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Yamaha CX-A5100 Processor and MX-A5000 11-Channel Amp Review

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Completely immersive and stunningly powerful, this is home cinema!

by Phil Hinton Mar 16, 2016

  • SRP: £2,499.00

    What is the Yamaha CX-A5100 and MX-A5000?

    This is Yamaha’s high-end pre-amplifier and 11-channel power amp combination which promises the very latest in DSP processing, 7.2.4 Dolby Atmos and, after a spring upgrade, DTS:X immersive audio and HDR video pass-through.

    The CX-A5100 is the company's latest 11-channel home cinema processor which is packed with features making it an immersive audio performer. Build quality is excellent and there's an extensive set of connections including balanced XLR outputs, with two dedicated XLR subwoofer outputs and a phono stage for the latest cutting edge vinyl spinning. It also features Yamaha's multiroom audio system MusicCast. At the time of writing (March 2016) the CX-A5100 can be yours for £2,499.

    The MX-A5000 is a monster of a power amplifier with 11 channels rated at 290w per channel at 4ohms, but with one channel driven, or dynamic power is rated at 350w at 4ohm. It also features a large custom made toroidal transformer inside its high rigidity chassis and like the CX-A5100 it also has the A.R.T. wedge in the centre bottom of the chassis to cut down on vibrations. The MX-A5000 will set you back £2,499 at the time of writing (March 2016).

    So Yamaha promise high-end, high-powered home cinema performance and complete future proofing but is it worth the high price? Let’s find out.

    Design

    Yamaha CX-A5100 Design
    Looking at the CX-A5100 in more detail the actual chassis and design is very similar to the RX-A3050 AV Receiver in terms of layout and size. Indeed looking at the A5100 you could be forgiven for assuming it was an AVR and not a processor, until you look around the back or lift it. Yamaha have really gone to town with the build quality, producing a rigid and well put together product.

    The H-shaped cross frame chassis design and aluminium sculpted side panels ensure a rigid feel as well as adding a nice design touch to the sides of the unit. The front panel has a two tone feel with a glossy top quarter married to a brushed aluminium 3/4 body below. You can have three different finishes including all black, titanium and black and gold with black. To the bottom middle of the chassis is the A.R.T (Anti-Resonance Technology) wedge which acts as an extra foot for the unit to stand on which helps with stopping vibrations and adding extra support for the centre of the chassis. The A5100 also has a double bottom with a rigid frame to further increase the solid build quality of the unit.
    Yamaha CX-A5100 Design
    The front panel of the CX-A5100 is clean and traditional in design. We have the classic AV receiver layout with input selector and power button to the left, the volume dial and pure direct button to the right and in the top centre is a large display and under that is a flap covering over more buttons and connections. The A5100’s design was never going to set the world on fire but at the same time the high quality materials and solid feel let you know this is a step up from the humble AVR. We don’t always mention the actual feel of using the buttons and knobs, but the smooth operation of the volume control and the ability to speed up the volume selection without over turning the knob is a great feature. The central display is also well laid out and easy to read from a distance.

    Connections & Control

    Yamaha CX-A5100 Connections & Control
    Around the back of the CX-A5100 we have a well laid out rear panel that is logical to follow and shouldn’t cause any major issues even for those new to using a processor and amp arrangement. As you can imagine things will get busy once you start wiring up the inputs and outputs, and cable management could be a real issue. Thankfully the layout helps in this regard with the video inputs and outputs at the top of the unit and the pre-out RCA and XLRs towards the bottom, allowing some good separation.

    To the top are seven HDMI 2.0 inputs and two outputs with HDCP 2.2 copy protection enabled on all of them. Directly below the HDMI inputs are three component inputs and one output and a composite monitor output. To the left of these are multi-channel RCA inputs (a feature missing on the A3050 AVR) and four composite inputs. To the right hand side at this level are the wireless antenna and LAN input along with IR remote in & out and two 12v triggers. The middle section of the back panel features RCA analogue inputs from the left, including a phono stage and ground for a turntable, along with three coaxial and optical inputs mirroring the RCA inputs. The central RCA’s against the white background are the unbalanced pre-outs including two subwoofer outs, presence speaker outs and two zone outs. Finally on the rear panel are the balanced XLR inputs and outputs. Noise resistant balanced connectors are the best way to connect the A5100 to the accompanying MX-A5000 and there are 11 main channel XLR pre-outs along with two additional subwoofer XLR pre-outs (something of a rarity even in high-end products). Finally there are two balanced stereo XLR inputs for use with high-end sources.
    Yamaha CX-A5100 Connections & Control
    At the front of the CX-A5100 is the drop down flap which hides more connections and control options. To the bottom we have a USB input along with the 3.5mm jack input for the YPAO microphone supplied in the box. Next we have a headphone jack along with a composite video input, stereo RCA’s and another HDMI input. Above these inputs we have a selection of menu buttons allowing control of the A5100 should you misplace the remote control along with scene selection buttons and multi-zone selections and program buttons.

