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.
The CMX-M170's remote control is prosaic, though functional. It certainly doesn't look as attractive as the main unit, and fashion obsessives may well find themselves driven to replace it at some point with a more attractive one.
DAB tuning on the CRX-M170 is conventional and fast. As soon as you've plugged the system together, attached the DAB antenna and switched the unit on, you can be listening to digital broadcasts in a few seconds.
As with most DABs, the CRX-M170 autotunes itself to all available DAB broadcasts in the UK. Station selection is a simple process of scrolling through channels using the smaller wheel on the front of the mini system. If you've used any modern car radio, DAB or otherwise, you'll be right at home here.
Playing CDs on the CRX-M170 is equally straightforward and familiar. If you want to plug in a tape deck, or other external sources, the unit cycles between these inputs via a clearly labelled Source button.
All UK DAB radio broadcasts can be received on the CRX-M170, but your success in tuning into these stations depends on your aerial positioning and geographical location. In London we could receive over 100 DAB stations on the CRX-M170. These are automatically stored as presets.
FM listening is slightly different because presets must be manually stored according to your favourite channel positions. You toggle between bands by pressing a predictably labelled Band button and station information changes during DAB broadcasts if you press the Info/Text Mode button. DAB broadcasts include plenty of extra information alongside the audio -- this might include the name of the band currently playing, or information on a live sporting event. The CRX-M170 scrolls this information across its LCD screen during a transmission.
The CD player is a familiar affair, with shuffle, repeat and program functions available via the bundled remote control.
Audio performance on the CRX-M170 is impressive for a mini system. Where we're used to hearing a slightly strained effort from smaller units, the Yamaha is pleasingly refined. The low end was bolstered by the YST-SW011 subwoofer we were provided for review, but a good pair of stereo speakers should be able to do the unit justice as well. Tweaking the tone controls slightly allowed us to neutralise the sound a little to compensate for the boxy room we tested the unit in, and overall tone and definition were very good.
Auditioning Drain You by Nirvana demonstrated a good kick to the system at higher volumes -- again, the subwoofer pushed everything harder than a simple two-speaker set-up might be able to deliver. Listening to The Distance by Cake, there was excellent separation between different parts of the drum kit, and the song sounded accurate in comparison to how our reference system produces it. The CRX-M170 falls slightly short of a good separate DAB and amplifer set-up in the same price range -- around £200 -- but for integration and convenience, Yamaha offers a tempting proposal with this system.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide