Just how clever is Yamaha’s Al-enhanced AV processor? Steve Withers finds out. Read our YAMAHA CX-A5200 Review.
Yamaha has been doing multichannel surround and immersive audio longer than just about anyone. In fact, it pioneered the concept of height speakers before Dolby and DTS got in on the act. However, with nearly every AVR marque offering object audio setups with speakers all over the room, it was time for Yamaha to have a rethink. Enter its CX-A5200 processor.
POSITION: The big daddy of Yamaha’s AV lineup
PEERS: Marantz AV8805; Arcam AV860; Anthem AVM 60
This is the company’s new 11-channel Aventage series AV processor, and it boasts Yamaha’s latest feature, Surround:AI.
That’s right – surround sound with artificial intelligence. Don’t worry: this particular AI isn’t about to become self-aware and start World War III. Rather, it’s a sophisticated AI learning technology that analyses soundtracks and optimises the surround effect in real time.
AI-enhanced surround sound isn’t the only thing different on the CX-A5200 compared to the previous CX-A5100 model, although the other changes may not be immediately apparent. It’s certainly business as usual as far as the design goes, with the usual AV processor layout in a choice of black or titanium, both featuring a two-tone gloss and brushed-metal finish.
The CX-A5200 is built like the proverbial brick outhouse, with the kind of dimensions and weight that would put many an AV receiver to shame. The heft is all the more impressive when you remember there’s no amplification inside the massive chassis, and you’re left with a processor that looks and feels like a serious high-end product.
Look around the back and you’ll start to see some changes, although most of them are justified. For a start Yamaha has dropped the AM tuner, although there’s still FM and now a DAB radio as well. One of the component video inputs and all the component and composite video outputs have been ditched, but a third HDMI output for a second zone has been added.
There’s now also a second antenna for a stronger Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signal, so if you want to stream from your home network, via a Bluetooth device, or even using Apple AirPlay, you can. All the other connections remain the same as the CX-A5100, which means you get 11.2-channel pre-outs, with a choice of phono or balanced XLR connectors.
1. Wanna play? The CX-A5200 offers 34 different DSP modes
2. The processor offers backlit remote and app control
There have been changes on the inside too, with Yamaha adopting upgraded 384kHz/32-bit ESS Sabre Pro DACs, and adding a redesigned power transformer to ensure these new devices perform to their maximum potential. Hi-res audio support includes FLAC to 384kHz/24-bit and WAV/AIFF up to 384kHz/32-bit.
Along with Surround:AI, Yamaha has included the latest version of its CINEMA DSP HD3 processor, which applies algorithms to any audio feed to create a specific acoustical signature from dozens of different venues. So if you fancy recreating the sound of a Tokyo church while watching Bad Boys, Yamaha has you covered.
The rest of the features are what you’d expect to see on a range-topping AV processor. There’s support for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and, on the video side of things,
The Surround:AI processing seems to draw every tiny detail out of a soundmix and turns it up to eleven
the Yamaha can pass 4K/60p at 4:4:4, and upscale to 4K, while the seven HDMI inputs and three outputs are all 2.0b, meaning they can handle HDR including HLG and Dolby Vision.
The CX-A5200 also has Yamaha’s MusicCast multiroom system built-in, delivering a host of music streaming services including Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, and Qobuz.
It even works with Amazon Alexa for voice control, although setting this up is fiddly and using it is often frustrating.
Mind you, the CX-A5200 is hardly short of control options.
First there’s the remote which I was delighted to discover has been redesigned, with a mass of tiny buttons
HOME CINEMA CHOICE DECEMBER 2018 replaced by a more logical layout. There’s a useful backlight as well, but unfortunately the rubber keys are almost flush with the surface of the handset.
For ‘phone addicts, Yamaha’s AV Controller is easily one of the best remote apps I’ve ever used, with a well- designed and comprehensive interface that makes driving the CX-A5200 much easier. There’s also the superior MusicCast Controller for using the processor as part of a multiroom system.
At long last Yamaha has updated the menu system on its AV products, and the user interface now looks like it was developed in this century. Unfortunately, once you drill down, you realise that beneath the surface gloss it’s still the same basic platform. I’ve never found Yamaha AV products particularly intuitive to set up and that hasn’t really changed here, with the company still using some confusing terminology.
As soon as you plug in the provided setup microphone, the YPAO room correction process begins. A stand included in the box lets you take measurements from different locations, angles and heights in order to more accurately analyse the room’s acoustical properties. I’ve always found YPAO struggling to correctly handle the bass frequencies in my room, and that view hasn’t changed. Personally I prefer the laptop-based approach of Anthem Room Correction or Dirac Live, as well as their detailed graphical feedback.
Yamaha makes the MX-A5200 11-channel power amplifier to go with the CX-A5200, but unfortunately one wasn’t available for this review. Instead I used an IOTA AVXP1 seven-channel amp to drive the ear-level channels, and my Arcam P429 for four overheads.
Living on the Edge
What better way to kick things off than the beach assault repeated throughout the Blu-ray of Edge of Tomorrow.
This is easily one of the most dynamic 7.1 mixes around, with explosions emanating from seemingly everywhere and giant helicopters crashing down from above.
