Yamaha’s top of the line powered speakers rev right to the limit. Big power with 96kHz DSP processing make these flexible beasts.
Review: Mark Woods
Yamaha’s always trying to go faster or louder, no matter if it’s speakers, motorbikes or jet-skis. Sitting squarely atop its portable speaker range is the new DZR series, which aims to be the loudest, deepest and best controlled speaker in its class.
Three of the four models in the DZR range are two-way designs with newly developed 10-, 12- and 15-inch woofers with three-inch voice coils, weight saving aluminium frames and neodymium magnets. High frequencies are produced by a two-inch voice coil and neodymium magnet with a titanium diaphragm into a one-inch throat compression driver and constant directivity horn, which is rotatable for flexible installations and stage monitor applications. The biggest and baddest model, the DZR315, is a three-way design with an eight-inch mid-driver as well as the 15-inch woofer and horn.
The speakers are powered by new 2kW (peak) Class D amps specifically optimised for the DZR range with integrated DSP processing (there’s also a passive CZR series available). The DZR series is the first Yamaha portable speaker range to use 96kHz converters for higher resolution audio with low latency. Precise real-time control of amps, power supplies, drivers and output levels enables very high SPL levels without anything distorting or breaking. The specs are crazy. Pink noise @ 1m on the DRZ10 can reach 137dB, for the DRZ12 and DRZ15 that rises to 139dB, while the DRZ315 can output a blistering 143dB.
QUALITY TO THE EDGE
Top of the line cabinets need to look the goods, and the DZR range achieves this without gimmicks. Wood helps, and the edges — especially the beveled front ones — come up nicely. It’s a deliberately simple cabinet design with classic shapes and strong surfaces. The Polyurea finishing surface is not only tough and resistant to marks, it’s also pleasantly textured to the touch and sparkles in the light. The front of the cabinet is covered by a perforated matte-black cloth in front of the steel grille, giving a more discreet look than if the arrangement was reversed. No lights or words, just Yamaha’s classic three-tuning-forks logo. The comfortable recessed aluminium handles have the word ‘Yamaha’ embossed on them but it’s subtle.
They feel lighter than they look and the well-placed handles on each side make carrying them easy. Mounting and placement options include M10 rigging points, an optional U-bracket, regular and angled pole-mounts and symmetrical 50-degree floor monitor angles. The DZR10 is smaller and a different shape so it gets one side handle and one handle on the top. At less than 18kg it’s the easiest to move around but the DZR12 (21.4kg) and the DZR15 (24.5kg) are both manageable. The DZR315 is nearly 42kg so you’re going to want strong stands for those.
Taking the front cover off a DZR12 to rotate the horn for stage use gives you a good look inside the cabinet. Butterfly joints are used to give the 15mm plywood added rigidity and there’s internal bracing; but there’s more air in there than I’d expected. The drivers are designed to keep weight down and they’ve only left the essential parts, by the look of them. The amp/processing is all hidden in an anonymous grey metal box. Rotating the horn is easy enough but takes a few minutes, there are eight hex-head bolts to remove the grille, then eight star-head bolts to free the horn to rotate. I wouldn’t do it in the middle of a sound check.
The rear panel is spaciously laid out; LCD screen near the top with a rotary knob and Home button for navigation and selection. There are only two audio connections, both on combi XLR/1/4-inch sockets clearly labeled Line 1 and Line 2. Pro-users only here, there’s no Mic input or pair of RCA sockets. Thru sockets are provided next to both inputs and Line 2 can be switched to output the raw signal or the DSP signal if desired.
While not available at the time of writing, soon all DZR models including the subs will be available as extra-cost Dante-equipped versions. Dante I/O (two in/two out) enables integration with Yamaha CL/QL/TF digital consoles and other Dante devices to provide remote control of complex systems. Sample rate conversion allows it to work with 48kHz devices. Dante break-IN and break-OUT function allows analogue I/O to combine with Dante I/O for more flexibility while Yamaha’s ProVisionare software for iPad control is also Dante compatible. Simple patching with Yamaha consoles via Cat5 cable can save set up time and keeps the signal digital all the way to the speakers, avoiding an extra visit to the converters.
The DSP processing plays a large part in the sound of the DZR range. It starts with precision 96kHz converters then moves to Yamaha’s Advanced FIR-X tuning, an updated version of their FIR-X technology that provides phase-coherent EQ for the crossovers and the overall frequency response. The speakers sound tuned and ready to go but there are some useful options in the DSP.
