REVIEW: YAMAHA NS-5000 FLAGSHIP LOUDSPEAKERS
Are Yamaha's Premium Flagship Loudspeakers a makeover of the original NS-1000, or is there more to the story? Perhaps they're the best speakers you'll never hear?
Premium Flagship Speakers
If Yamaha's NS-5000 Speakers evoke a strong sense of Deja Vu, it's because in a way they've been here before. Only the first time around they were called the NS-1000. This was back in 1974 when they were unleashed on an unsuspecting audiophile market. A market that at first, didn't know what to make of this pearler of a speaker.
You see, the NS-1000 introduced a level of transparency and neutrality that hadn't been achieved before by a largish, stand-mounted, three-way speaker.
The NS-1000 was also a soundstage and imaging king. This mon chers, was a speaker to be reckoned with in 1974. It still is. The prices it continues to command whenever a pair bobs up on the used market is still hefty for a speaker now almost half a century old.
So why did the audio press find it so difficult to understand the NS-1000's sonic character? The answer is, for precisely the same reasons they have in assessing the spanking new NS-5000 model.
The fly in the reviewing ointment vis-a-vis both Yamaha speakers is their level of neutrality, which is high via the NS-1000, but outstandingly high via the new NS-5000.
So high, both speakers kept showing up the complete character and limitations of the gear driving them upstream of their speaker terminals. It turns out the audio scribes were describing the sound of their partnering equipment rather than the sound of the speakers.
Yes, to be sure the NS-1000 could sound forward around 7kHz but not driven with a synergistic amp. I've owned several pairs of NS-1000s, and they all sounded best driven by valve amps and preamps. My first pair sounded sublime driven by my Leak TL50 amps loaded with original GEC output tubes.
Only a couple of reviewers that I can recall got the NS-1000's sonic character right. They were Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt, and a UK reviewer named Chris Thomas, when he was penning reviews for either Practical Hi-Fi or maybe it was Hi-Fi Answers.
I really don't remember, but what I haven't forgotten is how good these two Hi-Fi mags were and also that Chris Thomas was famous for his friendship with pop diva, Kate Bush.
Thomas concluded his review of the NS-1000 with just a single sentence which said, 'The NS-1000 is the best speaker I've never heard'.
Let this seep in, and you'll go a long way towards understanding why the NS-5000 ties reviewers up in knots.
History records the NS-1000 sold in huge numbers. Yamaha dispatched more than 200,000 pairs to buyers in all parts of the globe. They went on to be adjudged as one of the top ten speakers in audio history. Anyone who leaves this speaker out of this list is disregarding audio history. Period.
Which bring us to the NS-5000. Is it really a made-over NS-1000? No. It's a whole new speaker and one audibly better than its predecessor. So when I write about the NS-5000 being here before, all I'm doing is suggesting that the spirit and aspirations of the NS-1000 lives within the new model.
Styling cues attest to the NS-5000 being a homage to the NS-1000 starting with the speakers sharing a black finish and the same number of drivers arranged similarly on the front baffles.
While the NS-5000 has to be considered a wholly new speaker, these style cues conjure echoes of its illustrious forbear, the still mighty capable NS-1000.
There were two versions of the NS-1000. The NS-1000 was the domestic model with solid wood cabinets. The NS-1000M was made for studios and had the same drivers as the domestic version, but its cabinets were made from chipboard with plywood bracing.
The letters' NS' stands for 'Natural Sound' and the'M' clearly denotes the word Monitor.
The NS-1000 weighed 35Kg, and the NS-1000M was 31 Kg, per speaker. The driver compliment comprised a 30mm Beryllium dome tweeter, 88mm Beryllium dome midrange and a 300mm compressed paper cone woofer. The NS-1000M was 675mm high, 375mm wide and 326mm deep.
Frequency response for both NS-1000 models was 40Hz-40kHz, sensitivity measured 90dB, and the impedance was 8 Ohms. In 1974, the NS-1000M cost 340 Pounds in the UK and $2000 in the US.
