HOME THEATRE

 

HOME THEATRE

The notion of a sleek soundbar making movies and music sound great is entirely feasible, even if it’s unlikely to be as immersive as a true multi-speaker sound system. The Yamaha YAS-408 adds some clever features of its own

 

By Deon Schoeman

Soundbars are popular alternatives to conventional surround speaker systems, mainly because not everyone wants, or needs, a multitude of surround speakers scattered around their living room.

But soundbars have their limitations. Some use digital signal processing to emulate surround sound, with varying degrees of success. Others are simply aimed at improving the typically thin sound of your average TV in a slim and unobtrusive package.

The Yamaha YAS-408 is not one of the digital sound projector soundbars that Yamaha is renowned for. Rather, it’s a more conventional sound bar with multiple drivers, although it does use DSP to create virtual surround using the DTS Virtual X codec.

The Yamaha is slim and elegant, and is easily accommodated in either a shelf-mounted or wall-mounted configuration. Even better, it comes with a separate, wireless subwoofer that is easy to place and connect.

But what really makes the YAS-408 different is that it’s part of Yamaha’s MusicCast ecosystem, which allows extended functionality that goes beyond usual soundbar capabilities.

There are two aspects to this. Firstly, there’s the interoperability between MusicCast components, which allows the YAS-408 to become part of a bigger MusicCast multiroom system and to be controlled accordingly, as well as sharing content from any MusicCast source.

The second aspect is the system’s wireless capabilities. The subwoofer operates wirelessly and it’s possible to link compatible standalone lifestyle speakers such as the WX-051 and WX-051 (see our review here) wirelessly in a surround role, which greatly enhances the dimensionality of the soundstage in surround sound applications.

AT FACE VALUE

The YAS-408 may be almost a metre long, but it measures only 60 mm high and 110 mm deep. If your TV set is positioned on an AV stand, the Yamaha will easily and unobtrusively fit in below it. It can also be wall-mounted below wall-located TV screens.

The all-black finish is smart and functional, while a closer look reveals a fine-perforated metal grille, which conceals the six-driver speaker array. The top panel has a sleek, semi-glossy surface that’s home to touch-sensitive switchgear instead of conventional buttons and controls, as well as indicator lights that illuminate to confirm its operational status.

There’s also a compact remote control handset, which duplicates the most salient switchgear. But users should opt for the dedicated MuscicCast app, downloadable free for both Android and iOS smart devices,

The app not only provides intuitive access to the YAS-408’s comprehensive feature set, but is also the recommended way to set up the soundbar, especially since it makes linking up the soundbar to a home network a relatively simple affair.

The rear panel is home to a power socket, an HDMI input and HDMI output (the latter with ARC audio return control), a Toslink optical digital input, a 3,5 mm analogue stereo input jack, and an RJ45 Ethernet network socket.

The soundbar can also be hooked up to a network via 802.11 Wi-Fi, and is compatible with both the 2,4 GHZ and 5 GHz frequency bands.

The accompanying wireless subwoofer has been designed to be positioned vertically, and features a side-firing 160 mm drive unit, powered by a dedicated 100 watt amplifier. It’s small enough to be discreetly positioned in even smaller rooms – even next to the soundbar, if need be.

UNDER THE COVERS

As mentioned, the YAS-408 promises to deliver a big upgrade in sonic performance when compared to the on-board audio offered by your average TV set.

The soundbar contains six drivers, arranged in a mirror-image configuration, with a 25 mm tweeter flanked by a pair of 46 mm mids on the left and right extremes of the bar. The wireless subwoofer adds a welcome low-frequency foundation.

The soundbar can operate in stereo or surround mode, with the surround effect created using DTS Virtual X. The codec employs digital signal processing to simulate surround sound through selective time delay and level variations, as well as by emphasising certain frequency bands.

The Yamaha’s feature set is a lot more extensive than you’d expect. I’ve already mentioned MusicCast, which effectively allows the YAS-408 to become part of a multiroom system.

Briefly, MusicCast is a multiroom ecosystem that allows compatible devices (AV receivers, soundbars, standalone Bluetooth, amplifiers speakers, and more) to communicate and share source material. They can also be synchronised to play the same source simultaneously, or operate completely independently from one another.

In the case of the YAS-408, MusicCast can also be used to link it to a MusicCast speaker such as the WX-051, and to configure it as a rear surround speaker. You can find out more about MusicCast here.

In addition to playing back connected sources, the YAS-408 can stream content from several music streaming services, including Spotify, Deezer, Qobuz and Tidal, and offers access to a vast selection of Internet stations via TuneIn.

Then there’s Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2, both of which can be used to connect a source such as a smartphone to the soundbar, and stream content from that device. And finally, intuitive voice commands are possible if you’re an Amazon Alexa user.

SETTING UP

The YAS-408 was installed in the AVSA listening room, with our regular Oppo BDP-95EU operating as the primary source via HDMI, while our Epson EW-TW5500 provided the pictures via the soundbar’s HDMI output.

The subwoofer and the soundbar recognised each other on switch-on and required no specific pairing regimen. Once linked to our network via Ethernet, the MusicCast app also identified the soundbar, which then made it possible to set up and control it via the app.

As I had a Yamaha WX-051 wireless speaker at my disposal during the review period, I was able to add the speaker to the same virtual ‘room’ in the MusicCast app, and then link it to the soundbar in a rear surround role.

My iPhone 5S easily identified and paired with the Yamaha via Airplay too. Finally, the YAS-408 was able to recognise the NAS server on the network, and navigate and play back music data stored on it.

On that subject, the soundbar is compatible with a wide array of music file formats, ranging from lossy file types such as MP3 and WMA, to AAC (up to 48 kHz), ALAC (up to 96 kHz) and WAV, FLAC and AIFF (up to 192 kHz/24-bit).

SOUNDS LIKE

As the slim enclosure determines that the drivers are small too, I was expecting the sound to be pretty much mid-biased. However, the accompanying subwoofer actually delivers a wide slice of lower mids and bass frequencies, filling out the sound nicely.

Bass notes had good density and presence, with plenty of oomph and sufficient drama to create an overall sound that was always bigger and bolder than expected. Admirably, that fullness was achieved without muddying the sonic waters as far as detail and dialogue projection were concerned.

The Yamaha managed a pleasingly smooth transition from clean and incisive mids to clear and well defined trebles. The soundbar also resolves an ample bounty of detail, which added to an overriding sense of realism.

Staging was quite expansive, given the soundbar’s centralised position, and it managed to create an illusion of space and air that was impressive, opening up the sound and allowing for a real sense of dimension.

Where the soundbar falls short, at least without some extra help, is in the surround department. Invoking DTS Virtual X certainly opened up the soundstage, benefiting both dialogue projection and detail resolution, as well as extending the width and depth of the soundstage.

However, it was less successful at delivering front/back steering or an immersive ambience. Rather, the performance should be considered in the context of a 2.1 system – which, quite frankly, would more than suffice most of the time.

But for those who demand the surround experience, the solution lies in adding one, or even a pair, of Yamaha WX-051 MusicCast speakers.

These, as mentioned, link wirelessly to the YAS-408, and even one WX-051 positioned in a central location behind the listening position created a quite compelling sense of surround space that was as startling as it as effective.

No, it’s not in the same league as having dedicated surrounds, surround backs and ceiling-mounted height speakers, but it does create a believable sense of multi-directional steering that makes for a more immersive listening experience – and with a minimal hardware presence.

Effects-rich movies such as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol were portrayed with pleasing punch and intensity, with enough dimensional steering to create a believable engagement with the action.

That said, I often felt that using the soundbar without the virtual surround engaged sounded more emphatic. David Gilmour’s <Live at Pompeii>, played back in stereo seemed more focussed and incisive, if not quite as airy, and also linked up better with the on-screen action.

The same went for music: content from Tidal and Deezer sounded perfectly wholesome in stereo, with good imaging and detail.

THE BOTTOM LINE

While the YAS-408 is competent and enjoyable sonically, it is the combination of a slim and sleek form factor, extended wireless capability, and membership of the MusicCast clan that sets it apart from more conventional offerings.

Not only can it stream content from an extensive array of services and sources, but it also becomes part of an even more versatile multiroom system when linked to other MusicCast devices – an aspect that can also form the basis of a future upgrade path.

Add the prospect of regular firmware upgrades delivering additional capabilities and features, and the Yamaha YAS-408 also has a measure of future-proofness on its side – all for a value-added investment.

