I listen to music a lot in my home office. I play music from my iTunes library and from a CD player (yes, I’m nostalgic), and I have a full stereo setup, with bookshelf speakers on my desk. I long ago realized that you can have much better sound with a real receiver than with even expensive speakers that you plug into a computer. And it’s a lot more flexible too, allowing you to connect other inputs.
I used to run my music from my iMac, through a Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), then into a receiver. But as part of my recent decluttering operation, I wanted to get rid of that extra link. I also didn’t want to have to be able to play music through my iMac; I sometimes work on my laptop seated away from my desk, with my iMac asleep. I wanted a standalone receiver that could accept music from my iPhone via AirPlay. So I’ve switched to a different receiver, the Yamaha R-N301. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) This receiver has an onboard 24-bit/192kHZ DAC, and sounds comparable to the previous setup with the Cambridge Audio DAC.
I had first bought this receiver to use in my bedroom, to replace a Denon Ceol, which was supposed to be a wireless AirPlay receiver. (It was, for a few months, then it stopped working. It was repaired, still didn’t work, and I got a refund.) The Yamaha R-N301 is an AirPlay receiver as well, but it doesn’t have wifi; it only works with AirPlay if it’s connected via Ethernet, or if you buy an optional wifi receiver that you can connect to it.
After my experience with the Denon Ceol, I realized that the problem with these devices’ wifi capabilities was probably related to their hardware; more specifically their antennas, because another AirPlay device in the same location as the Denon Ceol worked fine. A number of people I heard from had had similar problems with third-party AirPlay devices, so I decided to give up on wireless AirPlay. Wired AirPlay, while not ideal, because of the need to connect an ethernet cable to a devices, is actually an improvement. There are no dropouts, and the device is always available. The only downside is that you need to get an ethernet cable to it.
There’s a simple way to do this: use powerline adapters. These devices connect to AC plugs; you connect one to your router or ethernet switch with an ethernet cable, plug the second in where the device you want to access is located, and connect an ethernet cable between it and the device. I use Netgear 500 Mbps adapters (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), but if you’re just streaming music, you don’t need them to be that fast; 200 Mbps would be enough.
So, back to the Yamaha receiver. I don’t intend this to be a review of its sound quality; it sounds as good as a $300/£200 amplifier can sound. It has all the standard features of a receiver of its kind, but also offers digital optical and coaxial inputs, along with ethernet. And it has two speaker zones; while this is not something I need now, I may want it in the future, if I move the receiver someplace else. And then playing music via AirPlay, its display shows the name of the track that’s playing, though it can be hard to read, as it scrolls along on a display of about twenty characters.
I like Yamaha’s audio hardware. I’ve had their AV receivers for many years (I recently bought the RX-679 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) to replace an older Yamaha AV receiver that I had.) Their stuff is well made, and I’ve never had any problems.
So if you want an AirPlay receiver that uses ethernet, the Yamaha R-N301 is a good choice. There are other brands that sell similar devices, and they start at around the same price point, and they’re probably just as good. I’m happy with my choice, and if you need a device to stream music to via AirPlay, this is a great option.