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A TASTE OF SOAVO

Yamaha continues to find new strengths in loudspeakers, delivering a solid and attractive 5.1-channel package with this 500 Series.

In recent years Yamaha has been releasing ranges of loudspeakers that measure up to the longstanding high quality of its electronics. Its highest-end loudspeakers are called ‘Soavo’, but it also has several more affordable ranges.

This review system — from Yamaha’s 500 Series — sells for under $4900 in 5.1-channel configuration, which is just a bit more than the cost of the Soavo floorstanders alone. Yet Yamaha has trickled down a number of technologies from the Soavo range into this series, not only in the drivers but also in such things as mitred joints in the cabinets, sloped enclosures and substantial internal bracing.

EQUIPMENT
In its 5.1-channel configurations, this system consists of the NS-F500 floorstanders ($1999) for front left and right stereo positions, NS-C500 centre channel ($699), NS-B500 surround speakers ($999) and the NS-SW500 subwoofer ($1199). The speakers don’t come as a single pack, so you can pick and choose as you like (or, for example, add a second pair of the surrounds for a 7.1-channel system).

The floorstanders are well-built units, weighing a solid 19 kilograms each, using a bass reflex, three-way design. The enclosures taper as they rise from 224mm at the bottom to 180mm at the top. They stand 98cm tall, and the height of the tweeters from the floor is around 90cm.

The 30mm tweeters use a technology which Yamaha calls ‘DC-Diaphragm’ in which the voice coil is, it says, ‘wound directly over the aluminium-magnesium diaphragm’. This is to reduce strain between the components of the driver and gets rid of the needs for adhesives. The tweeter domes are covered by a metal grille to protect them. All the other drivers have their own individual round grilles which are magnetically attached.

The 130mm midrange and 160mm woofer cones — which are white in colour under their grilles — are made of a material which Yamaha calls Advanced Polymer Injected Mica. It says that these are both lightweight and strong. It adds that it uses a square voice coil for the bass drivers, which we’ll assume means the coil windings are square in section, rather than that the coil is wound around a square former.

The loudspeakers are not bi-wirable. Their connections are good-quality gold-plated binding posts (as on all the other speakers). And their bass reflex ports are at the rear. Yamaha specifies their frequency response as 40Hz to 50,000Hz (without stated decibel bounds), their impedance at six ohms and their sensitivity at 88dB.

By comparison the NS-B500 surround speakers and the NS-C500 centre channel are rather compact. Both are stylistically similar, though, and employ the same tweeter and 120mm bass/midrange drivers (two for the centre). They differ in their cabinet design: they are acoustic suspension models, aka infinite baffle, aka sealed enclosures.

It’s unusual to see a mixture of bass reflex and acoustic suspension loudspeaker designs in one system, but it makes a lot of sense. Bass reflex designs have to be placed with a mind towards the need for their ports to operate unimpeded by nearby surfaces. This is easily done if the ports are placed on the front of the surround and centre loudspeakers, but these units are quite small and just don’t have the space. Rear ports aren’t going to work properly if the surrounds are bolted closely to a wall or the centre channel placed in a cabinet recess.

The subwoofer is mid-sized and packs a 250mm driver in a bass reflex cabinet. The driver fires forwards, while the port is on one side, allowing the unit to be tucked into a corner. The same styling is preserved, the enclosure sloping up from a wider base.

The amplifier is rated at 250W ‘dynamic’ power output. It features LFE inputs (these route around the adjustable low pass filter), line inputs (for use with an output device that doesn’t cut out the higher frequencies) and speaker-level inputs. It also has speaker-level outputs, so you can use this unit with an amplifier that has no line-level or sub output.

The subwoofer employs active servo processing, detecting nonlinearities in performance and adjusting the signal to cancel them out. There are a number of ways of doing this, often using an accelerometer on the driver cone (of course this can itself affect performance). The ‘Advanced Yamaha Active Servo Technology II’ system seems to work by continuously monitoring system impedance and determining from this the necessary processing of the signal.

PERFORMANCE
My AV receiver chose a crossover frequency of 100Hz for the NS-B500 surround speakers. It mistook the centre channel for a ‘Large’ loudspeaker, but lots of receivers do that in my room with lots of centre channels. I manually reset that to ‘Small’, with the same crossover as the surrounds.

I ran these loudspeakers for both surround and stereo listening for more than a fortnight, enjoying a great range of material, not least being some impressive movies. The room rumbling with ‘Gravity’ was very satisfying (although not quite as intimidating as from my regular 15-inch sub). More importantly, the surround imaging was extremely precise, locating all sounds exactly where they were supposed to be throughout a full 360 degrees. The impact of the street battle in ‘Heat’ was excellent, while the voices in both the songs and dialogue of ‘Frozen’ were clean and extremely natural. Using a receiver with stacks of power available, the whole system went to impressive levels, largely retaining its composure.