There are controls for level, parametric EQ, delay, routing and factory presets. User presets can be stored and loaded via USB for fast setups, and internal tech info and log data can be exported for troubleshooting. The fairy-dust option is Yamaha’s D-Contour processing that combines overall EQ with multi-band compression. The FOH mode adds low frequencies for fullness, especially needed when the speakers are on stands. Monitor mode does the opposite and reduces the low frequencies that would otherwise be unnaturally boosted by reflections from the stage when used as floor monitors. Like digital mastering software, the compressor extracts every last dB out of the system by dividing the frequency spectrum into narrow bands and applying tight dynamic control to each band, forcing the frequency response to stay within limits and preventing overloads.
The subs share the 96kHz processing and have their own version of the dynamic EQ. They also produce impressive volumes with maximum SPL quoted at 136dB with LF response quoted at -10dB @ 33Hz for the DXS15-XLF and -10dB at a rumbling 30Hz for the DXS18-XLF. A dual-damping system reduces unwanted vibration at high levels and they’re driven by a modified version of the amp used in the full-range speakers. The frequency response is close to flat between 50-150Hz with the option of Boost mode that focuses on and enhances the 50-60Hz region for more punch, or Xtended LF mode that pushes the boost down closer to 40Hz for some real pants-flapping action. The drivers have an aluminium frame, ferrite magnet and a 4-inch voice coil. Finished in the same Polyurea finish and grille cloth they look good on the floor with a serious port along the bottom. Handles on either side are well balanced for convenient lifting and there are optional castors and covers available.
ONE MIC, MANY BANJOS
These speakers are fun to use and I’ve had great results. The Guildford Banjo Jamboree is a unique boutique festival I do every year and a great test gig. Three venues in three days that — apart from all the banjos — are a typical hunting ground for this sized system. These acoustic shows don’t really test the volume limits but they do demonstrate a speaker’s fidelity and stability. The first night was in the historic Music Hall, out the back of the pub. I used a pair of DZR10s with DSX15 subs. Most of the acts played around a single condenser mic, no DIs allowed. Don’t try it at home but the idea is you put up a high-quality studio mic, and turn it up as loud as you can. The hard bit is keeping it nice and stable, and not feeding back. Minimal or no foldback helps, as does a steady hand on the controls, and good linear response from the PA. The reward is the purest sound you’ll ever hear from a PA and it’s pretty good when you can clearly hear an acoustic guitar playing a couple of metres off the mic.
With D-Contour switched off, the DZR passed the volume test easily and I liked the sound quality from the first song. The high frequencies are particularly smooth and lacking the digital graininess I often notice with processed speakers. I’m crediting the 96kHz processing. The frequency response is neutral and remarkably flat between 50Hz–15kHz with just a couple of dB dip around 2-4kHz to reduce harshness. They’re crisp up high and they’ll sparkle if it’s in the source material but they’re almost mellow in overall nature, particularly at lower volumes. Not sharp, they don’t bite or bark unduly on peaks, and draw your ear to the instruments rather than the speakers. Hi-fi stuff.
MONITORING THE OUTPUT
The next day we were in a typically boomy public hall with multiple mics and wedges for foldback. It’s a boxy stage that’s always challenging for the monitors, especially with lots of condenser mics open on stage. I used a pair of DZR12s instead of my usual four speakers across the front. Again, not a loud show but I had the chance to crank them up on stage setting up and got a taste of how loud they can be; very loud and very resistant to feedback, with a good wide throw, too. It was the first year I can recall where no one on stage asked for more of anything all day. I guessed their levels and it seemed to work, which means they were hearing it clearly on stage. The same thing happened the next day for the outdoor concert, two DRZ12s covered the whole stage. Portable speakers that can be used for FOH and monitors are valuable to production companies and venues. With the D-Contour set to Monitor and the horn rotated, these make excellent wedges.
I took them to The Theatre Royal in Castlemaine for a show and to explore what happens if you try and approach the claimed possible volume levels. I don’t take manufacturers claims about maximum volumes too seriously as I’ve found the sound usually starts to distort or deteriorate somewhere before their potential maximum level. Quality before quantity please. Rather than high volume my first impression of the DZRs was how quiet they are, the hiss at idle is studio-low and there’s no fan at start up. In my control room later I could hear the fan coming on and off again but it’s quiet and gentle compared to others I’ve reviewed. It might fire up after a few hours outdoors in the hot Aussie sun.
