The legendary Yamaha NS-1000M loudspeaker is an iconic design that, in many ways has almost no peers even today, 50 years on.
Yamaha’s NS-1000M is lauded by those who have heard them and loved by many thousands of owners, who, like me, appreciate their unique attributes. I own the pair of NS-1000s featured in this article, purchased locally after searching for many years. They form the basis for this review, but I’ve heard and serviced many pairs and can confirm that these are remarkably consistent, unit to unit.
Article updated January 2023!
All products are a set of compromises. Audio equipment is no different, some of it being more heavily compromised than others. That being said, the Yamaha NS-1000M contains fewer compromises than most loudspeakers. Indeed, the NS-1000M is one of the least compromised designs ever produced for the mass market.
One tell-tale is the price. In my January 1979 copy of Audio magazine, the Yamaha NS-1000s are listed as retailing for $1,450 USD. That was a heck of a lot of money for a pair of speakers back then and, adjusted for inflation, this equates to about $6,000 USD or about $10,000 AUD now. Cheap Japanese speakers, these were not!
So, what are the compromises in the NS-1000M? Well, their size limits the bass extension possible. Yamaha chose a sealed box design for tight, phase-accurate bass that gradually rolls off, but there isn’t much available sub 40Hz. What bass there is though sounds phenomenal.
Sound pressure levels are limited by sensitivity and power handling, due to the voice coil design. They play loud, trust me on that. The 50 Watt limit is conservative and Yamaha actually removed this note on the back of later production NS-1000s. I run mine at the end of a 500 Watt per-channel MOSFET amplifier. They sound sublime and never stressed, one just needs to be sensible.
In terms of cabinet design, the large front baffle reduces imaging accuracy and the sharp cabinet edges exacerbate cabinet edge diffraction effects, which can lead to harshness and lack of precision. Most of these factors can be reduced by careful placement and the use of felt anti-diffraction materials for example.
The Yamaha NS-1000M hit the market in 1974. Imagine the reaction, everything was brown when these beautiful black monoliths appeared in stores. The NS-1000M is at once timeless and space-age in appearance.
Yamaha’s flagship speaker enjoyed a huge production run, for good reason. Manufacture of the NS-1000M continued until around 1984. My pair has matching serial numbers in the 60,000 range but I’ve seen them with six-digit serial numbers, up to around 120,000 from memory, maybe 150,000.
Actually, I’ve just upgraded a 300k serial numbered pair, so there are considerably more of these out there than I even thought prior to focussing on these speakers some years ago.
The Yammies were widely reviewed at the time and widely adopted. The late, great J Gordon Holt wrote this for Stereophile, back in the day:
“The NS-1000s are like the class-A speakers in that they are almost embarrassingly revealing of the electronics feeding them. They sound best with the best tube-type electronics but excessively biting with most solid-state amplifiers. They also resemble the Infinity SS-1A in that they can become irritatingly strident if used in an acoustically bright listening room.
Perhaps they are not everyone’s cup of tea even in an average room, but they can produce some of the most golden, blatchy sound from trombones of any speakers we have heard, and it must be remembered that trombones are the instruments that give an orchestra its power and drama.”JGH
More recently, The Vintage Knob added this great page on the NS-1000M and there are loads more, all over the web.
This classic stand-mounted monitor came in two versions. The NS-1000M features a black ash veneer and weighs 31kg. A more up-market version called the NS-1000 comes in a rosewood veneer and features an even heavier 37kg per box.
The Yamaha NS-1000M sprang from Yamaha’s wish to create a premium monitor-style loudspeaker for home and studio use. The goal was a design that raised the bar in terms of neutrality and resolution.
By definition, monitors are references, used when mastering and monitoring the mix in recording studios. The goal is to make sure the mix is right and that it will sound right on really good equipment. To achieve this, the NS-1000M features several design considerations that make them extremely desirable for use in a home hi-fi system.
