Yamaha CX-A5100 Processor Review
By Chris Heinonen on
After a period of massive changes, it looks like things will slow down a bit on the AV receiver and preamp front. In the past two years we’ve seen Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, HDMI 2.0a with HDR and Wide Color Gamut become available. These new standards, along with a push to better implement wireless audio streaming, have caused many people to have outdated receivers and processors. Like myself, many of them have been waiting for these standards to be final before upgrading so as to not be left behind. The Yamaha CX-A5100 updates the CX-A5000 that I have previously reviewed and is set for 2015 and beyond.
Adding DTS:X support along with WiFi and HDMI 2.0a makes it as future-proof as almost any processor can be today. By using the ESS Sabre 9016 DAC, it offers better performance than competitors using less advanced DACs and room correction that sounds much improved over prior versions. The $2,500 preamp market is more competitive than ever before but the Yamaha CX-A5100 makes a solid claim for your dollars here.
The Yamaha CX-A5100 has everything you expect in a modern processor today. Seven HDMI inputs on the rear support full bandwidth HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 copy protection. A future firmware update will provide support for HDMI 2.0a and enable High Dynamic Range compatibility. This means all current UltraHD standards, along with future wide color gamut and high dynamic range content will be fully supported.
To match audio with the video support, Dolby Atmos support is present and DTS:X support is coming. The CX-A5100 can support a 7.1.4 channel configuration with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. All of these channels utilize ESS SABRE 9016 DACs which is one of the best DACs currently used in any processor. Both balanced and unbalanced outputs are available for your amplifier, and a pair of balanced XLR inputs for an analog component.
Of course lots of our music isn’t connected with a physical connector anymore and the CX-A5100 has adapted to this. Ethernet and WiFi let the CX-A5100 connect to your local network for streaming audio. Integrated Bluetooth makes it easy to stream music from your friends or other devices that aren’t connected to your network. Spotify Connect, Pandora, Rhapsody and DLNA support make streaming music from services or local network shares as easy as it is to play back a CD. AirPlay also gives you lossless streaming from Apple devices on your network.
Setup and YPAO
One area where Yamaha could improve is in the setup of the CX-A5100. There is a setup app you can use to make it easier, but the on-screen setup is falling behind Denon and Marantz. Those have a guided setup routine to walk you through all the connections for speakers, then onto calibration and naming of inputs. Yamaha is a bit more old-school here. It isn’t hard to setup, but it isn’t as easy as it could be.
The version of YPAO, Yamaha’s room correction technology, included with the CX-A5100 lets you make multiple measurements like Audyssey as well as height and angle measurements. An included mic stand has four mic positions: three arranged like a triangle and the final a few inches higher than those. Taking all of these measurements help the Yamaha correct for reflections off all the surfaces in the room. The slight timing difference between the four positions lets it calculate how to time the signals to correct for first order reflections. It also helps to get the timing just right for Atmos and DTS:X sounds that will reflect off the ceiling.
My main complaint with YPAO is that it does not do this 3D measurement by default. You have to enable it in the settings and many people might never do so. It also makes it harder to determine how to correctly setup your Atmos speakers and which configuration to choose. Almost all of this can be solved with a better setup routine, and you can still set it up correctly. It just takes a bit more work to do so than some other preamps.
To me there are two main features you want in a processor today: you need high-end DACs to get the best audio quality from digital sources, and you want to pair that with room correction that works well. No one I know listens in a perfect room that is large enough to remove all sound issues and so well constructed as to remove a sonic signature. Good room correction should help correct for the room without removing the signature sound of the speakers or reducing clarity.
The Yamaha CX-A5100 gets it right with the DAC selection. The ESS 9016 is almost as good as you can get in a multichannel amp today, and the best in this price range. This pulls out all of the detail in high-resolution recordings and does a good job in removing jitter from the signal. With my favorite SACDs and high-resolution tracks, there is that extra bit of detail in instruments compared to my other receivers and preamps.