    Yamaha CX-A5100
    The remote control supplied with the CX-A5100 is a two tone titanium and black design and includes a small display to the top just below the power buttons. The layout is logical and easy to follow with fewer small buttons than previous AVR remotes from the company. Plus this remote control also has a backlight to help with use in a bat cave home cinema environment. We just wish Yamaha would roll this function out to all their remote controls as AVRs and processors are designed to be used in home cinemas which usually means, in low light conditions. To the bottom of the unit is a flap which can be opened to reveal more selections, like the Surr.Decode option, and overall it sits nicely in the hand, has a good weight and is easy to use.

    Finally if using a physical remote control is too 20th century, you can of course use the excellent remote app. Available for both iOS and Android it is well designed and allows access to every feature available. We actually found it more intuitive to use than the onscreen menu system employed by Yamaha and we really like the on-the-fly changes you can make to DSP programs by pitching the surround field around the listening position. While the old fashioned remote is still very much needed, we really like the app and it is the easiest to navigate example we have used for a while.

    The remote app is intuitive to use and allows access to every setting you will ever need.


    Unboxing Video


    Features & Specs

    Yamaha CX-A5100 Features & Specs
    The CX-A5100 is Yamaha’s flagship product and as such it has every new technology on-board and will even add more via a firmware update in the spring. As you can imagine the new immersive audio formats feature, with Dolby Atmos already installed and DTS:X appearing as part of that spring update. The other feature that will appear in the spring is High Dynamic Range (HDR) video pass-through making the video section of the A5100 completely up-to-date. The HDMI inputs are already 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 compliant for 4K (4:4:4) video up to 60 frames per second with wider colour gamuts.

    Yamaha have been famous for their Cinema DSP technology and the use of presence speakers for well over 20 years now and in the CX-A5100 we have the latest DSP chipset running Cinema DSP HD3. This works with the full 11.2 channel configuration and can even work on top of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X content to add wider spaces with signal processing and the use of three processors within the DSP engine. There are 33 DSP programmes on board and 10 of those were introduced in the Z11 receiver a number of years ago. All the old favourites are there including Spectacle and Sci-Fi for those Yamaha fans of old.

    Although Cinema DSP has always been a novelty feature the use of presence speakers has attempted to widen the soundfield to allow a more realistic dome of sound around the listener. With Dolby Atmos and DTS:X we now have discrete object based formats that can take full advantage of the 7.2.4 speaker layout suggested for Atmos playback and the A5100 has two pattern layouts to choose from within the set up menu. These allow the use of ceiling speakers, height speakers or Dolby Atmos upward-firing models to be selected. If you are only running a 7.2.2 system you still have to select the front presence speakers even though you don’t have any in use, it’s a quirk of the set up menu and can be confusing. In fact we find the Yamaha menus very dated and not very intuitive to use.

    All channels on the CX-A5100 use ESS ES9016 DACs including the presence channels to offer an all-round 192kHz/32bit compatible superior signal to noise ratio performance with extreme 124dB dynamic range capabilities, ensuring what Yamaha calls the faithful reproduction of Blu-rays and music sources. The A5100 also features the latest YPAO-R.S.C. sound optimisation 64-bit EQ calculation and speaker angle measurement tool. This analyses room acoustics and speaker angle measurements to optimise performance of the 3D sound field. It also corrects timing and reflection issues down to around 35Hz. Using the included height stand for the microphone it can calculate the speaker angles and up to 8 positions to better EQ the listening experience for multichannel audio playback. Also part of the EQ system is YPAO Volume which applies loudness correction to high and low frequencies to keep volume levels consistent even at low settings, like night time viewing.