VITAL STATS

Type: 2.1 soundbar with wireless subwoofer
Drive units (soundbar): 4x 46 mm midrange drivers, 2x 25 mm tweeters
Drive unit (subwoofer): 160 mm woofer
Output: 50 watts x 2 (soundbar), 100 watts (subwoofer)
Connectivity: Bluetooth Class 2 V4.2, A2DP and SPP
Inputs: HDMI (with ARC), 3,5 mm stereo minijack, Toslink optical digital
Output: HDMI
Soundbar dimensions (WxHxD): 980 x 60 x 111 mm
Subwoofer dimensions (WxHxD): 180 x 417 x 405 mm
Weight: 2,7 kg (soundbar); 9,4 kg (subwoofer)
PRICE
R11 880
SUPPLIED BY
Balanced Audio

TESTED WITH
Oppo BDP-95EU universal deck
Epson EH-TW5500 DLP projector
Atlantic Technology 7.1 surround sound speaker set
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD player

SOFTWARE
Mad Max: Fury Road (Blu-ray)
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Blu-ray)
David Gilmour – Live At Pompeii (Blu-ray)
Diana Krall – The Girl In The Other Room (Verve SACD)

Subwoofers are meant to be heard, but not seen. In fact, even their sonic contribution should be as seamless and as unobtrusive as possible, while adding just the right amount of bottom-end kick to the overall system sound. Can the Martin Logan Dynamo 1600X deliver on those requirements?

 

By Deon Schoeman

Mention the word subwoofer, and many of us think of big boxes, barely containing even bigger drivers, punching out the kind of bass that can shake walls, rattle windows and threaten to rearrange your skeleton.

Yes, you want to hear and even feel that sub-bass, but it shouldn’t be an invasive or intimidating experience – and if it is, there’s something inherently wrong with the set-up.

Subwoofers are more usually associated with home theatre systems, where their low-frequency extension is considered essential to make movie effects such as explosions, gunfire, thunder, low-flying aircraft and fast-passing cars sound more realistic.

But they can also play a valuable role in stereo system, especially when the primary loudspeakers are unable to deliver full-range sound. That said, integrating a subwoofer into a stereo set-up is a lot trickier.

Why? Surround sound formats make specific provision for the low-frequency effects channel that a subwoofer is tasked with. But in stereo set-ups, the end user has to manually tailor the output and frequency crossover point to ensure the sub’s seamless integration with the main speakers.

Martin Logan is best known for its high-end electrostatic loudspeakers – but ironically, that very fact has also turned the Canadian firm into a subwoofer specialist.

Electrostatics aren’t known for their low-bass capability, so many of the marque’s electrostatics come equipped with a dedicated bass unit, carefully engineered to sonically dovetail with the panels.

Add to that the fact that Martin Logan is also active in the multichannel home theatre space, and producing a line-up of active subwoofers makes a lot of sense.

The new Dynamo range is the brand’s latest foray into the subwoofer arena, and at face value at least, the folks at Martin Logan have done their homework.

The five-strong line-up bristles with clever features, all designed to optimise performance across both stereo and multichannel roles.

AT FACE VALUE

The 1600X is the flagship of the family, and thus offers the full suite of features in a package also aimed at delivering no-compromise performance. Given that intention, it’s a surprisingly compact and even inconspicuous sub.

While not exactly small, the 1600X combines a 15-inch driver with 900 watts of amplifier muscle in an enclosure that stands no higher than 510mm, depending on how it’s configured. And while it looks pretty conventional, the 1600X has some clever tricks up its sleeve.

Let’s start off with the configuration options: the 1600X can be set up as either a front-firing or a down-firing subwoofer. All it takes is repositioning the locating feet.

Those feet, by the way, host encased decoupling spikes, which can be used instead of the standard rubber caps. And there’s a sleek, curved grille to protect the drive unit when the 1600X is used in front-firing mode.

The default configuration is down-firing, which is visually less obtrusive, and means the enclosure looks like a nicely finished, satin-black cube with a subtle Martin Logan logo on the front.

If you run the 1600X in front-firing mode, the one aspect to remember is that the rear control panel now becomes inaccessible, as it ends up facing the floor.

That’s less of a problem than you might imagine, though: once the salient connections have been made, access to the panel becomes effectively irrelevant, as control of the subwoofer either vests with the AV receiver or processor, or with the dedicated Martin Logan app. More about this aspect later.

Talking of connections, the 1600X caters for most scenarios. It offers a choice of RCA or XLR inputs for an LFE signal feed from an AV receiver or processor, and a stereo line-level RCA input set for linking the sub to a stereo system.

The 1600X also provides a set of high-level speaker inputs, which can be coupled to a stereo amplifier’s speaker binding posts – useful if the amplifier doesn’t have a subwoofer output, or pre-amp outputs (or if the latter are already in use).

The fact that the 1600X caters for both LFE and stereo applications means that it can be connected to both a stereo and a multichannel/AV system simultaneously. When used in conjunction with the stereo system, it operates using the left/right input settings, and reverts to the LFE-related settings when the multichannel system is in use.

The key difference here is that, in LFE mode, the low-pass settings that can be dialled in for stereo applications are bypassed, leaving the receiver/processor’s own LFE management protocols in control.

The 1600X even offers the option of a wireless connection via the optional SWT-X wireless system. It consists of a receiver module that’s plugged into the 1600X, and a transmitter that’s connected to the pre-amp or receiver/processor outputs.

This allows more flexibility and convenience as far as the placement of the 1600X is concerned. With SWT-X deployed, you can run the 1600X in either LFE or stereo mode, but not simultaneously.

SETTING UP

During the course of this extended review, I used the Dynamo 1600X in all its various configuration options. For 2.1 applications, I ran it in conjunction with our trusty KEF LS50 standmounts.

The multichannel evaluation was conducted in partnership with a Marantz SR6011 AV receiver, as well as a Yamaha RX-A3080 AV receiver (review pending), with our Atlantic Technology surround system on speaker duty.

I also tried the SWT-X wireless kit as an alternative to the wired connections in each instance.

Subwoofers are notoriously tricky to set up properly, unless you have the services of an experienced installer with the necessary measuring equipment (and experience!) to assist you.

Martin Logan’s answer to that conundrum is incorporating sister company Anthem’s highly regarded ARC room correction system, and making it both user-friendly and accessible in the form of smartphone app, available for both Android and iOS devices.

There’s also a second Martin Logan-specific subwoofer control app, which allows convenient adjustment of key parameters, including level, low-pass filtering, phase and polarity, as well as a 20 -120 Hz tone sweep to help with identifying pesky room resonances.

Setting up the 1600X involved installing the subwoofer (configured in down-firing role) in the left front of the listening room, powering it up, and then running ARC to determine an optimised set of room-specific operation parameters.

Next, I connected the sub to our AV system using the 1600X’s LFE input, and then using the receiver’s set-up and calibration programme to determine system-specific settings. Next, I connected our Primare PRE32 stereo pre-amp to the left/right inputs of the 1600X.

I then used the Martin Logan sub control app to set up the performance parameters for stereo listening, including the level, low-pass filter, polarity and phase. The app also offers a choice of three listening modes (movie, music and night).

The entire process was intuitive and sonically meaningful, contributing significantly to matching the 1600X’s capabilities to the system and room requirements, as well as my personal preferences.

A quick note on front-firing versus down-firing: to my ears, the latter option always sounded smoother and better integrated, albeit at the cost of some outright bass wallop and aggression: some users, especially movie buffs, might prefer a front-firing set-up purely for the slightly more overt nature of the delivery.

SOUNDS LIKE

As I mentioned earlier, the successful contribution of a subwoofer to system sound, be it stereo or multichannel, depends heavily on how seamlessly it can be incorporated into the system’s overall sound.

It can reach as low as it likes, and play as loudly too, but poor set-up can lead to some frequencies being over-emphasised and others left wanting, while room interaction can add resonances and vibrations to the mix.

Thanks to the thoughtful and accurate installation and calibration procedures, the 1600X avoided all those traps, and instead emerged as a measured, well-mannered and above all effective contributor to overall system performance.

The bass delivery was taut, fast and impactful, with plenty of punch and attack, but without having to resort to overkill. Tonal seamlessness was a particular highlight, with no discernible transition between the main speakers’ output and the sub’s delivery.

At the same time, the sound increased in stature and presence, benefiting from the solid low-frequency foundation. The delivery was more muscular and more authoritative, but there was also a new-found clarity and definition, thanks to the enhanced slam and precision of the low notes.

Used as part of the multichannel system, effects took on an almost visceral quality that made the explosions and gun shots featured in Dunkirk seem almost unsettlingly realistic. The underlying menace that permeates Christopher Nolan’s dialogue-sparse masterpiece felt almost tactile in its intensity, while the air sequences gained further impact.

The same could be said of the brooding Blade Runner 2049, with its washed out landscapes, desperate characters and commercial-saturated cityscapes. It’s a gritty, confrontational world with soundtrack to match, and with the help of the 1600X, that sound really gets under your skin.

It’s a case where sight, sound and sentiment merge to create a cinematic experience that is all-engaging, and where the surround sound seems to penetrate every corner of the room – and the mind.

