An old-school 2 channel receiver with a bunch of new school tricks
For the past 6 months, the Herb n’ Hifi den has been stress-testing Yamaha’s budget R-N303 network receiver. Does this $350 receiver have what it takes to become a mainstay in your setup, or is it a stepping stone for something better?
The R-N303 is a very straight forward 2 channel network receiver that comes in both black and silver finishes. My black model looks right at home among the den’s newer and more vintage equipment, and I am sure the silver variant is just as handsome in person.
I’ll admit that the R-N303’s straight forward and simple design is a little uninspiring (where are all the VU meters at sub $1000??), and the plastic fascia and knobs feel a little… Well… Cheap… But everything is well laid out and easy to understand, making getting around settings like tone control and source inputs without using the comprehensive remote control or MusicCast app a breeze, even if retro looking and limited dot matrix display is a little limited.
With 100w per channel (at 8ohms), this Yamaha packs a punch. The R-N303 didn’t have any issue moving the den’s pair of vintage Bang & Olufsen Beovox S45 MKII, DALI Spektor 2 bookshelves, or any number of 8ohm rated floor standing and bookshelf speakers that came through the den since it’s been here. It’s a shame that with 100wpc, there’s no proper sub-woofer connection. You can hook up 2 pairs of speakers AB style, which is nice.
When it comes to source inputs, the Yamaha R-N303 covers the bases. On the hardwired side, there’s 3 line-in inputs, a digital input that supports both optical/SPDIF and coaxial connectors, and a built-in MM PHONO preamp (a rarity at this price point). No tape loop though.
The R-N303 can also connect to your network via WIFI or LAN to access services and features through Yamaha’s own MusicCast service. MusicCast supports Spotify, TIDAL, Pandora, SiriusXM, Deezer, Napster, and Internet Radio, as well as Apple AirPlay, Wireless Direct, and yes, there’s also Bluetooth and home server support. Unfortunately, the Yamaha R-N303 does not support Roon natively.
Connecting the R-N303 to the internet was a little clunky, and Yamaha’s MusicCast app for Android and iOS leaves a lot to be desired. However, Yamaha has updated both the app and the receiver’s firmware since I got it, and everything has been working smoother than when I initially set it up.
I primarily use MusicCast to stream TIDAL, Spotify, and Internet Radio. TIDAL HiFi sounds great at 44.1 kHz, but there’s no TIDAL Masters support… At least for now. Spotify sounded good, and the ability to use the Spotify app to control playback (Spotify premium only) is a lot better than trying to navigate your playlists through Yamaha’s not so user-friendly UI.
I compared MusicCast’s streaming abilities with a Chromecast Audio hooked up directly through one of its line-in inputs, through a Schiit Modi 3 external DAC, and fed directly into its optical input. I got very similar results through both the straight RCA (running the Chromecast Audio in Full Dynamic Range mode) and optical options. Still, the Chromecast Audio hooked up to the Schiit Modi 3 did bring another layer of depth and punchiness to lossless tracks.
In general, I usually found myself using TIDAL via a Chromecast Audio as opposed to the MusicCast app. It just works faster. Having said that, though, Yamaha’s MusicCast is an excellent alternative if you don’t have a dedicated streamer connected to your setup.
MusicCast did add support for Google and Amazon voice speakers through a firmware update. While I only tested the Google support briefly, functionality is limited to a few specific commands and phrases. You’re better off just using the remote or app to get to where you want to go.
One of the R-N303’s most notable features is its standard PHONO input. It does only support moving magnet cartridges, though. Both my vintage Technics SL-5200 (w/Ortofon 2M Red) and Fluance RT85 (w/Ortofon 2M Blue) sounded very impressive hooked up directly into the PHONO input. I compared the Yamaha’s PHONO input with both a Pro-Ject Phono Box DC and a Pro-Ject Tube Box S2. Overall, the built-in preamp held up well, but there was a noticeable round-off on both the high end and low end. Don’t misread that as the Yamaha’s PHONO stage doesn’t sound bad at all, it actually sounds pretty damn good and is a lot more forgiving than the external preamps tested, maybe if not as honest as some purists might like.
Overall, the Yamaha R-N303 is a great sounding, simple, and straightforward stereo receiver, that brings together classic HiFi looks and functionality with a robust modern streaming package. The ability to hook up practically any turntable to its PHONO input makes this receiver a sure recommendation for anyone looking to upgrade their aging receiver to something with a little more digital power or for hardcore streamers who want to add some true analog options.
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