THE NS-5000 USHERS IN A NEW LEGEND
Throughout its audio history, Yamaha has built many exceptional speakers. But only one model became a legend. This was the NS-1000.
History is about to repeat itself only this time around the NS-5000 will, without a doubt, become legendary in its own right and may even be regarded by future audiophiles as Yamaha's finest speaker.
The NS-5000 is better made than the NS-1000. It has better drivers, and it surpasses the sound of the illustrious NS-1000 by some measure, particularly in the bass.
The NS-5000 is also slightly larger. It is 690mm high, 395mm wide and 381mm deep. Weight per speaker is 35kgs. Frequency response spans from 26Hz to 40Khz measured at -10dB. Efficiency comes in at 88dB, and the impedance is 6 ohms, but the NS-5000 never dips below 3.5 ohms, and this makes for a comfortable load for any quality amplifier.
When I said that the NS-1000 was the inspiration for the NS-5000, the new speaker represents a whole new ball game. I chose my words carefully because the NS-5000 is not a made over NS-1000.
If the Beryllium tweeter and mid of the NS-1000 represented a tour de force technologically in 1974, then the three drivers carried by the NS-5000 have to be seen to easily surpass the earlier driver innovation with consummate ease.
Yamaha could not find a way to make a Beryllium woofer for the NS-1000 in 1974. But it could make one from Zylon, a material stronger than Beryllium or carbon fibre. It's so strong, race boats also use it.
Yamaha began work on Zylon drivers in 2008. A decade later they're a reality and a significant reason for the NS-5000's elite level sound quality.
Ditto the beautifully finished high-gloss black cabinets made not from MDF, but eco-friendly, laminated Japanese White Birch. A wood that is harder and has a higher grain pattern because of the climate in which it grows.
As for the cabinet's flawless mirror finish, look no further than Yamaha's expertise in making exquisite grand pianos. Enough said.
The three Zylon drivers comprise a 25mm dome tweeter, 75mm dome midrange and a 328mm woofer. To ensure the tweeter and midrange driver maintains a flat frequency response, Yamaha built R.S Chambers behind each.
Yamaha makes the SPS-5000 stand for its new flagship. These 12-inch (304mm) stands gently angle the NS-5000 at 42 degrees. They were the perfect height for my listening room and clearly the ones to use with the NS-5000.
The NS-5000 is made in matching pairs. Some people prefer to use them with the tweeters to the outside. I think they image better with the tweeters on the inside, and that was how my review pair was auditioned.
THE ENIGMATIC SOUND OF THE YAMAHA NS-5000
Throughout my reviewing sessions, the NS-5000's level of neutrality and transparency ensured I heard precisely what my equipment was contributing to the sound.
So emphatically, my overriding impression was that my gear had nowhere to hide. My best guess is the NS-5000s will only be as good as the matching equipment allows them to be.
Like the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile, I knew I was in the presence of greatness, but I couldn't explain why.
Which is a way of saying the NS-5000 demands the pinnacle of matching the audio gear to drive them and even then, you'll be hearing the character of your ultra-high-end gear more clearly than you've heard before.
My equipment comprised the SME20/2 turntable, SME V tonearm, Van Den Hul Crimson Stradivarius MC cartridge, Musical Surroundings Nova 2 phono stage, Audio Research CD7 MK2 CD player, Reference 1 preamplifier and Reference 75 amplifier. Cables used were by in-akustik and Nordost, while Solid Steel makes the rack.
My choice of vinyl and CDs followed the same pattern of all my reviewing work over the last 40 years. It's simple. I only choose the music I enjoy. Music that never fails to move me. But, you and I know audiophiles who only ever play one or two tracks on beautifully produced recordings.
They don't play the other tracks because they sound less than ordinary on their hi-fi. More a comment on their gear than the recordings, I would have thought. But that's not me.
I began with a very old LP called the Best of the Mama and Papas to hear Monday, Monday which is a song that never fails to evoke memories of the time and place I first bought this LP in 1966.