The CX-A5200 handled this sonic chaos with ease, placing sounds around the room with precision, and effortlessly steering effects from one speaker to another.
I had tweaked the YPAO setup myself, and as a result the bass performance was much improved, with military-grade ordinance shaking the room.
There’s a button on the remote called ‘Al’: press this and you can turn the Surround:AI feature on and off. When you do so. you’re informed via the onscreen display, and a little Al logo lights up on the front of the processor.
I’ll admit to being dubious about the Al processing at first; we seem to be getting Al with everything these days, and it’s only a matter of time before some manufacturer incorporates it into a toaster. However it really works here. The processing seems to draw every tiny detail out of the mix. taking what was already a fairly aggressive sound design and turning it up to eleven.
The effect was quite pronounced on Edge of Tomorrow, and even though this was ‘only’ a 7.1 soundtrack it suddenly felt even more immersive. The effects were defined, the explosions had more impact, and the dialogue was more focused. I’m sure that purists will criticise such on-the-fly processing as deviating from a sound mixer’s intent, but its more in-your-face nature is probably what most people want when they invest large sums of money in an AV setup.
The dynamism and expression I’d enjoyed with Edge of Tomorrow was writ large when I moved to the vehicular madness of Mad Max: Fury Road (4K BD) in Dolby Atmos. Here the CX-A5200 produced a massive soundstage that was peppered with effects. The chase through the sandstorm is the definition of immersive; the wind howls, and the sounds of revving engines – and the explosions of vehicles as they tumble through the air – are defined within the storm. And yet within all this the Yamaha delivered dialogue with perfectly intelligibility.
With the Atmos mix of A Quiet Place (4K Blu-ray). the Yamaha proved it wasn’t all about big explosions and snarling engines. The sound design here creates the impression of silence, without actually being silent, and the CX-A5200 was able to pick up all the delicate audio cues within the mix; it had the gossamer light touch of the best AV processors. Having said that, when it needs to step up a gear, it has the dynamism to make you jump out of your seat. When the monsters attack the house, the sudden shift in volume is quite terrifying, the use of the overhead channels highly effective, and the bass often seismic.
The CX-A5200 made that shift from near silence to full volume without missing a beat.
This sense of power and dynamic range also applied when I put on the 4K platter of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (DTS:X). As the Dementors search the Hogwarts Express, the CX-A5200 revealed its ability to reconcile every aspect of the sound designer’s art. There’s a crack of thunder and the patter of rain hitting a window, followed by the huge bass impact of the train lurching to a standstill. Then comes the sound of ice forming and cracking, and a deathly cold fills the air. It’s so visceral that you feel like you need a coat, and the Dementor’s scream is ear-piercing. This processor’s ability to not only marshal all the speakers at its disposal, but combine them into a realistically cohesive soundstage really impresses.
The CX-A5200 is another great example of Yamaha’s multichannel expertise. The Al embellishment feels less like a gimmick and more of a genuine feature that can enhance your enjoyment of surround soundtracks. I’m not so enamoured of all the DSP settings, which do feel like a gimmick to me. but I know they have their fans.
If you already own the CX-A5100. Surround:Al might not be a compelling reason to upgrade; the predecessor is still a cracking processor. But if you’re thinking of going the separates route and building a multichannel system, the CX-A5200 is a serious contender. It looks great and sounds even better, has a host of features and the build quality of a Rolls Royce. and a price that is highly competitive. Best of all. it can make your surround sound smarter…
Thanks to some high IQ wizardry this AV processor enhances immersive audio with a soundstage that’s as expressive and dynamic as it is enjoyable.
Best YAMAHA CX-A5200 prices ?
DOLBY ATMOS: Yes DTS:X: Yes THX: No MULTICHANNEL INPUT: Yes. 5.1 phono MULTICHANNEL PRE OUT: Yes. 11.2 phono and XLR MULTICHANNEL OUTPUT (CLAIMED): None – processor only MULTIROOM: Yes. 4 x zones, plus MusicCast AV INPUTS: 6 x digital audio (3 x optical; 3 x coaxial) HDMI: Yes. 7 x inputs; 3 outputs COMPONENT VIDEO: Yes. 2 x inputs VIDEO UPSCALING: Yes. To 4K/60p DIMENSIONS: 435(w) x 474(d) xl93(h)mm WEIGHT: 15.2kg
FEATURES: YPAO calibration; iOS and Android control apps; Surround:AI; Cinema DSP HD3; Amazon Alexa voice control; DLNA networking; Ethernet; Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; USB; AirPlay; internet radio; Spotify Connect; FM tuner; DAB tuner;
HDCP 2.2; 4K 50/60p passthrough; 4:4:4 sub-sampling; HDR10; HLG; Dolby Vision; 384kHz/32-bit DACs; Pure Direct mode; DSD, FLAC, WAV and ALAC hi-res support
YAMAHA MXA5200: Give this 11-channel processor 11 channels of power with Yamaha’s new multichannel amp, due early next year. Rated at 11 x 190W, it features balanced XLR inputs and gold-plated speaker terminals. Pricing is still TBC.
- In addition to 7-in/3-out HDMI, the processor packs plenty of legacy analogue and digital inputs
- Beneath the pull-down flap are the YPAO mic input and headphone jack