Watching Mad Max in Dolby Atmos the Yamaha shines. The Atmos sound effects move all around me and make for a much more immersive experience. The standard 5.1 channel soundtrack was already superb but moving up to 5.1.2 adds a sense of height that puts you directly in the middle of the action. Even in this aggressive surround mix all the dialogue stays clear and anchored in the center of the screen. You don’t lose clarity of detail with the addition of Atmos, you just gain an extra level of immersion.
Turning the room correction, YPAO, on and off during Mad Max lets me hear that I like the addition of it. When I turn it off, the soundstage grows smaller. It still remains large in my room, but the width and height both shrink. I also don’t gain anything in terms of clarity by disabling it. With lesser versions of Audyssey enabling it leads to a diffuse, less-detailed soundstage to gain that room correction. YPAO avoids this flaw and just sounds overall better to my ears than leaving it disabled.
The just released live concert film of Roger Water’s The Wall includes an Atmos soundtrack that it the current pinnacle for immersive audio. The Wall is already an album where a 5.1 channel version would be ideal and the mix here is fantastic. From sounds in the recording, like a baby’s cry, being placed in the soundstage to an airplane flying overhead, you are placed in the center of the audience. Most of the effects keep you anchored in the standard 5.1 channels but when there is vertical information it comes across. The mix also pushes your speakers to their limits with high output levels and dynamics in all the channels.
Watching the original Star Wars in preparation for Episode VII, I tried using the DSP modes on its 6.1 channel soundtrack. In some battle sequences you get a slightly added amount of height, but nothing like with a true Atmos mix. At the most it is slightly more immersive, and at the worse it’s just making the mix be taller with not much benefit. I’ll probably just leave this off unless the DTS:X upgrade adds a new sound mode that offers improved performance.
Music also benefits from YPAO. Both stereo CDs and multichannel SACDs improve their soundstage with YPAO enabled and shrink when I switch to Pure Direct. I don’t notice any increase in detail with Pure Direct enabled. With streaming audio from Spotify the results are the same. A larger soundstage is something I always prefer with music and YPAO helps to deliver that here. I’m not sure if it’s more accurate than the Pure Direct mode, only that I know what my ears prefer.
The included streaming features work very well on the CX-A5100. Using Spotify on my laptop or phone I can easily set the output to the CX-A5100 and my music just plays. I previously did this with a Spotify Connect hooked up to my preamp, but doing it in the Spotify app is much easier. Getting music over from my other streaming services is easy with both Bluetooth and AirPlay built-in.
For $2,500 the Yamaha CX-A5100 offers a lot. With HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 on all HDMI inputs, along with Atmos and DTS:X support, it is well positioned for the future. The fact that these requirements have been coming for a couple years have kept many, including myself, from upgrading their preamp. Compared to the $2,200 Marantz AV7702mkII you gain an XLR input along with the better ESS DAC. Getting better DACs in a Marantz requires moving up to the $4,000 AV8802 preamp.
The $2,000 Emotiva XMC-1 processor features better analog circuitry than the Yamaha and offers Dirac room correction that bests YPAO. However it completely lacks Atmos, DTS:X, HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 making it incompatible with anything coming out in the future. The main competitor for the Yamaha is the new $3,000 Anthem AVM 60 that should ship in January. It offers Anthem Room Correction, which is possibly the best room correction out there, but lacks the ESS DACs in the Yamaha. In this case the Anthem might sound better in some rooms because of the room correction, but worse in others where the DACs are more important. I plan to test it out next year and see.
Overall the Yamaha CX-A5100 is a very well rounded preamp. It is as ready for the future as anything can be today, comes in at a price point that matches up well with everything else on the market, and sounds very good. I would have no reservations about sliding it into my AV rack to serve as my reference preamp for the next few years.
Impressive sound quality, well implemented room correction, easy streaming, DTS:X and Atmos support, HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 make it future ready
Setup could be easier, more streaming service support would be nice
The Yamaha CX-A5100 is a processor that is as ready for the future as you can be today. It offers excellent audio quality, virtually every feature you need in a processor today, and comes in at a price point that makes it extremely competitive.