For me, however, the way the Dynamo 1600X interfaced with the stereo system in the AVSA listening room was even more revelatory. To be fair, subwoofers aren’t usually assessed in a stereo role here, mainly because most of the examples we receive on test are typically targeted at AV applications.

But this time around, I specifically chose a standmount speaker set to put the subwoofer through its stereo paces in a typical 2.1 system. And while the KEF LS50s are fairly generous in bass response terms (at least in the standmount context), they are nowhere near full-range.

Could the 1600X assist with that? Put it this way: thanks to the ability to intelligently and accurately tweak key parameters, I was able to smoothly integrate the sub’s delivery with the speakers, with pretty impressive results.

What I heard was a larger, broader, bolder sound that clearly belonged to something a lot bigger than these compact bookshelf speakers usually sound like on their own. As expected, the tonal range extended much further downward than before, but there was also more impact, and a greater incisiveness to the delivery.

However, the 1600X steered clear of hyperbole: the bass was clean and powerful, but remained perfectly measured, simply adding to the tonal capabilities of the speakers. In that sense, the subwoofer itself remained unobtrusive, adding its bass wares without drawing any attention to itself.

Staging and imaging remained clear and unsullied by the extra bass, offering a satisfyingly three-dimensional music picture with plenty of detail, and admirable transparency, while that broad sweet spot the LS50s are famous for was also retained.

I felt that the overall performance had greater energy and drive with the subwoofer in play: certainly low-frequency control was exceptional, providing a taut and succinct platform for the music, but the overall urge and intensity of the system went up a notch, too.

The revitalised and energetic return of British hard rock exponents Thunder on Please Remain Seated was showcased in all its punchy, bass-drenched glory to spine-tingling effect, making the most of the wide open, full-range recording and an almost tactile dimensionality.

The bass on ‘Loser’ was held in perfect check and balance, but without robbing it of impact or substance, allowing ample scope for the perfectly timed percussion and the clean-picked guitar riffs to come to the fore.

Seventies superstar Peter Frampton may not command the attention he did back in his heyday, but he shows his class and versatility on Fingerprints, a varied and entertaining set that features a supporting cast of star performers, and a full catalogue of musical styles.

On ‘Float’, it’s the guitar work that takes centre stage, with a melancholy, blues-infused approach that is reminiscent of vintage Gary Moore, but delivered with less bluster and more finesse.

Again, the 1600X added bass backbone and foundation to the music without smudging the clarity and air of the sound, allowing the fine, elevated guitar solos to retain their presence an sparkle.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Martin Logan Dynamo 1600X is the kind of subwoofer that can make even cynics like me consider the virtues of a sub in a stereo context. So poised, so seamlessly integrated is its contribution in a stereo role that it’s hard not to acknowledge the sonic benefits.

The 1600X has the bass talent, the energy and the finesse to augment rather than interfere, while the combination of the ARC and the Martin Logan Sub Control apps allows exceptional integration and convenient control, regardless of room and system variances.

Of course, the 1600X also excels in a home theatre context. Indeed, its ability to occupy an equally effective role in both multichannel and stereo systems is a further, major attraction, while amortising its acquisition cost across both applications.

If you’re looking for a versatile, accomplished and sonically effective subwoofer that’s easy to set up, easy to control, and easy to enjoy, the Dynamo 1600X belongs on your shortlist.

VITAL STATS
Enclosure type: Sealed, front or down-firing.
Drive units: 381mm high-excursion polypropylene cone woofer, inverted surround
Frequency response: 20 – 200 Hz (±3 dB, LFE mode)
Inputs: LFE RCA, stereo RCA; LFE XLR; L/R speaker-level banana, SWT-X wireless socket
Amplifier rating: 900 watts RMS, 1,8 kW peak
Controls (on board): Level, power mode, setting mode
Controls (app): Level, high-pass, low-pass order, phase, listening mode, room correction
Input impedance: 8,3 kOhms (RCA), 28 kOhms (XLR), 2 kOhms (speaker level)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 510 x 454 x 486 mm
Weight: 25,9 kg

PRICE
Martin Logan Dynamo 1600X: R29 935
SWT-X Wireless Connection Kit: R3 095
SUPPLIED BY
Audio Specialists

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Oppo BDP-95 EU universal player
Marantz SR6011 AV receiver
Yamaha RX-A3080 AV receiver
Atlantic Technology 7.1 surround speaker system
Lumin D1 network streamer
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD player
Primare PRE32 pre-amp
Parasound Halo A21 power amp
KEF LS50 speakers
Tice and IsoTek power conditioners

SOFTWARE
Dunkirk (Blu-ray)
Blade Runner 2049 (Blu-ray)
David Gilmour – Live in Pompei (Blu-ray)
Thunder – Please Remain Seated (BMG 96/24 FLAC MQA via Tidal)
Peter Frampton – Fingerprints (AM Sounds 44/16 FLAC via Tidal)

Paradigm’s Premier 600C centre channel is not only the perfect partner to the 800F floorstanders in a home theatre system, but a key role player in achieving movie sound magic.

In home theatre terms, the centre channel is arguably the most important member of the AV speaker family. It carries so much of the critical soundtrack information that it should be a priority purchase – and yet, its role is often underestimated.

Truth be told, much of the direct soundtrack content, including the primary dialogue, is the preserve of the centre channel. Together with the front left and right speakers, it also creates the vital front stage, where much of the sonic action happens.

The surround, back and height speakers are there to recreate ambient information and steering effects, but in sheer bulk of and breadth of sonic information, the centre channel plays the primary role.

And yet, we tend to underrate that role. To be fair, accommodating a sizeable centre channel speaker isn’t always easy, especially in more compact spaces, where the centre channel speaker often needs to slot in below a TV, almost demanding a slimline, unobtrusive design. It’s less challenging in projector/screen-based set-ups, of course.

However, where possible, installing a more substantial centre channel centre channel, speaker, especially one that’s voiced to match the left and right front channel speakers, will make a significant contribution to the realism and enjoyment of the movie experience.

The Paradigm Premier Series offers a choice of two floorstanders, two standmount monitors and two centre channel speakers. When a pair of the largest of the floorstanders, the Premier 800F, was recently submitted for review, local importer/distributor Audio Specialists included a Premier 600C centre channel speaker.

My intention had originally been to evaluate the 800Fs in a stereo role (see review here), but the availability of the 600C begged they be evaluated in a multichannel context too, with the 600C naturally fulfilling the centre channel role.

AT FACE VALUE

The Premier 600C is a substantial piece of kit, weighing in at 19,5 kg, and measuring 10 cm short of a full metre wide. It’s best accommodated on a dedicated stand, certainly from a sonic perspective.

Available in gloss black or white, as well as a woodgrain finish, the 600C exudes a certain tactile quality. The enclosure feels solid and reassuringly inert, thanks to its construction from thick, 19 mm MDF.

A 25 mm baffle adds to the overall rigidity and substance, and provides a solid foundation for the six-driver complement. A magnetically located, black cloth grille is provided to protect the drivers from prying fingers.

Like the 800F, the enclosure is tapered towards the rear, and also features rounded endpieces finished in composite. At the rear, a dual pair of binding posts allows for bi-wiring, while a bass port confirms the enclosure’s bass reflex status.

UNDER THE COVERS

The six drivers are horizontally arranged, with the tweeter and midrange centrally located, one above each other. A woofer and bass radiator on either side of the tweeter/midrange duo completes the array.

The tweeter and midrange both feature what Paradigm calls a perforated phase-aligning lens – a device that is meant to address the phase differences caused by the sound emanating from different parts of the driver arriving at the listening position in different states of phase.

The lens blocks out the out-of-phase elements, and therefore evens out the on-axis and off-axis response. On a secondary level, the perforated lens also serves as a useful protector of the tweeter’s aluminium dome, and the aluminium cone of the midrange.

The 165 mm woofers are identical to the ones employed in the 800F, and feature a carbon-infused polypropylene cone, combined with injection-moulded, serrated surrounds. These boost excursion, leading to a 3 dB increase in output, while significantly reducing distortion. The bass radiators provide further, controlled, low-frequency extension.

A second-order electro-acoustic crossover allows crossover points at 700 Hz and 2.5 kHz.

SETTING UP

The Premier 600C was positioned on a dedicated centre channel stand with coupling spikes to optimise performance, and located centrally, equidistant from the two 800F floorstanders on either side.

Our regular Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver was tasked with amplification and surround sound processing duties, while our reference Atlantic Technologies surround and surround back speakers, as well as the Atlantic Technologies subwoofer, remained on duty.

The system was calibrated using Marantz’s Audyssey room correction, and the levels subsequently tweaked manually, after which the 600C was afforded some time to settle in before any serious listening commenced.

SOUNDS LIKE …

The benefits of running closely related, voice-matched speakers across the front stage of a surround sound system became immediately clear as soon as I sat down to listen to the Paradigms. There was a seamless cohesion and a clarity of purpose that made the soundtracks come alive.

