There is no shortage of soundbars on the market today, and their level of sophistication varies greatly, with prices ranging from just a few hundred bucks to a couple thousand dollars. The Yamaha YSP-5600 is a complete sound system, shy of sources (of course). It has the electronics of an audio/visual receiver, along with the speakers and the computing power to tie it all together. The YSP-5600 sits at the top of Yamaha's line of soundbars, with a market price of $1,599.
Yamaha's surround sound approach is the most elaborate I have seen in a soundbar. The basic principles have been used in Yamaha soundbars for years, but the YSP-5600 uses an evolved approach that incorporates the latest immersive surround sound formats: Dolby Atmos and DTS: X (available in a future firmware upgrade), with a 7.1.2 configuration capability. This means it supports seven-channel surround sound, one subwoofer, and two height channels.
Other modern upgrades include wireless speaker functionality through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Yamaha's MusicCast wireless streaming technology. Yamaha sent along the WX-030 MusicCast wireless speaker to be used alongside the MusicCast application for mobile devices.
The YSP-5600 utilizes 44 beam speaker drivers and two 4.5-inch woofers, for a total of 46 speakers, to reproduce seven-channel surround sound and two height channels. Six of the front-facing beam drivers, on each end of the soundbar (12 total), are dedicated to the right and left height channels, and they sit in an angled baffle projecting the appropriate object-based audio up toward the ceiling, to then be reflected down toward the listener position. That leaves 32 beam drivers to create the horizontal plane of surround (five or seven channels, depending on your configuration).
To accomplish all of this wizardry and control the plethora of drivers, all source material starts in the digital domain, where the Yamaha Digital Sound Projector technology controls the digital audio signal with timing delays. Each beam driver gets its own two-watt digital amplifier, while each woofer gets its own 20-watt digital amplifier. This elaborate design focuses and steers sound around your room by bouncing the appropriate channels off your walls and ceiling, to their correct location, with the help of Intellibeam, Yamaha's proprietary calibration system. At first, the power specifications don't seem impressive; but, when you consider all the drivers, it does add up to 128 watts.
In regards to the channel processing, the 5600 operates differently than a traditional surround receiver or processor, in that it will read all seven channels of digital audio from the soundtrack and add that information to both the front and surround back channels. The soundbar then re-creates side surround channels as part of its Digital Sound Projector processing. This method is required to achieve the seven channels of surround sound using the 5600's wall-reflecting method.
A subwoofer output allows you to add a subwoofer, if desired. Yamaha sent its NS-SW200 ($399.95), rated at 130 watts, to help with the lower frequencies. A wireless subwoofer kit (model SWK-W16) is available for convenient subwoofer placement, but I didn't utilize it for this review.
At 43.25 inches in length, 8.38 inches in height, and 3.63 inches in depth, the Yamaha is one of the larger soundbars on the market. Included are two "L" shaped metal inserts, which Yamaha refers to as stands, that are required to set the unit on a flat shelf or surface, which increases the height to 8.5 inches and the depth to four inches. It weighs in at just less than 26 pounds and can be wall-mounted using the Yamaha SPM-K30 mounting installation bracket, which is sold separately.
The YSP-5600 has four HDMI inputs, one of which is HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 (for 4K video compatibility), along with one HDMI 2.0 output (also with HDCP 2.2). Two optical digital inputs, one coaxial digital input, and one analog input should support most of your connection needs.
There are four listening modes: 3D Surround, Surround, Stereo, and Target. 3D Surround uses five horizontal beams along with two vertical beams to make a simulated 7.1.2 soundfield for standard surround soundtracks, or with the newer Atmos or DTX soundtracks. Surround is the second mode, which uses five horizontal beams for a 5.1 system. Stereo is the third mode, which uses two horizontal beams for two-channel playback, and lastly Target mode allows for focused audio playback of a monaural sound beam for private listening to one person.
To be used in conjunction with the 3D Surround and Surround listening modes, Yamaha created Cinema DSP, which includes three settings: Movie, Music, and Entertainment. Within each of those settings are more digital signal processing (DSP) settings, for specific source types. I won't go into them all here, but they are described in detail in the user manual. When Cinema DSP is combined with the 3D Surround or Surround mode, a more expansive soundfield is created. All of the possible DSP combinations can be overwhelming and, in my personal past experience, are rarely used. Typically, after some initial experimentation, you will pick one mode and settle in with it, but others are always there for the taking.
All this science and technology may sound astonishing, but does it work? Can we obtain a true surround sound effect, as well as an immersive audio experience, from a soundbar?
I set up shop in my family room, which is a typical track-home setup with an open-floor plan to a kitchen and casual eating area. In the setup guide, Yamaha recommends that the soundbar be centered within the room and cautions that the listening position should be as far off the back wall as possible. Well, we are off to a bad start: my listening area is off to one side, making it impossible to center the 5600 within the space. To make the situation worse, my seating position puts your back up against the proverbial wall. In fact, I have four listening areas in my home, and every one of them has the seated position up against the back wall. I have to imagine that this is a common dilemma, but let's see what I can do with what I have to work with.
I positioned the YSP-5600 below my TV, using the included metal stands, and connected the HDMI output of the Yamaha to my television's HDMI input. From there I added two video sources: a Direct TV tuner and a Sony BDP-650--which is a basic Blue-ray player, since there are no special requirements for Dolby Atmos. For music, I streamed from TIDAL using both my iPhone and my MacBook Pro. Lastly, I connected the wired Yamaha NS-SW200 subwoofer.
The next step was to connect the YSP-5600 to the Internet to perform firmware updates and make use of the MusicCast wireless speaker capability. The Network setup menu will guide you to connect with the Internet, which was an uneventful process.
Lastly, I had to calibrate the surround sound by attempting the auto setup. Going through the Intellibeam calibration caused 30 minutes of frustration. While running through the process, the calibration could not play a test tone through the subwoofer output. I had to check and recheck settings, and cabling, and then perform the calibration after each change I made, with no success. I referred to the full-length manual. Although the troubleshooting area of the manual did not address my exact issue, it did suggest turning off and on the unit, by unplugging all power to the soundbar, for a different issue, so I gave that a shot. When powering up the unit, it prompted me to perform a firmware update, which I did--and amazingly I was up and running. I will never know if it was the power shutdown, the system update, or a combination of both actions that fixed the problem, but it was now working.
Yamaha provided the microphone and a flimsy cardboard stand to hold it during the calibration. Intellibeam took care of the rest, and the process took just a few minutes.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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