With surround music the high level of performance continued, except that the system was a little merciless with Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 96kHz, 24-bit 5.1 from DVD Audio, rendering sections of ‘Brain Salad Surgery’ with a slight zing in the vocals.

The stereo imaging was perhaps a little lacking in stage depth, but was very precise left to right across the soundstage. The tonal balance was very even and all the detail within the music was fully realised. Again, material with notable weaknesses in frequency balance or distortion levels wasn’t rescued by this system. But well-recorded music was delivered with impressive precision, although I couldn’t help but feel occasionally that there was a slight closed-in sense, as though these were near-field loudspeakers, rather than engaging fully with the listening room.

The front speakers measured a sensitivity spot on the specification: 88dB, measured at one metre for a 2.83V average input (using 500 to 2000Hz bandwidth-limited pink noise). The NS-F500 speakers also proved to have a very even frequency output measured at one metre: there was just about no significant variation from 37Hz to 22kHz (I can’t reliably measure above that). The bass output was strong down to 30Hz, diminishing by about 3dB, and then falling away rapidly below that.

One of the controls on the back of the subwoofer is a switch marked ‘Music’ and ‘Movies’. The manual says that with the former, “excessive low-frequency components are cut off to make the sound clearer”, while for the ‘Movie’ setting it says that “the low-frequency effects are enhanced”. As a rule I prefer a subwoofer that is accurate for both movies and music. I measured the output to see what was going on, and I strongly recommend that you just stick with the ‘Movies’ setting. According to my measurements, the ‘Music’ setting simply cuts all frequencies below about 56Hz by a uniform 3dB. With the ‘Movies’ mode selected the subwoofer output was flat down to a shoulder at precisely 30Hz, below which it rolled off quite sharply, to be down by 17dB at 20Hz. This subwoofer is not going to deliver the pounding infrasonics of some movies, but will reproduce rather nicely the bass of almost all music, and the experience of the cinema (cinema systems rarely go much below 30Hz).

CONCLUSION
The Yamaha 500 Series surround speakers make up a highly competent system, delivering strong surround and stereo performance while imposing very little of their own character upon the sound. If you want well built, attractive and very accurate loudspeakers, do yourself a favour and audition this system. Stephen Dawson

Yamaha 500 Series 5.1-channel loudspeaker system
Package price: $4896

FOR: Very accurate sound performance, Very well built, Well balanced subwoofer
AGAINST A slight lack of engagement with the listening room

NS-F500 floorstanders
Price: $1999 (pair)

Drivers: 1 x 30mm aluminium dome tweeter, 1 x 130mm PMD cone midrange, 1 x 160mm PMD cone bass driver
Frequency response: 40-50,000Hz
Crossover frequencies: 580Hz, 4100Hz
Impedance: 6 ohms
Sensitivity: 88dB
Power handling: 40 watts (nominal), 160 watts maximum
Cabinet: Bass reflex
Dimensions (hwd): 981 x 224 x 349mm
Weight (each): 19.1kg

NS-C500 CENTRE SPEAKER
Price: $699

Drivers: 1 x 30mm aluminium dome tweeter, 2 x 120mm PMD cone bass/midrange
Frequency response: 55-50,000Hz
Crossover frequencies: 4100Hz
Impedance: 6 ohms
Sensitivity: 87dB
Power handling: 40 watts (nominal), 160 watts maximum
Cabinet: Acoustic suspension
Dimensions (hwd): 158 x 445 x 159mm
Weight (each): 4.7kg

NS-B500 SURROUND SPEAKERS
Price: $999 (pair)

Drivers: 1 x 30mm aluminium dome tweeter, 1 x 120mm PMD cone bass/midrange
Frequency response: 50-50,000Hz
Crossover frequencies: 4200Hz
Impedance: 6 ohms
Sensitivity: 84dB
Power handling: 30 watts (nominal), 120 watts maximum
Cabinet: Acoustic Suspension
Dimensions (hwd): 284 x 190 x 177mm
Weight (each): 3.5kg

NS-SW500 Subwoofer
Price: $1199

Drivers: 1 x 250mm forwards-facing bass driver
Frequency response: 20-160Hz
Power output: 250 watts (dynamic)
Cabinet: Bass reflex, linear port
Dimensions (hwd): 368 x 380 x 420mm
Weight (each): 18.5kg

WARRANTY: 10 years with 12 months replacement on all speakers; Subwoofer 4 years with 12 month replacement

Product page: Yamaha 500 Series