YAMAHA R-N303D NETWORK STEREO RECEIVER
The Yamaha R-N303D Stereo Receiver boasts great specs and a range of features, and with an RRP of $699 proves that affordable HiFi gear doesn't have to be weighed down by compromise. Very good sound quality coupled with the ability to connect wirelessly through Bluetooth, WiFi, and most analogue options means that this will be the centrepiece of many living rooms in the future.
There are a few quirks that take some getting used to, but overall it's a budget-friendly receiver that's well worth checking out. Read on to find out more about this seriously impressive unit.
Despite the low price point, the R-N303 boasts many of the attributes seen in more expensive models, and they're implemented surprisingly well. This is a well-rounded package that offers a whole lot more than a simple FM radio, some input choices and a volume dial and a power switch.
All the key features you could expect from a receiver in this price range are present and easy to access. Music can be played from both digital and analogue sources, as well as from FM and digital radio, but the real selling point of the R-N303D is its ability to connect to a home network, and therefore to a computer, NAS drive or streaming services such as Spotify. While I had a few issues during the network set-up, it did the job admirably. I keep the majority of my music in FLAC format on a NAS drive, and the R-N303 had no problems with streaming my collection.
The receiver has both optical and coaxial digital-in, allowing many options for your home set-up. I plugged my living room TV in through the optical, and my CD player into the coaxial - and that's where I ran into a fairly major problem. For some reason I couldn't make my Naim CD player work on the coaxial input. The Naim locks and plays on other DACs without a problem, and other digital sources work on the Yamaha, but the two wouldn't play ball together. I spent a fair amount of time trying to sort out this weird situation and decided in the end that both parties are at fault. The Naim obviously has a slightly non-PCM aspect to its signal and the Yamaha will only lock on to an official PCM signal. It even rates a mention in the instruction manual as a potential reason for a 'no sound' fault. It's something to check before you make your purchase, but I doubt it'll affect many CD players. When I connected an old Yamaha CDP, it ran fine.
The Yamaha also sports a pair of old-school analogue inputs, but does not include a phono input which is mildy surprising considering the massive upsurge in interest in vinyl. There's also an ethernet connection which is best used when streaming high bitrate files. Also on the rear panel is an F connector for DAB/FM radio. There are no input sockets on the front panel, with Yamaha obviously giving preference to a clean look.
It's worth noting that this receiver doesn't have a USB socket. Plenty of consumers like to load up a USB stick or hard drive with hours of music, but that possibility is not on offer here.
On the output side, there are binding posts that accept banana plugs, along with bare wires for two pairs of loudspeakers and a line out that could presumably be used for recording. There's a headphone socket on the front panel, so it's easy to plug into if you want to listen to music late at night. Interestingly, there's no preamp out or subwoofer out, which I feel might be a problem for some.
Spotify, Tidal and Deezer are also integrated into the downloadable MusicCast app, and all are easily accessible from the well-designed remote control. Everything worked well for me, and I was especially impressed by some of the useful minor features hidden away in the menu. Nice touches such as being able to tweak different sources to play at the same volume go a long way to increasing the sense of value. I was also impressed by the ability to set the maximum volume and initial volume, which comes in handy if you share your living room with a curious toddler who likes spinning the volume control or - even worse - a technically illiterate teenager who likes to blast your system while you're not present. There are a handful of other smart settings to go along with MusicCast, which allows this receiver to form part of a multi room whole-house system.
This is a very impressive tuner/amp, especially for the price, and is missing only a small handful of items that the next model up delivers. For most people, however, it will be a step up in features and performance.
INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY
A quick look under the hood reveals a set of typical modern electronics that are really compact, considering the functionality they offer. The quality of the components is very good, especially for a system as budget-friendly as this, as has become typical of Yamaha. Despite being built in Malaysia, the innards look largely the same as those of older units that were built in Japan, which is certainly reassuring.
This system is a great choice for those who live near the coast because, unlike more complex Yamahas, it's largely resistant to corrosion. There are no horizontally-laid circuit boards with the track side up to collect moisture, which has been known to cause problems in other receivers - with very expensive results. It's not uncommon for corrosion in other systems to require a complete replacement of the board, so the fact that's not a problem with the R-N303 is certainly welcome.
