The Sonos One is perhaps the most popular wireless speaker on the planet. But is it also the best? The Yamaha people push the MusicCast 20 forward as a better alternative. A bold statement … but is that correct? Considering various positive and negatives this article does comparison between the two Sonos One versus Yamaha MusicCast 20.
If you often work with passive speakers and surround systems, there is a danger that you will forget that most people purchase something completely different. Much more popular than man-sized floor stands are small, wireless speakers that you control via an app and that you can link to other copies. This is useful if you get some people visiting and want to play a nice playlist as background music in several rooms. The example of such a wireless speaker is the Sonos One, the successor to the popular Play: 1. The differences between the two Sonos speakers are not very significant, so what you read about the One here also largely applies to the Play: 1. We mention it because the Play: 1 is still for sale, and that for a slightly lower price. If you look around, you can score a Play: 1 for 160-170 euros.
The MusicCast 20 is certainly not the only rival for the Sonos One. And just like many competitors, the Yamaha is a speaker that is very similar to the Sonos, both in design and in possibilities. The price is strategically set ten euros cheaper than the One of 229 euros, and that’s probably no coincidence. With Yamaha they have not fallen on the back of their heads. They know that in the battle with multiroom superpower Sonos you best play as many trump cards as possible, and the price tag is definitely part of it.
Sonos One versus Yamaha MusicCast 20 – What can you do with it?
Both the Sonos One and the Yamaha MusicCast 20 can be roughly the same. They are compact speakers that only need an electrical outlet and a WiFi network to play music. But actually the Yamaha speaker doesn’t even need that wireless network. The MusicCast 20 also has Bluetooth on board.
You can take it to the garden and use it to play music that is streamed directly from a smartphone. Whoever calls “the Sonos One also has Bluetooth” is right – but also wrong. A small update for the One has recently appeared, the One Gen 2 with Bluetooth LE on board. However, the Bluetooth module only serves to make the installation of the speaker easy. It is not usable to stream over.
Either way, the One and the MusicCast 20 should not be viewed as expensive Bluetooth speakers. They are WiFi speakers that are operated via an app on a mobile device. That has its advantages compared to traditional Bluetooth speakers. This way you can easily choose a playlist on your smartphone, after which your partner adds a few tracks to what is going to be played via his / her own telephone. The music also does not flow over your phone, but goes directly from the source (such as Spotify) to the speaker. And that saves the battery of your smartphone and tablet.
Both speakers are also multi-room ready. That means that you can operate multiple speakers through their apps, in this case only within the brand. Both at Sonos and Yamaha, speakers are assigned to a room and you can operate each speaker separately. But you can also merge ad hoc speakers so that they play the same. Sonos and Yamaha have each developed an entire ecosystem in which their speakers fit. With each brand you can choose from multiple speakers but also other audio devices, such as sound bars and amplifiers that you combine with your own (passive) speakers.
Sonos One versus Yamaha MusicCast 20
The battle between the Sonos One and the MusicCast is actually also a battle between the Sonos platform and the Yamaha MusicCast platform . They share the options that you have with the two speakers (such as which streaming services, the user-friendliness of the app) with all devices of their respective brand. What you can do with the Sonos One, you can do that with the larger Sonos Play: 5 and the Sonos Playbar. There are some exceptions to that rule – for example, the Sonos Beam soundbar has an HDMI input for a TV, a Sonos One does not – but that has to do with the specific function that each device has.
So each brand offers different devices that work together perfectly. You have to see the offer as a box of legos. You take the building blocks that fit your plans. This way you build a music system throughout your house. That is also possible step by step. Adding a new device afterwards is child’s play with Sonos and MusicCast.
The platform at Sonos includes quite a few devices: four speakers, two soundbars, a soundbase for under the foot of a television, two amplifiers , a streamer and a subwoofer. That is impressive, but Yamaha easily surpasses Sonos. The MusicCast platform has been in almost every Yamaha device for three years – and there are quite a few. The last count involved around 40 devices, including multiple sound bars, all AV receivers, stereo devices, mini systems, a streamer or two, and a number of wireless speakers. So you have an immense choice at MusicCast, where the majority are traditional audio devices. That is a plus for one, and a disadvantage for the other. Not everyone wants a large amplifier with cables and large speakers in the living room.
Sonos and Yamaha do things differently in this area, and that has to do with their roots: Sonos has started as a software company that wanted to “listen to music” differently, Yamaha is a purebred hi-fi hardware company that saw multiroom as a feature their devices had to possess. You notice these different starting points when using the two systems. You can do a lot with a Yamaha RX-V658 AV receiver, for example, and you have the MusicCast capabilities that come with it. At Sonos it’s all about streaming and multiroom, and that is a very pure experience. For those who want to listen to music quickly and easily, the Sonos message is therefore very attractive.
Could be brothers
Put the Sonos One next to the MusicCast 20, and you have to look carefully which speaker belongs to whom. The Sonos One is a bit more compact and, on closer examination, has been slightly refined. You notice that in the front at the top, which is a nice part of the whole at Sonos, while Yamaha opts for a mirrored surface that contrasts more with the rest of the speaker. In terms of buttons, Sonos goes for absolute minimalism. You have to interpret the subtle symbols on the speaker to understand that it is a play / pause button and two volume controls.
