The NX-N500 is a pair of powered bookshelf speakers with built-in network functionality. It lets you play music from a wide range of sources without all the bulky hardware that comes with a regular hi-fi setup.
These space-saving speakers support AirPlay, DLNA and Bluetooth streaming, as well as Yamaha’s MusicCast multiroom platform. And with a selection of sockets on the rear, Yamaha shows your non-wireless devices some love too. Is there a catch? Not really.
Yamaha has fashioned an attractive pair of speakers here, clad in the company’s customary black or an alternative white finish. The pleasant dappled coating and rounded edges give them a chic, modern feel. One particularly nice touch is the use of white mid/bass cones, which form a striking contrast against the black cabinet.
Build quality is superb. Tap the sides of the thick MDF cabinet and very little comes back. Each speaker is remarkably heavy and feels as solid as a brick. Internally, they use a three-way mitre joint construction to suppress unwanted resonance – a technique traditionally used in Yamaha’s high-end speakers.
Despite housing the electronics, the NX-N500s aren’t unreasonably big or unwieldy. You can quite happily perch them on shelves or sideboards and still have room for ornaments.
On the front, the mid/bass driver is framed by a ridged surround that gleams seductively in the light, while the tweeter at the top sits behind a protective domed mesh.
A small LED is built into the left speaker’s tweeter waveguide, which glows in different colours to indicate which input is selected (or flashes when it’s having a think). There’s no text display, but it would look out of place here.
The physical connections and controls are located on the back of the left speaker. Sockets include an optical input (handy for connecting a TV), Ethernet, a 3.5mm mini-jack input and a Type-B USB port, which allows you to use the Yamaha as a USB DAC for your PC.
The two speakers are connected by the supplied balanced XLR cable. The left speaker applies balance conversion to the digital signal before passing it to the right speaker, and this balanced connection eliminates noise during the transfer. You also have to connect the two speakers with the supplied CAT-5 cable, otherwise it won’t work.
On the rear of the left speaker you’ll also find four buttons: Connect, which helps join the NX-N500 to your network; Wireless Direct, offering a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection with mobile devices; Source, which toggles through the inputs; and Power.
There’s also a master gain dial, which sets the maximum volume output, plus a switch that lets you turn off all wireless connectivity.
The two-way NX-N500 is equipped with a 1-inch dome tweeter (which extends to a hi-res friendly 40kHz) and a 5-inch woofer that uses the same Advanced PMD diaphragm as Yamaha’s high-end Soavo speaker.
A high-grade USB DAC supports DSD 5.6MHz native resolution and PCM up to 384kHz/32-bit for hi-res playback. It’s joined by an ESS 32-bit DAC – that’s the ES9010K2M, DAC spotters – which also handles 384kHz/32-bit and DSD 5.6MHz.
It’s powered by a "discrete configuration" analogue amplifier. The bi-amp system powers each driver individually, sending 45W to each woofer and 25W to each tweeter.
The NX-N500 boasts built-in Wi-Fi with DLNA and AirPlay streaming. The Bluetooth connection not only lets you play music from portable devices but also enables you to send audio to wireless headphones for private listening.
Multiroom functionality is provided by Yamaha’s MusicCast app, which lets you send tracks to other MusicCast speakers round the house. It provides access to Spotify, Napster, Juke and internet radio, but sadly it lacks some of the main streaming services such as Tidal, Qobuz and Deezer.
Via DLNA, you can play WAV, AIFF and FLAC up to 192kHz/24-bit, or ALAC up to 96/24. The optical input accepts signals up to 192kHz/24-bit.
Setting up the NX-N500 is a cable-heavy process. Not only do you have to link the two speakers with the XLR and network cables, but each speaker also requires its own power lead. And that’s before you’ve even hooked up any Ethernet, optical and analogue cables. As a result, the system can look a little untidy with all those wires trailing down the back. You’ll need to be a bit creative with your cable management.