Also obvious was the ability of this full-range front and centre combo to deliver its sonic wares with more meat and substance, leaving the subwoofer to concentrate on delivering sub-bass frequencies.

The transition from bass to midrange was seamless and pleasingly linear, adding to a smooth and enveloping rendering of the front stage, while the all-important dialogue was delivered with presence and power.

The 600C easily coped with complex soundtracks and densely populated mixes, always retaining a talent for precision and composure, while also expressing timbre and tone with a pervasive sense of authenticity.

As much as I like staying up to date with the latest movie releases, I often find myself reverting to some of my favourite classics, with Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, featuring Hans Zimmer’s marvellous soundtrack, among them.

The opening battle scene is a particularly good system test, both in terms of surround sound scope (even though it’s only a 5.1 mix) and the level of detail and ambient information the soundtrack contains. It’s a stern test for both the AV receiver, and the speaker set it’s driving.

The Paradigms endowed the on-screen action with an almost visceral presence that propelled me right into the centre of the action.

You could hear as much as feel the flaming arrows being released, the hooves of galloping horses hitting the ground, the clash of metal on metal as swords and lances engage with shields, the impact of weapons into human flesh – all fanned by the crescendos of Zimmer’s excellent soundtrack.

Impressive resolution and seamless staging allowed the sound to perfectly match the on-screen action. And Russel Crowe’s commands rang out clear, despite the sheer density of sound.

The 600C rose to the challenge with enthusiasm, expressing the rich canvas of sound with conviction, and doing well to deliver both substance and detail. It never sounded stretched, even at higher listening levels, and allowed passages of dialogue to rise above the action effects with clarity and conviction.

Moving on to The Last Jedi saw the Paradigm centre maintain its  adept sonic traits. The Battle Of Crait scene has plenty of action sequences and explosive (literally) effects, but the 600C was always up to the task, delivering its sonic wares with succinct realism and pace.

For all its tonal breadth, it never sounded too rich or oversaturated, steering a clear and engaging sonic path that guaranteed full access to the sonic information. Again, I was impressed with the centre channel’s composure, regardless of the complexity of the soundtrack, and its talent for tracking dialogue, effects and music with equal conviction.

Also, the ability to create a close and cohesive sonic partnership with the 800Fs allowed a wide, accessible and thoroughly realistic front stage that made the movie come alive, proving the key played by the LCR array in a surround sound setup.

The 600C’s performance was equally adept when listening to music. Both the electricity and the live ambience of Gary Clark Junior’s appearance on the 2013 edition of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival was conveyed with eloquence and clarity, despite the fuzz-laden guitars and thick, almost ponderous bass lines.

The Paradigm array provided good insight, but was also able to express the impact and excitement of the performance. With the subwoofer sharing the low-bass duties, there was plenty of low-frequency definition, together with ample pace and momentum, while the percussion was rendered with just the right level of snap and punch.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Paradigm 600C underscores just how important the role of a centre channel speaker is. It delivers on all fronts – pace, precision, tonal breadth, definition – while displaying a talent for composure that allows it to easily cope with movie and music soundtracks.

The way the centre channel seamlessly partners with the 800F allows both the 600C and its floorstanding siblings to show off their capabilities to best effect, creating a wide open, generous and engaging front stage.

Yes, the 600C is a substantial speaker, and one that benefits from proper location on a dedicated stand to ensure minimal interaction with furniture and floors. Regardless, the sonic dividends paid by this speaker are considerable, and once you’ve heard its capabilities, home movies will never be the same again.

Deon Schoeman

VITAL STATS
Enclosure type: Bass-reflex centre channel
Drive units:
– 1x 25 mm aluminium dome tweeter
– 1x 102 mm aluminium cone midrange
– 2x 165 mm carbon-infused polypropylene woofers
– 2x 165 mm carbon-infused polypropylene passive radiators
Bi-wiring: Yes
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 94 dB in-room
Frequency response: 66 Hz – 22 kHz (±2 dB)
Power handling: 120 watts maximum
Dimensions (WxHxD): 908 x 197 x 342 mm
Weight: 19,5 kg
PRICE: R17 045
SUPPLIED BY
Audio Specialists

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Oppo BDP-95EU universal deck
Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver
Paradigm Premier 800F main front loudspeakers
Atlantic Technology surround, surround back and subwoofer
Optoma HD80 DLP projector

SOFTWARE
Gladiator (Blu-ray)
The Last Jedi (Blu-ray)
Various – Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013 (Blu-ray)

In home theatre installations, long cable runs are a challenge – especially if it’s an HDMI cable that needs to be conduit-fed from an AV receiver to a distant, ceiling-mounted projector, for instance. Inakustik has an elegant solution …

By Deon Schoeman

 

The advent of the High-Definition Media Interface (HDMI) more than a decade ago was a godsend for home entertainment enthusiasts and system installers.

It allows a single cable to carry both multichannel audio and high-resolution video, using a robust connector, and promises seamless digital audio and video data transfer between compatible devices, including TVs and monitors, source components and home cinema processors and receivers.

Since HDMI 1.0 was first introduced in the mid-2000s, the amount of data that HDMI cables are typically required to transfer has increased almost exponentially. In video terms alone, we’ve gone from SD to HD to UHD – and already, 8K is looming.

To put that into perspective, high-definition 720p/1080i video requires three times the data compare to 480i standard-definition video. Move up to 1080p, and the HD data stream is doubled again.

Today’s UHD 4K and even 8K video demand even greater data transfer volumes. Similarly, the digital audio requirement has also become more taxing, both in terms of number of channels, as well as the prevalence of object-based surround sound formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

STANDARDS, SPEEDS AND LENGTHS

No wonder that the HDMI specification has undergone a continuous series of upgrades, culminating in the most recent HDMI 2.1 standard. It specifies a rated bandwidth of 48 GBps and the ability to cope with up to 10K resolution at 120 Hz, together with dynamic HDR and enhanced refresh rates, among many other capabilities.

One aspect of HDMI cable capabilities that does not seem to be pertinently addressed by the HDMI specification is cable length. However, it is an accepted fact that the longer the cable, the greater the chance of signal degradation.

By the same token, the greater the data volume and data speed transferred, the shorter the cable needs to be to ensure reliable results. Opinions vary about what the maximum cable length should be for high-res, high-data applications, but 3 metres and below appears be considered reliable for HD-compliant cables.

So, what do you when you need to link two components that are considerably further apart? For instance, connecting a ceiling-mounted digital video projector to an AV processor or receiver can easily entail HDMI cable runs of around 15 metres.

That situation can be made even worse if the cable has to be concealed in conduiting, and has to follow a circuitous route in the interests of a clean, invisible installation. Suddenly, 15 metres can become 25 metres, or more.

Having to conceal the cable also introduces another practical problem: the standard HDMI connector itself is often too bulky to fit through conduits, necessitating either the use of a larger-diameter conduit or an even longer cable run.

One solution to overcome the signal degradation associated with long HDMI cable runs is to use a so-called active cable, which usually entails the use of separately powered in-line boosters and amplifiers, further complicating the installation.

AT FACE VALUE

German cable specialist Inakustik has a more elegant answer to both the signal degradation associated with cable length, and the limitations presented by the standard, bulky HDMI connector in concealed installations.

Its Pro Micro fibre optic-based HDMI 2.0 cable can be used over extended distances, and uses micro-HDMI connectors with adapters to make it easier to feed the cable through narrow conduiting. It also doesn’t require a separate power source.

The Pro Micro is HDMI 2.0 compliant, which means it supports HDCP 2.2, Extended Display ID, and HDR. It is meant to reliably transfer 4K UHD video at 50/60 Hz and 4:4:4 over cable runs of up to 100 metres, at a maximum data rate of 18 GBps. Audio Return Channel functionality is guaranteed, too, but only for runs of up to 50 metres.

The fibre optic cable is directional, and terminated with micro-HDMI plugs that have a compact diameter of only 14,5 mm. The all-metal slimline plugs come with metal adapters that transform the micro-HDMI terminals to standard-sized HDMI versions. These are fitted once the cable has been pushed/pulled through the conduit.

The Pro Micro HDMI cable has been designed to draw its power from the HDMI port of the source component. However the adapter also makes provision for connecting a separate, dedicated power source if required.

SETTING UP

I used a 10m length of Inakustik Micro 2.0 HDMI cable between our regular Marantz SR6011 AV receiver and the Optoma HD80 DLP projector installed in a ceiling-mount position in the AVSA listening room. Providing the source signal was an Oppo BDP-95EU universal deck.

The distance between receive rand projector is about 5m, but given the cable path, using conduiting into the ceiling, and then running the cable along the wall before tacking across to the projector, required almost all of the 10m cable reviewed here.

