I have a dream for audio. It’s the dream that a brand already embedded in the greater culture will pick up the torch of “better sound matters” and expand the universe of participants, creating a momentum that sweeps our little specialty audio world into a bigger, brighter, and more prosperous future. Like I said, a dream.
Imagine my enthusiasm then when I was approached to review a full system from a company that is the largest manufacturer of musical instruments on this planet, a review of highly ambitious products from a company whose corporate logo appears under the hands of Lady Gaga, Elton John, John Mayall, and many, many more, an opportunity to explore the “high-end” efforts of a more than 130-year-old Japanese firm with a market cap of approximately $8¼ billion dollars (not including its motorsports division), a brand that was already in my house, appearing every time my son pulls out his trumpet, a brand name that would be familiar to nearly every man and woman on the street. Yamaha.
Making up for Lost Time: The 5000 Series
Yamaha left the high-performance electronics marketplace in the 1990s with the market winds blowing in the direction of home theater. I’ll blame that decision on corporate bean-counters. (They’re everywhere it seems.) The subject of this review marks Yamaha’s return to the audio deep end with a complete system—the 5000 Series—comprising the GT-5000 turntable ($7999), the C-5000 preamplifier ($9999), the M-5000 power amplifier ($9999), and the NS-5000 loudspeakers ($14,999 including stands). This system is not a cautious dip of the toes in the water. The 5000 Series is a nineteen-engineer/eight-year-in-the-making, full cannonball dive off the high platform. Yamaha announced it as its “biggest statement in the hi-fi market since it coined the term ‘hi-fi’ 65 years ago.”
That last pronouncement is particularly bold when one considers that Yamaha’s history in the industry has earned it a very loyal and hungry following. Yamaha pioneered the use of beryllium in loudspeaker drivers and developed a vacuum-deposition molding process to create the world’s first pure (well, 99.99% pure) beryllium diaphragm…in 1974! The speaker utilizing this technology was the NS-1000(M). It had a 23-year run through various iterations and sold over 200,000 units (not a misprint). Many other now-vintage Yamaha “hi-fi” products sell for much more today than they did new. The NS-5000 loudspeakers and GT-5000 turntable are obvious descendants of Yamaha’s earlier, well-regarded 1000/2000 Series, but designed (as you will read) with clean new slates.
Four Components, One Review, True Sound
I was fortunate to have been invited by Yamaha to its North American debut/training event for the 5000 Series, led by the former head product engineer and now product planner for all Yamaha hi-fi products, Susumu Kumazawa. I wish that all of you could have been there, because the training allowed for an inside peek into Yamaha’s engineering prowess and manufacturing capabilities, which are combined with an overriding aesthetic that serves to balance the technical with the human. The training demonstrated a special maturity and honesty behind the 5000 Series project. It demonstrated value.
NS-5000 Loudspeaker Technical Details
Earlier I referred to Yamaha’s longstanding, technically groundbreaking NS-1000 speakers. The NS-5000 is a loudspeaker of similar type (three-way “bookshelf”) and dimensions, although the NS-1000M was a sealed design and the NS-5000 is ported. In every other way, the NS-5000 is a clean slate. Looks the same. Isn’t the same.
The headline technical story is Zylon. Yamaha heralds it as the world’s strongest fiber. Stronger than carbon fiber. Stronger and lighter than beryllium. A single 1.5mm strand can lift a ton. It’s the material that is used to keep the wheels of an F1 car from breaking free in a crash. Perhaps more importantly, Zylon sets a benchmark in its balance of excellent stiffness and damping. So, while its stiffness (Yamaha calls it acoustic velocity) is on par with beryllium, its damping (Yamaha calls it internal loss) approaches that of polypropylene and pulp/paper. Zylon seems to promise an ideal blend of speed and smoothness, without the extremes of either side (i.e. etched on the one hand and sluggish on the other).