Yamaha had all the R&D and resources necessary to create the world’s first beryllium dome drivers, for use in the midrange and treble drivers of the NS-1000M. Why beryllium? Because it is the stiffest and lightest material available for loudspeaker dome design. Stiffness and lightness translate into higher sensitivity, faster transient response and better retrieval of fine detail.
These great dynamic attributes help create the incredible air and detail these speakers are known to produce. It is incredibly hard to manufacture and work with beryllium, but its unique properties imbue the NS-1000M with a unique sound.
Whilst vented boxes are more efficient, a well-designed sealed box will have tighter bass and a gentler 6db per octave roll-off below the resonant frequency of the bass driver and box. With room gain countering this gentle roll-off, the bass response of the NS-1000 can actually be quite impressive.
The typical in-room response is very tight and clean. A sub-woofer can very nicely augment the bottom end of the NS-1000M, with the sealed boxes of the Yammies yielding tight bass down to around 45Hz. These days, I have mine sitting on custom B&W ASW-2500 700 Watt subwoofers. They augment the bass quite nicely…!
Yamaha utilised extensive internal bracing, fillets and cabinet damping materials. They even used the offcuts from cutting out the holes for the woofers to brace the cabinet behind the critically important midrange driver. This approach yields a cabinet of almost ridiculous density. Every time I lift an NS-1000, and it’s irritatingly often, I wince at the sheer mass and density of these black monoliths. Pro-tip: bend at the knees, not the lower back with these babies!
Yamaha designed and manufactured all three NS-1000M drivers. They didn’t rely on third-party parts or designs and were able to customise these drivers to perfectly suit the NS-1000M. This rarely happens now, drivers are almost exclusively supplied by Scanspeak, SEAS, Morel, Vifa, Peerless etc.
All three drivers in the NS-1000M have large magnet assemblies, especially the midrange driver. The large magnets provide a very high magnetic flux density. This, in turn, means the drivers are quite sensitive, which means the speakers don’t need a lot of power to play loud. They do however need a fair bit of power to control them properly.
The high sensitivity and good power handling, aid the speaker’s fine detail retrieval and help reduce system distortion. The combined effect of the highly linear motors and lightweight cones and domes means that these speakers exhibit extremely low distortion across the spectrum. In fact, in a famous test conducted by HiFi News back in the day, of all the loudspeakers tested, the Yamaha NS-1000M exhibited the lowest overall measured distortion.
Yamaha engineers understood the importance of the NS1000M crossover network and they designed it with few compromises. Crossovers sit directly on the rear terminal block. They feature large iron-cored inductors that are unlikely to saturate and non-polar paper-in-oil capacitors feeding the midrange driver.
Slopes are all second-order, which minimises group delay and phase inconsistencies. The midrange and tweeter are wired out of phase, relative to one another. This improves the dispersion and reduces cancellation effects near the cross-over point. The series high-pass electrolytic capacitor feeding the tweeter and the large electrolytic capacitors in the bass network are less than ideal. More on these shortly.
One thing that might not look particularly aesthetically pleasing, but which usually preserves the condition of those amazing drivers in the NS-1000Ms are the driver guards protecting each driver. The delicate beryllium domes of the midrange and tweeter are rarely damaged because of this excellent driver protection.
Contrast this with the NS-1200 for example, featuring very similar, but unprotected drivers, almost always horribly dented and damaged.
Properly set up and tweaked, the NS-1000s sound amazing. They are airy, clean, smooth, tight, and wide open. Really good systems benefit enormously from the insight afforded by a pair of these speakers and, even without modification, these speakers sound remarkable.
The NS-1000Ms are fast, precise and have amazing off-axis performance. You’ll get a great mid and high-frequency response from all around your listening room and very little beaming. A complaint often levelled at them though is that the NS-1000Ms sound bright.
