A new century
Space precludes coverage of every key product and innovation in the latter years of the 20th century, but Yamaha notably led in surround-sound processing and receivers from the earliest days. By the turn of the new century its AV receivers were already legendary, and the soundbar format soon came under the company’s gaze. In those early days when soundbars were trying to deliver surround effects without the surround speakers, Yamaha established the idea of Digital Sound Projection and the ‘Intellibeam’ to bounce focused beams of sound off adjacent walls and corners to generate a more genuine surround than the more common method of introducing phase distortion to trick the ears.
By 2005 it had developed the concept into the YSP-1 bar which contained 42 drivers individually optimised under software control, using microphone measurement and feedback to achieve the best possible sound for any room shape. The YSP-1 is recognised in our Ultimate 30 for its success in an area which made audiophiles raise their eyebrows at such extreme departure from the simple purity of the old days of stereo.
But Yamaha wasn’t about to give up its stereo heritage, either. In 2006 a new series of stereo speakers arrived in the Soavo series, the name a portmanteau blending the Italian soave meaning soft, and voce meaning voice — the intention being to deliver that
same Natural Sound that the early designers had been seeking. With their lines conceptualised by the artisanship of renowned industrial designer Toshiyuki Kita, and cabinet finishes that leveraged the company’s musical instrument division’s expertise (if you want a real piano gloss, ask a piano maker), Yamaha included its latest driver technologies, with exclusive Advanced PMD diaphragm woofers and midrange, and an aluminium-dome tweeter with a DC-Diaphragm that integrated the diaphragm and voice coil. Together with a return to classic hi-fi separates that harked back to the original 1000 and 2000 lines of the 1970s, Yamaha started rebuilding its stereo audience.
At the same time, it was hitting new receiver heights. The RX-Z11 in 2007 was a
Sound+Image cover star — “Yamaha’s Super-Receiver”, we gushed (see below), “with power, passion and PC interfacing”. It was, in a way, the herald of the Aventage series of AV receivers which were to begin their assault on the receiver market from the following year, going on to win every top Sound+Image AV receiver award since their arrival.
Yamaha was also quick to realise the potential of the new world of file-based playback, from computer but also from the iPod and the iPhone. In 2010 it exhibited in the “iZone” of IFA in Berlin, revealing a little classic in the compact TSX-70, available to enjoy in three different colours, complete with gently ramping ‘Intellialarm’ to wake you softly in the morning.
By then many companies were eyeing the Sonos wireless multiroom platform as an indicator of the future, but Yamaha had its own take on the idea, launching the MusicCAST platform as early as 2003. This lived quietly through two generations before the company made careful plans for its third version of the technology, planning to incorporate it not just into a small ecosystem of speakers, but into as many of Yamaha’s home products as possible.
And so it has been, with MusicCast re-debuting in a wide collection of products from August 2015, since when it has kept growing. The system itself went on to win our Sound+Image Multiroom System of the Year for both 2016 and 2017, along with various product awards, notably to the excellent NX-N500 wireless active speakers.
There is one obvious product on which to close Yamaha’s history so far — the NS-5000 speakers (pictured left). Still carrying that ‘NS’ model prefix, they answered the Yamaha audio division’s long-held wish to revisit the elements that made the NS-1000 and its pro version such a success. The new NS-5000 does not feature beryllium, but Yamaha claims to have matched, possibly gone beyond this awkward element in “adopting a new development diaphragm with a speed of sound comparable to beryllium in all units” — the Japanese-developed artificial fibre called ‘Zylon’. The technology, implementation and finish are all impeccable, but as visitors to the last two Australian Hi-Fi & Audio Shows may have heard, all such considerations melt away under the powerful yet refined performance of the NS-5000s — the new archetype of that long-held Yamaha goal of ‘Natural Sound’.
ABOVE: Yamaha’s early leadership in surround sound led to a series of award-winning receivers, culminating in the Aventage Series.
LEFT: The Soavo series of speakers, released in 2006, continued the company’s achievements in delivering ‘Natural Sound’.
RIGHT: MusicCast as we now know it launched in 2013, though Yamaha had a previous MusicCAST platform on the market a decade earlier.