Yamaha YSP-5600 sound bar review

Open your ears to the magic of 3D surround sound with Yamaha's YSP-5600

Yamaha's YSP-5600 is the easiest way give your home theater jaw-dropping 3D surround sound
Yamaha's YSP-5600 is the easiest way give your home theater jaw-dropping 3D surround sound
Yamaha's YSP-5600 is the easiest way give your home theater jaw-dropping 3D surround sound

Highs

  • Powerful Dolby Atmos/DTS:X virtual surround sound
  • Feature-rich
  • Extremely detailed dialog and sound effects
  • Easy to use

Lows

  • Too bulky for some setups
  • Expensive
  • Tight sweet spot for surround sound

Yamaha has been plugging along with its sound projector lineup for years, refining its unique system of lining sound bars with an array of small drivers (called “beams”) to bounce sound off your walls for effective virtual surround sound. While we’ve been impressed by previous iterations like the YSP-2500, it’s no overestimation to say that the latest in the lineup, the YSP-5600, is nothing less than Yamaha’s Magnum Opus in the genre.

A hulking presence that stands over 8 inches tall, the YSP-5600 isn’t your average sound bar — and it isn’t supposed to be. Loaded into this behemoth are 44 beam drivers, including a 12-pack of them pointed right at the ceiling to deliver the sense of height required by Dolby Atmos and DTS:X technologies. However, with all that hardware — and the software to back it — the 5600’s $1,600 entry price (sans subwoofer) puts it dangerously close to that of a traditional, multi-speaker Atmos/DTS:X setup. With a mammoth size and price point, can this high-tech beast fit in with your setup?

Out of the box

Pulling the YSP-5600 from its box is a task not for the frail. The sound bar weighs over 25 pounds, and its stout size makes it tough to lug around.

The system is flush with inputs including four HDMI ins and an ARC-enabled HDMI out, one Coax and two Optical digital inputs, infrared in/out, RCA analog input, and a subwoofer out. Volume, source, and power keys rest on the top while a small LCD window sits up front. The unit also includes a full on-screen menu via HDMI.

As you might expect, you’ll get more in the package than most traditional sound bars, including a rarity in the sound bar world: a robust, full-size remote (with quick keys for multiple sources). Also included are an optical cable, small mounting stands, and an Intellibeam Mic and cardboard stand which plugs into the front of the bar for auto-surround setup. An HDMI cable would have been nice at this price, however, and we were also surprised to find no mounting bracket in the box. To mount it, you’ll have to tack on a unit like Yamaha’s SPM-K30 ($60-80). And if you don’t mount it, you’ll need some serious clearance between your credenza/entertainment cabinet and the bottom of your TV, otherwise, this sound projector is going to block a good chunk of your screen.

Speaking of additional purchases, a full cinematic experience can only be achieved with the use of subwoofer, tacking on at least a few hundred dollars more. For our evaluation we used Yamaha’s SW-300 ($500), along with the SWK-W16 wireless adapter ($150). If you haven’t been tracking the math, our total system sits at $2,250 or $2,310 mounted — not including cables.

Setup

Fortunately, some of that sum buys you simple setup — for an Atmos system, anyway. For optimal audio, we recommend connecting components to the bar via HDMI, then going HDMI in to your TV’s ARC input (if you have one). With ARC, you can get audio and video to and from the TV via a single cable. However, since you’ll need to manually change outputs in the 5600’s settings menu for TV sound, it’s probably simpler to also connect an Optical cable from the TV, and just change the input when watching cable or satellite. It should be noted here that you can not get uncompressed Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround via any cable connection other than HDMI.

Thanks to an on-screen menu, you can quickly get the sound projector’s beam drivers configured for your TV room automatically with the sound projector’s Sound Optimizer. The set-up guide provides walk-through instructions, including optimum furniture arrangement, and where to mount the Intellibeam mic. We found placing the YSP-5600 32-36 inches above the floor resulted in the best virtual surround sound experience.