    Because not everyone will be able to add front or rear presence speakers to their listening room Cinema DSP also includes the virtual presence speaker setting. This makes use of the centre and surround speakers to create virtual front and rear speakers that mimic the immersive sound experience. Yamaha expand this even further for those who can’t have surround speakers at all in the rear of the room with their virtual CINEMA FRONT technology. This allows you to place speakers at the front of the room and then uses these to create virtual surround side and back speakers. Clever stuff indeed but it will never replace having speakers in those positions. As this is the flagship model we tested it with actual speakers and didn’t test the virtual system on this occasion. We don’t think many people spending £5k on an 11 channel processor and amplifier will be using virtual speakers, but it is an interesting technology for further down the product line. The last DSP feature to mention for now is the Compressed Music Enhancer which uses various algorithms and signal processing to try and restore some of what is lost when compressing audio. There is also the high-resolution music enhancer feature which can be used with 44.1/48kHz content (CD, 2ch PCM, FLAC) and sample that to 96kHz/24bit resolution – heightening the musicality of the original audio – as Yamaha states in their brochure.

    The CX-A5100 is fully compatible with the latest WiFi and Bluetooth technology standards allowing easy set-up of network functionality. This allows the usual features like NAS support, internet radio, Spotify and other streaming services supported by the Yamaha and use of the control app. A Bluetooth output is also included for use with additional Bluetooth speakers or headphones. There is also support for AirPlay and the front USB slot is ready for iPad/iPod and iPhone use with charging capability and track selection via the remote control.

    Wrapping up the features we can’t forget to mention MusicCast. This is Yamaha’s proprietary system for creating a network of wireless speakers and devices around the home in a multi-room music system. Almost all of Yamaha’s AV and Hi-Fi products are MusicCast ready allowing the use of a handy app to send music to any room with a Yamaha speaker product. You can send audio from the TV, Blu-ray player, CD player or your smart phone around the home with ease.

    Yamaha MX-A5000

    Yamaha CX-A5100 Yamaha MX-A5000
    There is no other way to describe the 11-channel MX-A5000 other than a ‘monster’. The first thing to hit you is the minimal, massive chassis and the back plate full of speaker terminals and connections. Next is the build quality that matches the CX-A5100 rigidity and aluminium side panels with a brushed metal faceplate. You get the feeling that Yamaha have approached this as a no-compromise product with superior components and materials used. We also have the double bottom chassis design of the CX-A5100 and the A.R.T. central wedge to combat vibration, but in addition Yamaha add rigidity for the internal components. There is also a repeat of the H-shaped internal design with a left/right independent construction and a symmetrical power amplifier layout allowing excellent isolation of the amplifiers improving signal and noise levels. The three-stage Darlington circuit is also reported to have superior phase properties and has good resistance to speaker impedance fluctuations and the power supply is a specially developed high output, high efficiency large sized toroidal transformer that also accounts for the majority of the weight of the MX-A5000. It has two very large capacitor banks (27,000uF) providing generous headroom as well as the instantaneous power output. Each channel is rated at 150w and the MX-A5000 weighs in at 26Kg. As we said, it’s a monster!

    The only items on the front of the Amplifier are a big round power button in the centre of the front plate and to the bottom left are speaker A & B selection switches.
    Yamaha CX-A5100 Yamaha MX-A5000
    Around the back you can see the results of the symmetrical amplifier layout with two banks of speaker terminals for left and right channels. On the right channel side (left in the photo above) we have one separate channel 1 which is used for the centre channel, and then on both sides we have channels 2 through to 6. There are a few other items to note here, with channel 2 having A & B terminals allowing switching between two pairs of speakers and there are also switches in place to use other channels for bi-amplification or other zones. In fact the layout is very flexible and allows a number of configurations to be employed, but on this occasion, we will be using it as a 7.2.2 Atmos set-up. The speaker terminals also allow for banana plug use as well as normal binding posts.

    In the centre of the back plate we find the input connections with unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR connectors with small switches provided to switch between the two. All the channels are well separated out so that cable management can be neat and tidy and there are plastic bungs for covering the RCA inputs when not in use. Finally we have triggers for in and out as well as through out, along with an auto standby switch and speaker impedance selector.