This song, written by John Phillips in 20 minutes, uses background instruments played by members of the Wrecking Crew. And here was I playing it in my room via a pair of NS-5000s in 2019.
Only this time, the soundstage replete with vocals on the right and left sides was immense. So wide, the walls of my room seemed to disappear. This huge life-sized soundstage also had realistic levels of height and staggering depth of field.
I selected California Dreaming and wished I hadn't. The rendition by the NS-5000 was by far the most enjoyable I've ever heard on any of my audio systems. Along with the huge soundstage, I also received exact imagery where I was invited to amble into the vast soundstage and touch a performer or the leading edge of an instrument — detail, transparency, imaging and soundstage on an elite level.
I was so transfixed, I settled in to hear both sides of the album.
The Stones' track called You Can't Get What You Want from the Let It Bleed album was a change of pace adding driving bass, tinkly treble, resonating guitar riffs and edgy vocals along with the purity of the London Bach Choir.
The NS-5000s put the boys' voices about half a metre in front of the men's in my room. When the French horn on the left put in its slinky cameo appearance, I could pinpoint exactly how high it was in the performer's hands.
As the steel strings of the rhythm guitar on the extreme right of the venue arraigned themselves in front of my listening chair, my feet began to tap, and I remember thinking 'Woo hoo, can the NS-5000 time or what!'
As for bass, the NS-5000 playing Alan Taylor's The Beat Hotel had ample. And it was taut, fast and highly informative and extended. Taylor's vocals revealed a vast, transparent midrange that allows the music to wash over your body like an ocean wave on a hot summer's day.
Some days later, I sat down to treat myself to the Beethoven Opus 132 string quartet on CD and Vinyl, played by the Vegh Quartet. As I played the 3rd movement with its prayer-like intonation, I knew I was hearing a speaker that with time, we will regard as a masterpiece.
Yes, I could just about see the resin fly from the strings of the violins and cello. And just as assuredly. I could see if each of the four instruments was played with the left or right hand.
Do you want micro-dynamics? The NS-5000 will deliver. What about macro-dynamics? Both are well in abundance as this sublime movement will amply show. And as for timing, well the four performers have to achieve an absurdly high level of technical and intuitive dexterity to convey all the spiritual depth Beethoven put into this composition.
When it comes to assessing micro-dynamic performance, I usually pull out the Phil Collins' track Separate Lives and listen for Marilyn Martin's voice in the opening stanza of this song. On most components, all you'll hear is Collins' voice. But on gear the quality of the NS-5000, you'll hear Martin's voice just behind Collin's, singing the same words at a lower intensity.
When the time to return the wonderful NS-5000s to Yamaha came around, I thought hard about choosing a final album to play through these gifted speakers. I settled on Shine, Joni Mitchell's swansong album on vinyl.
I played both sides. When I got to Shine, the final majestic track of a majestic album, I knew I'd picked appropriate music to farewell my loaner pair of NS-5000.
As Mitchell's alluring voice joined the shimmering cymbals, mellow single guitar notes and sax, I recall that I had never heard this track with so much detail before. So much so, it was like hearing it for the first time because the NS-5000 gave me a new view into the music.
Debuting locally at the StereoNET Melbourne Hi-Fi Show in 2018, they earned the Best Debut Product Award by show judges, and the room was easily one of the favourites by all reports from attendees. And more often than not, Yamaha's room was standing room only.
I alluded earlier to the NS-5000's astounding level of neutrality and transparency. A level so high as to reveal the slight tonal warmth my equipment was adding to the music. No matter what album or genre of music, this tonal warmth remained.
My best guess is that as well as behaving like a musical instrument, the NS-5000 is also an ideal reviewing tool. One whose self-effacing, neutral and transparent sound will never leave you wondering about the real sound of the components played via these speakers.
It's like the man said in the 70s, these are likely to be the best speakers you've never heard.
For more information, visit Yamaha.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.
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