I’ve had the opportunity to review several soundbar systems over the last year, and Yamaha’s YSP-4100 is the best-sounding unit yet. Then again, this is no ordinary soundbar but what Yamaha calls a Digital Sound Projector. The YSP-4100 is long: it measures 40.25 inches wide, stands nearly 8.5 inches high, and is 3.5 inches deep. If you choose to install the YSP-4100 on a rack, two “stands” can be quickly attached to the back. The stands are shaped like the letter “L,” with the long sides tucking under the cabinet to prevent scratching.
The height can be problematic as it can block the lower screen of many TVs; as well, if you want to place it on a second shelf of an A/V rack or shelf, it may be too high again to fit. Although I don’t drill holes in my house to accommodate reviews (my walls would soon look like dusty Swiss cheese), the YSP-4100 comes ready to wall-mount. That addresses the cabinet’s height issue and makes good use of often bare wall. The challenge then becomes how to conceal the network of cables, depending on your choice of inputs. I tested the unit with a 37-inch TV, which is about the smallest set that I would recommend with this Projector. A 40- or 42-inch set would be the dimensional ideal.
Though the cabinet is large, Yamaha makes full use of that space, loading it with 40 individual 1.5-inch beam drivers arranged in three horizontal rows across the middle of the cabinet. At the corners, two 4.3-inch woofers are incorporated to help fill out the low end. The entire assembly of 42 speakers is engineered to fire beams of sound off surrounding walls, which then rebound at different angles to create a surround-sound effect. Users can choose from 11 distinct CINEMA DSP programs, with five entertainment and three movie and music programs, respectively.
More bass please
The YSP-4100′s drivers really drive the bus. A quick look at the specs show a frequency response beginning at 90 Hz and filling out to 20 kHz. That leaves a large gap in the bass department, so if you have even a passing interest in hearing the low end from your music or the rumble-tumble of action-adventures, you’ll need a subwoofer. And Yamaha includes a wireless sub kit with the YSP-4100. For this review, Yamaha sent its YST-SW315 subwoofer, which sports a beefy 10-inch magnetically shielded cone woofer backed by a 250-watt amplifier. The YST-SW315 is designed to pump out the lowest of lows, with a frequency response of 20 Hz to 160 Hz. The stout sub weighs nearly 42 pounds and is wrapped in an attractive glossy black finish.
The wireless kit (SWK-W10) makes it easy to sync the sub and Digital Projector in a matter of minutes. Simply connect the kit’s subwoofer audio output to the sub’s input jack with a subwoofer cable; turn on the subwoofer; adjust the sub’s volume and crossover; and power on the wireless unit’s transmitting-side product. An LED on the top of the SWK-W10 changes color from orange to green as a connection is being established and then established. Once this is done, you can set the subwoofer to be “Always On,” and when you turn on the Digital Projector with the remote the sub will then power on. Set it and forget it. If you go with a different wireless sub, you will obviously need a different wireless kit.
YSP-4100 Parts & Setup
The first thing I noticed when opening the box containing the YSP-4100 was the contents-there’s a lot in the carton. Yamaha supplies almost everything, short of HDMI cables, to get users up and running. Tucked into the packaging is a Demonstration DVD, CD-ROM User Manual, remote control with batteries, calibration microphone with its own cardboard stand, optical cable, digital audio pin cable, video pin cable, audio pin cable, FM antenna, a pair of cabinet stands and hardware, wireless transmitter for an iPod along with charging cradle and AC adapter, and the SWK-W10 wireless subwoofer kit.
Even with that array of “parts,” setup is easy. There are no wires to connect (other than the power cord!), so there’s little delay between unpacking and first use. Unlike most soundbars, but like most A/V receivers, the YSP-4100 requires calibration to optimize sound for the environment. This is a quick process using Yamaha’s IntelliBeam automatic calibration. It’s similar to other such calibrations: Plug the microphone into the jack on the front of the cabinet, place the mic at your normal listening approximate to where your ears would be, power on the YSP-4100 and the subwoofer, select the appropriate TV input (HDMI, video, etc.) and press the IntelliBeam button on the remote and hold for 2 seconds. Then high-tail out of the room while the system outputs calibration test tones and sends a series of sound beams throughout the room to match the listening environment. It takes about 3 minutes.
Beyond the YSP-4100′s auto setup, you can use the supplied demo disc to confirm that digital signals are properly inputted from Blu-ray disc players via the HDMI, coaxial or digital connections. The DVD contains a series of digital programs to verify proper signaling from Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital 5.1.