Installation was a simple plug-and-play affair. The cable is provided on a handy reel that keeps it tangle-free during the installation process. Inakustik provides a clever little plastic housing that slips over the actual micro-connector, and protects the termination during the installation procedure.

The actual cable is relatively thin and round, with a smooth, black PVC sheath that was easily pulled through some existing (and cable-crowded) conduiting in the AVSA listening room. As mentioned, the cable is directional, and the connectors are clearly marked ‘source’ and ‘display’.

Tactile quality is impressive. The micro HDMI plugs on either side are made of solid metal, with anodised aluminium housings, and gold-plated connectors. The full-size HDMI adapter slides onto the micro-HDMI connector via an integrated groove that ensures perfect alignment and a snug, positive fit.

If external power is required, the adapter includes a power socket directly below the micro HDMI, which accepts the dedicated jack-to-USB cable provided. The cable can then be coupled to any generic USB charger.

I ran the Inakustik in tandem with the existing cable, made possible by the fact that the Optoma has two HDMI inputs, and that the Marantz offers two HDMI outputs (although the second output doesn’t offer ARC, which is relevant in this set-up anyway). This allowed back-to-back comparisons.

WORKS LIKE …

Once connected, the Optoma instantly recognised the incoming signal and locked onto it – a process that can take 10 to 15 sec with our existing, older generation HDMI cable. That alone was a good indication of signal strength and integrity.

I then used the Inakustik cable to watch a number of favourite Blu-ray titles – unfortunately, we don’t have 4K capability in our evaluation room. I’d be lying if I told you I saw a massive difference in image in quality, compared to the system’s performance with our own cable.

That said, I subjectively found the colour reproduction achieved with the Inakustik slightly more vivid, with subtly improved contrast levels and better low-light detail. This could be proof that the existing cable suffers from some signal degradation to its length, while the Inakustik showed no sign of any untoward artefacts.

For instance, I felt that the many gloomy scenes in Star Wars: The Last Jed’ were delivered with greater clarity and detail, and that fast-moving action sequences in Inception appeared to be rendered with crisper realism.

The improvements were subtle rather than groundbreaking, but still repeatable and noticeable across all the material I compared. In my opinion, that made them significant enough to warrant the investment in the optical cable upgrade – and a must-have scenario where cable runs are even greater than the 10m length tested here.

I’m the first to admit that it makes sense to assume that all HDMI cables compliant with a particular set of measurable standards should deliver performances that are technically and qualitative identical. That’s why the standards are set in the first place.

However, real-world applications can still show up differences – sometimes due to simple variances such as termination, connector fit, shielding etc. The Inakustik Pro Micro’s fibre optic construction should make it more resistant to the potential interference that could plague conventional cables.

Just what impact the Inakustik cable will have when compared to ‘normal’ HDMI cables of the same 2.0 standard will depend on many factors, not least of which will be the quality of the installation, the distances involved, and the capability of the system components.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The InAkustik Pro Micro operated flawlessly in our system. It was easy to install, and both the design and the quality of the connectors was impressive, suggesting both performance and longevity.

The video performance improvements may have been subjective and subtle, but the overall value proposition is compelling. That’s especially true where longer cable runs and inaccessible installations demand a HDMI solution that is bulletproof and technically uncompromised, while consistently delivering the AV goods.

And that’s exactly what the InAkustik Pro Micro does.

VITAL STATS
Type: Active fibre optic HDMI cable
HDMI standard: V2.0
Review sample length: 10m
Maximum recommended length: 100m
Bandwidth/data rate: 18 GBps
Video performance: 4K @ 50/60 Hz, 4:4:4
Supported features: HDCP 2.0, EDID, HDR, ARC (up to 50m)
Accessories included: Micro-HDMI to HDMI adapter, USB DC power cable
Micro-HDMI connector dimensions (LxWxH): 35,5 x 13,7 x 9,8 mm
Micro-HDMI connector diameter: 14,5 mm
PRICE
R6 790
SUPPLIED BY
Sky Audio

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Optoma HD80 DLP projector
Oppo BDP-95EU universal player
Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver
Atlantic Technology 7.1 surround sound speaker system

SOFTWARE
Eyes Wide Shut (Blu-ray)
Inception (Blu-ray)
Gravity (Blu-ray)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Blu-ray)

The Aventage line represents Yamaha’s top-end AV receivers, with special attention lavished on everything from construction to internal components and software. The RX-A1080 might be one of the range’s junior models, but there’s nothing junior about its performance …

 

By Deon Schoeman

Another year, and another generation of AV receivers. No other AV product category undergoes as many regular updates and upgrades – and Yamaha’s home theatre receivers are no exception.

Yamaha produces two main AV receiver lines – the mainstream RX-V range, and the fancier (and more expensive) Aventage RX-A family. Both have recently been updated, with the Aventage range only just having become available locally.

There are four Aventage models, with the RX-A880 being the most affordable, and the RX-A3080 occupying the flagship spot.

The RX-A1080 slots in just above the most junior RX-A880 model, but there’s nothing entry-level about this all-new receiver: it has all the bells and whistles that matter, plus some you didn’t even know you needed.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s compatible with most of the important home theatre technologies, including all the latest surround sound and 3D formats, 4K video, and HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2, Hybrid-Log Gamma and Dolby Vision.

It also offers wired and wireless network connectivity, multiroom operation via Yamaha’s MusicCast ecosystem, while it can connect to leading music streaming services, as well as accessing a large database of on-line radio stations, and streaming music files from NAS devices.

There’s even a selection of digital sound-processed sound fields simulating actual venues, together with a surround sound enhancement system Yamaha calls Surround AI.

To ensure that access to this rich feature set is intuitive, the Yamaha not only comes with a sleek and solid remote control handset with backlighting, but can also be controlled via a smart device app.

Let’s take a closer look – and listen.

AT FACE VALUE

The RX-A1080 is a smartly styled AV receiver that looks deceptively uncomplicated and elegant in aesthetic terms. The smooth, all-black finish has become an Aventage hallmark, while the all-metal casing looks and feels robust. It rests on five vibration-absorbing feet.

A large, clear alphanumeric display dominates the top third of the fascia, with a power on/standby button on the left, and a Pure Direct switch on the right.

The lower part of the fascia is home to a pair of large rotary controllers offering input selection and volume control. They frame a hinged, fold-down flap that conceals a fairly comprehensive switchgear array, as well as a USB Type A input, and a line-level RCA stereo input set.

The rear panel offers the usual dense clutter of inputs and outputs, speaker binding posts, network sockets and more, with HDMI being the dominating interface – there are no less than seven HDMI inputs, and a trio of HDMI outputs.

However, the Aventage also makes provision for composite and component video, while both analogue and digital audio are catered for, too. Interestingly the analogue audio input complement includes an MM phono input – testimony to the resurrection of vinyl.

The remote control handset is worth a special mention. It’s a big step up from the usual plasticky designs, with a reassuringly solid feel.

The recessed buttons are located below a soft-touch, rubber-like surface, but still operate with positive precision. And backlighting is automatic, triggered by the lighting conditions and movement of the handset.

UNDER THE COVERS

Being a member of the Aventage family means the RX-A1080 received special attention with regards to its internal circuitry and circuit components. According to Yamaha, it benefits from a beefy power amp section featuring damping heat sinks, custom power transformers, high-performance DSP chips and premium-grade DACs.

On the subject of the latter, the RX-A1080 uses the ESS Sabre ES9007S audio DAC, which offers both high-res PCM and DSD conversion, features both an extended signal-to-noise ratio and up to 120 dB of dynamic range.

It handles a vast array of lossless and lossy music file formats, including WAV, FLAC and AIFF files at up to 384 kHz, and WMA, MP3 and MP4-AAC at up to 48 kHz and a bitrate of up to 320 kbs. DSD compatibility extends to 2,8, 5,6 and 11,2 MHz.

Also of note is an uprated room measurement and calibration system. Yamaha’s proprietary YPAO-RSC uses a supplied microphone, in conjunction with test tones, to measure room acoustics and speaker characteristic, and then calibrates various audio parameters for optimised performance.

The system can either be used to measure a single point, or up to eight different positions, after which it calculates level and delay settings, while also applying EQ adjustments. RSC (reflected sound control) is meant to correct early reflections for optimum sound.

The Aventage’s enclosure features a rigid, reinforced construction, including an H-shaped internal cross member, designed to address enclosure resonance. There’s also a central, fifth foot to further aid stability and combat both internal and external vibration.

SETTING UP

Getting the Yamaha up and running was a relatively quick and painless affair. The rear panel layout makes for clear, unequivocal connections, while the Yamaha also identified and linked up to the listening room network via wired Ethernet without a hitch.

A Wi-Fi Connection was as easily established, but I stuck with Ethernet, which remains inherently more stable, especially when streaming large files.

I’ve always considered the YPAO auto-calibration system one of the more effective and user-friendly systems, and this latest iteration further ups the ante by offering either single or multipoint measurements.