Whilst hardly a high-end receiver, it's reliable and well-built, and has obviously been carefully engineered. The only concern I have is in regards to the switch mode standby power supply. The standby current of this kind of high speed switching design is extraordinarily low, but I'm never sure whether this small saving offsets the possibility of early failure. It's entirely possible that it will keep running for over a decade, but if you're not going to use the receiver for an extended period I'd unplug it from the wall whenever possible. On the other hand, the old-school discrete class A/B output stage is better than expected.
The R-N303 doesn't match the quality of premium receivers, but you wouldn't expect it to. For this price, it's as good as anything in the game and certainly likely to be reliable.
I dropped the Yamaha into my current reference system, one that includes an all-in-one network player from a top brand that's known for building fast, tight-sounding separates. The Yamaha R-N303 fit right in, and I was surprised that it actually stacks up pretty well compared to considerably more expensive opposition. It sounds very good considering its meagre cost.
The bass is full and well controlled. It's loud and clean, as can be expected of a system with these specs (100W RMS per ch into 8 ohms). Honestly, I expected less from this receiver because it's so light. I was impressed from the moment I switched it on. Sure, I've heard bigger sounding 100w amps but they also cost much, much more.
The streaming sound quality is excellent, as is the Bluetooth - important factors because that's the way the majority of new owners will consume their media, and a major reason to pick the R-N303.
The midrange is pleasant, vocals at all ranges are enjoyable to listen to and the top end sounds extended and quite detailed. But it just lacks that something special, and it's a bit one dimensional. The whole performance sounds a little computer generated and doesn't draw you in. The sound stage is a little narrower than other amplifiers I've had in my system and there's a slight lack of air, which no doubt leads to the somewhat robotic sound. The limiting factor is no doubt mostly in the digital section as all the inputs, including the analogue ones, are routed through the onboard DACs. It's a let down in an otherwise great experience.
There were times while testing the R-N303 that I was genuinely surprised by how well it handled certain tracks, but there weren't any times where I smiled to myself in a "Wow-wee, that's amazing" kind of way. This is a great all-rounder, but if you're used to first class stereo systems (as I am), it won't impress you to the degree you might like. This unit is more in the Mazda 3 get-the-job-done camp, whereas a top level system could be compared to the soaring excitement and sound of a Alfa Romeo GTV. Of course while the Alfa is getting fixed you could still be listening to the sweet sounds of this Yamaha!
It almost feels like nitpicking to bring up these negatives, because the system offers so much bang for your buck and does almost everything anyone could want or expect from a lower end stereo receiver. I can hardly expect it to sound like a $6000 device because it isn't one. It's a great starter system for someone dipping their toe into the vast ocean of HiFi receivers, and will be a big step up for most people. The sound of the R-N303 is very competent but not striking, but way above many competitors. Partner it with a decent set of speakers that it gels with and you may well be in budget stereo heaven for a long time.
The R-N303 is noticeably lighter than the more expensive Yamahas, but at 7.2kg is still a sturdy unit with a classy appearance. It's available in both silver and black to match your decor, and despite the price, it has a quality look to it.
A few dollars have been saved by removing the rotary tone controls and balance adjustment of the more expensive model 602, but it's not a big deal because I never felt the need to adjust them anyway. Their exclusion lowers the retro cool factor a bit, but if your main concern is performance, then you won't miss them at all.
The connections at there rear are all of a decent quality, and certainly what you would expect from a mid-priced unit like this. The volume control and other switches all feel fine, and not light or tacky like some competing systems. Once again everything is excellent for the price, but in the fancy world of HiFi this remains at the lower end of what's possible.
It's a quality bit of kit, and really has been put together well. Unless you really like trashing your gear, it'll last, and the aesthetics will remain popular for years.
SETTING IT UP
For a full-featured stereo receiver, the R-N303 is easy to set up, and I managed to get everything - including the network, after a bit of work - up and running without opening the manual. Sure, I took a guess here and there, but it's a simple process and I never felt lost whilst putting everything in place. For most things network related, the app is there to lead you through the process anyway.
Having said that, the process of connecting to the network was more of a hassle than it should've been, with the receiver rarely joining on the first attempt. I tried a few different networks, with the same result every time. It's something that the team at Yamaha should look into. Unfortunately, that's not where the trouble ends.
Using the remote to select a WiFi network and then input the password is anything but intuitive, and I had trouble entering anything but the most basic passwords. Sure, the average user will likely only need to trudge through this process once, but it could have so easily been fixed. The tech heads definitely reigned over the design of this section of the menu.
