Yamaha MusicCast: Finally Some Competition for Sonos?

MusicCast comes to the market not as a reinvention of the same product, but a new world of wireless. Their system is for the customer who not only desires audio throughout the house, but good audio. The MusicCast system is customizable, beautiful, and easy to use, which might be the most important element for Yamaha to emphasize in this dominated area.
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Yamaha's MusicCast wireless speaker 
One of the best new technologies of the year will not be at CEDIA this year, at least not in its full splendor.* Yamaha unveiled MusicCast earlier this month as a full home music system, which is a market currently dominated by Sonos. We have seen a few try in the past in this category, but they’ve failed to completely grab hold. Here is why MusicCast could become a household name.

The Story: Yamaha is a known brand in the broader consumer market. They are the largest instrument manufacturers worldwide, a leader in live sound, and (here is the one I was surprised by) the world’s largest music educator. Need more convincing? Yamaha is the third most seen brand on television. Next time you’re watching The Voice, the Grammy’s, or any top artist, look for the Yamaha name.

Beyond music, Yamaha can be found everywhere in motorsports, and they even have a wood trim company. High-end car companies call upon Yamaha to raise the bar in their car interiors.

In Japan Yamaha is the leading network company (think Japanese Cisco). They are no new kid on the block, as the company has just celebrated 126 years. Back to the AV world; Yamaha is the top seller in AV receivers, stereo receivers, home theater in a box systems, and even all-weather speakers. Needless to say, they have brand strength.

Home Music Facts: Yamaha wanted to know who was buying their equipment, so they commissioned the NPD group and what they found was a bit shocking. Fifty percent of AV receiver customers are 34 years old or younger (and I thought home theater was a dying market). That is quite a demographic for whom has your brand in their house.

In 2013, Sonos had 94 percent of the whole-house music pie and still held 92 percent in 2014. No one has been able to break that stronghold. And yet, out of the 116 million homes in the U.S., only 3 million, or 2 percent have wireless audio in the house! That leaves a lot of people sad at home with no music to groove them. Twenty-eight percent of these homes have AV receivers, and if you’re reading closely, you remember what the top brand is. Hello! We have a foothold here!

The Approach: The only way to take on Sonos is by using a different approach, and that is what Yamaha is about to do. Meet the MusicCast wireless system:

1. All of your content will be available, including streaming services, of course, but also digital music and external sources like Blu-ray audio, TV audio, and USB sticks.
2. MusicCast is Bluetooth-capable, giving visitors instant access without Wi-Fi
3. MusicCast offers Hi-Res playback.

My company sells Sonos, and one thing I have noticed time and time again is that their app always works; I have never received a call asking how to use it. (If this were only true about all remotes!) Yamaha, which currently scores number one with its receiver apps on both Apple and Google, has created a beautiful app worthy of noticing. A major difference is the ability to “dig deeper.” Instead of just naming a room, you can customize both pictures and colors or each zone on each device. Beyond that, you are also able to adjust EQ in each space.

How Does it Work? The first unit of your MusicCast system will connect via a wireless or wired connection. From there, each additional MusicCast piece will become an access point to the next. The system is controlled via the app and can run 10 devices at the same time. You can play up to three Hi-Res sources in three different rooms at the same time.

The Crazy Part: This isn’t vaporware or promises of magic coming soon. MusicCast will be in 20 products that will ship in 2015, including all current AVRs. Their wireless speakers are sexy and sound splendid (unlike others out there). Yamaha has also introduced powered monitor speakers and sound bars. In my opinion, this is the first true competition in the wireless audio field.

MusicCast comes to the market not as a reinvention of the same product, but a new world of wireless. Their system is for the customer who not only desires audio throughout the house, but good audio. The MusicCast system is customizable, beautiful, and easy to use, which might be the most important element for Yamaha to emphasize in this dominated area. Imagine, wireless speakers made by a speaker company! Add to that a margin, shipping terms, and a name like Yamaha, and you have yourself a recipe for success.

*While Yamaha loves CEDIA the later dates meant they could not attend this year. Watch for MusicCast components on the show floor, however.

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