Yamaha has always fascinated me. It's one of those companies that flies just a shade under the radar (compared to the really big boys like Sony, Toshiba and Samsung), does its own thing, and consistently produces competitive products. So steadfast, professional, traditional, and sophisticated - so Japanese - Yamaha has so much to admire on purely a professional level, before even getting into its wonderful variety of products. Founded in 1887, Yamaha plays in a number of arenas in addition to consumer electronics, such as musical instruments (Their drums are pretty special...drummers the world over have lusted after Yamaha Recording Customs for years.), motorcycles, snowmobiles, golf carts, PC products, sporting goods, home appliances, and industrial robots. Most companies' brands couldn't remotely support that kind of spread, but Yamaha's does, and without even breaking a sweat.
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On the A/V side, Yamaha has earned a respected position in the upper mid-fi world, blazing a trail with its beefy receivers in the 1980s and 1990s featuring its custom souped-up DSP soundfields and powerful amps. They also make neat add-on PC products, source components, subwoofers, and speakers. They've recently jazzed up their speaker offerings with pretty high dollar models, outdoor models, in-wall models, and filled out the lower registers. The NS-333 has been out since 2005, but has generated enough buzz to keep it relevant for today's bookshelf speaker buyers. While Yamaha says they designed the NS-333 for home theater use, many people online vouch for its musicality and its price, size and looks further demand a music-only, stereo evaluation.
One of an incredible thirty-three models in its Performance Series, the $199.00 (MSRP per pair) NS-333 features a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter mounted within a waveguide horn, coupled to a 5-inch Polymer-Injected Mica Diaphragm (PMD) cone woofer. Yamaha's PMD cone is composed of 30 percent white Indian Pearl Mica, chosen for its sonic properties. Yamaha doesn't color the material at all, instead preferring its natural tint. Also, the injection molded cone features a catenary curve, meaning its natural weight creates its shape. Yamaha uses horn technology for typical reasons, preferring the increased efficiency of horns as well as the lack of room interaction their directivity creates. These effects have generated a lot of debate over the years, and no right answer exists as to their drawbacks or advantages - taste rules, as it should. Yamaha also focuses a lot on pre and post-production testing. Among other standards, the company claims it hand picks every speaker part, chooses woods from up to sixty alternatives, tests speakers for months through both computer simulations and actual prototyping with five listening rooms and an anechoic chamber, tests speaker finishes against sound quality, and even tests speakers in an environmental room in...Amazon rain forest conditions. That's right, you can buy Yamaha speakers knowing full well that all species of plants, fish, birds, mammals, and amphibians living in your domain will rejoice in welcoming one of their own into the fold.
Measuring 7.875 inches wide by 12.625 inches high by 8.375 inches deep and checking in at a hefty 12.1 pounds, the NS-333 employs an elliptical shaped cabinet intended to minimize internal standing waves, and Monster Cable internal wiring. Its high gloss piano black finish provides a luxurious sheen that will keep you buying Swiffers every week. It employs a slightly crude-looking small rear port with no fitting, but provides a nice set of binding posts installed cleanly into the cabinet with a screwed-in fitting, and a built-in wall mounting bracket. Overall, the NS-333 provides a very good level of fit and finish considering its price. The sexy elliptical gloss black cabinet and angled grill exudes some real classiness, and with the grills off, the silver drivers provide a striking look. Yamaha did a nice job here. The speaker's look and heft belie its price and market placement.
The NS-333 presents a nominal 6 ohm load with an 87dB efficiency. They needed good quality power to open up properly, and suffered when powered with average receivers and power sources. This may pose a problem for the budget-conscious buyers who will likely flock to this speaker.
The NS-333 threw a moderately deep and wide soundstage, and exhibited slightly above average imaging qualities. The speaker seemed to lack some punch in the lower mids and upper bass which rendered the images a little fuzzy. The horn driver didn't exhibit as much directionality as do other horn designs, offering a little bigger sweet spot. The highs offered terrific detail with only a touch of zippiness, and presented a nice sense of airiness and speed that really flourished on rock and electronic music. Moving downward, the midrange had a smooth, liquid quality that flexed well across a lot of different kinds of material, especially on vocal and piano tracks. Getting into the lower mids and bass, the sound got a little flabby which, again, compressed the soundstage and hurt imaging, but still overall provided good extension. The lower end just lacked the last bit of punch and clarity that would have properly complemented the excellent midrange and crisp top end. Against a wall, its low end extension improved and provided a better balance, but still lacked ultimate clarity. The speaker did play loudly with very little breakup, but getting it there required some horsepower. Overall, the NS-333 provided a coherent, musical sound quality that never ceased to please. Its flaws never stood out to the point of affecting the enjoyment of the material. When considering its price, the NS-333 does a terrific job and gives the budget buyer loads of value.
Read about the high points and the low points of the NS-333 on Page 2.