First look at Yamaha YSP-5600 Atmos and DTS:X Soundbar

Can Yamaha really deliver all those channels from a single source

by Steve Withers Sep 10, 2015 at 12:17 PM

  • Amongst all the excitement surrounding Yamaha's launch of MusicCast, there was an equally interesting new product that almost slipped out unnoticed.
    The YSP-5600 is the world's first soundbar to be able to decode and replicate both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive audio soundtracks. The idea of delivering a full 7.1.2 immersive surround experience from a single source might at first seem ridiculous. However once you realise that Dolby's own Atmos speakers use sound projection to bounce the overhead channels off the ceiling, suddenly it doesn't seem that crazy any more. And if there's one manufacturer who can deliver the kind of sophisticated sound projection needed to pull off this remarkable feat, it's Yamaha.

    The Japanese manufacturer has been using sound projection technology in their soundbars for years and the principle is simple - the soundbar uses acoustical beams to intelligently bounce sounds off the side and rear walls to create a full surround experience. Whilst such an approach will never fully replace the effect that you can get from a genuine surround sound system with discrete speakers at the sides and rears, it does work surprisingly well and provides an effective alternative for those who don't want to run cables all over the lounge and put speakers everywhere.

    We have reviewed a number of Yamaha's sound projection soundbars, including the excellent YSP-2500, and have been genuinely impressed by their surround capabilities. You do need solid walls on either side and at the rear to get the full effect but the IntelliBeam software is extremely sophisticated, allowing it to deal with various room configurations. If this approach can make creating a 7.1 system in your lounge easy and tidy, just think how useful it could be to avoid having to also install two speakers overhead. Which brings us to Yamaha's YSP-5600 9.1-channel Digital Sound Projector.
    The idea of delivering immersive audio from a soundbar sounds crazy until you realise that Dolby's Atmos speakers already use sound projection.
    Yamaha YSP-5600

    The YSP-5600 uses 46 speakers and highly directional sound beams to create a 9.1-channel experience that replicates the effect of listening to a 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos or DTS:X system with two speakers overhead. The soundbar uses reflections off the side and rear walls and the ceiling to replicate the effect of having two side speakers, two rear speakers and two speakers on the ceiling. The key to the soundbar's success is the use of vertical-beam array speakers for the two height channels. There are six array speakers angled at 30 degree intervals on each end of the soundbar. These shoot sound beams upwards that are bounced off the ceiling to create the overhead sound effects.

    The YSP-5600SW comes with a component-quality active subwoofer that uses a large 25cm diameter woofer to deliver the low frequency effects in the 9.1-channel sound field. This version also comes with a wireless subwoofer kit (SWK-W16), that allows the subwoofer to be freely located in the room. The YSP-5600 includes a total of 128W of power - 88W in the soundbar and 40W for the built-in subs. The soundbar itself measures 1100 x 212 x 93mm (W x H x D), weighs in at an impressive 11.7kg and offers the choice of wall mounting with the optional SPM-K30 bracket.

    In terms of features the YSP-5600 obviously decodes both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, although only Atmos will be included when the soundbar ships, DTS:X will be added later via a firmware update. There are four listening modes - 3D Surround, Surround, Stereo and Target, along with ten programmes compatible with CINEMA DSP 3D - 3 Movie, 3 Music and 4 Entertainment. The four HDIM inputs and single HDMI output support 4K/60p passthrough and HDCP2.2. The YSP-5600 includes built-in WiFi and Bluetooth and supports Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay and, of course, MusicCast.
    Despite being demonstrated in less than ideal conditions, the impressive YSP-5600 delivered a genuinely immersive experience.

    We first got a look at the YSP-5600 at the MusicCast launch in Hamburg back in June but then the soundbar was just included in with all the other products that supported MusicCast. It was also being displayed in a darkened concert hall and wasn't being used for any actual demonstrations. Thankfully Yamaha rectified this at IFA, where the YSP-5600 was on full display at their stand and there was a demonstration of its abilities. Yamaha were using a glass box on their stand for the demos, which is hardly ideal, but that makes what followed all the more impressive.

    We have already reviewed a number of Dolby Atmos enabled receivers from Denon, Marantz, Pioneer and Yamaha themselves and we have a full 7.2.4 setup in our testing room with actual overhead speakers. That means we know what Dolby Atmos is supposed to sound like, giving us a genuine point of reference when it comes to comparing the performance of the YSP-5600. The first demo clip was Dolby's own Amaze trailer, which we've heard dozens of times. This is a complex sound mix designed to fully show off the potential of the format with sounds swirling around and whooshing overhead, rain pouring down from above and deep thunder rolling around the room.

    The YSP-5600 reproduced this trailer with remarkable precision, moving sounds around the room and above, whilst the sub delivered plenty of low energy impact. To say we were impressed would be an understatement. Yamaha then showed a scene from Transformers: Age of Extinction, which we are also familiar with, and again the soundbar did an excellent job of recreating the film's immersive soundtrack. Next they used a clip from the excellent John Wick and again the YSP-5600 handled the film's marvellous sound design with great skill, ricocheting bullets around the room and echoing sounds above us. Finally Yamaha played an audio only track of a 747 taking off overhead which was just incredible, leaving even our jaded mouths open.

    Whilst we still prefer the idea of a full surround system with actual overhead speakers and an AV receiver like Yamaha's RX-A2040, we appreciate that for many people that just isn't realistic. So the idea of a soundbar that can deliver a full 9.1-channel immersive audio experience, is a very tempting proposition. For that reason we were delighted to discover how effective the YSP-5600 was in the demo at IFA and we're looking forward to putting it through its paces in the more controlled environment of our testing room with our Dolby Atmos disc collection. The YSP-5600 will be released later this year and will retail for £1,599 without the wireless subwoofer and £1,899 with it included.

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