    Set up & Testing

    Yamaha CX-A5100 Set up & Testing
    As has been mentioned in a number of Yamaha AVR reviews of late, we feel the menu system and set up routines are not intuitive enough for end users to simply work through and the same is true here with the CX-A5100. Once you get used to the layout it is easy enough to manually set up the speaker levels, distances and crossovers or of course you could use the YPAO auto set-up sound EQ system. We have found that YPAO works reasonably well but not with sub bass frequencies. We found that the suggested settings for the subwoofers were far from perfect. However saying that, you can obviously set that aspect correctly yourself and still use the suggested YPAO settings for the levels, crossovers and distances. As we have used this room for over 15 years and it is well treated and optimal speaker placement is well known, we didn’t use the YPAO system for critical listening tests.

    In terms of the system we use for testing we had two weeks use with a set of 3 x MK MP150 LCR speakers and 2 x S150T surrounds with two MK X12 Subwoofers, before swapping these out for 3 x MK MP300 LCR speakers and 2 x S300T surrounds using the same subs. We also used a Panasonic DMP-BDT320 Blu-ray Player and Fire TV 4K as video and audio sources along with streaming via Tidal and NAS files for pure audio playback. Images were provided by our reference JVC DLA-X700 projector and ceiling speakers for Atmos playback were JBL Control Ones.
    Yamaha CX-A5100 Set up & Testing
    To get the best from the CX-A5100 and MX-A5000 interconnect wise, Yamaha arranged for some loaned balanced XLR cables from The Chord Company. The Chorus Reference XLR cables supplied were superbly well put together with a very expensive feeling outer shield material and solid XLR plugs. These cables allowed us to use the balanced output from the CX-A5100 to the inputs on the MX-A5000 so we could get the best possible connection between the two products and we thank Chord for loaning us the interconnects.

    Video Review


    Sound Quality

    Movies


    As with most processor and power amp systems the first thing you notice with the CX-A5100 and MX-A5000 is just how powerful they are and how much you have in reserve for headroom and dynamics. The transitions between quiet reflection to full-on action in a matter of milliseconds, is mightily impressive and certainly gets your attention.

    The Central Park scene in King Kong has the beautiful score playing softly in the background and our heroes dancing and skating on the iced pond – putting you at ease. This doesn’t last long however with the dynamic blast of a mortar explosion and the quick raising of the volume levels getting the pulse racing and giving you the perfect example of the dynamic range possible from this combo. Of course the two MK speaker systems we used love high power levels and are extremely neutral in their performance, allowing us to fully assess the CX-A5100 and it capabilities.

    The steering precision and placement of effects within a wide and enveloping sound field points to the quality of the new DSP chips and processing power on-board with the type of performance that many more expensive and exotic processors would be proud of. The detail and channel effect placement on offer reminded us of the ADA Suite 7.1 with the type of sound field creation that really sells the multichannel experience. Added to this are the transient dynamics and a solid and tight bass which brings the opening of SPECTRE to life in style. Dialogue is also well anchored with excellent clarity making conversations easy to follow even when all around is blowing up.

    But it’s not all Bond, sci-fi and explosions that show how well the Yamaha performs. Spin up the recent drama Whiplash with its jazz filled soundtrack of real musicians playing real instruments, and everything sounds faithful, realistic and dynamic with drums sounding like drums. There are no fake tones or inflated processing getting in the way of the performance. With 5.1/7.1 channel soundtracks the CX-A5100 is a stunning example of powerful, yet poised and detailed home cinema audio. When used with a speaker system like the MK MP300s, with their identical size across the front and matched tripole side surrounds, the A5100 creates an exceptionally cohesive and tonally balanced sphere of sound around the listening position, drawing you into the action and, where needed, scaring the hell out of you with the sheer dynamics on offer. It also does all this without ever sounding harsh or sibilant, but is never laid back or warm, rather it has a more neutral tone with oodles of clarity and detail. The power on tap and the headroom available makes this system an absolute blast. So what about adding some ceiling speakers and Atmos soundtracks?

    With the same performance detailed above, the CX-A5100 opens up that sound field even more with Dolby Atmos soundtracks, turning in the kind of performance you would expect from a flagship product. The sense of effect placement that stood out with vanilla 5.1/7.1 comes to life further with the placement of objects around the room at differing heights. The water cooling scene in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation has mechanical arms passing over your head and water surrounding you at every level of the room, while the voices and radio transmissions of Gravity float around your listening position, depending on where the camera point of view is facing. There is a genuine sense of height and even more realism to Atmos tracks thanks to the CX-A5100, with objects placed all around the room, not just from speakers above you. You can even add Cinema DSP HD3 processing effects to the Atmos soundtracks should you so desire, although we prefer to stick with straight audio, but at least you have the choice with the A5100. We really struggled to find any negatives with the Yamaha combo and instead ended up watching as much as we could while it was here with us. I think that says everything that needs to be said right there. While the DTS:X update is yet to be made available on the CX-A5100 we see no reason why it won't be just as effective with that format.

