The Yamaha NS-1000M loudspeaker is proof that a big manufacturer can create a unique, inspired loudspeaker that in many ways has no peers. Let’s take a closer look.
The legendary NS-1000M monitor loudspeakers are hailed in audio circles by those who have heard them and loved by many thousands of owners. I own this pair and it’s these that I base my review on, though I’ve heard several other pairs.
All products are a mix of compromises and audio equipment is no different. Still, it’s hard to argue that the Yamaha NS-1000M holds fewer compromises than most loudspeakers. Indeed, the NS-1000M is one perhaps one of the least compromised designs ever produced for the mass market.
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.
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, blatcy 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.”
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 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 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 have 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, bass response can actually be quite impressive. The typical in-room response is very tight and clean.
Yamaha utilised extensive internal bracing and cabinet damping materials and even used the offcuts from cutting out the hole for the woofer to brace other parts of the cabinet. Why waste good wood?
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.
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 driven elements mean 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 mids and tweeters 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, wide open. Really good systems benefit enormously from the insight afforded by a pair of these speakers.
Even without modification, these speakers sound remarkable, refreshingly clean. 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 is that the NS-1000Ms sound bright. It’s true that they are brutally revealing of poor source equipment and material. If you have a harsh sounding CD player or bright amplifier, it will probably be tough going.
Much of my audio setup utilises class-A amplification and this certainly helps to give you a smooth starting point. With poor recordings, they can be brutally unforgiving. Choose good recordings though and these speakers will give you more of the music than you may have ever heard before. The NS-1000M certainly also favours tube and MOSFET or VFET amplifiers. Wonderful synergy can be achieved, as Mr Lim of the Affordable Valve Company notes here.
The crossovers can be improved, to great effect. I’ve developed and tested a series of improvement as which I install for my customers with NS-1000s. A starting point is the series capacitor feeding the tweeter. A modern MKP or MKT capacitor dramatically improves things. Bypassing capacitors with 0.1uF film caps is also good engineering practice.
I replace the capacitor array feeding the mids. In their place, I use precision Russian military paper-in-oil capacitors, bypassed with a small MKP capacitor. Alternatively, I use quality polypropylene capacitors now. This yielded a useful improvement in performance, most notably clarity and harmonic richness.
Finally, I replace the large bipolar electrolytic capacitors in the network feeding the bass driver. Here, I’ve used with gorgeous ERO vintage parts. Now I use massive polypropylene capacitors matched to very tight tolerances.
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 bare wire. I replace them with gold-plated brass 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. They are 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 here.
The Bottom Line
In engineering per dollar terms, there’s no way Yamaha could sell the NS-1000 now for less than 10 grand a pair. There’s just too much custom engineering, metal, wood and beryllium. If you find a pair, in good condition, with undamaged drivers and matching serial numbers, grab them. Nothing for sensible money comes close. Seriously.
Yamaha has in fact decided to resurrect the venerable NS-1000M in the form of this monster – the stunning new NS-5000. You can read the full story here, with loads of tasty details and an interview with the chief design engineer.
Yamaha has just released the NS-5000 in Australia, with a recommended retail price of – wait for it – $ 19,999!! Who knows how they will sound, but looking at the details, it’s hard to imagine the that NS-5000 will sound anything less than spectacular.