Yamaha MCR-B142 Review
Thanks to Yamaha UK for the sample.
First Impressions: Oooooh look at that red! Now I readily confess if this had been bought with my own money I would have been much more dull and gone for the charcoal grey with black bits version but….. since it’s a loaner I thought be wild and go for that bright red. I like it but subtle it is not. The range of colours it comes in is extensive, oddly not a blue. I asked about this and apparently in its previous incarnations blue wasn’t a big seller. Hey, if you want orange or brown or pink that’s up to you. Is it me or are the speakers just weird being that shape? They seem so deep it strikes me as at odds with their tiny front facing dimensions. Oh and they are ported, for some reason I didn’t think they would be. Isn’t that going to give an awful lot of bass reinforcement if you put these on a shelf or backing up to a wall?
Firing the little thingy up and having pulled out an actual real CD for the occasion, the first thing I note is the bass. Oh my word someone has tuned it for a prolific bass output. I don’t normally love the use of an EQ but I can see it happening here. Oh dear lord I hope no one actually puts one of these in a book case. My god where is all the bass coming from!!! I can already see the mids are going to be where this thing shines aurally.
Setup: predominantly FiiO E7/E9 combo to aux in on the MCR-B142 for computer playback. Internal CD player use briefly and of course phone over Bluetooth to the unit.
So, where to start; lets go with the inputs shall we.
Inputs: The MCR-B142 has quite a few input methods, on top it’s got an old style Apple connector, a USB socket, a built in CD drive, DAB radio, an auxiliary in and last of all Bluetooth. The B in its name is the giveaway, this is the Bluetooth model, there is a MCR-042 that does not. So with the Apple connector, I didn’t use it, why? Well it didn’t work with my 5G Ipods. The spec sheet does say which it will work with but it’s largely iOS devices which I do not use, still many do so I can see the appeal. Particularly for those with an old Iphone that serves no other useful purpose.
For me the stand out connection of interest was the Bluetooth one. While I used the aux input more (if I’m sat in front of the computer it may as well do the audio for it) the Bluetooth connection even comes with its own little app. It didn’t come right up a with a search for Yamaha in the play store so here’s a link https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.yamaha.av.dtacontroller
Why it is called “DTA Controller” I have not a clue. The app even works when you’re not playing back over Bluetooth. You can change the volume and EQ settings. Bluetooth use worked extremely well every single time. Paired up with my google music account on my old N4 gave me access to all my music there and basically made me stop touching the CD drive.
Next up was the Aux input. It’s a 3.5mm jack so you could hook up whatever you like but I picked the output form the E9. You could use any 3.5 to 3.5mm cable to attach any hp out socket though.
Then there is the USB. So you can play stuff from a USB drive, well I couldn’t. In fairness I did not persevere with it as surely the point is to slap in a drive and have it play. I suspect it’s because the music was in folders but there was no way in real world use any one would be making a compilation just to play back on it. I rather viewed it as a bonus feature but one I can’t see being used much.
The radio can do FM and both DAB and DAB+ which is nice. Not that we in the UK will ever see DAB+. DAB uses MP2 and is usually broadcast at 128k so basically its rubbish. One of its issues is coverage and I note that the areal is a standard coaxial so you can hook up a connection from your main external TV areal.
Lows: Let’s get it out of the way. I don’t like the bass on this. That 10dB variance is clearly is the low end. The dimensions of the speakers are tiny as speakers go and that full range driver has to work hard to do lows. The enclosures therefore have been tweaked to enhance that bass output as much as possible. I get it, I get that typical consumers demoing in a big open plan electronics store having prolific bass gets you sales. I really honestly do get that. However I can’t help but feel that Yamaha has made a bit of a Faustian bargain. You want to sell your soul for more bass, well you got it. You have got an ungodly amount of bass that is super humpy. I can’t say how annoying this became and I was forced to fire up the EQ. The bass is currently at 0. It has on occasion sat at -5dB though. In addition due to boundary reinforcement I was forced to move the speaker off the desk where I had wanted to use them and ended up on top of my normal (AE Radiance 1) speakers to give them a little air. God help anyone who actually puts these into a book case.
Now that I’ve moaned I can talk about what they do right. Once you make sure they have no boundary’s to reinforce it its actually not terrible. It’s got a good clean punch to it and is of a pretty good quality given the drivers miniscule dimensions. While it may be humpy there really isn’t too much flab or softness to it. When you hurl some bouncy bass its way it really wants to jump up and show off what it can do. Its agility is very pleasing. For those who love poppy bouncy bass will likely appreciate its tendency to be rip roaring.