It’s true that these are brutally revealing speakers. Poor source equipment and material will sound devastatingly bad through a pair of NS-1000s. If you have a harsh-sounding CD player or bright amplifier, it will be tough going. Much of my audio setup utilises class-A amplification, and FETs and this combination certainly helps to give you a smooth starting point and takes the edge off.
Choose good recordings, played on sweet-sounding gear and these speakers will give you more of the music than you may have ever heard before. The NS-1000M certainly favours tube and MOSFET or VFET amplifiers. Wonderful synergy can be achieved, as Mr Lim of the Affordable Valve Company notes here.
NS-1000M crossovers can be improved, to great effect and, having owned my pair for many years now, I’ve developed a series of improvements for the NS-1000s.
My original improvements focussed on everything in the signal path, starting point is the series capacitor feeding the tweeter. A modern polypropylene capacitor dramatically improves things, and that’s just the start.
I also replaced the capacitor array feeding the mids. In their place, I used precision Russian military paper-in-oil capacitors as you see below. Alternatively and updated now for 2022, I use quality polypropylene capacitors. This yields a significant improvement in performance, most notably in clarity and harmonic richness.
Finally, I replace the large bipolar electrolytic capacitors in the network feeding the bass driver. Here, I’ve used gorgeous ERO vintage parts. Now I use massive polypropylene capacitors matched to very tight tolerances.
Latest Crossover Improvement
New for 2021, I’ve created a full-polypropylene capacitor crossover upgrade for the NS-1000s, using the same series of high-end Mundorf crossover capacitors B&W uses in their 801 flagship speakers.
The results are amazing, I’m blown away by the improvement in my own speakers, and the five or so sets of NS-1000s containing my most up-to-date enhancements are much loved by their new owners. One owner likes his set of improved NS-1000s more than his own pair of NS-5000s. Fancy something old being better than something new..!
The development process involved pencilling out all the numbers, taking physical measurements, ordering parts I wanted and which would fit without fouling and various mock-ups to find the best configuration, in two specific arrangements. I then built, verified and validated everything with my own speakers, before rolling out these improvements to customers.
I measured, test-fitted parts, made mock-ups and trialled the capacitor removal process you see here. Everyone benefits from this work, especially Liquid Audio’s customers, and I’ve now incorporated these latest upgrades into five customer sets of Yamaha NS-1000s, the owners of which are all very happy. I have three more sets to do over the next few months, taking me into 2023.
There are supply issues to consider too. Some of the capacitors you see above have been replaced by other types and I’ve even had to re-validate the design to make sure the new, new caps fit! My current NS-1000 enhancement and upgrade package V 3.0 incorporates various elements, all of which are optional according to budget:
- Complete set of ultra-low impedance, premium German and Japanese polypropylene film capacitors
- Point-to-point hard-wiring using solid-core copper wire
- Removal of existing capacitors (where possible)
- Speaker terminal and heavy-gauge OFC copper wiring upgrade
- Attenuator clean and service (very important)
- Marine-grade stainless steel driver fastener package where requested
- Various other tweaks
Everyone who’s heard either my own pair or their pair of upgraded NS-1000s has stated that it is a dramatic and significant improvement. Many of these customers had heard my own reference pair of NS-1000s with my version two Russian and vintage cap improvements, and even NS-5000s.
Specifically, we all report deeper, tighter bass, airer and more relaxed highs and even better midrange presence and ‘in-the-room’ realism. Everything sounds bigger, more open and more relaxed.
Here’s what one of my first full Mundorf customers had to say:
I’ve reinstalled the crossovers, they fitted perfectly, I didn’t have to alter a thing in regards to the cabinets.
I plugged them into my AS3000 to trial them and bloody hell, they sound amazing. You’ve done incredible work.
They do not scream at me anymore is a way I would describe them. Previously they were so analytical that it became fatiguing after a long listen. Now they are perfect, I will obviously let them run in like you mentioned. On my first listen though I am truly impressed.