Yamaha touts the YSP-4100 as a Digital Sound Projector, but it’s also an A/V receiver with an internal digital 120-watt amplifier and FM tuner. The YSP-4100 is Sirius Satellite Radio ready and can stream music wirelessly from an iPod or iPhone. There’s also plenty of connectivity options. Seven video inputs include four HDMI, two composite and one component input. There are single video outputs for HDMI and composite. Up-scaling is not built in, but the YSP-4100 can up-convert analog composite and component video signals to HDMI.
Audio inputs are composed of two analog, two optical digital and one coaxial digital. A variety of formats are supported, with decoding for four HD Audio formats: Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio; Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio; as well as other formats including Dolby Pro Logic Iix and DTS Neo:6.
The YSP-4100′s greatest strength is its ability to produce clean, detailed sound quickly and without tinniness or shrill artifacts. You get tight treble and crisp mids. While the Projector projects sound as if it were part of a traditional surround setup, the “center” speaker acts without effect, delivering dialogue with the same clarity and separation as a dedicated center channel speaker. Meanwhile, the 3-plus dozen drivers and woofer pair fill the room with “wide” sound but not what I would call “surround.” I never had the sensation that sound was coming from behind me; rather, it was like a large cloud that emerged and kept filling the room until full. Still, pretty cool.
Other reviewers have suggested that the YSP-4100′s bass performance is good enough, but I disagree. You’ll get lots of detail, certainly, but listen to the Projector paired with a sub and you’ll get the full story. One disc that confirmed this was the Blu-ray version of Invictus. The recent film chronicles President Nelson Mandela’s attempt to unite racially divided South Africa through sport, as his country plays host to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The stadium scenes demand full-range frequency. If you’ve ever been to a sporting event with tens of thousands of others, you know the hair-raising rumble that can ripple through the crowd as spectators express their joy or frustration. Where the YSP-4100 delivered the sound, the YST-SW315 delivered the experience. Together, and played back in glorious DTS-HD, the sound and the fury of the game.
Many consumers set up home theater systems and use them solely to watch movies. And the Yamaha combo will give many happy returns in that arena, but it’s also a killer music machine. Throw on your favorite disc and listen in two channel, then try one of the music “surround” settings. I’m usually not one for such effects, but I really liked the Music Video setting on the YSP-4100. On many two-channel recordings, it added a nice ambience and depth that just made them feel bigger. And when music such as reggae legend Burning Spear’s “Tradition,” from Marcus Garvey, is rocking steady through the room while the sub makes the floor dance, you’ll understand the power of such a setup.
And if you tune into FM radio, the YSP-4100 has you covered, too. There’s a Tivoli Model One FM/AM radio in my kitchen, which is used to listen to news and music in the morning and often baseball in the evening. For a mono radio, it has impressive sound and it also excels at pulling in hard-to-get FM stations. I was curious how the YSP-4100 would fare trying to lock in the same call numbers, but over the period of many weeks that I had the Yamaha gear for review, the tuner never failed to dial it in. And the sound was so superior to the Tivoli that I frequently went into the living room to listen instead.
I don’t listen to compressed on purpose, but many of the Internet radio stations I like stream compressed music by necessity. For that alone, it’s great to have a “booster” feature like Yamaha’s Compressed Music Enhancer, which helps flesh out the sound of compressed audio. Considering that the YSP-4100 is set for wireless iPod or iPhone use, the Enhancer is even handier if your digital codec of choice is AAC. The cool thing about the YSP-4100, unlike wireless streaming from a bluetooth device, is that the data is transmitted as uncompressed linear PCM, so if you have an iPod full of lossless music you won’t lose fidelity during streaming. Oh yeah, not only can you stream uncompressed music wirelessly from an iPod or iPhone, you can also use the devices as remotes when listening.
No Screaming Commercials
If you’ve ever been subject to the unwanted blast of an infomercial or “sudden announcement” between TV programs, you’ll appreciate Yamaha’s UniVolume feature. This ensures that the volume doesn’t change just because a commercial interrupts a program or you decide to change the channel or source input.
I liked the YSP-4100 very much, but it’s not perfect. When compared to other soundbars or even complete 5.1 (or more) home theater systems, the YSP-4100 is expensive. The 4100 retails for around $1,700; throw in the subwoofer and you’re looking at another $300, bringing the system in at the $2K mark. And that doesn’t include a Blu-ray or DVD player and HDMI cables. