Yamaha WX-030/ISX-80

FOR De­cent bal­ance; strik­ing de­sign; rea­son­able tim­ing AGAINST Lack of dy­nam­ics and ex­pres­sion; closed sound­stage

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Multi-room Speakers -

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.

Multi-room ver­dict

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

back­ground mu­sic

The de­sign of the

WX-030 speaker

feels like it’s geared

to­wards easy and

speedy lis­ten­ing

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