Features and design

With grand pricing comes great responsibility, and for the YSP-5600 that means features galore, even beyond the Dolby Atmos/DTS:X powers. One point we didn’t include in the setup is Wi-Fi connection, done via a simple walkthrough like your TV or streaming device. Wi-Fi is really only necessary for those utilizing MusicCast, Yamaha’s sprawling wireless multi-room audio system that allows the bar to integrate with speakers like the WX-30, or the hi-res NX-N500 for a full home sound solution. There’s also Bluetooth and Airplay wireless connection available.

Yamaha has loaded some truly brilliant sound performance into its magic box.

The system also comes loaded with multiple DSP presets, such as Movie or Music, as well as Yamaha’s tried and true settings like Clear Voice and “Enhancer,” though we didn’t find much use for those. There are also modes for 3D surround, utilizing the bar’s virtual 7.1.2 Atmos/DTS:X settings, regular 5.1 surround, and stereo sound for music playback. 4K video passthrough is also included, as is support for the full run of Dolby and DTS codecs.

As mentioned, there are 44 beam drivers loaded into the 5600, including 12 1 ⅛ -inch vertical drivers to bounce sound off your ceiling, and 32 1 ½ -inch drivers up front, powered by a claimed 88 watts. In addition are dual 4 ½ -inch woofers, powered by a claimed 28 watts.

Performance: The bar at home

If you’re imagining 40+ speakers and a sizeable subwoofer backed by the full might of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X adds up to gargantuan sound, you’re correct. In fact, under ideal circumstances — such as the preview we saw at the DTS:X suite at CES this year — Yamaha’s brute of a bar can trick you into believing you’re truly under attack from a full 7.1.2 surround setup. Of course, the only issue there is, virtually zero homes are suitably arranged to produce the YSP-5600’s ideal listening environment.

Yamaha’s suggested setup comes with pointed particulars: “Install the unit in the center of the left and right walls,” “the distance should be more than 1.8 meters” and “as far from the back wall as possible,” etc. The problem is, most of us buy a sound bar for convenience and performance, and that usually doesn’t include rearranging the living room, buying a new TV stand, or ridding the room of furniture. Still, even compromising a bit can extract some strikingly immersive sound from the system.

Yamaha YSP-5600 soundbar
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

For the first few days we had the bar at home it was setup where it fit best: in front of the TV stand, about 2.5-feet off the ground. While that position invoked a grand wall of thunderous sound up front, virtual surround never fully took flight, offering little more than some extra spacing at the sides, and some vertical dimension. However, jerry-rigging my setup to move the bar up about a foot or so — thus dodging our sound-sucking sopha — brought the YSP-5600 to life.

As with traditional setups, performance lives and dies by the sonic vitality of the source material. Some films register little more than a big wall of sound, with some whispers behind and around the listener. But calling up brilliant mixes, such as Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, shows off some serious virtual magic. The epic hail scene, in which God rains down massive balls of ice on Pharaoh’s people, was absolutely transfixing in the new position. Thunder erupted all around the couch, including at the rear, and the wind seemed to howl right through the front of the living room. When the hail crashed down, it was perfectly delineated in tactile crystals falling from above. In fact, thanks to the taught precision of those little beams, the effect sounded better than some traditional height speakers.

The beam design can also be a double-edged sword, however. The bar offers brilliant precision for surround effects, and even draws dialog with sumptuous detail. But the ideal listening area is smaller than traditional setups, and music is also less of a thrill ride. Sound for music is a bit light in the mids and a little flat dynamically, even in stereo mode. As we’ve found with other sound projectors, all those small beam drivers have a hard time emulating the fuller range you’ll get from a nice pair of towers or shelf speakers. The 5600 certainly suffices for music playback — with help from the added sub — but you can do much better for less with a set of towers, like SVS’ Prime series, and an entry-level Atmos/DTS:X setup is comparable in cost, all told.

Conclusion

At a cost that’s far more than most sound bar setups — without all their purpose-built convenience — the YSP-5600 sits in a somewhat awkward position on the sound bar scale. Still, with all its caveats, Yamaha has loaded some truly brilliant sound performance into its magic box. If you’re looking for a singular home sound solution without the need for all those extra wires, speakers, and mess, the 5600 is an enticing way to go big for your home theater. If you can get it rigged up right, Yamaha’s YSP-5600 is the simplest way to plunge into the ear-opening new world of 3D surround sound.

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