Top critical review
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Fine performance sabotaged by asinine radio interface.
on July 16, 2014
I got a pink one for my sister-in-law a in early June 2014. The color is a bit duller than the photo suggests; perhaps this is because the finish isn't shiny plastic. The head unit and speakers are instead wrapped in painted steel - niiice. The textured surface hides fingerprints very well.
This unit is heavy - about 13 pounds total. Even so, there is nothing clunky about it. There are no rattles or loose parts anywhere. The solid build contributes to really good sound.
The speaker enclosures are physically deep and beneath that steel skin are constructed with coated particle board. That in combination with a tuned rear port make some decent bass. The front grills are actually thin cloth, so treble also projects nicely. Cloth doesn't protect the speaker cones as well as metal or plastic. However, it won't rattle with lows or muffle the highs like a rigid perforated grill can.
Pre-stripped two-conductor wire connects the speakers to the head unit. Each component uses proper spring-loaded clips for the wire - no cheesy 1/8 or RCA jacks here. The leads are color-coded for polarity. Be sure to wire them correctly; bass response will suffer if one side is reversed.
Bass, midrange, treble, and balance controls are behind a menu accessible only via the infrared remote control. More about that later.
The pale blue dot-matrix display is clear and easy on the eyes. Characters look great against the deep black background. You can adjust brightness through the remote. It dims automatically when powered down to display the time and date (assuming you've enabled the clock).
The front panel layout is clean and minimalist. While this may be aesthetically pleasing, a consequence is that some very important functions are delegated to the remote. For example, there is no way to manually tune the radio from the front panel. You can only scroll through the thirty memory presets you've previously programmed (you guessed it) through the remote.
I wish the usability issues ended here, yet things only get worse. It seems like the radio interface was a complete afterthought. The best example of this is the way FM mono vs stereo operation is handled...
- There is no automatic stereo indicator for FM. You press the DISPLAY button on the remote to toggle between FM frequency and FM mode.
- There is no way to switch between mono and stereo operation once an FM station is tuned in or saved to memory.
- Manual tuning (done by tapping the << or >> remote buttons) permits only FM mono operation, even if the signal is in stereo.
- If you save a station that was tuned manually, that new preset will always be monophonic.
- Scan tuning (done by holding down the << or >> remote buttons for a couple of seconds) allows stereo reception. However, weaker stations will be skipped.
- If you save a station that was tuned with the scan function, that new preset will be in stereo.
- Autoscan will populate the memory with stereo presets. Once again, the radio will skip past weaker signals. Even so, you are likely going to use up all 30 locations before reaching the end.
Yamaha's firmware designers apparently believe that the days of just "spinning the dial" are over. They imagine a user who's satisfied with a set-and-forget mentality, with no interest in looking for new stations somewhere down the road. That's too bad, as it would have been easy to code separate FM mono/FM stereo selection into the SOURCE button. Dittos for adding a STEREO indicator to the dot-matrix display - throw in a simple signal strength meter while we're at it. Finally, the PLAY/PAUSE and STOP buttons could have been dual-purposed to function as UP and DOWN manual tuning on FM or AM. Hey Yamaha...how about hiring me to work on your next design?
The radio's lousy interface contrasts sharply with the tuner's performance. Sensitivity and selectivity in the FM section are both quite good. With the supplied wire dipole antenna, I can listen to a 1500-Watt station 40 miles away on 95.3 MHz, even with a 18,000-Watt station only 15 miles away parked on 95.5 MHz. BTW...the antenna input uses a threaded F connector, allowing you to connect a real outdoor FM antenna.
The AM section offers typical super-mellow audio. Sensitivity and selectivity are OK. The unit comes with an external loop antenna, which gets the job done. Please don't connect an outdoor AM antenna. Strong local stations may overload the tuner section. In addition, nearby electrical storms can zap the high-impedance AM input.
The CD-ROM played every .wmp and .mp3 I threw at it. Ditto for the USB input. It takes a bit longer to load and navigate media that contains a lot of files. File navigation is basic, yet good enough.
The Yamaha of course plays standard music CDs, as well. I have a few damaged discs that won't play on some machines. This one has no problem with them.
The rear-mounted 1/8 auxiliary input worked fine with an iPhone running Pandora.
The clock, alarm, and timer functions work as they should. Too bad all functionality (such as enabling the clock in the first place) is accessible only through the remote.
I did not test the iPod dock or connect an iPhone to the USB input.
This Yamaha is a pretty good rig. It has decent sound, respectable performance, solid construction, and some nifty colors. The MCR-042 was well worth the 120 bucks I paid in early June. The $250 or so it's going for now - not so much.
While the hardware performs well, a bizarre FM tuner interface makes it impossible to give a solid recommendation. One should not have to open an instruction manual just to use a radio. How many MCR-042 owners are missing out on stereophonic FM simply because they tuned or saved a station "the wrong way"?
Needless complexity precludes the Yamaha MCR-42 from consideration in some applications. If the intended user is young, very old, or special needs, you should seek other options. Otherwise, be prepared to spend some quality time programming it yourself. That's what I had to do.