With Yamaha you have more touch buttons that are clearly labeled. It makes the speaker look less polished, but it is practical. For example, we find the three presets useful for linking to favorite music (such as a playlist or an internet radio station). Messy is the prominent placement of things like the Connect button, a key that you will probably only press once in your life. That could be better at the back, so as to make the appearance of the speaker less messy.
The MusicCast 20 and Sonos One have an oval shape viewed from above and are completely enveloped by a metal grid. You can get them in black or white, which makes them more compatible with your interior. Occasionally Sonos releases special color editions, such as recently in fashionable HAY versions. The number of copies is limited.
Because of their shape, both the Yamaha and Sonos do not seem to have a front and that you can place them the way you want. But beware: these are not 360-degree speakers. Although they radiate music broadly, they are best placed with their front facing the place where you want to listen to music.
Both the MusicCast 20 and the Sonos One are designed to play music. . But they can also play a second role. Both with Sonos and with Yamaha you can, for example, expand a soundbar with a set of speakers that then take care of the rear channels in a surround setup. You then place them behind your sofa. With Sonos and MusicCast you build a surround system so quickly, even just a few minutes before you start watching the film. The TV evening is over? If desired, disconnect the speakers from the soundbar again and place them back in the dining room. Yamaha offers just that little bit more in this area, because you can also link a set of MusicCast 20s to an AV receiver with the MusicCast Surround function.
These days we often see Sonos speakers popping up as music solutions on the ceiling in restaurants and bars. . That is also interesting for certain rooms in your home, such as the kitchen. The older Play: 1 in particular is popular for this because you can easily hang it up. The Sonos One has no threads at the back, but there are brackets available. The MusicCast 20 has a threaded connection again.
The upgrade to make
It does not matter whether you choose the Sonos One or MusicCast 20; if there is one upgrade that we recommend, it is making a stereo pair. You then take two copies of your chosen wireless speakers and connect them to a few via their app. That is not the same as combining the two speakers, because then they play one hundred percent the same.
With a stereo pair, one speaker plays the left channel and the other the right channel. You notice that in a lot of songs, especially when mixing from one side to the other.
Both Sonos and Yamaha will call that a single speaker of them also plays stereo. That’s right, they play all stereo information. But you will hardly notice it. To hear stereo – and that is really the intention with music from the last sixty decades or so – the left channel / speaker must be at least a meter or two-three of the right. Two Sonos One’s or two MusicCast 20 speakers is really a case of 1 + 1 = 3. The improvement in sound quality is substantial. You must follow some basic rules. So you should not place the two speakers absurdly far apart or very illogical (for example, one right in front of you and one immediately behind you). One on each ear, as it were.
Which of the two has the best app? When it comes purely to user experience, that is a tough question to answer. Sonos has more experience, you notice that, but since the last app update, the Sonos app has become a bit more time-consuming. Yamaha, on the other hand, learned a lot (from Sonos, among others) and has built an app that works well. Especially if you take into account what audio companies typically do in terms of apps. Often an app with a hi-fi device is crying, but the MusicCast app is professionally made and intuitive.
Yamaha chooses to visually display the screen with the overview of the different rooms. to make. Every device has a large image, and that can even be your own photo. So you can set up the app so that you show a photo of your own cooking island at the speaker in the kitchen.
At Sonos they believe in “simple is better”. Rooms appear in a text list within the main screen. Everything is very clear and you have to take few steps to hit somewhere. If you use your own files and subscriptions to multiple streaming services, the universal search function of Sonos appears to be a huge plus. For example, if you search for “Daft Punk”, you will get results across all services and your own collection. No one else, including Yamaha, has anything similar. Searching is only possible within one service or your music collection. The added value of the Sonos search function is of course small if you use only one streaming service.
The Yamaha app is not really more complex than the Sonos app in normal use, but can become more complicated if you delve into the settings and if you have a MusicCast device with inputs that can be streamed. For example, if you have an AV receiver with MusicCast in your system, you will find a lot of music sources on that device. In short, with MusicCast you can do more than with Sonos and that’s good. But as a result, you are confronted with more options and the app can look a bit more complex. There is little to be done about that area of tension, we fear. Although you can set up the Yamaha app so that some superfluous options become invisible, which is useful to prevent an app meltdown with a partner.
doubt: Sonos is the absolute champion in terms of support for streaming services. Every service we can think of is present in the Sonos app, even a built-in Spotify function. Sonos is therefore the only one who can still install Spotify in his app; however, you can also operate the Sonos One from the Spotify app itself. In terms of Spotify, the MusicCast 20 can only be operated from the music service app. You will also find relatively few other services in the MusicCast app: Qobuz, Tidal and Deezer, and internet radio. Is that little? We think it will suffice for most people. Sonos does have Apple Music, Bandcamp and Soundcloud, and those are also interesting services.
