Within short few years, soundbars have become very popular amongst home users to replace 5.1 or 7.1 speaker set to create a good home theater experience. The idea of getting surround sound while watching movies from a single block of speakers without all the cable clutter and complicated setup is a genius concept. The biggest issue is, soundbars typical works by bouncing off sounds from your room walls to create the surround effects, so a specific room layout is required for it to deliver a good result.
My previous soundbar was LG HLB54S with Blu-ray player built-in and it had served me well before I decided it was time for an upgrade. After looking at many options available in the market at the time, I finally put my eyes at two soundbars by Yamaha: the YSP-1400 and YSP-2500. Yamaha calls these line as sound projectors instead of soundbars, a marketing term which I find is not an exaggeration. The reason will be described as you read through more details below.
- 5.1 or 7.1 Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound – many (lower-end) soundbars do not actually have this and sometimes only offer 2.1 or 4.1 output
- Bluetooth connection to wirelessly stream the audio from smartphone
- Optical input to connect my Mac mini as the primary source of media
- iOS and Android app which always a nice thing for any geek
- A separate wireless subwoofer unit – YSP-1400 has built-in woofers which has its own selling value if you are looking for something that is very minimal
- 16 sound beams vs 8 sound beams on YSP-1400
- LCD display to see the status of your playback
- Brushed aluminium finish – YSP-1400 only use glossy plastic for its casing
- Included Intellibeam microphone for easy sound calibration
- 3 HDMI input in addition of the optical input
- Supports HDMI 4K Ultra HD 50/60p Pass-through and 3D
The biggest challenge with any soundbar is room layout. It may not work anywhere as it requires solid walls to bounce the side and rear channels to create that surround effect. My room is far from ideal for this to be honest, the TV can only be hung on the right side so it is not centered and on the right of it are windows with blind curtains.
Here is where I feel Yamaha truly excels compared to the rest of competition. They are not only selling you drivers boxed in a single case and call it a soundbar, you are buying their famed digital sound projector technology that allows you to calibrate the settings to meet your room environment.
Included within YSP-2500 box is an Intellibeam microphone. You plug it into the main unit and then place the mic on the spot where you would watch your movies and it will automatically calibrate the angles of channels to get optimized result with minimum efforts. It does not stop there though, you can later tweak the setup using the on screen display or smartphone app. For each channel you can modify the angle degree and volume.
Take your time very carefully during the initial setup as it will define a great or only mediocre experience. In my case, I run the automatic calibration 3 times, saved each on different memory preset, run a test from its iOS app to find one closest to my preference then play the settings a little bit more.
I have been using YSP-2500 for almost a month now, well through the holidays where I had good amount of time enjoying many movies from my collection. My impressions have been overwhelmingly positive with my new audio setup. I can finally be able to experience a very close to true surround sound again in my “far from ideal” room layout.
Few of the movies I tested it with:
- Mission: Impossible III
- The Avengers
- Star Trek: Into Darkness
- X-Men 2
YSP-2500 passed all with flying colors. Whether it is a scene with train or helicopter passing by, battle with explosions, or only background sounds during a dialog, I could hear the sound fill out the room and channels coming from different directions. I was hoping to upgrade a step or two switching from my old LG soundbar, but what I am getting is a whole new level to a point where I believe a soundbar can replace dedicated home theater. It will not be better for an obvious reason, but for its simplicity it may become more popular in the future.
One thing that I love the most is, even in smaller volume I can feel the surround sound. When you crank up the volume, you will enjoy it even more although do not expect to feel the entire room vibrating but in my case it is just perfect.
Listening to music is probably not the main reason you are planning to purchase a soundbar and even though YSP-2500 is great for watching movies, it is still no exception. While you can enjoy good sound from all frequency range, it is not a music hi-fi system. Just to listening casually you would not complain much though.
One thing that is pretty nice is “Target Mode” where you can adjust the location of your listening position so you would still hear a decent stereo sound even though you are not in front of the speakers.
The YSP series is an excellent line of products from Yamaha. They are not your typical soundbars, or every soundbar should have what they offer in addition of enclosing drivers into a single wide casing. Here are some features and technologies I would like to highlight:
I am not really sure how it actually works, but sound beams allow you to calibrate the direction of the sound coming from each individual driver to meet your room layout and preferences.
iOS and Android Apps
The ability to control your console from a well-built app is a nice added functionality. Even though you can do it using a remote and on screen display, it is particularly convenient to tweak the calibration from an app. From my iPhone, connecting the app to the soundbar is pretty straightforward: connect the device using Bluetooth, open the app, and I can control it using the navigation on my iPhone screen.
Most of soundbars are placed right in front of the flat-screen TV which means they could block access of the TV’s remote. In anticipation to this, Yamaha incorporates a smart feature with an IR repeater that will “rebroadcast” the signal at the back of the unit. At least YSP-1400 and YSP-2500 have this built-in.
Have you ever had a dilemma when you need to watch you movies in low volume but then you cannot hear the dialog? With Clear Voice feature activated it will boost frequency of human voices so this problem is solved. It actually works in the situations I have had to switch it on.
For sub-$1,000 budget, I would highly recommend Yamaha YSP-2500. It packs the features most home theater enthusiasts, who want to have clutter free setup, ever need. If you compare with a dedicated home theater package with 6 or even 8 individual speakers, you would most likely get better results. But you can forget about setting it up on your bed room or having to argue with your spouse for her permission to install in the living room.
If you think that is too much to spend, then you can also consider the YSP-1400 as a lower-end alternative. It may not be as good and feature packed, but should be better than other soundbars on the market.