    Music


    So the old popular theory has always been that AV receivers and processors are not very good at simple 2-channel stereo, no matter how expensive they are. Well that is not a view we hold here at AVForums and there are quite a number of excellent products that do both roles extremely well.

    So you’ll not be surprised to hear that the A5100 is just as good with stereo sources as it is processing immersive audio tracks. The only possible downside we can see with the sound of the CX-A5100 is that it is rather neutral and clinical and when used with speakers like the MK MP300s we tested it with; there is a lack of warmth that some Hi-Fi fans will certainly miss.

    With that in mind we rather enjoy the more forward and detailed sound on offer which is sublime with well recorded, mixed and mastered tracks, but less friendly with poorly recorded tracks. In fact the combination on test here will not flatter poorly encoded or recorded tracks, but why would you spend this much money to feed it on crap? Take nicely mastered full range albums like Annie Lennox’s Diva and sit back and enjoy a sublime haunting experience with tracks like Cold, where every intake of breath can be felt. Or connect to Tidal and enjoy the latest from CHVRCHES with extremely well layered electronica and female vocals ripping across the stereo sound stage with excellent detail, clarity and lack of harshness. The CX-A5100 and MX-A5000 offer a real all-in-one solution for both movies and music of a very high level indeed.

    Conclusion

    9
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Stunning dynamic sound with real power and finesse
    • Dolby Atmos sounds superb
    • Solid build quality and excellent materials
    • Good backlit remote control
    • Excellent future-proofing for HDR UHD video and DTS:X sound
    • MusicCast built-in
    • Balanced outputs and inputs
    • Stunning and effortless power from the MX-A5000 amp

    Cons

    • Menu System is not intuitive
    • YPAO doesn't control low-end bass effectively
    You own this Total 2
    You want this Total 8
    You had this Total 0

    Yamaha CX-A5100 Processor and MX-A5000 11-Channel Amp Review

    As flagship products the combined £5k price tag shouldn’t be a surprise given the feature rich line-up and power on offer. What is surprising is that there are no obvious competitors at this price point for both the processor and 11-channel amplifier, which leaves the CX-A5100 and MX-A5000 to enjoy their own sector of the market. To get close to this kind of power, features and sound quality from other similar products will likely cost you far more than the combined cost here. So what do you get for the money?

    The CX-A5100 is about to be updated with firmware in the spring that will add DTS:X and HDR video pass-through to the existing high standard of future-proofing. On board already is Dolby Atmos decoding along with HDCP 2.2 HDMI inputs that support 4K/60P at 4:4:4 video and Rec.2020 support. There is also MusicCast compatibility along with advanced networking with WiFi and Bluetooth and extensive file playback support. The MX-A5000 11-channel amplifier is powerful and responsive and marries perfectly with the CX-A5100 in terms of sound quality and connectivity. Using high quality balanced XLR connections also removes electrical noise and provides a high quality approach to connecting the products.

    The design is excellent with the use of superior materials that oozes high-end build quality. There is no getting away from the no-compromise intentions of Yamaha in the design and performance of this combo. From vanilla 5.1/7.1 HD audio playback to the immersive nature of Dolby Atmos the performance on offer is stunning with huge dynamics, powerful forceful bass, yet, subtle and delicate details are also high priorities within the sound field. Transient changes are breathtaking at times with punches landing with real power in the likes of Terminator Genisys and storm force winds in your listening room on top of Everest.

    Even with music the CX-A5100 offers excellent detail, good separation and a neutral sound that will please many. It does however offer no hiding place for poorly recorded and mixed tracks and plays back what exists with no added warmth. The power and dynamics will never get tiring and of course the combo here has enough headroom available to never get restricted or caught out no matter what the source may be. This is powerful home cinema in a well-balanced and priced combo which should certainly be on your demo list if you are looking for a no compromise approach to your home theatre. Highly Recommended!


    The Rundown

    Sound Quality

    9

    Features

    9

    Connectivity

    9

    Build Quality

    9

    Value For Money

    9

    Verdict

    9

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