Yamaha YSP-5600BSW

Interesting things have happened with soundbars over the last eight years — it was in 2008 that we first reviewed a Yamaha ‘digital sound projector’. Back then Yamaha was leading the way in the attempts to deliver a convincing surround experience using only a soundbar at the front of the room. Then more and more competing soundbars were released, and the majority of them purported to also provide surround sound. Some did, to a degree. But in recent years most of them have stopped trying. They deliver front sound and that’s it, or theyhave actual wireless surround components.

But Yamaha persists. And not unreasonably, because it has the best technology. So here is the latest in Yamaha’s long line of Digital Sound Projectors, the new top-of-the-line model, the Yamaha YSP-5600, along with its trusty sidekick, the YST-RSW300 subwoofer. Together they form the YSP-5600BSW package. What this brings is not just surround, but support for the new Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio systems.

We should note early that this package is also part of Yamaha’s MusicCast multiroom system, so it does a lot more than being merely a speaker — it’s effectively also your amplification and potentially a number of sources too.

Yamaha YSP-5600BSW

But as a ‘soundbar’, we should recap that Yamaha’s technology is different from the rest, because of its Sound Beam capabilities. That is, it can steer the sound to precisely where the system wants it. It does this by using lots of drivers, each independently amplified and fed with its own DSP-tailored signal so that, in groups, they can project the sound in specific directions.

By ‘lots of drivers’, we mean 44! These are organised into two groups of six 28mm drivers for the ‘vertical’ sound, and then 32 separate 40mm drivers for the horizontal sound. Each of the 44 amps is rated at 2W output at 10% THD (1.7W at 1% THD). In addition there are two 110mm bass drivers, each provided with 20W at 10% THD (17W at 1% THD).

The system doesn’t steer bass, since most directional cues are provided by the mid and upper frequencies.

Things have changed with surround technology since 2008, and Yamaha has kept up with the changes. So in addition to the usual Dolby Digital and DTS signals (plus PCM of course), the unit supports DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD, and now Dolby Atmos. With a firmware upgrade (not available in time for this review) DTS:X will be added to support that company’s version of Atmos-style object steering and the provision of height information.

The soundbar is not a light, slight thing. It is a hefty 11.7kg, and over 200mm tall (hey, 44 drivers, remember, and an amp for each!). It scores four HDMI inputs, two optical, one coaxial and one pair of RCA sockets for good old-fashioned analogue audio. There’s also an Ethernet port, plus 2.4GHz Wi-Fi for network functions, plus Bluetooth (SBC and AAC codec supported, but not aptX), DLNA, AirPlay, internet radio, Spotify Connect and Pandora supported. As noted, some of this is as a function of working with Yamaha’s MusicCast multiroom system.

One of the HDMI inputs (and the HDMI output) supports HDCP 2.2, the latest copy protection scheme which is being used on UHD Blu-ray. It also supports pass-through of 4K video at up to 60 hertz. An on-screen menu system is used for adjusting the unit’s settings.

The YST-RSW300 subwoofer employs a 254mm driver in a bass reflex enclosure, with a 250W amplifier. Yamaha’s ‘Active Servo Technology II’ is used to improve driver linearity. The unit has both line- and speaker-level inputs, with its crossover and level controls conveniently located on the front panel. Yamaha rates the frequency response of the subwoofer all the way down to 20Hz.

The connection between the soundbar and the subwoofer is cabled, not wireless, and you need to provide your own cable.

Calibrating the system is very easy. Stick the supplied microphone on the supplied cardboard stand. Place the base of the stand on the couch where your posterior would normally be located. Insert the microphone’s plug into the inconspicuous socket on the front of the soundbar. That invokes the auto calibration on-screen menu. Follow its instructions.

Or don’t. It told us to leave the room, but we didn’t, instead retreating out of the line of fire in order to observe proceedings. The auto calibration was mostly very similar to the YMAO employed by Yamaha home theatre receivers, but with an additional phase of beaming (squirting might be the better word) focused sound around the room so the system could assess what reflective surfaces were available. This was weird-sounding indeed.