Mids: Now these use a single full range 4.5 inch driver. Have a wild guess what frequency range is really where they do best? Yes it is indeed the mids. The quantity I felt was somewhat lacking in comparison so I ended up tweaking up the mids to +5dB. The mids are where this driver shines so why hide it Yamaha? Let it sing forth and slap it right up there at the front. Let vocals bellow forth and fill the room. It’s no secret that my musical tastes err towards very vocal centric stuff with a bit of an emphasis on girlies. The likes of Tori Amos, Regina Specktor, Beverly Craven, Des’ree etc etc are the sort of thing I find I end up playing over and over. Vocals are excellently reproduced here, smooth and lush and so effortlessly fluid. As you EQ the levels up it begin to tend towards the upper vocals which may make richer male vocals sound a little on the light. They lose a bit of depth and richness. Still it’s a very slight price to pay. Vocals are just so lovely and melodic it can be a bit of a struggle to stop yourself from starting to sing along.
Strings are almost as nice. They have a lovely organicness to them and so long as you steer away from the double bass. Cellos and violins are both quite glorious for such a dinky little box of music. Sure I could say that the lack of an actual tweeter gets noticeable and the fullest sense of air and delicacy is somewhat lost but it would feel petty to do so. The strings love to ooze and flow, to soar and fall and just abound with magnificence. That such a tiny little thing can make such a gloriously symphonic noise! Slap on Elgar’s cello concerto in E minor and you’ll instantly forget that its coming from something you can use as an alarm clock. I can truly see that as being the most glorious way to be woken in the morning. Elgar abounding forth at volume would be quite the way to start your day. It does a seriously nice cello, Jacqueline du Pre would, I am sure, approve.
N.B. If this product was to have a theme song it would be Israel Kamakawiwo'ole’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” this product was truly made for that song. Its all mids and just transcendent.
Highs: The driver is somewhat huge to act a tweeter but it does a fairly respectable job. It’s got a touch of bite to it, just enough to give a little edge to metallic impacts. On the whole it swiftly softens and ever so gently rolls away. It’s impressive how nice it is for a big driver which is ill suited to highs. It isn’t something I personally would want to see elevated as when you do so it begins to show its limitations. When you hurl fast, abundant and aggressive treble at it, it slowly starts to take on a more abrasive twinge. It takes on a greater prominence to the ear too and I suspect we have that vast variance in the frequency response is hiding a little spike in here. There clearly is a treble spike though I can’t quite pinpoint it. It wasn’t sufficient to make me dial down the treble but I did think about it on occasion.
Detail wise it’s fairly impressive. It’s particularly evident when you put on some well recorded and well mastered stuff. So called “audiophile” recordings, where you have a very clean and minimalistic recording. Susan Wong’s “Umbrella” is a quietly beautiful track, the faintly delicate cymbals in the background are well reproduced. They are what this driver does best, faint metallic impact and a gentle decay. It is most pleasant on the ear. More vigorous treble though does begin to blend into a general shimmer, losing detail and accuracy but I don’t mind. Better to go vague than to go broken up and brittle.
Still, I find myself impressed by the detail retrieval for such a great big driver.
Soundstage: Acoustically it depends what you do with speakers. The unit is clearly built with the idea in mind you will put the speakers right next to the amp unit. A two second glance at comparable offerings from Denon or Onkyo no one else offers speakers of this shape. They become quite directional at close range. And if you pair that with putting them right up next to the head unit it makes for a rather small stage. They really open up if you can get them up off a surface and several feet apart but……. No one is ever going to put these on stands. I’d also wager practically no one is going to separate them either and that’s a real shame. Still that is the buyer’s call, if you want, you have the option to separate them, I would highly recommend doing so. You see if you do, when you crank the volume dial these do a rather convincing job of sounding very much bigger than they are. Just so long as you don’t stand too close.
Dynamics: Very impressive. In the case of the bass overly impressive, to the point of annoying. I realise I’m a boring old fart and da yoof market wants thumping bombastic bass. The bass with that gigantic hump can be highly over dynamic. A certain song might come on and BOOM its bass matches the big bass hump and it punches you squarely in the side of the head. I know many will like that, it will no doubt play well in a big open plan electronics shops but I found it irritating. The mids shared its dynamic ability but without the annoying hump. Vocals and strings could soar and plummet with glorious vigour. If you want something dinky that will do the 1812 justice this could well be it. Orchestral stuff excels here for something so small to sound so magnificent.
Volume: Much like the prolific dynamic range power was easily on hand to go neighbour upsettingly loud. Unless you have a gigantic room or aircraft hangar to fill this little do da will have no trouble doing so. I’m not sure what would happen to the bass if you really hike the dial but I’m not sure it’s an issue.
Power: The spec’s say 15W + 15W. I can’t see anywhere is specifies this is RMS but I presume it is. It can get loud, easily loud enough to upset your neighbours, particularly with its bass output. What is troubling to read is the spec sheets listing about power output. That power rating comes on a 6 ohm load at 1kHz and 10% THD. Yes that’s not typo, 10% TDH. Additionally the speaker response range is listed as 50Hz to 20kHz (-10dB) and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that with a 4.5 inch cone where the variances are going to be found.
