What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Wed, 9 Jul 2008, 8:00am

Yamaha DSP-Z11

Tested at £4900
100100
5

A staggering achievement for the company: the finest Yamaha ever, and a stern rival for kit costing much more

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For

  • Scintillating sound
  • considerable refinement
  • extensive specification
  • ease of use

Against

  • Price
  • power-amp arrangement isn'
  • t as flexible as some price rivals

Specifications alone aren't enough to decide the outcome of a test, but even so, the Yamaha's giant DSP-Z11 sports a features list so eye-wateringly extensive it's hard not to form a positive impression of it before a single button has been pressed in anger.

For starters, it can amplify a staggering 11 loudspeakers at once – one more than any amplifier we've previously tested, and at least four more than many users are ever likely to want to employ.

It's not simple one-upmanship, either: the 11-speaker concept has a pedigree, being derived from Yamaha's long-established 'presence' speaker system, where smaller, lower-powered front speakers supplement the standard main pair to provide movie-like height and scale to the sounds you hear from the front of the room, which is especially beneficial when you're watching with a larger, projected image (as many users at this price point are likely to do).

The rest of the Yamaha's specification is just as comprehensive. It includes video upscaling to 1080p quality, network support for internet radio and music streaming (although only via wired Ethernet connections) and, naturally, provision for connection to a specialist iPod dock.

It'll also accept USB audio from suitable MP3 and digital music sources, and includes provision for four zones of multiroom audio, plus a further two of video.

A staggering 33 DSP surround modes
And then, of course, there's Yamaha's famed DSP sound processing. The DSP-Z11 includes no less than 33 different DSP programmes, allowing you to listen to two-channel stereo music in an acoustic recreation of a concert hall, enjoy enhanced surround effects when gaming (it even allows you to differentiate between role-playing games and action games!) and benefit from a variety of THX post-processing options.

Naturally, all of this acoustic processing is fine-tuned by a clever, powerful and remarkably accurate calibration microphone, although a by-product of setting up 11 channels of sound (plus subs) is that it does take quite a while to do...

But the effort, and your outlay, is more than justified by the performance. This Yamaha sounds simply stupendous: as forgiving and 'listenable' as its forebears, but also as dismissively potent and nakedly aggressive as the movie soundtrack demands.

A big explosion replayed through a DSP-Z11 is direct and dramatic enough to elicit an involuntary gasp from the audience, yet never harsh or wearing, unlike the same sound played through many rivals.

Rapier-fast surround steering
Surround steering, meanwhile, is rapier-fast, each effect being placed in its proper space with unerring accuracy and unnerving speed: the result is that the confines of your listening room simply disappear. Instead, you're left wondering at the scale and sonic grandeur of the soundtrack, of the cinematic spread of the sounds emanating from each speaker.

Naturally, uncompressed PCM and lossless Dolby TrueHD audio best serves in this regard, but even 'regular' Dolby and DTS soundtracks can be especially thrilling when served up by the Yamaha, as the scintillating pulse of our Transformers DVD ably illustrates.

Music? Remarkably adept, given the complexity of this beast: engage the Pure Direct mode, which switches off any circuitry not essential to the task, and the Yamaha's stereo balance is surprising, if a little leaden of bass. Overall, it's far better than most AV amps of our experience, whether cheap or expensive.

Which brings us to the conclusion: can a Yamaha, even one as good as this, possibly be worth £5000? In a world where several high-end companies charge much more for much less capability – and we're including sound quality in that – the answer has to be 'yes'. The DSP-Z11 is awesome: it demands your attention.