Performance Movies were up first. To keep it simple, I used both the 3D Surround (Atmos) and Surround (7.1) listening modes, with no Cinema DSP enhancement. My reference Pod Race scene from Star Wars Episode I does not have an Atmos soundtrack, so I started with the horizontal Surround listening mode. The 5600 did a good job of casting a surround effect, steering the pods around my room with realism. The effect was stronger on the right side of my room, due to the nearby sidewall. I toggled to the 3D mode and noticed an immediate height effect; I would have to agree that it was a more immersive and convincing experience. Pod racers were orbiting throughout the family room, and dialogue was clear and articulate. Over time, I began to notice that the 5600 had a slightly nasal character to vocals, in comparison with my reference system in this room (a PSB in-ceiling and in-wall architectural system).
Another observation was the low-end frequency floor, or lack thereof. Don't even think about using the Yamaha 5600 without a subwoofer. You would not be doing it justice. But for me, the tiny Yamaha subwoofer that was provided did not have enough impact in my room. [Editor's note: Yamaha's PR rep informed us that the company normally sends out its larger NS-SW300 subwoofer with review samples of the YSP-5600 and that the NS-SW300 is listed as the recommended mate for the YSP-5600 on Yamaha's website.] Already installed in this room, as part of my reference system, is a MartinLogan BalancedForce 210 subwoofer, which in my opinion is an exceptional high-fidelity product and one of the best on the market today. There is no need for this level of extravagance to make the Yamaha sing, but sing it did. The solid performance of the MartinLogan really helped the YSP-5600 portray a fuller and more rounded-out effect. With a good sub in place, all the channels had the essence of more weight in both the upper and lower midrange frequencies. This warranted a new calibration, of course, and a new demonstration from the beginning of the Star Wars scene, which corrected much of the quality and quantity of mid and low bass while drawing me into the action and storyline. I was impressed with the ability of the YSP-5600 to create height channels where none existed in the original soundtrack.
Next, I played an Atmos Blu-ray sampler I had picked up at last year's CES. The demo from the movie Transformers: Age of Extinction features an exceptional scene of intense action, with both dialogue and the effects of machines and space ships destroying the city. Speech was clear, and the robots were in full force. There was definitely a surround effect, and once again I was drawn into the movie. I did notice, however, that the height channels were a bit forward from my listening position.
The sampler disc also had a test tracks to demonstrate the sound of a rainstorm, which we all know has to come from the ceiling, and that it did. However, again the effect was forward within the room. I attempted to fine-tune the sound projector with its focus control, moving the height channel further back into the room, with some success.
Lastly, I played Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice with Atmos. Toward the beginning, young Bruce Wayne is being lifted up through a deep hole in the ground by a flurry of swirling bats. The scene rendered both surround, back surround, and height from the ceiling with an overall experience that was engaging.
Next I experimented with music in stereo. Streaming from TIDAL on my MacBook Pro through an HDMI cable, I first played "Lost Stars" by Adam Levine, from the movie Begin Again. The soundstage was broad with believable depth, without being too forward. Similar to the movie soundtracks, I sensed that slight amount of congestion I sensed earlier in the vocal region, along with some over-analysis in the midrange.
I moved on to the song "Suddenly I See" by KT Tunstall from her Eye to the Telescope album. Mid-bass was good, as well as deep bass with the help of the MartinLogan subwoofer. A nice wide and deep soundstage was presented, but with the same tonal quality in vocals I had experienced on the Adam Levine tract.
I listening to various others artists streaming from TIDAL, and the overall experience was completely acceptable, keeping it in the context of a soundbar. When comparing the same soundtracks to traditional speakers in other locations of my home, the traditional speakers had a more organic and natural quality to vocals and instrumentation.
To give the streaming capabilities a test run, I streamed music from my iPhone wirelessly to the 5600 and the WX-030 MusicCast wireless speaker, which was set up in another room, with the help of the MusicCast Mobile application. I was able to control the volume of both units individually or simultaneously, along with the ability to link the units so they can play at the same time. The ability to walk about my home and control the music from my iPhone, changing songs and volume, is always a kick. Up to nine devices or speakers can be added within the MusicCast system.
The Downside As previously mentioned, the overall audio experience of movies and music was satisfying and completely acceptable, but my reference system for the same room yielded a more natural and convincing presentation. But to keep things in perspective, this soundbar delivers a convenience not offered through a traditional setup, and it allows you to enjoy the immersive audio experience in a room where a dedicated speaker system just can't be installed.
Even though the 5600 supports the pass-through of 4K video, it does not support HDR video pass-through yet. If your television does not support HDR and you don't see the need for it, you won't have any issues. However, if your newer television is HDR-compatible, you will need to determine how important it is for you to have this functionality in your soundbar. According to Yamaha, there are no plans to update the YSP-5600 this year, but common sense tells me they will make the change at some point, perhaps in 2018.
Lastly, the YSP-5600 is large in the world of soundbars.
Comparison and Competition There are several different types of soundbars on the market today. For example, you can get a passive unit (with no electronics for power or source control), which is just a hoard of drivers in a box and requires a receiver to power it up. Some use separate satellite speakers for the rear channels, but that eliminates the convenience aspect of a soundbar. Then we have the active soundbar, with the equivalent of a receiver built in to control sources and power the drivers, like the Yamaha YSP-5600. However, none of the competitors in this space uses anything similar to Yamaha's Digital Sound Projector technology.
Having said that, Samsung has an interesting approach to a 5.1.4 Atmos system. The HW-K950 soundbar is powered, with the required electronics to power drivers and manage sources, and it includes two separate wireless satellite speakers for the rear surround channels, along with a wireless subwoofer. Clearly, this unit favors Atmos over traditional surround, due to its emphasis on four height channels and only two surround channels. However, Samsung may be on to something. I have found that, in smaller rooms, a 5.1 system is just fine and can have a stunning effect. And I would agree that having more height channels has a much larger impact than surround back channels. The four height channels are ingeniously achieved by having two of the channels in the bar itself, firing up (like the Yamaha) with the other two height channels located on top of the side surround speakers, firing upward to create the rear Atmos channels. I have not auditioned the Samsung, but it may worth looking into.
Sony has a brand new soundbar that supports Atmos, called the HT-ST5000. It allows for HDR pass-through, but it does not use the 46-driver complement and accompanying digital processing for the surround sound effect. I hard a demo of this soundbar at CES, and it was impressive; however, I do not believe it was able to cast the surround sound effect as well as the YSP-5600.
Conclusion The Yamaha YSP-5600 is a stunning product within the world of soundbars. It successfully utilizes a very sophisticated approach to achieve both traditional surround sound and immersive 3D sound. Although it does not quite compete sonically with the individual dedicated speakers of a traditional surround sound setup, it has one very important quality that those systems don't have: convenience. In some cases, the only way to experience any semblance of a surround system is with a soundbar--and for these situations, the YSP-5600 should be one of your first considerations. Add in the convenience of streaming music as part of the MusicCast system, and you have a compelling alternative audio system.