Over the past couple of years, vinyl records have made something of a comeback in a way few of us could imagine just five years ago. The old format that existed before the cassette tape and CD still seems to have some allure in this age of digital streaming.
Let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like the ritual of carefully removing that large black disc from its cardboard and paper sleeves, holding it by the edges, and gently placing it down on the turntable before lowering the needle and waiting for that crackle and first bar of your favorite music. It can still transport me back instantly to my teenage bedroom and my nascent record collection.
Unlike cassette tapes and CDs – two formats that soon offered a portable player in the form of the Walkman and the Discman – there was never any way you could take vinyl out with you or even listen to it around the home. Vinyl was a tethered format. You had to listen to it sat down in one room dedicated to the listening of tracks in a linear format. There was no question of putting the LP on shuffle or of being able to listen to it in various rooms around the home without cranking up the volume and then waiting for your parents to yell: “turn that music down!” No wonder we teenagers stayed in our bedrooms most of the time.
Well, nobody has yet come up with a portable vinyl turntable that you can listen to while walking, but the problem of being able to listen to your vinyl collection in different rooms around the home has finally been solved by Yamaha’s Vinyl 500 turntable.
This high-end, belt-driven turntable looks just like a regular premium record deck, but it has networking capabilities built in and can broadcast music to speakers around the home using Yamaha’s MusicCast multi-room audio platform or Apple’s AirPlay.
The smart-looking MusicCast Vinyl 500 features a straight, carbon-fiber tonearm, with a detachable headshell, fitted with an Audio-Technica moving magnet cartridge. There are buttons on the plinth for turning the deck on as well as toggling between 45 and 33RPM speeds. Two other buttons are for turning the motor on and off, while the second is a source selector for the MusicCast system. There’s also a button to lower the needle on to the record. And that’s where the old-style turntable ends because built into the Yamaha MusicCast Vinyl 500 is an advanced networking capability that can handle both Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections (2.4 and 5GHz) to a home network. There is also a phono stage output as well as a pair of line out sockets for hooking up to amplifiers that don’t have a dedicated phono stage input. An external power transformer, delivering 12V DC, reduces the possibility of interference from a built-in AC source.
Included in the Vinyl 500 are all the popular music-streaming services you could want, including Spotify, Tidal and Deezer, as well as TuneIn Internet radio. Because the Yamaha Vinyl 500 is MusicCast compatible, it can play vinyl records to any MusicCast-enabled device on the home network. It also works with Apple AirPlay too so it’s possible to stream from any AirPlay-enabled app. There’s also a Bluetooth capability built in that can take audio streamed from a smartphone using both SBC and AAC codecs. And the Bluetooth works in the opposite direction so you can put a record on the turntable and send the music directly to a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones. If you’re into Amazon Alexa-enabled speakers, the Yamaha Vinyl 500 is cool with that and supports Alexa voice commands.
The Yamaha MusicCast product lineup includes everything from the small wireless MusicCast speakers such as the Yamaha MC 20 AND MC 50, alongside Yamaha’s range of TV soundbars that now form the centerpiece of many people’s home audio systems. Yamaha also makes full-blown MusicCast-enabled hi-fi systems, as well as mini audio units for smaller areas, like kitchens and bedrooms.
MusicCast can either play the music on every device in the home or else it can be configured to play to just one MusicCast device or even a sub-grouping of MusicCast devices. Controlling the system is simple thanks to Yamaha’s Control app, which, as you might expect, isn’t flashy with unnecessary bells and whistles, but is totally stable, easy to use and reliable. Having tested MusicCast in my own home for a while, I can say that, although not as flashy as some other multi-room audio systems, Yamaha’s MusicCast is as solid as a rock and connects every time without falling over or requiring a reboot. I found it a joy to use and what you lose in terms of color graphic screens and fancy gimmicks, it more than makes up for in terms of audio reproduction and stability.
Playing your favorite vinyl record and being able to listen to it in any room of your choosing is rather liberating. It’s even possible to take a MusicCast wireless speaker outside and listen to your favorite vinyl while sitting in the garden. In that respect, Yamaha has finally found a way to unleash vinyl and make it portable, as long as it’s in range of your home network.
Verdict: I’m a bit biased here as I do genuinely like Yamaha audio kit and I love the way that the company has kept the classic design cues from decades ago, and yet the latest MusicCast devices contain cutting-edge technology for the digital age. The Yamaha Vinyl 500 finally frees the medium of vinyl and makes it more flexible and more in line with the way consumers listen to music these days in multiple rooms and situations. It’s comforting to hear the warm sound of vinyl, with its inherent clicks and pops, on modern digital streaming speakers, all over the house. Being able to listen to vinyl on your own terms instead of being forced to sit down and listen in one room, could make you fall in love with this classic medium all over again.