The Sonos app presents music at music services nicer, especially on a tablet. Album covers show large and playlists load quickly. The MusicCast app also responds quickly, but the presentation of streaming services is still a work point. It is all very textual, which could be more album art.
Both Sonos and Yamaha support AirPlay, but for the time being only Sonos has made the move to AirPlay 2 . It only does that on its new speakers, such as the Sonos One. If you have an iPad or iPhone at home, you can also send YouTube to the speakers via AirPlay. AirPlay 2 has the additional advantage that you can link the Sonos One separately from the Sonos app to AirPlay 2 speakers from other brands, such as from Apple itself or from Bang & Olufsen. Multiroom, but not via the Sonos app.
Both Sonos and Yamaha offer support for voice control via Alexa. This is currently only possible in English and is very limited. This way you can only play from Spotify or Amazon Music. But only the Sonos One has a microphone built in, with Yamaha you have to provide an extra device (such as an Echo Dot). This allows the Sonos speaker from the box to be used to control other smart devices in the home. We are especially looking forward to the support for Google Assistant, something that Sonos demonstrated at CES in January. Hopefully it won’t be long waiting anymore.
You should not expect the ultimate in sound quality from small speakers such as the Sonos One and MusicCast 20. And yet we find it impressive what Sonos and Yamaha realize with these junior speakers. We say that despite the fact that we regularly listen to much more expensive speakers and are therefore critical. Yes, of course those Bowers & Wilkins 606 speakers of 700 euros / pair or the Focal Sopra N ° 2’s of 12,000 euros / pair that stand in the background for this test are better. But if you make such comparisons, you lose sight of the essence of devices such as the One and the MusicCast 20.
These speakers allow you and everyone in the family to quickly find and play music, often in the background but also for real to listen to. They do have their limits, and you will discover them if you let them play really loudly. The DSPs in both speakers then compress the sound considerably, so that dynamics disappear. Are you going to build a party or stuff a café with speakers, then work with more Sonos One or MusicCast speakers than turn a few pieces very loudly.
In a neutral environment, the Sonos One and MusicCast 20 do not sound huge, to be honest different. The Sonos speaker gives the impression of flying heavier in the bass than the Yamaha, which suppresses some detail. The MusicCast sounds much thinner (though you have an extra bass function that you can enable, if you wish) and therefore comes across as detailed. If we switch from Sonos One to MusicCast 20 in “One More Time” from Daft Punk, then the contrast in terms of layer is high.
At the same time, you cannot ignore the limitations of the concept. Both Sonos and Yamaha are very good at giving the impression that many basses come from their speakers, but they don’t really dive deep. There is also a certain lack of spaciousness, which you notice with classical music that was recorded in a large concert hall. For many people and situations, it is sufficient. If you really want a more complete experience, a wireless subwoofer is an interesting addition to a pair of Sonos One or Yamaha MusicCast 20 speakers. It is a pricey upgrade: the fully wireless Sonos Sub costs 699 euros, the MusicCast SUB approximately 400 euros.
A plus with Sonos is Trueplay, a function that based on a simple sound measurement the properties of your room and adjust the sound. Measuring implies that you wave a minute with an iPhone or iPad – Android users fall out of the boat – after which the Sonos speaker adapts to the space. It is often very effective, although there are limitations. Trueplay cannot save in our large open kitchen with tiled floor, but in the living room it can. Not illogical, because you have to tackle things like reflections with acoustic interventions, not with software. During the test in our workspace, we tested the Trueplay function with a stereo pair from Sonos Ones. With Trueplay the speaker became clearer, but the basses were muted too much.
There is no comparable function with MusicCast, or not with the MusicCast 20. The AV receivers and certain hi-fi devices with MusicCast from Yamaha come with YPAO , a more advanced room correction function. But that is an other story. What you can do very quickly via the MusicCast 20 app is to adjust the low-mid-high through a three-band equalizer, and that is interesting. When listening to the remaster of the Kate Bush tracks on ‘Remastered Pt.I’ we gave the Yamaha speaker a bit more low, making it sound much better in our larger room.
Sonos One versus Yamaha MusicCast 20 – Conclusion
Somewhere you have to still be paf for what you get if you give 220-230 euros to Yamaha or Sonos. The One and the MusicCast 20 are small wireless speakers that play pretty well. They tend to “excellent for the price” if you combine two pieces into a stereo pair.
We find the One stronger in terms of the amount of low and Trueplay is really a plus. Sonos is also the one with the broadest and most beautifully presented range of streaming services – although the offer also consists of many niche services, so that is a relative advantage. AirPlay 2 is a nice extra for Apple users.
The MusicCast 20 is a bit more detailed and flexible. What we find really strong is the MusicCast platform, which is much more flexible than Sonos. The fact that you can combine a set of MusicCast 20s with a wireless VINYL500 turntable, for example, is very clever indeed. MusicCast Surround is also an impressive feature that reduces the complexity of an AV receiver. Of course, not everyone needs that flexibility.
In summary: Sonos is still slightly more user-friendly and uncomplicated. But beware Sonos: Yamaha is on your heels.