I set up the DRZ10s and DRZ12s and listened to them as full-range boxes first. With D-Contour switched to FOH the frequency response gets a noticeable low-centred boost around 60Hz, and just a dB or so extra at 10kHz. Music playback produces instantly pleasing results with surprising depth and throw from both models on stands. At low-medium levels the response is balanced with a full bass. At increasing volumes the exaggerated low-end limits the maximum volume. Using the HPF allows significantly higher overall levels as the drivers can concentrate on the mids/highs instead of trying to make big long waves. These are very capable speakers and to get the most from them they should be used with a sub for anything above medium level.
Using the subs transforms either model into a bigger deal, and if you’re going big then the DRZ12 is a great match with the 40kg DZR/XLF15 sub, either sitting on top or raised on poles if more height is needed. I found the combination offered a good balance between grunt and manageability but when more is more there’s always the 49kg DXS18-XLF with an 18-inch driver. I didn’t get to hear it, but I bet it’s awesome.
I did get to try a pair of subs in Cardioid mode and it’s a hit. Directivity is not really controllable with single subs and the amount of LF sound emanating from the sides and rear of your average sub is about the same as the amount coming out front. This can cause problems, particularly if the speakers are placed near the stage. To create a cardioid pattern two DXS subs can be placed beside each other, or stacked, with one pointing forwards towards the audience and the other pointing backwards. With Cardioid Mode 02 selected the coverage pattern magically becomes cardioid and greatly reduces the LF level at the back, maybe 20dB and worthwhile doing if you’ve got the numbers. The only downside is the sub showing its back panel to the world. I was expecting someone from the audience to ask me if I knew one was the wrong way round. Cardioid Mode 03 does the same but with three DXS subs per side, the center sub pointing the ‘wrong’ way.
REACHING A NEW LEVEL
The DZR12 plus DXS15-XLF combination makes a great pumping little EDM system that’s clean, deep and fills a room. Once you get to a certain level you can hear the processing working but it stays tidy and that’s where they want to stay. I’m waiting for the day one of these new portable systems to replace our house PA. This went a fair way even though it’s only about a tenth the physical size of the Theatre Royal’s ageing, but much larger, system. It was a good contest and I had a few disbelieving comments from the management, ’Is that really from the small system?’ Beyond that certain level they start to get harsh and lose their sweet quality, but it’s a high limit. I’m sure these are the loudest portable speakers I’ve reviewed and those crazy volume claims might be right.
Live mics and loud bands need loud speakers with the ability to let the vocals stay in front of the mix, even when the band is clearly trying to drown them out. The DZR speakers can help by being louder. The real-time control of frequency as well as level prevents the drivers from being overwhelmed and keeps the mid-range and high frequencies clear so the vocal cuts through. The annual Spring Ball was on while I had the speakers at the Theatre Royal so I used the DZR12s on stage, as the horns were already rotated, and made a drumfill with a DXS15-XLF sub and a DZR10. It was way better than our usual two 15-inches-plus-horn box. Dance band The Sugar Fed Leopards were the main act and they had everything working. The DZR12s were great as wedges again, loud and clear with little or no external EQ and they really don’t want to feed back. On a stand the Monitor setting seems to cut off a lot of bass but on a stage the response is even from low to high.
Compared to the DZR10, the DZR12 looks and sounds bigger than the difference in the size of the woofers suggests. It’s a wider cabinet that looks right sitting on a DLX/XLF15 sub plus it’s got dual monitor angles for mirror-image pairs of wedges. The DZR10 is more conveniently sized and easier to transport with a handle on the top but it’s only got the one monitor angle, and no feet on the angled panel, that made me reluctant to use it as a wedge on a hard stage.
I didn’t try them but also available is the bigger DZR15 that claims the same 139dB max volume as the DZR12 while it reaches down lower with a -10dB @ 34Hz LF response. I’m sure I’d like the hero DZR315 despite its 42kg. A three-way design, with the eight-inch mid-driver mounted on a big flare above and in front of the woofer. These boast 143dB max with a -10dB @ 31Hz LF response.
POWER TO THRIVE
The DZR series achieves the conflicting aims of simultaneously being strong and light. The build quality is high and these come with a five-year warranty to match.
There’s a lot of demand for point-and-shoot portable systems and it’s a hot marketplace. Louder is obviously better whether you use it or not; the same as speed in cars and motorbikes. Yamaha knows this. Volume with quality and flexibility is better still. Those 2kW amps and 96kHz processing help keep the DZR and DXS-XLF ranges ahead of the competition with a smooth, coherent sound quality and big volume numbers. Power and performance concisely delivered.