Like most wireless speakers, Wi-Fi setup is through your smartphone. Fire it up, hit the setup button and follow the on-screen instructions. It took a couple of stabs before it recognised the NX-N500, but I’ve yet to encounter a wireless speaker that connects at the first attempt. There are other ways to connect to a router – iOS Wi-Fi sharing, WPS, web browser – but the app is by far the easiest.
Once connected, using the MusicCast app is an enjoyable experience. This slick piece of software makes it easy to orchestrate your entire MusicCast system and find your tracks. It isn't as flashy as some, but the simple black and white layout keeps confusion to a minimum. It lets you stream music from the NX-N500’s inputs (such as the USB port) to other MusicCast speakers.
Inputs are arranged into a grid of tiles, with a Favourites section allowing you to save up to 40 songs or 30 FM radio presets. After tapping my NAS drive, the app weaved through my labyrinthine library quickly and scrolled through lists without buffering.
Controlling playback is a cinch on the Now Playing screen. If offers track skip, pause and volume controls at the bottom, plus a sound settings menu where you can adjust treble, bass and balance. You can even share what you’re listening to on social media.
On the whole it’s a joy to use, but for some reason the app regularly re-started songs from the beginning with an "Access Error" message.
For a more antiquated user experience, try the supplied remote. It’s an off-the-peg "credit card" affair covered in clunky blister buttons, which aren’t pleasant to press. The volume keys seem particularly slow to pass commands to the speakers.
However, it does have some redeeming factors. Each input gets its own button, while six handy Preset keys provide speedy access to albums, radio stations or streaming services. And I like that the NX-N500 doesn’t rely entirely on the smartphone app – you don’t always want to fire up your phone for day-to-day operations.
In action, the NX-N500 offers a sumptuous, fulfilling sound, blessed with poise, power and depth. Hugely addictive, it’s the sort of system that will make you fall in love with your favourite albums all over again. It’s that good.
What stands out most is Yamaha’s polished treble presentation. This isn’t the hissy, artificial treble you sometimes get from lesser systems; it’s well-rounded and tangible.
Play "She Needs True Love Too" by soul crooner Frank McComb and the hi-hats and cymbals feel effortless and natural, plus the system captures the breathy nuances of McComb’s voice. Insight, agility, precision – the Yamaha brings it all to the party.
String and synth chords have an immersive, airy quality and snares punch with an incisive leading-edge. There’s space and width for the instruments to operate; placement and imaging are excellent.
The NX-N500 also offers a strong and smooth mid-range. Noodling tenor saxophone solos have a throaty depth and the notes are conveyed with great agility. They don’t sound shrill or hard at high volumes, either.
Vocals hold their presence and texture within busy rock and pop arrangements, but when James Blake strips it back to a voice and piano in "f.o.r.e.v.e.r", there’s a sense of intimacy that really connects you to the music.
Moving to the low frequencies, the NX-N500’s Advanced PMD woofers do a terrific job. The squelchy synth bassline in the chorus of "Horse Print Dress" by Corinne Bailey Rae is weighty yet nimble, providing a sense of fullness without unduly thickening it up. The plodding, foghorn-like bass stabs in "Points" by James Blake are deep and menacing.
Integration between drive units is tight and there’s a pleasing tonal balance where nothing sounds over-egged or distracting. To top it off, the Yamaha takes loud volumes in its stride, offering an authoritative sound. It’s big and powerful enough to convey those epic musical moments without straining. Of course, you'll get a much bigger, weightier sound from larger speakers, but for their size the NX-N500s do a fine job.
The NX-N500 is one of the best powered speaker systems I’ve had the pleasure to audition. At £600, it isn't a budget proposition, but it justifies the price with polished sound, fetching design and wealth of features.
With MusicCast, AirPlay, Bluetooth and plenty of streaming services you won’t be stuck for stuff to listen to. Negatives are few and far between – the cable-intensive setup is a little untidy and the remote is poor – but overall the NX-N500 is a superlative system that needs to be on your shortlist.
A multi-talented speaker system offering fabulous sound quality and a wealth of features. Well worth an audition.