Though it may seem like a relative newcomer, Yamaha famously manufactured Japan's first piano over 100 years ago. The Yamaha brand has never enjoyed the elite status of Linn or Arcam, but the company has forged itself a good reputation for home-cinema equipment -- Yamaha surround amplifiers are the mainstay of many entertainment systems. We're often impressed by the quality of Yamaha's component choices, and the CRX-M170 is a case in point.
The CRX-M170 integrates a 50W stereo amplifer with subwoofer output, a DAB radio and a CD player into a single unit. This is a mini system that will capably replace your existing hi-fi system in one fell swoop. True audiophiles will want to source separate components for each stage, but if you're looking for a one-stop replacement for your creaking, 15-year-old hi-fi, you'll be surprised by what this fairly compact unit can deliver.
There is a well-established approach to the design of stackable mini systems, and that seems to be: make it look small from the front, and to hell with the rest. This means that once you get into the mid-range models of mini-system, there's not much difference between the physical space a mini-system occupies and the space a full-size system takes up. The CRX-M170 certainly looks mini from the front, but the depth and height of the unit makes this just as big as a traditional hi-fi component. If you're thinking of stacking this on a bookshelf, think again -- our shelves certainly weren't wide enough for the 359mm-deep chassis.
The overall footprint of the CRX-M170 is, however, slightly less than what you'd find on a traditional component system, so there may be some situations in which this mini-system makes more sensible use of space than a full-sized unit.
The front of the CRX-M170 is an attractive design, with clearly labelled controls for the system's main functions. Volume is controlled by a large wheel on the right-hand side of the unit and is of the infinite-rotation variety. You don't get any feedback on where the volume is before you switch the system on, because the wheel communicates digitally with the amplifier -- like the iPod's Clickwheel.
The CD tray is sturdy in comparison to most, but suffers -- like all CD trays -- from a degree of wobble. A slot-loading drive would have been a more effective choice here, with the added bonus of making the fascia even more slick. Yamaha's surround amplifers always have a serious air about them, and the CRX-M170 is in keeping with the same aesthetic. The LCD is clean and bright, and there's an elegance to the layout you don't find on cheaper systems.
One good example of this attention to detail is the rear speaker bindings, which are of the screw type and fit the range of higher-gauge speaker wires that plastic bindings fail to grip. You could use extremely thick speaker cable with the CRX-M170 without much of a problem. This is particularly useful if you have an existing speaker set you want to wire into the CRX-M170 -- you won't have to downgrade your speaker cable.
Other rear connections include a range of auxiliary ins in the form of silver-plated phono connectors. There's also FM, AM and DAB aerial connectors and an optical digital out. Yamaha supplied us with some extremely attractive glossy black speakers called the NX-E300 and a subwoofer called the YST-SW011, but you can use any 6-Ohm speaker set with the unit.