The on-screen directions are easy to follow, and the process is completed with minimum fuss. The results were pretty impressive in terms of accuracy, too and I found little need to tweak any of the crossover or level settings.

The Yamaha graphical user interface has also been further improved, and offers an intuitive gateway to a multitude of settings, including renaming inputs, determining auto-off settings and the like.

Once up and running, the Yamaha recognised the availability of a firmware update, and proceeded to download and install the update – a process which took less than 15 minutes to complete.

All in all, the RX-A1080 was unpacked, connected, set up, updated and ready to rock ’n roll in less than an hour.

IN THE THEATRE

I kicked off the first of several review sessions with the Yamaha by dusting off a Blu-ray copy of <White House Down>, which has a pleasing mix of hard-hitting action, loads of impressive effects, and more than enough atmospherics and dialogue to present any AVR with a decent challenge.

The RX-A1080 certainly rose to the occasion as far as delivering a large, all-embracing and believable surround sound picture was concerned, endowing explosions and gunfire with almost gut-wrenching intensity, and closely tracking the action in directional terms.

At the same time, dialogue was treated with clarity and deference, always ensuring that voices and conversations could be unequivocally understood, even when juxtaposed against an effects-rich backdrop.

One of the highlights of the movie in this regard is the sequence where the Blackhawk attack helicopters are engaged by the terrorists at the White House, while Secret Service agent John Cale (Tatum Channing) and terrorist leader Stenz (Jason Clark) are engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

The action is frenetic, but the soundtrack always remains on point, accurately reflecting the on-screen action, while adding to an overriding sense of realism by resolving fine details with a sense of spatial and directional precision.

Moving on to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the scene where the First Order forces invade the Republican stronghold confirmed the ability of the Yamaha to create a compelling and engaging surround sound experience.

The battle effects were vividly and believably executed, filling the theatre room with sound and creating an impactful and immersive soundspace. Be it the sound of fighters soaring from front to back, canon fire rattling from above or explosions emanating from below and ahead, the Yamaha created a real sense of involvement and believability.

Eric Clapton’s 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival remains a riveting watch, and one is really spoilt for choice. For me, one of the highlights is Vince Gill, Albert Lee and Keith Urban performing the Rolling Stones classic ‘Tumbling Dice’ – and the Yamaha did the DTS-HD MA surround sound track full justice.

It recreated the on-stage action, as well as the ambience of the venue, to thrilling effect: the interplay between the three guitarists was believably rendered, while the AVR always remained mindful of the importance of dimensional accuracy.

The individual instruments of guitar aces were afforded plenty of space and prominence, but the soundtrack also allowed the contributions of the backing musicians to come to the fore, adding to an enjoyable sense of being there.

The RX-A1080 features an AI Surround mode, which is meant to intelligently consider the surround material being decoded, and then enhance key elements – almost like on-the-fly optimisation.

The result was more impressive when compared to straightforward Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA, with broadened dynamics and a stronger tonal flavour. I found the original more realistic during extended auditions, but I’m sure many Aventage owners will prefer the sound, and leave AI Surround engaged by default.

SOUNDS LIKE …

As the Yamaha offers several embedded streaming services and Internet radio, while also accommodating a wide variety of music file formats, it stands to reason that owners will want to use this receiver not only from a multichannel movie surround point of view, but conceivably also as a stereo amp.

Drawing from the music library on our Synology and Lumin L1 music servers, I auditioned the Yamaha in a 2.1 stereo role, using the Atlantic Technology satellites and subs.

The RX-A1080 offers a Pure Direct mode, but as this bypasses all processing, it also cuts out the subwoofer. That’s fine if your front left and right speakers are full-range designs, but not with limited-bandwidth satellites.

Still, running in 2.1 stereo mode, the immaculately recorded <Hell Freezes Over> by The Eagles sounded crisp and vital, with unequivocal imaging and generous staging. The subwoofer’s contribution was seamlessly incorporated in a satisfyingly linear tonal range, and the overall performance was delivered with polish confidence.

Arabella Steinbacher’s rendition of Mozart’s <Violin Concert No.3>, together with the Festival Strings Lucerne has a lightness of touch and an inherent agility that makes for delightful listening. The Yamaha accurately reflected those characteristics, dutifully spotlighting Steinbacher’s violin, but also doing full justice to the accompanying orchestra.

Dialling into the excellent Swiss Radio Jazz from the Yamaha’s exhaustive catalogue of Internet radio stations further underlined the receiver’s liquid, accessible musicality. It approached the station’s primarily mainstream programming with incisive assurance, effortlessly creating an engaging stage, and paying close and careful attention to finer details and nuances.

Elbow’s ‘K2’ on high-res Radio Paradise sounded even better: loads of energy, a broad tonal spread with powerful bass treatment and clear, layered imaging. The soundstage seemed unencumbered by the position of the speakers, allowing the Yamaha to paint a mesmerising soundscape.

Out of interest, I swapped 2.1 stereo mode for DTS Neo6: Music, and liked the results: the sound image remained front-focussed, but steering some of the music to the surrounds created a more immersive effect. Purists may find it too contrived, but the overall result was musically enjoyable enough.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The RX-A1080 deserves its premium billing, living up to expectations with a sound that’s clean and polished, together with a penchant for accuracy and detail. Surround steering is a specific highlight, as is the ability of the AV receiver to mould the various cinema effects and elements into a cohesive and involving whole.

While movie soundtracks remain its strongest suit, the Yamaha’s appeal also lies in its versatility. It deftly fulfils a stereo music role (including the ability to accommodate a turntable) while offering easy access to leading streaming services.

It certainly stands its ground in music reproduction terms, further aided by being able to render a wide range of lossless and lossy music files.

And then there’s the multiroom angle: for those with several MusicCast devices on a central network, the Yamaha really becomes a hub for content that can be seamlessly spread around the house.

Add niceties such as Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2 (itself now multiroom-capable) and voice control compatibility via Google’s Alexa, and the Yamaha RX-A1080 vindicates its acquisition with an extensive list of talents that ensures good value, too.

 

VITAL STATS

Channels: 7.2
Power output: 110 watts/channel (8 ohms, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 0,06% THD)
Surround sound formats: Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and below
3D surround sound formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Audio DAC: ESS Sabre 9007S
Frequency response: 10 Hz – 100 kHz (+0, -3 dB)
Signal-to-noise ratio: >110 dB
HDMI inputs/outputs: 7/3
Analogue video inputs: 2x component, 3x composite
AV inputs: 4
Audio inputs: 1x RCA MM phono, 3x RCA line-level stereo
Audio outputs: 1x 7.2 pre-out. 1x stereo RCA Zone 2 out, 1x stereo Aux (front panel) 1x stereo headphone jack (front panel)
Digital inputs: 3x RCA coaxial, 3x Toslink optical, 1x USB Type A (front panel)
Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay2, MusicCast
Dimensions (WxDxH): 435 x 439 x 259 mm
Weight: 14.9 kg
PRICE
R30 880
SUPPLIED BY
Balanced Audio

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver
Oppo BDP-95EU universal player
Atlantic Technologies 7.1 surround speaker system
Optoma HD80 DLP projector
Synology DS-214se NAS

SOFTWARE
White House Down (Blu-ray)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Blu-ray)
Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013 (Rhino Blu-Ray)
The Eagles – Hell Freezes Over (Universal WAV)
Mozart – <Violin Concert No.3>- Arabella Steinbacher/Festival Strings Lucerne (Pentatone DSD)

The evolution of home theatre receivers never seems to let up. If anything it’s accelerating as AVR makers squeeze in more and more features. The latest Marantz AV receiver is a good case in point

By Deon Schoeman

Things happen quickly on the home theatre front. It wasn’t that long ago that we replaced our ageing Marantz SR6005 AV receiver with a shiny new SR6011. And here we are, just 18 months later, reviewing the replacement of the replacement of the SR6011.

The SR6013 takes over from the SR6012, and to be frank, you need to be a Marantz connoisseur to pick up the differences. Most of the key features, facilities and performance stats are identical.

In fact, it’s possibly easier to think of the SR6013 as a tweaked and further improved SR6012, rather than a completely new model.

In a nutshell, the key highlights of the SR6013 include multiroom-capable Apple AirPlay2 compatibility, while its HEOS multiroom talents have been extended to include voice control in conjunction with Amazon’s Alexa voice control protocol.

There are extended capabilities on the 3D surround front too, with the SR6013 offering Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS:Neural-X and DTS Virtual:X. Although it’s a 9.2 AV receiver (nine internal power amps, and two independently controllable subwoofer channels), the Marantz has 11.2 processing capability.

Less obvious are some tweaks to the internals, including improved circuit components, and the implementation of Marantz’s latest HDAM (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module) technology. The receiver still employs current feedback-based amplification.

