(click thumbnail)Fast FactsApplications: Studio, post production
Key Features: HS50M – two-way; 5-inch woofer; 3/4-inch tweeter; EQ controls; 45W LF amp; 25W HF amp. HS10W – 8-inch woofer; 150W amp; magnetic shielding
Price: HS50M $499 per pair; HS10W $599
Contact: Yamaha at 714-522-9011, www.yamahaproaudio.com. Yamaha NS10 aficionados have been searching for a replacement for the out of production studio monitor for some years now. Judging by the mildly insane prices that some people are willing to pay on eBay (a recent pair in nice shape went for $599) there still exists healthy demand for NS10s.
On the other hand, is the venerable NS10 representative of today's consumer-level speakers in the way it was of the speakers of 20 years ago? Not in my opinion! End users' speakers have improved enormously in the intervening years, today's studio monitors need to be much more linear in response than the NS10s could ever hope to be. With that in mind, let's take a look at a 21st century Yamaha studio monitoring system.
The Yamaha HS50M is the smaller monitor in a series (with a larger model, the HS80M also available) that is designed for utilization with the HS10W subwoofer. When it comes to build quality Yamaha does not disappoint, fit and finish is excellent. Both the HS50M monitor and the HS10W subwoofer feel very solid for their compact sizes, which isn't surprising given their MDF construction and onboard amplification. Speaking of amplification, the HS50M supplies 45 watts of power to the 5-inch woofers and 25 watts of power to the 3/4-inch dome tweeters. The HS10W subwoofer's 8-inch driver is supplied with 150 watts.
Surprisingly, no distortion figures are furnished for the amplifiers, the power output is specified as "dynamic output," and the 55 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response of the HS50M monitor is only specified to within –10 dB! Inputs to the HS50M monitor are on separate balanced XLR and 1/4-inch balanced/unbalanced TRS/TS jacks. The subwoofer offers balanced XLR and balanced/unbalanced TRS/TS inputs, but provides only XLR outputs for use in passing through audio to the satellites. Both the monitors and the sub have a snazzy white LED lit Yamaha tuning fork log that lights up when they are powered up.
A continuously variable input potentiometer (with a center detent at +4 dB gain) allows for matching to a wide variety of systems, but I really wish both the speakers and the sub had a stepped attenuator. It would be comforting to know that settings (other than the one detent) were truly equal between the speakers, rather than just eyeballed. The HS50M monitor offers high-cut, mid EQ, room control, and high trim switches in order to match the speakers to their environment. Grilles are not included, but the tweeter is protected behind a mesh screen. The subwoofer offers a phase reverse switch as well as switchable (and sweepable) low-pass and high-pass filters. Both systems are magnetically shielded, made in China, and carry a one-year parts and labor warranty. The excellent manual offers useful information geared towards using the monitors for stereo, stereo with subwoofer, and 5.1 surround sound operation.
I auditioned the HS50M monitors with and without the HS10W subwoofer. The first thing that I noticed about the monitors is that they play much more loudly than you might expect given their compact size and small drivers. Tonally these Yamahas are much more extended both at the top and bottom of their frequency response than the venerable NS10s, but there is a slightly phasey quality which hinders both the imaging and the transient attack preventing instruments such as tambourines from sounding "there" in the way truly high end speakers do. It's not drastic, but it is there nonetheless.
Taken as a sub/sat system, there is a slightly ripe sound in the upper mid bass, which seems to be centered around the low C of a four string bass. I also noticed that some kick drums sounded a little bit more tubby than I remembered. There is a little bit of overhang overlaid onto some signals, and if you really push the sub, the tube that couples the port to the inside of the subwoofer tends to vibrate and add a bit of a rattle to the output. Perhaps that's its way of letting you know that you should turn things down a bit? Other than that, the HS10W sounds authoritative and ballsy especially for an inexpensive sub. I'd submit that its response is similar to a good quality consumer sub.
None of these tonal and spatial aberrations are "deal killers" but it is important to point out the differences you might expect to observe between these monitors and others of the same basic size and construction which cost far more.
Unlike some other budget monitors, the Yamahas handle high levels gracefully. I would be omitting the truth if I said that the sound didn't become a bit hard and abrasive at extremely high levels but at any sane listening levels the Yamahas are generally smooth sounding, lacking the ragged sound of lesser designs.
One of the review speakers (which evidently had already made the rounds as it was marked "C Stock" had a defect in that the XLR input was markedly attenuated compared to the TRS input. The other speaker did not share that defect, and a quick trip to the cable bin turned up a female XLR to TRS cable that I connected to the XLR-only speaker output of the subwoofer.
As with the recently reviewed Wharfedale Diamond monitors I ran some mixes (both 'in the box' using Nuendo, and through the superb Audio Developments AD146 console) whilst monitoring through the Yamaha monitors. I found that mixes translated well to systems ranging the gamut from a clock radio with a CD player to the honky Bose system in my A4 Avant (please don't get me started on Bose...) as well as a friend's Boston Acoustics home theater system.
On more revealing systems, I found the high end to be a bit crispy combined with a mid bass hole (corresponding neatly with the slightly tubby character I noted earlier). In all fairness, a little more time served with the Yamahas would probably go a long way towards producing perfectly balanced mixes.
I found the Yamaha monitors to throw a fairly well defined soundstage, wider than deep. As with other inexpensive monitors, low level detail (such as reverb tails) was harder to resolve than with higher-end models.
Without the subwoofer in use, the HS50Ms still generate enough low frequency output (other than the really low notes, of course) that one could feel confident using them to set the relative levels of bass drum and four string bass, for example.
Keep in mind that the original NS10s were never meant to be used as primary monitors, (that function was delegated to UREI 813s, Tannoy Golds, and Altec Big Reds among others) they were instead used a reality check to make sure that finished mixes would sound correctly balanced on consumers systems. One might look at them as a bridge between the professional and consumer worlds. As with the original NS10s, the new Yamaha system accurately mimics the more extended yet still somewhat colored home theater, domestic listening, and mobile systems of today. Bottom line? Yamaha has succeeded in developing a worthy heir to the NS10s.
Audio Developments AD164 console; FBB Fretless Bass; Audio-Technica 4060, Audix D6 microphones; Steinberg Nuendo 3.2.