The R-N303 is designed to be used in conjunction with the Yamaha MusicCast app, which I found it a bit hit-and-miss. The design is clunky and runs slower than I'd like, but other than that it gets the job done and offers a variety of features, such as the ability to adjust the tone. Once you work out the kinks, the app makes it simple to stream content from your smart phone, PC, NAS or other device. It's by far the easiest way to connect to your home network and send your content to multiple rooms, but I do hope Yamaha upgrade the app in the future. The potential's there, but the execution leaves something to be desired.
The sound quality that MusicCast offers is great, though, and honestly that's the most important thing because everything else will hopefully be sorted out in future updates. It's not the nicest music streaming app I've used, but it's integrated well into the system. Once set up, it works just fine, and is a joy to play. The annoying aspects of the setup will be forgotten as soon as the tunes start blasting out of your speakers.
ACCESSORIES AND WARRANTY
The infrared remote included with the system boasts a good range and angle of operation, and I never had to get up off the lounge to get it working. The controls are simple to use and the buttons are big enough that I could do whatever I needed, even in low light. All up, it's a good addition to the system - and yes, there's a set of batteries included!
The instructions can often be overlooked, but I like the fact this system comes with a paper manual rather than a link to a website. They're easy to read, cover all the features, and make the set-up a breeze if you need help. It's a small thing, but goes a long way to increasing the feeling of quality.
Also in the box is a short antenna with an 'F' connector at one end, and a set of papers outlining the various streaming options available to R-N303 owners. It's best to ignore the promotional material for Pandora, though - it stopped being available in Australia nearly two years ago!
Rounding out the package is Yamaha's two-year warranty. The build quality makes me confident that few buyers will have need for this, but it's great to have it there just the same. Yamaha's support is also generally excellent.
You'll struggle to find a 2 channel receiver in this price range that can match the Yamaha R-N303. With clear, clean sound, advanced network features and digital inputs, it's great for anyone who wants the features of a top-line system, without spending a small fortune for it. There are similarly-priced amplifiers that sound more interesting, but they forsake at least the network capabilities and of course the FM radio.
The MusicCast app is incorporated well into the system, making it an easy way to expand your sound system throughout the house, or just to control everything from the comfort of your lounge or even in another room. It's a very complete package, and offers enough to appeal to a wide range of music lovers.
If you really don't want to move into the world of Tidal, Spotify and playing your CD rips from your computer or NAS hard drive then the R-N303 probably isn't for you, but if you want the maximum music sources for the least cash, then this terrific all-rounder is an excellent choice.
INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY: 6.5/10
SOUND QUALITY: 18/30
EASE OF SETUP: 7/10
MANUAL AND ACCESSORIES: 3/5
REMOTE CONTROL / APP: 3.5/5
VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5
EXCITEMENT FACTOR: 2/5
PROS: Brilliant specs for the price
Sound quality is, for the most part, very good
Robust and handsome look
Wide range of connection options
The MusicCast app is handy
CONS: Lack of sub out and phono input mildly surprising.
Can have problems connecting to networks
Sound stage is a little narrow.
No USB connection
MusicCast can be slow at times
For those trapped in the 60s – no AM radio
POWER OUTPUT: 2 x 100W with a frequency range of 40Hz to 20Hz at 02.% THD into 8ohms
INPUTS: Optical and coax inputs supporting audio sample rates up to 192kHz, FM 75ohm antenna, RCA inputs for CD and two other line level sources
WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity through MusicCast and Apple AirPlay
DIMENSIONS: 43.5 x 13.97 x 33.97cm without antenna
IMPORTED BY - Yamaha Australia
THE TEST SYSTEM
Included Elac Uni-Fi UF5 loudspeakers, and a Naim CD5XS CD player (and an older Yamaha CDP for the digital audio test as the Naim wouldn't lock with the Yamaha).
NOTES ON OUR SCORING SYSTEM
We do not give away high marks on a whim. Each section is scored separately and without regard to the cost of the equipment. Each product is scored solely relative to other units in the category, no matter their cost. In theory, a more expensive unit should usually outscore a cheaper one, but that's not always the case, and we'll never shy away from calling a spade a spade. Our reviews are conducted by lifelong HiFi enthusiasts who are just as passionate about new equipment as you are, and who are determined to provide you with the best information possible.