AT FACE VALUE

As already mentioned, the styling of the SR6013 is identical to its predecessor and features what has become Marantz’s trademark ‘porthole’ display, together with big rotary controllers on either side, and a hinged cover that folds down to reveal a bank of switchgear.

Most users will prefer using the remote control handset, however – or the Marantz AVR Remote app for iOS and Android smart devices, which is even more intuitive, and easier to use in dimly lit rooms (the remote doesn’t offer any backlighting).

In fact, you’ll need to make use of two apps to fully utilise the SR6013’s talents: there’s also the HEOS app, which allows access to the receiver’s extensive array of streaming and multiroom capabilities, and works in conjunction with the Marantz AVR app.

The receiver’s casework is a reassuringly solid, all-metal affair, while the faceplate’s curved cheeks and recessed centre section add visual interest.

Not surprisingly, the rear panel is crammed with a variety of inputs, outputs, connections, aerials and speaker binding posts. To Marantz’s credit, the layout is pretty logical, with colour-coding for the speaker binding posts, while the various inputs and outputs are neatly and (and functionally) grouped together.

UNDER THE COVERS

Without resorting to a long-winded description, the Marantz caters for almost every AV-related connection out there. HDMI remains the interface of choice, with eight HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs, as well as full HDCP 2.2 support and eARC audio return, allowing 3D audio playback from smart TV-based applications.

Of course, there are also options for conventional composite and component video connections, and the SR6013 makes provision for both analogue and digital audio, including a MM-compatible phono stage.

The Marantz is fully network capable via either wired Ethernet or 802.11 Wi-Fi, and also offers Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay2. Network access allows the SR6013 to find and play back audio files from UPnP-compatible network-attached storage devices.

It also opens the door to a host of streaming services, including Deezer, Spotify Connect, TuneIn internet radio and Tidal. All streaming functionality is controlled via the HEOS app.

The HEOS ecosystem delivers multiroom capability to other HEOS-compatible devices. You can also opt for more conventional wired multizone functionality via RCA, HDMI or by assigning spare channels to a second zone.

On the video front, the SR6013 offers full 4K/60 Hz video pass-through with 4:4:4 colour resoution and full-rate 4K upscaling, together with analogue to HDMI conversion. The receiver is also compatible with Dolby Vision, High Dynamic Range, Hybrid Log Gamma and BT.2020.

The SR6013 offers 11.2 processing but provides nine discrete power amplifiers, each rated at 110 watts/channel. Improved circuit components and the latest HDAM op amp modules are said to have achieved improvements in performance and sound quality.

All-important digital-to-analogue conversion is via AKM AK4458 DACs, while a Cirrus quad-core 32-bit DSP chip looks after digital signal processing.

For a full run-down of features, you can download the Marantz SR6013 product information sheet here.

SETTING UP

For the review, the SR6013 was linked up to the Atlantic Technology surround sound speaker system in the AVSA listening room, and allowed to burn in for the first 100 hours or so before final set-up.

Our trusty Oppo BDP95EU universal deck provided the source signal, while the Marantz also had access to a UPnP music library stored on the network’s Synology NAS. As usual, our Optoma HD80 projector was in charge of visuals.

Network connectivity was via wired Ethernet, although linking up the Marantz to wi-fi was equally painless and appeared to be as stable. As soon as a network link was established, the SR6013 downloaded and installed a firmware update.

The SR6013 uses the latest Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room set-up and calibration software in conjunction with a supplied microphone and an eight-point measuring regimen, which takes about 25 minutes to complete.

The results were impressive and required very little in the way of post-measurement tweaking: the system uses a test signal to measure room characteristics and then sets up the AVR’s key parameters accordingly. I found almost all the settings to be spot on, with just the back surrounds needing a little extra toning down.

IN THE THEATRE

Starting off with The Avengers: Age of Ultron on Blu-ray, the Marantz easily tracked the often complex and intricate effects as Ultron and Ironman confront each other at the tanker graveyard.

Explosions were delivered with an almost tactile sense of force and power, and the amp tracked directional sounds with realistic precision, creating a three-dimensional soundspace that perfectly qualified the on-screen action.

Later, when Ultron attempts to escape in a pantechnicon, the street scenes with Black Widow (Charlotte Johannson) chasing the truck on a motorcycle showed off the same talent for precision as the big truck careens through inner city while Captain America (Steve Rogers) engages Ultron.

Excellent vocal projection throughout ensured that the frenetic action was never allowed to overshadow the dialogue between the characters, while the realism of the effects in both directional and impact terms highlighted just how vital the soundtrack is to overall movie enjoyment.

I know it’s an old, has-been movie by now, but I still rate Live Free Or Die Hard as one of the best action movie workouts for an AVR. There are just so many excellent action scenes, and most are both aurally challenging and visually arresting.

One of my favourite scenes is the mayhem that ensues when John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his hacker charge Farrell (Justin Long) are chased into a traffic tunnel by a machine gun-toting terrorist helicopter.

When the terrorists divert all the traffic into the tunnel from both sides, there’s utter chaos as cars crash into each other and fly through the air. The scene’s climax is when the chopper is struck by MClaine’s airborne patrol car.

The effects are almost visceral in their forcefulness – and the Marantz did well to make the most of them, immersing the viewer in a precisely steered force field of sound that left me out of breath, while endowing the on-screen action with real impact and realism.

There’s more to the SR6013 than crash-bang effects, however. Music playback is a traditional strength of Marantz AV receivers, and the review unit didn’t disappoint in that regard either.

Tasked with recreating the magic of Leonard Cohen’s live sets in various cities around the world immortalised on Songs From The Road, the receiver made the most of the engaging
5.1 TrueHD soundtrack, accurately placing the musicians on the stage and filling the room with captivating music.

The Marantz never had to resort to any hyperbole or exaggeration, but managed to make the music come alive. It displayed a penchant for attention to fine detail, but always carefully and accurately contextualised those details to augment an overriding sense of sonic realism.

I felt as if I was right there, in the concert hall, experiencing not only the music, but the ambience of the venue and the atmosphere of the occasion.

Surprisingly, the Marantz treated the 2.1 stereo soundtrack with equal respect and realism: it couldn’t quite match the 5.1 soundtrack for ambient realism, but still managed to create a strong sense of three-dimensional imaging, broad staging and rich tonality. If anything, the stereo focus added to the impact and focus of the music.

Staying with the music theme, I swapped Cohen for Eric Clapton’s marvellous Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 set. Here, the surround mix was more focussed on the on-stage action, while paying less attention to ambient information.

That said, the resulting sound lacked nothing in terms of realism and managed to closely examine each element of the often crowded stage with clarity and admirable balance.

Clapton and friends’ rendition of the classic, reggae-infused ‘I Shot The Sherif’ was a good case in point: the mix exposed each element of a full but perfectly captured performance.

Steve Gadd’s drum kit was spread wide, while the backing singers remained in superb supportive harmony with Clapton’s unassuming vocals throughout. The keyboards and bass found a delicate balance with Clapton’s articulate solo guitar riffs, too.

The Marantz’s music talents extended to its treatment of CD-quality music from streaming service Tidal, delivering a rich and convincing performance. Access speeds and signal stability our 20MB ADSL line were impressive – and that also went for Deezer and Spotify Connect.

The Marantz easily recognised the Synology NAS on the network, and navigating the content in folder view was a cinch, too. The list of compatible file formats is fairly extensive, and includes MP3, WMA and AAC, as well as WAV, FLAC, ALAC and DSD (up to DSD128).

Interestingly, it couldn’t play back some AIFF-encoded material on the server, though.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It never ceases to amaze me just how much functionality AV receiver makers are able to squeeze into a single chassis. Bar making a decent cup of espresso, there’s almost nothing the Marantz SR6013 can’t do.

Access to its multitude of features is intuitive, thanks to the excellent Marantz AVR app, which is definitely preferable to the remote control handset. And while I thought that having to deal with a second, HEOS app for streaming, the reality isn’t nearly as laborious as expected.

Set-up is simple too, aided by automated room calibration and an on-screen start-up guide. And while I wasn’t able to check out its 4K video features, picture quality in plain old 1080p HD was superb.

But most of all, the Marantz sounds great, regardless of source material. It’s an immersive surround sound performer, delivering its multichannel wares with oodles of energy and precision. And it really comes alive with music, both in surround and stereo.

HEOS-multiroom with Alexa voice control, and AirPlay 2, as well as easy Bluetooth connectivity and user-friendly streaming are the cherries on top of a very impressive AVR cake.

