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How Yamaha’s new Dolby Atmos sound bar creates a room-filling ‘dome of sound’

Watching IFA 2015 attendees experience Yamaha’s latest sound projector, the YSP-5600, is its own fantastically fun form of entertainment. They walk into a glass room looking incredulous, walk out with looks of disbelief at what they’d just heard, and are slack-jawed the entire time in between. What this broad black bar accomplishes is truly impressive — so much so that it won our Best Tech of IFA 2015 award in the audio category — and you have to hear it to believe it yourself.

Yamaha’s sound projectors (they aren’t sound bars!) use arrays of small “beam” drivers, aimed in multiple directions, that project sound at various surfaces in a room. The sound bounces off those surfaces around the listener, giving the impression that the sound is coming from behind you, or off to the sides.

Yamaha Atmos soundbar

Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

The YSP-5600 is Yamaha’s most advanced sound projector to date because it folds in Dolby Atmos processing. Dolby Atmos, in case you somehow missed the memo, is Dolby’s latest and most advanced surround sound format that, among other features, adds height speakers to help create a sort of “dome of sound” effect. When airplanes fly over in a movie, its sounds like they are actually flying over you. When it rains, it sounds like raindrops are coming down on you — it’s convincing stuff. You can imagine, then, that pulling such effects off with a single point source would be darn near impossible. Indeed, we thought so too, but having heard the YSP-5600 ourselves, we can attest that Yamaha has figured out how to make it happen in spectacular fashion. Obviously, Dolby agrees, because the company doesn’t license its technology for just any product.

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Believe it or not, though, that’s just the beginning of the YSP-5600’s abilities. It has Bluetooth, supports AirPlay and Spotify Connect, can play hi-res audio files, and is part of Yamaha’s excellent new MusicCast multi-room audio system. Of course, such a versatile and advanced piece of electronics must come at a premium, and the sound projector is not cheap — $1700, and that’s without a subwoofer. Still, folks spend more than that on their A/V receivers and 7.1 speaker systems all the time, so perhaps it’s not such a steep price to ask for what is essentially the most advanced (and convincing) home-theater-in-a-box that’s ever been created.