If you’ve been paying attention over the past few decades, you’ll know about Yamaha’s iconic NS-1000M loudspeaker, launched back in 1978. Sporting highly innovative Beryllium midrange and treble dome drivers – which were a fraction of the weight of conventional designs – in a super-thick sealed box with a chunky bass driver, it had an unforgettable sound. It was a hugely prestigious thing for Yamaha, and found its way into recording studios all around the world.
Warp forward to 2017 and the company was back in the high end loudspeaker market, with something that looks very much like its iconic original. Except actually, it isn’t. The NS-5000 cost £15,000 including stands, and had no Beryllium drive units to be seen, despite a striking visual similarity to its legendary monitor. Actually, Yamaha says that its physical proportions – which are slightly larger than the NS-1000M – and cabinet configuration are as they are because it’s optimal for the job in hand.
Actually, the drivers are very different – but still interesting. Zylon is used for its dome tweeter, dome midband driver and woofer. This is a synthetic fibre created in Japan, and said to be the world’s strongest. It is then vapour-coated with Yamaha’s proprietary monel alloy. Yamaha says the material has a very similar acoustic velocity to Beryllium, and as development progressed its engineers found that using it for the 30cm tweeter, 80mm mid and 300mm woofer worked best.
Crossover points are at 750Hz and 4.5kHz, the concept being to integrate the drivers smoothly to give the feel of a single full range speaker – “a unified tone colour” as the company puts it. Crossover components are affixed to a double-sided printed circuit board with extra-thick 140μ copper traces; short signal paths are designed in and the components themselves are very high quality types, including Mundorf MCap Supreme Evo capacitors and MResist Supreme attenuators.
The 395x690x381mm, 35kg, 65 litre cabinet is damped extensively inside by a special acoustic absorber. Finite Element Analysis with laser scanning was used to minimise standing waves inside the box, says Yamaha. It uses mitered joint construction, with reinforcing cross bracing inside, and the laminated plywood enclosure is made of of Japanese White Birch from the island of Hokkaido. The front baffle is 29.5mm thick and the other five sides of the enclosure are 20mm. All six external surfaces of the enclosure have a piano gloss lacquered piano finish – created using the same paint, primer, and polishing processes used for Yamaha’s grand pianos, no less. A major area of departure for the NS-5000 is the fact that it uses a bass reflex port, when the NS-1000M was a sealed box design. Yamaha says it gives better sensitivity and ease-of-drive. Claimed frequency response is 26Hz to 40kHz (-10dB), with power handling put at 600W. Quoted sensitivity is 88dB/1w/1m, with a claimed nominal impedance of 6 ohms, dropping down to 3.5 ohms at its lowest point.
The headline news is that the Yamaha NS-5000 does not sound like its iconic predecessor. Actually, there’s sort of a family resemblance, but it’s not that profound. Yes, there’s a tight, dry, clean sort of demeanour, with oodles of detail and a large, physical presence. I also loved the wonderfully seamless drive unit integration, which really is quite special. It sounds ‘all-of-a-piece’ in a way that almost no other moving coil speakers do, like one giant full range driver.
Allied to this is large, expansive sound that’s bristling with detail. Indeed, everything seems to melt into the midband, which itself has a great insight. Bass is strong, gutsy and taut, and treble very smooth and extended, with real finesse. The composure of this loudspeaker is something special – even at very high sound levels it stays unflappable. It’s this sort of grace under pressure that shows its provenance, and its price. It’s more than just a ‘big banger’ though; indeed it actually sounds less aggressive than its looks suggest. The speaker’s inherently detailed demeanour, allied to a fine sense of timing, confers a jaunty, zippy sort of sound.
Aside from its seamlessness, the clearest defining characteristic of this great loudspeaker is its soundstaging. Images are thrown into the room in a powerful and highly accurate way; they’re set very accurately into the recorded acoustic, which itself comes over as unexpectledy wide. The NS-5000 is also well able to hang images behind, or in front of, the plane of the loudspeakers – meaning that depth perspective is excellent. The Yamaha really flies with excellent recordings, and cranking up the volume dramatically expands the size of the recorded acoustic. You begin to realise that the NS-5000 can function in large rooms at high volumes with an ease that practically all other loudspeakers could only dream of. There’s a wonderful feeling of linearity, solidity and stability – an ‘architectural’ feel to the way it reproduces music. Everything is meticulously interlinked with everything else, yet the musical nuances are allowed to flourish within the whole.
Used to the infinite baffle cabinet of its forebear, I did hear a slight loosening of the sound. Bass guitar notes come over as fractionally more rounded, and there’s an ever-so-subtle ‘thrum’ from the woodwork. The sense that bass notes aren’t perfectly syncopated with what’s going on further up the frequency range is just what you get with a reflex ported design. Despite this foible, this latest Yamaha NS-5000 is a very powerful and assured sounding loudspeaker with great delicacy and smoothness, and is unerringly good fun to listen to. Across all types of music it gives a super clean and transparent sound, yet never appears overly analytical. The only thing is, don’t expect it to be a reborn NS-1000M – there are a good few similarities but this is very much its own man.