Aesthetics: There is no two ways about it, it’s pretty. I’m sure its visual impact is enhanced by the vibrant red but it works. The fact it comes in 10 colours means you should get whatever suits you, but that dark grey one in pics looks great. One small downer though, when the speakers were up close to the central unit they were not perfectly the same height. It was a tiny difference so you may want to have a slight gap between them.
Build: The main unit is nicely put together. It’s all metal as are the red bits of the speakers. The remote seems alright too. My only unhappiness is that the power cable isn’t detachable. Overall it certainly gives the impression of being a quality object.
Headphone amp: I can’t imagine it will ever get used in the wild but…. It has a headphone socket. It sounds okay. It’s a bit quiet and rather laid back. Its actually not bad if so much more flat than the speaker output. The bass particularly felt if anything a bit lacking.
Alarm Clock: So, it can be used as an alarm clock. No way you’re sticking this on your bedside table though as it is rather sizeable to be used as such. Of course you could use it as a bedroom system / alarm and have it not next to the bed. I like the “InteliAlarm” feature on the app. You can set custom alarms for every day and pic whatever source or a beep. I can see worse ways to wake than having Elgar blasted out at you. Your neighbours may not feel similarly.
Controls: Naturally you have buttons and a volume dial on the front. You also have the standard IR remote control. Everything for the last 30 years has these but what this has that is a little different in the Bluetooth control. Even if you’re not playing music back from your phone you can still use the app to control things. Yes even the CD playback. This is pretty handy feature as remotes are forever misplaced but you always (mostly always) know where you phone is. However the real star usage is when you’re using Bluetooth as the source. The melding of control and input means you can use Google Music, or Spotify or Pandora or anything else. Doing so you not only have control over your music, all of your music but ALL OF THE MUSIC. I assume anything that your Bluetooth device can play works as it just captures the audio output. This literally means all music it essentially at your fingertips and can be played at the slightest whim. This I rather like and I’m sure you would to.
Value: A quick google and it seems to sit around £280 but there is random variation, some rather higher some rather cheaper if you’re willing to forgo colour choice. In Americaland it seems to sit about US$350. As alarm clocks go that a lot. As little stereos go it’s quite reasonable. I should also note that there is a non Bluetooth version, the MCR-042 that is quite a bit cheaper, like £100 cheaper. The kicker is you really want the Bluetooth connection, it and the diminutive size is why you buy this product so you have to get the 142. If it was my £300 I would have a struggle buying it with those speakers, I’d want proper shaped ones with a tweeter and better sized mid/woofer and I’d forego its prettiness and dinky dimensions. However this is lovely to look at and for some you can’t really put a price on sounding good and having a high WAF.
Conclusion: I like the little yammy. I don’t love it, I prioritise audio quality above all else and it trades some to make those speakers the size and shape they are. The obligatory “however” is that I am the sort of person that has half my desk taken up by full sized stand mount speakers. So for me, stuff size concerns, stuff the visuals and stuff any WAF. If you don’t know what WAF is, it’s the Wife Acceptance Factor. In audio land the hugely sweeping generalisation is, men like audio and happily will have half a room taken up by audio equipment and that women don’t. Since many men also like women there is often a balance between the two things and the so called WAF was born. Wives often want things to look nice and have a veto on things that look terrible. This therefore is a clear compromise device.
Having accepted this is a compromise device then it does a good job with its limitations. The single driver does an excellent job at providing full range audio. The highs are detailed enough and delicately airy enough to please the ear. The mids as I mentioned are really good. They are lovely to behold and I’d strongly advise EQ’ing them up as they are where the 142 shines, so let it shine. The bass though, it’s just trying too hard. What’s worse is I can see from its dimensions someone is going to put it in a book case and that just going even more emphasise the problem. It’s as though the “double super mega bass boost button” is permanently on. It just didn’t harmoniously melt into the rest of the audio spectrum. Like a badly mismatched sub and satellite pair. I realise that for its target market with those pretty 10 colours that having an overly boosted bass hump isn’t exactly a problem, that for many it is probably quite the boon.
You know what though; I think I’m going to miss it when it’s gone back home. Its boosted bass I learned to tolerate and its mids really are very nice. I really have enjoyed its vocal renditions greatly. Hey, I’m a big mids fan. The other thing I really got used to is Pandora play back, actually the whole phone based control and playback. Even if the app needs renamed to have Yamaha in the title so you can find it!!! (DTA Controller means nothing to anyone.) It was somewhat battery draining but so handy. That really is the star feature of the 142, it’s a handy little do da that makes a pretty pleasing noise and is easy on the eye.