VITAL STATS

Channels: 9.2
Power output: 9x 110 watts (8 ohms, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 0,05% THD)
Surround sound formats: Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and legacy formats
3D sound formats: Dolby Atmos, Auro 3D, DTS:X, DTS Neural:X
DSP: Quad-core, 32-bit
Audio DAC: AKM AK4458 32-bit
Signal-to-noise ratio: 102 dB
HDMI inputs/outputs: 8/3
AV inputs: 4x composite, 2x component
AV outputs: 1x composite, 1x component
Analogue audio inputs: 6x line-level, 1x phono
Digital inputs: 2x coaxial, 2 Toslink digitalConnectivity: Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi (2,4/5 GHz), Bluetooth, AirPlay 2
Dimensions (WxDxH): 440 x 391 x 161 mm
Weight: 12,8 kg
PRICE
R29 990
SUPPLIED BY
HFX Systems

 

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver
Oppo BDP-95EU universal player
Atlantic Technologies 7.1 surround speaker system
Optoma HD80 DLP projector
Synology DS-214se NAS

 

SOFTWARE
The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (Blu-ray)
Live Free Or Die Hard (Blu-ray)
Leonard Cohen – Songs From The Road (Blu-ray)
Various – Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 (Blu-ray)

Soundbars come in a variety of flavours. Yamaha’s top-flight digital sound projectors deliver baffling 3D sound thanks to advanced DSP and multi-driver arrays – at a price. The new YAS-207 is a lot simpler, but still manages surprisingly effective sonics

Yamaha’s latest soundbar is not a sound projector like some of its more expensive and complex models, but a more conventional, slimline soundbar with a left/right speaker array in a slim enclosure that fits underneath shelf/stand-mounted TVs or on the wall.

It’s aimed at those consumers who want to upgrade from the often lacklustre sound provided by a TV set’s integrated sound, but don’t have the space (or the budget) to opt for a separate AV receiver-based, multi-speaker sound system.

Budget is also the reason why the Yamaha YAS-207 is not a digital sound projector (as the company calls its more sophisticated soundbar offerings) but a more conventional soundbar with fewer drive units and more limited digital signal processing (DSP) capabilities.

Slimline soundbar slots in easily under TV screen

AT FACE VALUE

It’s a very slim and compact device that’s attractively styled in a minimalist, unobtrusive kind of way, and can either be tucked in underneath a stand-mounted flatscreen TV, or hung below a wall-mounted TV.

The front is adorned by a bank of flush, touch-sensitive controls (for power on/off, volume up/down, mute and source selection) that are almost invisible unless you’re up close. They’re flanked by a row of nine indicator lights to confirm operation mode and function selections.

The array of inputs and outputs is limited, but in line with the Yamaha’s focus on simplicity and ease of use. Thus, you get an HDMI input partnered by an HDMI output (with Audio Return Control), as well as a 3,5mm stereo input jack for an analogue source, and a Toslink digital input.

The soundbar comes with a slim, upright wireless subwoofer that’s easily tucked away out of sight, but needs to be located within 10m of the soundbar, as it links to the soundbar using Bluetooth. That 10m is line of sight, and may need to be closer, depending on location.

Talking of Bluetooth, the soundbar can accept streamed content from paired Bluetooth devices, which means that you can link a smartphone or tablet to the Yamaha via Bluetooth, and then stream stored content from the device (or from streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, Tidal etc) to the bar.

The YAS-207 can also be wall-mounted – and may sound better there, too

UNDER THE COVERS

The Yamaha’s driver array is hidden behind a non-removable black cloth grille, and comprises a 25 mm dome tweeter and a pair of 46 mm midrange cone drivers per side, for a total of six speakers. They are powered by a two-channel power amp rated at 50 watts/channel.

The active subwoofer is powered by its own 100 watt power amp, which drives the 160 mm woofer.

Control of the soundbar is either via the supplied, basic remote control, or a Yamaha Home Theatre app (available as a free download for iOS and Android). The latter requires the smart device to be linked to the soundbar via Bluetooth, as the Yamaha offers no network connectivity.

There’s also no room calibration feature – instead, you can adjust the subwoofer level, and choose a setting to extend bass response, and another dubbed Clear Voice that benefits dialogue by enhancing the equalisation of the upper mids and trebles.

Yamaha has equipped the YAS-207 with a host of DSP-generated surround sound modes for various programme types, ranging from Sport and Music to Movies, TV, Stereo and Game. There’s also a 3D surround mode that enhances dimensionality, and even mimics Atmos-like height effects.

One missing feature was the ability to run incoming surround material in ‘Straight’ mode, i.e. without any additional DSP trickery. In practice, it seemed as if the ‘Stereo’ setting delivered a pretty much unadorned, downmixed 2.1 (stereo plus sub) performance.

Controls and indicator lights are unobtrusive

SETTING UP

Setup was quick and easy, although the sub took quite a while to pair with the soundbar. That aside, installation was as easy as plugging in the HDMI cable from our Oppo Blu-ray deck into the HDMI input of the Yamaha, and plugging the HDMI cable to the Optoma projector into the HDMI output socket. Powering up the bar brought up the indicator lights.

The proprietary Yamaha control app works a treat, and makes use and control of the soundbar a simple affair. It allows switching between four sources – HDMI, Bluetooth, Toslink (digital) and the analogue input.

HDMI will be the interface of choice for most end users, who will hook up the soundbar to the TV via the HDMI output, and link a Blu-Ray deck or universal player to the bar via the HDMI input.

If the TV is ARC compatible, the soundbar will play back the audio from the TV and devices linked directly to it. If it’s not ARC compatible, the digital input still allows audio to be sent to the soundbar from the TV, with HDMI used for video only.

The HDMI input can be used for a Blu-ray player, a media player or a satellite decoder. The analogue stereo jackplug is useful to hook up older TVs lacking a digital output, or ancillaries such as a game console.

Inputs are limited, in line with the soundbar’s ease-of-use approach

SOUNDS LIKE …

The soundbar easily exceeded my expectations. In our symmetrical listening room, the illusion of multi-speaker surround was impressively persuasive for such a slim, compact soundbar without the complex driver array or steering software of Yamaha’s sound projector models.

Staging was expansive and believably dimensional, although height representation could have been better, suggesting that the bar may perform best when wall-mounted a little higher than ear level. In 3D mode, height representation and sonic steering improved markedly, but could be accused of being a little gimmicky.

Tonally, the bar and the subwoofer integrated very well. The bass sounded too boomy when positioned too close to walls, and I found it operated best when located in a more freestanding position.

I never needed the bass boost function, and preferred dialling in a bit of extra sub level via the app, when required. However, those with an appetite for bass may well prefer locating the sub closer to a wall for extra bottom-end performance.

I found the Movie setting to be the best for all programme material, including live sport. The  exception was music-only stereo material, which not surprisingly sounded best in Stereo mode.

Bluetooth connectivity allowed streaming from my smartphone, with equally good results. Streaming from my iPhone 5S, Radio Paradise sounded impressively lucid and expansive via the Radio Paradise high-res app, as did music stored on the phone.

Overall tonal spread and integration was wholesome, with the subwoofer offering decent oomph and punch for such a compact design. Indeed, the soundbar/sub combo always over-delivered in terms of tonal spread, attack and stage size.

Sleek minimalism and surprising performance are key YAS-207 traits

THE BOTTOM LINE

The YAS-207 is a cost-effective soundbar solution that does without many of the features offered by Yamaha’s more expensive sound projector models, but still delivers a hearty, engaging sound from a slim, user-friendly and visually pleasing package.

It might not quite deliver on the 3D sound promise, at least not without sounding a little artificial, but the overall performance is streets ahead of what any TV can deliver, with the added advantage of additional sources (including Bluetooth streaming) and the ability to tweak the sound to better suit programme material and personal preference.

DEON SCHOEMAN

PROS
Great value from a sleek, well thought out, versatile and engaging soundbar solution
CONS
No network connectivity. Not as believable as Yamaha’s (more expensive) sound projector models.

VITAL STATS

Type: 2.1 soundbar with wireless subwoofer
Supported audio formats: PCM (up to 5.1), Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS Surround 5.1
Drive units (soundbar): 4x 45 mm midrange drivers, 2x 25 mm tweeters
Drive unit (subwoofer): 160 mm woofer
Output: 50 watts x 2 (soundbar), 100 watts (subwoofer)
Frequency response
Soundbar: 180 Hz – 23 kHz; Subwoofer: 40 Hz – 180 Hz
Connectivity: Bluetooth Class 2 V4.1, A2DP and SPP
Inputs: HDMI (with ARC), 3,5 mm stereo minijack, Toslink optical digital
Output: HDMI
Soundbar dimensions (WxHxD): 930 x 60 x 108 mm
Subwoofer dimensions (WxHxD): 180 x 437 x 401 mm
Weight: 2,7 kg (soundbar); 7,9 kg (subwoofer)
PRICE: R6 990

SUPPLIED BY
Balanced Audio

TESTED WITH
Oppo BDP-95EU universal deck
Optoma HD-80 DLP projector
Marantz SR6011 AV receiver
Atlantic Technology 7.1 surround sound speaker set
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD player