I started this review by unplugging absolutely everything. My amp, my preamp, and my phonostage were shuffled off to a closet. All those shiny metal boxes and their pretty lights, hidden from view. In their place, a single black behemoth with a huge number of different toggles, switches, and dials, plus multiple different antennae jutting out the back. This single box replaced everything I was using before, all packed into less space than my preamp was taking up, and was capable of doing even more than I could have guessed at first sight.
I’m writing about the Yamaha R-N803 network receiver. Since this is Yamaha we’re talking about, there are three versions of this “network receiver,” each with slightly different features, power output capability, and price. The R-N803 is the top of the line and retails for $799, which is the upper end of what I consider entry-level, but it’s actually pretty affordable for what you get. It puts out 100Wpc into 8 ohms and is rated up to 160Wpc into 4 ohms, so it’ll have enough power to handle the majority of speakers on the market. It even has DSP room correction and optimization, which Yamaha calls YPAO. But really, you’re not buying the R-N803 on the basis of pure specs alone. You’re buying the R-N803 because this monster does absolutely everything.
I’ll begin with quickly listing a few features that only scratch the surface of what the R-N803 can handle. There’s a moving-magnet phonostage for your turntable, both optical and coaxial inputs for digital components, several line inputs, WiFi and streaming capability, Bluetooth, AM/FM tuner, and far more. Basically, once you get the R-N803 up and running, there’s no real reason to have a ton of boxes clogging up the living room. It did everything I needed it to do, and some things I didn’t even know I needed.
There’s this idea in hi-fi that a single box can’t perform a ton of different functions, or at least it can’t perform them all well. There’s definitely some truth to this, since the more you try to cram into a single chassis, the more designers have to make little sacrifices here and there, and those sacrifices add up. I’m not saying that the R-N803 is a magical machine that’ll match any component system step for step, because that’s not really the point. For me, the beauty of something like the R-N803 is its simplicity and accessibility, and the horizons it could easily open up for more dedicated and serious listeners down the line. What it does, it does pretty well, and it hints at an even better future if you’re so inclined.
Setup was easy, as it should be. There’s only one box to install, so mostly I was moving all my other stuff out of the way. I stuck it in my rack, plugged it in, powered it up, and cracked open the surprisingly hefty user manual. I considered going in blind and trying to ferret my way through the menus on the illuminated faceplate, but I’m starting to appreciate the value of an efficient and well-written manual. Once I did some reading, I realized that the R-N803 really is as simple as simple can be, and I was playing a record within five minutes of getting the unit on the shelf. That said, I did run into one immediate and glaring problem: The R-N803 works great with iOS and is geared toward the Apple crowd, as it natively handles AirPlay, but Android is missing some little features here and there. Since I’m a Google Pixel user, I had to borrow my wife’s iPhone to test AirPlay and other iOS-specific features. I wish it would work with Chromecast, but hey, I get it, iOS is more popular. Just saying Android needs love too, Yamaha. And Chromecast is awesome.
I didn’t know it, but I missed the radio. I used to have an FM tuner in my system, which got axed six months back or so, but I really liked being able to listen to 88.5 WXPN when I was feeling too lazy to get up and flip records. It was a little thing, but it was really great, and sounded pretty nice. On top of that, the R-N803 has Internet radio connectivity and a surprising number of decent stations already programmed through a relatively clunky menu system. Plus, there’s a podcast setting, although it was pulling mostly German-sounding stuff. The manual states that Internet radio uses Airable Radio, which is owned by a German company, so that explains that. Anyway, FM reception was clear and crisp with the included antenna, and the Internet radio worked flawlessly once I set up my WiFi connection.
One very minor criticism on the Internet front: The WiFi works with 802.11b/g/n, which all transmit on 2.4GHz band, a very common frequency used by a lot of transmitting electronics. Most new devices these days support 802.11ac, which can use both the 2.5GHz and 5GHz bands. It’s not all that big of a deal, but it’s worth noting that 5GHz is typically faster, assuming you don’t have a ton of obstructions between your device and your wireless router, and will have less interference from other transmissions in the area. Since my R-N803 is about five feet from my router (the Linksys Velop mesh network, which is totally cool if pretty unnecessary for my space) the faster but shorter band would definitely be a benefit when trying to stream high-quality music. At the end of the day though, I didn’t have any issues with the WiFi dropping out or any big noticeable drops in quality, so it’s not much of a complaint, and Yamaha does include an Ethernet port for a wired connection, which would negate any of these minor quibbles anyway.