Sure the Yamaha WXA-50 and WXC-50 are both in Yamaha’s MusicCast line and they send sound to speakers. But that’s about as far as their similarities go. Try to substitute one for the other, and you could blow out your speakers or simply get no sound from them. Knowing the difference is important if you are setting up a listening room.
The WXA-50 is a powered amplifier while the WXC-50 is a preamplifier. While preamplifiers like the WXC-50 are designed to route a signal to an amplifier, amplifiers like the WXA-50 actually do the amplification of the signal that goes to the speakers.
The difference between a preamplifier and a power amplifier is where the power to drive the audio signal comes from. A preamplifier relies on an external power source to amplify the audio signal enough to drive a speaker. A power amplifier produces a signal capable of driving a speaker directly.
The Main Differences
The main difference between the Yamaha WXA-50 (on Amazon) and the WXC-50 (also on Amazon) is the power of the signal they output. The WXA-50 is an amplifier, so it actually takes the audio signal and amplifies it to an output of 55 watts. The WXC-50, being a pre-amp, is designed to run upstream of a powered amplifier, so it isn’t outputting a signal that’s amplified at all.
While a typical setup using the WXA-50 Amplifier has speaker outputs at 55 watts, there are a few advanced user notes. This power amplification is when using a speaker rated at 8 ohms. The WXA-50 can also output speaker channels at 70, or even 105 watts when using speakers rated at 6 and 4 ohms respectively. In short: check your speaker’s ohm rating to be sure what output they’ll receive from this amplifier.
Each unit has its uses, but these devices cannot be used as substitutes. The WXA-50 can be used with passive speakers only. The WXC-50 needs some externally powered device in order to amplify the signals it outputs. The WXA-50 is acting as an amplifier, while the WXC-50 is in practice closer to a receiver. Check out our article comparing receivers to dedicated amplifiers to better understand how all this equipment fits together.
The Yamaha WXA-50
If you’ve read our comparison article between the Yamaha WXA-50 and the Sonos Amp, you’d know the WXA-50 is a power amplifier.. This means it is designed to take a conditioned line-level signal and amplify it. This generates a signal capable of driving a speaker without an additional power source.
Speakers that don’t use an additional power source are called passive speakers. A power amplifier like the WXA-50 can only be used with passive speakers. If you try to use it with externally powered, active speakers, you run the risk of ruining them because the sound signal gets amplified twice, which could blow out the speakers, an effect that ruins all speakers including soundbars as we’ve addressed before.
One of the main advantages of the WXA-50 over other power amplifiers is its digital capabilities. In addition to standard auxiliary inputs, the WXA-50 features digital optical input, USB, ethernet, and wireless connections.
Wirelessly, you can connect via Bluetooth, AirPlay, and WiFi. Connecting via USB, you can play mp3, mp4, wma, wav, flac, aiff, alac, and dsd files. It is also capable of streaming music from Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Sirius XM, and vTuner.
Using a computer, you can set the WXA-50 to play from iTunes using AirPlay. It also allows you to use the trigger function that some subwoofers come equipped with, allowing you to turn an active subwoofer on and off via remote.
This is also a pretty expensive way to go. The design of the WXA-50 makes it worth the sticker price to an audio aficionado. But even then, you would probably want to have a preamp before all the connections it allows you to input.
If you’re looking for a quality all-in-one option, this is for you. If you’re looking to make a very expensive home audio system, this is a good place to start. If you’re looking for a good addition to a robust home audio system, you might want to keep looking.
Like any power amplifier, the WXA-50 is not equipped to handle sound conditioning that might be necessary, especially for digital devices. While some external devices sound fine without any conditioning, most would benefit from EQ and gain controls. This is where the WXC-50 comes in.
The Yamaha WXC-50
The Yamaha WXC-50 is a preamplifier, designed to condition your sound before it hits the power amplification stage. Preamps can be used in one of two ways. They can be connected to a set of active speakers or connected to a power amplifier.
Only in the case of using a power amplifier can a WXC-50 be used with passive speakers. If you try to use the WXC-50 with passive speakers, you will barely get any sound if you get any at all. Knowing what the WXC-50 is used for can ensure you get the most out of your unit.
Compared to other preamplifiers, the WXC-50 has remarkable digital capabilities. This enables it to convert between a number of audio signal types. Like the WXA-50, the WXC-50 can receive analog, digital optical, USB, ethernet, and wireless connections. Unlike the WXA-50, the WXC-50 can output analog, digital optical, and coaxial signals.
This is a great option if you already have a pair of active speakers. Active speakers, unlike passive speakers, have their own power source and amplifier. This allows them to amplify a line level signal.
If you have passive speakers, you will need another device, either a power amplifier or an A/V receiver, in order to use them with the WXC-50. This is a great device to add to a home theater system to make it a home audio system (out guide). However, it is far from a home audio system in a box.
Given how much power amplifiers can cost, spending this much for a preamp can be quite a lot. Especially if you’re looking to build a home audio system from scratch. This is a very good option, but it can be wasted if you don’t have the right equipment to get the full value from it.
You certainly can use this for active speakers. But active speakers have extra power cables and require connections with thicker wires. If you want a clean home audio system, this is a very expensive place to start.
Which One Should You Pick?
As always, unless you are specifically looking to blow a lot of cash on all new equipment, it is best to start with what you have. Your audio needs and your existing equipment should guide your home theater DIY project.
If You Have Passive Speakers
If you have passive speakers, you will at least need a power amplifier, making the WXA-50 your best bet. This is of course assuming you’re only looking to upgrade one thing.
Ideally, you would want to have both a power amp and a preamp with passive speakers. The preamp conditions the sound prior to the amplification stage which sends the signal to the speakers.
If you want to do this, you might consider an analog power amplifier along with the WXC-50. This is also a great option if you want to add music listening to your home theater system. In most cases, you won’t need both. The perks of the WXA-50 over its competitors are all contained as features in the WXC-50.
If You Have Active Speakers
In the event that you have speakers that have their own power source, you would only need the WXC-50. Connect to the analog outputs and you’re ready to go. If the speakers have their own volume control, you will want to calibrate it with the volume of the preamp. How to do this depends on the audio system you are using.
If you are using the speakers exclusively for the preamp, turn both the speakers and the preamp all the way down. Connect them, power them on, and play some music.
With the music playing, turn the volume on your speakers to maximum. Then slowly adjust the volume of the preamp to your liking. You should always control the volume through the preamp.
If the preamp is one of many devices that use the speakers, you will need to adjust the preamp using the speaker system’s existing volume settings, unless you decide to get a receiver which will usually bypass the need for a preamp (our explanation why). For example, if you have an A/B switch to plug a laptop in, the laptop will not control the volume.
In this case, you would have to adjust the speakers to the appropriate level for the laptop first. Then starting with the volume all the way down, adjust the preamp’s volume to a comfortable listening volume while playing some music.
Which Should You Pick?
If you don’t have speakers or don’t want to use your old speakers, the question of active versus passive speakers can be a frustrating one. Generally, the gold standard for an audio system is a preamp, power amp, and passive speakers. If you want to get real fancy, you can add an active subwoofer.
That said, there is nothing wrong with using a preamp and active speakers. This setup will certainly have a lot more and a lot thicker wires. Still, there are plenty of design tricks to hide cables should you choose to go this route. Ultimately, the choice is a matter of personal preference.