one need not take up any more work space.
The minimalist design continues on the speaker’s forehead, where a trio of lights indicate your connection status – you can do so via all of the most popular wireless routes: wi-fi, Bluetooth, Airplay, DLNA or Spotify Connect – and on its crown are touch-sensitive buttons for power, volume and play/pause.
It feels like a speaker geared towards easy and speedy listening, and we are soon testing with John Frusciante and Josh Klinghoffer’s collaboration A Sphere In The Heart Of Silence. First, we can’t help but be taken aback by the scale of the sound. The synthesizers that open the album on Sphere are bulky and solid – far more so than you should be expecting from such a petite speaker. There’s a decent sense of timing and organisation as well – it keeps the conversations between the instruments comprehensible and steers them from talking over one another.
When the kick drum arrives as the piece’s pulse, it drives it forward with just enough force and bass weight so as not to skew what is a respectable balance. Treble is rolled off a little, but this keeps it from becoming harsh or hardening at higher volumes and gives emphasis to a solid midrange. It helps elements such as Frusciante’s rather thin-sounding guitar in this opening track to remain pleasant.
A lack of versatility
We would like a little more in terms of expression and dynamics, however. On tracks such as Walls, where Frusciante’s screams should be apoplectic, it is a change of his vocal style more than gauging of expression that guides the listener. A lack of dynamic versatility means the WX#030 fails really to capture the haunting solitariness of Klinghoffer’s piano and vocal on Communique and, though it remains an engaging listen, loses some of that emotion.
The soundfield, too, could be wider. Of course we aren’t expecting yawning canyons of space from so small a wireless speaker, but more saturated textures can sometimes become a tad congested – especially given the power and low-end presence that woofer and bass radiator are working hard to release.
The WX#030 carries itself like a speaker twice its size without becoming too big for its boots, delivering a solid and coherent performance. The versatility to pair it with another of its own stock as a stereo system, or with more than 20 other Yamaha products as part of a Musiccast multi-room system, only play further into its hands.
As a standalone wireless speaker, it isn’t the most talented we’ve heard at this price, but it shouts loud enough to avoid being ignored.
Yamaha ISX-80 £360
There’s something awfully 1984 about having a wireless speaker disguised as a picture frame. But this is the Yamaha ISX-80. Part of the company’s Restio range and a member of their vast and growing Musiccast multi-room family, it is a two-way stereo wireless speaker – two 30mm soft-dome tweeters and a pair of 8cm woofers – combined with FM radio and alarm clock you can stand on your desktop or pop up on the wall.
Put away your phone
In terms of compatibility, it has much of what you’d ask of a modern wireless speaker: Bluetooth, Airplay, DLNA, wi-fi, Spotify Connect and a 3.5mm jack, as
well as direct access to internet radio. We have few complaints about build quality either – it doesn’t feel like a cheap piece of kit and the remote control, though not the most high-end we’ve come across, is a welcome addition for when you aren’t using your phone.
Tease out the fighting spirit
We connect using the Musiccast app and begin playing Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs. The balance is fairly good – the ISX-80 is comfortable letting the midrange through to carry the melody without sounding out of place – and there is a decent enough level of detail. The layered, stereo backing vocals of opening track Leaf House are allowed to come through, there’s some body to the acoustic guitars and you get a feel for the room in which the drum kit, in particular, was recorded.
Timing is reasonable as well, though a greater soundstage would certainly help it in terms of organisation. The ISX-80 keeps up with the choppy rhythms of Who Could Win A Rabbit? without it becoming confusing – this more upbeat track also highlights a lot of what’s missing, though.
What should be childishly excitable is here largely uninterested. There is little in terms of expression and dynamic subtlety, and it feels more like a background listen than the delivery of the level of insight you’d expect from a highish-end wireless speaker.
We switch quickly to Rage Against The Machine’s The Battle Of Los Angeles in an attempt to tease some fighting spirit out of the ISX-80, but it’s to no avail. Without its antagonistic spit, the impetus is gone and Zach de la Rocha’s vocal sounds limp.
Low-end oomph required
Moreover, while still well balanced, you begin to miss what’s lacking in the low end. The lack of drive would surely be overcome with a little extra low-end muscle to get behind kick drums and overdriven bass guitars. Crashing cymbals combined with Tom Morello’s guitar work expose some hardness in the treble, which could also benefit from a little more anchor in the bass.
Better for radio
Switching to radio, the ISX-80 feels more at home. Our issues with the sound remain – more expression, a wider spread of sound and some depth in the bass would benefit radio as much as our own selection of tracks – but this is a different kind of listening. Now we can see ourselves with the ISX-80 hanging on the kitchen wall, part of our multi-room family, as we do the washing up.
However, we don’t believe background music should cost anywhere near this much. That’s why, despite our appreciation of Yamaha’s Musiccast concept, we can’t recommend this particular extension of it.
Yamaha’s Musiccast is currently a 23-strong (and growing) family that includes soundbars, AV and traditional hi-fi, accessing your streaming services, internet radio, NAS devices and external sources. It’s a splendid concept, and it appears to work well in practice.
Musiccast is simple to set up, we have no trouble grouping or setting products to play different songs and don’t suffer any drop-outs in connection. And although connecting to the network isn’t the fastest process, it is flexible. What’s more, it appears to be evolving.
The ISX-80 looks
like a picture frame,
but is an expensive
way of listening to
The design of the
feels like it’s geared
towards easy and