After calibration the subwoofer was running a bit hot, though it remained clean, pure and tight — the YST-RSW300 subwoofer is somewhat of a gem. In the interests of accuracy (and avoiding complaints from neighbours) we turned it down... a little reluctantly. This is easily achieved using either the subwoofer’s front-panel control or the subwoofer level control on the remote.

When it comes to producing a surround effect, we listened with a disc with a channel identification track to hear how well the system could fake precise speaker locations. The answer is: kind of. The front stage was clearly wider than the soundbar itself, and the ‘surround’ speaker tones seemed to be further back in the room than the front stage, without being precisely behind. Not really all that accurate, but impressive in that it could do it at all. Yet when it came to program material, the surround performance came to life. The aforementioned Atmos test tracks were amazingly full in their expansive atmosphere, seeming to eliminate the walls of the room to the sides of the speakers, and indeed the wall behind the TV and soundbar, while extending the sound field up high, reaching not quite completely overhead. There was width to the sides, but the field stopped basically before quite reaching the seating position.

Of course, your own room might be better or worse, depending on layout, furnishing, wall finishes, geometry and myriad other possibilities. But we were impressed by the best surround performance we’ve heard by a front soundbar, while the production of credible height information is really quite astonishing.

This performance carried through to actual movies. A frequent go-to is the creaky underground environment in the early part of ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1’. There wasn’t the precision of sound placement you’ll get from four overhead speakers, but there was still a remarkably satisfying immersion into the space of the movie.

Stereo music delivered by the soundbar was interesting. It was upfront, with plenty of impact, bite and a clear presentation of every element.

It tended to lack the air of a quality stereo system, though. So it probably would not be the ideal choice for those who are after a refined stereo performance. For those happy with a straight-forward stereo performance, with strong and musical bass and clean delivery, this will be a suitable system.

The network features worked reliably and well, sending music to the unit via Yamaha’s MusicCast app, from an Android DLNA app (BubbleUPnP), a Windows DLNA app (foobar2000) and Apple AirPlay. The Spotify apps on various devices found the unit as a Spotify Connect device and happily handed over playback duties to it. Bluetooth was briefly problematic since whenever the Bluetooth key was pressed, the display showed ‘Disabled’. It turned out that it needed to be enabled within the Bluetooth set-up menu. After that, pairing and playback was swift and assured.

As always, the ideal surround sound is achieved with the use of actual speakers in the proper locations for the creation of a surround field. But if your circumstances and environment limit you to a front soundbar and subwoofer, then you’re not going to find a better way to get that surround than the Yamaha YSP-5600BSW package.

YSP-5600BSW Digital Sound Projector & subwoofer
Price: $2499

+ Surprisingly effective surround and Atmos height; Good overall sound quality; Useful connectivity including MusicCast

- Maybe better performance possible from discrete components, if you have room

YSP-5600 Front Surround System

Power: 44 x 2W (1kHz, 10% THD, 4 ohms) + 2 x 20W (100Hz, 10% THD, 4 ohms); 44 x 1.7 watts (1kHz, 1% THD, 4 ohms) + 2 x 17W (100Hz, 1% THD, 4 ohms)

Speaker drivers: 12 x 28mm, 32 x 40mm, 2 x 110mm woofers

Frequency response: Not stated

Inputs: 4 x HDMI, 2 x optical digital, 1 x coaxial digital, 1 x analogue stereo (RCA), Bluetooth, Ethernet, Wi-Fi

Outputs: 1 x HDMI, 1 x subwoofer

Other: Calibration microphone, Yamaha system connector, RS-232C, USB (for firmware updates)

Accessories: Remote control, optical cable, calibration microphone, cardboard microphone stand, stands for desktop placement

Firmware: 2.14

Dimensions (mm without stand): 1100w x 212h x 93d

Weight: 11.7kg

Yamaha YSP-5600BSW

YST-RSW300 Subwoofer

Drivers: 1 x 250mm forwards facing bass driver

Frequency response: 20-160Hz

Power output: 250W (dynamic)

Cabinet: Bass reflex

Dimensions (whd): 372 x 400 x 428mm

Weight: 20kg

Warranty: Two years