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Yamaha's MSR400

REVIEW: Well, this is different. Instead of reviewing a spanking new product that’s all the buzz of the industry, we’re taking a look and listen to a product that’s already been heavily field tested…. and with good reason.

Yamaha’s MSR Series  of powered loudspeakers was introduced nearly five years ago, and during the past half-decade it has earned a reputation for providing great sound and reliable service. But time waits for no one and there’s no sleeping in the the R&D departments of the major pro audio companies. To illustrate the point, consider that we’ve already told you about the latest offerings from Cerwin-Vega and QSC and we’ll soon be reviewing the new HD series from Mackie . That will be followed by the new DSR series from the very company that’s the subject of this review. So with so much new happening, why are wasting digital paper and ink talking about “old” technology? In a word… money! Before we show you the green, we need to clarify that this really isn’t old technology. Proven?… Yes. Old?… uh-uh.

Having the new DSR series on it’s way has given the folks in the Marketing Dept. at Yamaha a wide open window of opportunity to offer their MSR series at prices that are quite attractive in this current economy (see below). So, if you don’t have to have the “latest and greatest” and would rather have some cash in pocket for fuel and food this could be the solution you are looking for.

Galloping Workhorse
One look at the rugged and tightly constructed MSR400 cabinet and it’s apparent that this is a thoroughbred among all-purpose powered PA speakers. While I often cringe when a manufacture refers to a product as “lightweight,” in this case it could be worse. At a few ticks over 50 pounds, the MSR400 is has enough heft to let you know it’s not pretending to be something it isn’t. On the up side, the weight is perfectly balanced to the mid-point so you won’t be knocking over every waiter and food cart you encounter on your way to the stage. In fact, having tossed around a gaggle or two of speakers in my day, I have to rate these among the easiest speakers (active or passive) to lug around. The positive grip side handles and that nice balance also make lifting them to stands less of a workout. There are handles on both sides, and you can actually see the stand mount as you lift, so there’s none of that feeling around mounting hole nonsense that just wears the arms. Yamaha has also included a simple screw in bolt so you can tighten the speaker to the stand pole eliminating any “wobble.” The only negative to the design is (as they are designed to be floor monitors as well PA speakers), they are nearly as round as a log, and will roll away from you if you should, oh say, set them pointing the wrong direction on a steep ramp (yeah, I did it, but no one was hurt and the speaker survived just fine.)

Inside Story
The big advantage that powered speakers (active) have over passive units is that the geniuses in engineering and design can perfectly match the components they need for ultimate sound quality and efficiency. In the case of the 400s, Yamaha uses a bi-amplified 2-way system, with 400 watts maximum burst power, to drive the 12" cone woofer and a 1.75" V.C. compression driver. An electronic crossover divides the signal prior to the power amps which, according to Yamaha, eliminates the problems with loss, distortion, and phase that are often virtually with conventional passive crossover networks. This also allows for the woofer to get the lion’s share of that 400 watts for much, much stronger bass.

On the recessed control and I/O panel on the back, you’ll find 3 connection points wired in parallel: two balanced XLR-type connectors and one balanced phone jack. These can be used as either inputs or outputs. An input level control is provided as are low and high EQ controls to adjust the respective bands over a plus-or-minus 3dB range. The units accept nominal input levels ranging from –36 dB to +4 dB—so you can directly connect any source from microphones to professional line-level gear.

On The Road…Again
In our last speaker review, we put the QSC K Series through heaven and hell—first as a PA for a local praise and worship team, and then blast out Top 40, rap and Hip-Hip at a couple of wedding receptions. For the MSR400s, I thought I might up the stress test just a bit. Part one was a 5-hour DJ gig (a grad party), outside in near 90° heat. Arriving at the venue, I discovered a fairly good chunk of field between me and the set-up point. So much for using the hand truck. This was one of those times when I really appreciated the balanced weight and the dual handles of these speakers.

Laboring under the misconception that these two 2-way boxes couldn’t provide the kind of bass required for a party of the type, I also packed a QSC K-series sub for reinforcement. While the sub definitely added a boost to the bottom, it wasn’t necessary. It did, however, show how easy it is integrate the MSR 400s with other existing components. The following weekend, the MSR’s were on the road again. This time for a relatively laid-back wedding reception. This time I left the sub home and found that I had ample volume with crisp, clean and full top, mid and bottom.

I’ll have these out a few more weekends over the summer and fall (hopefully to at least one band gig, which seem to be elusive this year) and will report back on any unexpected new discoveries. For now, aside from that thing about wanting to roll away, I’d have to say that Yamaha’s MSR 400s are a benchmark in terms of great sound, a convenient package and the right price. For solo performers and duets, acoustic bands needing vocal reinforcement, and DJs, the MSR 400s are a tough act to follow, especially at the price.

Current MAP pricing:

MSR 100 – $299
MSR 250 – $399
MSR 400 – $499
 

About the author

Bruce Bartlett

Audio Engineering Society member Bruce Bartlett is a recording engineer, audio journalist, and microphone engineer (www.bartlettaudio.com). His latest books are "Practical Recording Techniques 6th Edition" and "Recording Music On Location."


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