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Yamaha YSP-5600 review: Enveloping surround from a high-end Atmos sound bar

The expensive Yamaha YSP-5600 sound bar projects a huge sound field, and no other sound bar can produce as immersive an experience, but you'll need to buy an additional subwoofer.

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Ty Pendlebury
Steve Guttenberg
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Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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8 min read

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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.

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7.2

Yamaha YSP-5600

The Good

The Yamaha YSP-5600 is the first sound bar to offer Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support. It gives more spacious and immersive surround effects than any other sound bar we've tested. The system includes Yamaha's MusicCast, one of the better multiroom music systems. With four 4K-ready HDMI inputs you can use the sound bar as a switch for your home theater, which is unusual.

The Bad

As sound bars go it's really tall and expensive, and you'll need to add a subwoofer. It needs to be wall-mounted as it can move around the tabletop when bumped. Some cheaper sound bars have better overall audio quality.

The Bottom Line

The Yamaha YSP-5600 projects a huge sound field -- no other sound bar can produce as immersive an experience -- but it can sound thin, and dynamic punch is limited.

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 Onkyo TX-NR646. 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.

Design

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Features

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Setup

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.

After completing the automated setup we noted the subwoofer volume was much too loud, and turned it down with the sound bar's remote control. That helped, but even so we didn't feel the R-110SW was a good match with the YSP-5600, so we replaced that sub with a Yamaha NS-SW300 ($499). We ran the IntelliBeam automatic sound optimization system again, and the two Yamahas worked reasonably well together, but now the sub's volume was a little too low! We had hoped the auto setup would take the guesswork out of setting the sub's volume, but the fix is easy enough: we turned the volume up a bit.

If you're not using a sub the unit is set to Front/Wireless by default, which is also enabled if you connect a wireless sub. Activating this option disables the "sub" volume on the remote.

Performance

The YSP-5600's ability to project a large, clearly focused sound field was immediately apparent with the Dolby Atmos-encoded "Gravity" Blu-ray. This space thriller about astronauts stranded in orbit did a great job of demonstrating the YSP-5600's spatial capabilities. The sounds of the astronauts' voices floating about the room, including well forward of the , surpassed the surround effects of all of the other sound bars and sound bases we've tested.

As for Atmos height channel effects, the sound seemed to come from above the plane of the YSP-5600, though it never appeared to be coming from the ceiling. The surround field was broad and deep, even if it never reached behind us like a true 5.1 surround system would. We heard a big difference when switching between Stereo and Surround modes, and noted the dialogue from the sound bar's center-channel speakers sometimes sounded recessed and distant in surround mode. We corrected that by raising the center channel volume from the remote. Switching between Surround and 3D Surround we heard little or no difference.

We're happy to report the YSP-5600's large and spacious imaging was stable as we moved around the CNET listening room, well over to the left or right, and backing away from the speaker to the rear of the room the surround effects remained stable. No other sound bar we've tested has done that before! The benefit is that everyone watching a movie will hear great surround, no matter where they sit, as long as they are 4 or more feet (1.2 meters) in front of the YSP-5600.

Pumping up the volume to feel the power of the onscreen antics on the "Mad Max: Fury Road" Atmos Blu-ray, the YSP-5600 proved it could play loud, no doubt about that. Nice enough, but when we played hard rock tunes like "Young Lust" from the Atmos "The Wall" Blu-ray, the YSP-5600 sounded strained and dynamics fell flat. Sustained loud sequences didn't fare well over the YSP-5600, but the quieter, more atmospheric tunes like "Don't Leave Me Now" sounded wonderful. We were again amazed by the YSP-5600's ability to project a deep sound stage.

At this point we put the YSP-5600 aside and played the Definitive Technology W Studio sound bar system, and heard a very different, fuller-sounding tonal balance, mainly because the blend between the W Studio's subwoofer and sound bar was more seamless. The W Studio handled "The Wall" Blu-ray's hard rock assaults with greater ease, and dialogue sounded more natural, but the W Studio's sound stage was nowhere as room-filling as the YSP-5600's.

The W Studio also aced the YSP-5600 when we played a few CDs; the YSP-5600's treble was coarser and less clear. That said, neither sound bar system was at its best with CDs.

We next fired up the YSP-5600's onboard MusicCast system and found it communicated a WAV rip of Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy with all the passion singer Will Sheff could muster, even if dynamics were as muted as we found with CDs. On the title song, a soft acoustic cover of a Tim Hardin song, the fingerpicked guitar came from clear across the room, the speaker throwing out a huge sound stage even on this simple arrangement.

So how does it perform without a subwoofer? Not so great. Music lost its punch and sounded unbalanced, becoming overly midrange-heavy. The punch we felt with "Fury Road" was completely sapped without a sub, and while there was the occasional thrum of an engine, the drama of the film's opening scene was almost completely lost. If you're looking to buy this sound bar, we urge in the strongest terms that you also buy a separate sub.

Oddly we were unable to connect to the sound bar using Spotify Connect, though we had no issues playing through a Denon AVR-S910W wired to the same router. The speaker appeared in our Spotify app but would time out when we tried to connect.

Conclusion

What the Yamaha YSP-5600 does best is project a huge, room-filling sound field, and it does it better than any other sound bar we've tested. That's great, but it's one of the most expensive sound bars around, and we imagine most owners will have to splurge at least another $500 (about £360 or AU$700) on a subwoofer.

As for overall sound quality, we think the cheaper Definitive Technology W Studio sound bar/wireless subwoofer is better: it's more dynamically alive, dialogue sounds more natural, the blend between sub and sound bar is better, and the chassis is better-looking. The tradeoff is that the W Studio sounds downright cramped next to the YSP-5600's room-filling sound stage.

It will be interesting to compare the Yamaha against the other Atmos sound bar announced at CES -- the Samsung HW-K950 -- once it becomes available. In the meantime if you want Atmos and compelling surround sound from a 'bar, the Yamaha is your best option.

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7.2

Yamaha YSP-5600

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 6