Dolby Atmos and its still-reclusive neighbor DTS:X are the newest sound formats for use in the home, promising more enveloping sound than ever thanks to upward-firing speakers. Movies that support the format are still rare, but the ones we've heard can improve audibly when paired with the right hardware.
While there are plenty of "add-on" modules for existing speaker systems, the Yamaha YSP-5600 is the first attempt to provide Atmos and DTS:X in the relatively compact, design-conscious shape of a sound bar.
For the most part Yamaha's efforts are successful. The speaker has a huge sound field with both music and movies. The sound bar is able to create a 3D bubble of sound between you and the television that a standard bar just can't emulate. Of course it's not as immersive as a true multispeaker surround system, and it won't place sound objects above or behind you, but it's still very impressive for a sound bar.
At this price, it'd better be. The US price of $1,699 (£15,99 in the UK) places the sound bar in whole new territory, especially when you consider that to get the maximum benefit you'll need to spend even more on a subwoofer. Sonically it could no doubt be bested by an equivalently priced system, say an ELAC Debut 5.2.1 surround speaker kit coupled with an. The tradeoff, of course, is that the separate system would take up a lot more space.
As the first Atmos sound bar the Yamaha is an intriguing start, especially if you want its combination of single-speaker style and room-filling sound -- and if you're willing to pay for it.
If you're used to sound bars being an inch or two in height, then the size of the YSP-5600 will come as a rude shock. At 8 inches high (20cm) it's taller than most center-channel speakers, albeit quite thin at3.5 inches (8.9cm). It lacks rubber stoppers on the bottom, proving it's really designed to be mounted on a wall.
The unit is finished in metallic black and the front is dominated by a wire mesh screen protecting the drivers. Behind the mesh hides a blue LED display, but unfortunately the thickness of the mesh does make it a little hard to read. On the top of the speaker reside a number of controls, while at the bottom lives a 3.5mm jack for connecting the included calibration microphone.
The full-size remote is welcome in a category dominated by dinky credit card clickers. It's decently ergonomic with all of the functions within easy grasp, but sadly it's not backlit.
The YSP-5600 features an onscreen display, but it's a little small and ripped straight out of the '90s with its monochromatic text and Microsoft DOS feel. Be aware that the only way to access the second page of setup is to press "settings" twice rather than the right arrow; not exactly intuitive.
The Yamaha YSP-5600 is the first Atmos- (and DTS:X)-compatible sound bar and uses the company's proprietary Digital Sound(DSP) technology for its surround effects. The speaker has 44 separate "beam drivers" which bounce sound waves off your walls, creating (sort of) the illusion of surround sound.
Unlike previous DSP-equipped speakers from Yamaha, the YSP-5600 now includes 12 angled "height" drivers at both ends of the speaker, in addition to the surrounds. These beam drivers are supplemented by two 4.5-inch woofers. Unfortunately, the level of these drivers isn't adjustable.
One major criticism you could level at almost every sound bar on the market is that connectivity is pretty terrible. At best you'll get an HDMI input, but most of them make do with just an optical port. The Yamaha has the best complement of inputs we've seen yet, with four HDMI 2.0a ports in addition to dual optical, a coaxial digital and an analog auxiliary.
The Yamaha is well-prepared for wireless music. In addition to AirPlay and Spotify Connect, it also offers Bluetooth (both receiving and streaming to Bluetooth headphones). Like most of Yamaha's latest products, the YSP-5600 includes the company's own proprietary multiroom system called MusicCast. MusicCast enables streaming from your phone, your network or from a number of services including Pandora, Rhapsody, SiriusXM and Internet radio. For you golden-eared audiophiles out there the system will support 24-bit/192kHz FLAC and WAV files, something the leading multiroom system (Sonos) does not.
To get started we ran the YSP-5600's IntelliBeam automatic sound optimization system with the supplied microphone sitting atop the cardboard mic stand. We positioned the mic in the prime listening position on the couch in the CNET listening room, and initiated the test sequence. For the next few minutes the IntelliBeam automatic sound optimization system sent a long series of tones, beeps and swooshes through the YSP-5600 sound bar and our Klipsch R-110SW subwoofer.