Greg Handy developed a passion for audio in his early teens when he worked as an installer of car audio systems. This experience taught him about passive and active crossovers, subwoofers, and challenged acoustics, as well as how to troubleshoot persistent bugbears like ground loops and noise.
From there, his interests grew to home audio and home theater systems. Once he bought his own home, he began installing sound systems and theater systems in different rooms, spending much time and money along the way. It wasn't long before he began doing the same for friends and family, then sharing his passion for AV with the HomeTheaterReview.com audience.
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.
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.
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.
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.
• Visit the Yamaha website for more product information.
• Check out our Soundbar category page to read similar reviews.
• Yamaha Announces New $200 YAS-106 Soundbar at HomeTheaterReview.com.