Thank you so much for the attention to detail you clearly show in your work.Trent R
One of my longest-standing customers and owner of several pairs of Yamaha NS-1000s just had me upgrade his already previously improved pair. These came from a refurbisher in Japan and I might add that the work done was not great, but they look pretty, so there’s that.
Anyway, I ripped out the partial replacement set of Jantzen capacitors and installed my complete upgrade set, plus some anti-diffraction felts. Here’s what Tim had to say:
OK, so they are clearly better, across all frequencies. Tighter bass control and the highs sing. It’s a very different sound too.
You’re a genius, should have done this years ago!Tim C
The cabinets are incredibly solid but I highly recommend replacing the fasteners that hold the drivers onto the baffle. I use marine-grade stainless steel Allen bolts in place of the Philips-headed screws. Allen bolts allow you to torque the drivers down tightly and offer a definite cosmetic improvement.
The factory speaker terminals are flimsy and only accept small gauge wire. I replace them with gold-plated binding posts. These fit conveniently onto the existing mounting plate and look almost like they came that way from the factory.
One thing you will need to get the most out of these great transducers is a good pair of stands. Stands for the NS-1000 are not easy to find. The official Yamaha stands are called the SPS-500, check them out.
It’s almost impossible to get a pair of the original Yamaha stands because owners just aren’t selling them. Instead, I decided to design and build a pair that would be easy for the average DIY’er to manufacture. I’ve written an article documenting the build of my DIY NS-1000 speaker stands, so check that out if you are looking to perhaps build your own.
The Bottom Line
Yamaha decided to resurrect the venerable NS-1000M in the form of the stunning new NS-5000, back in 2016 or so. You can read a great review here @ HiFi Choice. Loads more details may be found here. Yamaha has released the NS-5000 in Australia, with a recommended retail price of – wait for it – $ 19,999.
In engineering per dollar terms, there’s no way Yamaha could sell the NS-1000 now for less than twenty grand a pair. I would argue that the NS-5000s have a better finish, but that the drivers aren’t as good as those found in the NS-1000s. There’s too much custom engineering, metal, wood, huge magnets and dangerous beryllium in the NS-1000s to replicate them affordably.
NS-5000s are worth every bit of their retail price and, given that the NS-1000s are as good or maybe better, depending on their state of tune, you would have to conclude that for the few thousand dollars you can pick up a pair of NS-1000s for, they are the ultimate speaker bargain.
That’s certainly what I think and I don’t have any to sell you. I regularly listen to the latest offerings in the $3,000 – $10,000 price range and my NS-1000s always come out on top.
Two customers of mine have NS-5000s and they both absolutely love them. One customer drives them with an Accuphase class-A integrated amplifier. He reckons they sound amazing and I’m sure they do!
The other customer recently sent me his NS-1000 crossovers for the full Mundorf upgrade I’m offering these days. He reckons his newly upgraded NS-1000s sound better than his new NS-5000s:
I plugged them into my AS3000 to trial them and bloody hell, they sound amazing. You’ve done incredible work. They do not scream at me anymore is a way I would describe them.
Previously they were so analytical that it became fatiguing after a long listen. Now they are perfect, I will obviously let them run in like you mentioned. On my first listen though I am truly impressed.
Thank you so much for the attention to detail you clearly show in your work.Trent R
So, if you find a pair of classic, game-changing Yamaha NS-1000M studio monitors in good condition, with undamaged drivers and matching serial numbers, grab them. Nothing for sensible money comes close. Seriously. Nothing.
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Yamaha NS-1000M Loudspeakers$1500 - 3000AUD
- Superb build-quality
- Remarkable midrange driver and performance
- Tight, punchy, natural bass
- Airy treble
- A high-resolution accoustic lens
- Brutalist aesthetics
- Lacking really deep bass
- Brutally revealing of ordinary hi-fi gear
- Likewise, for bad recordings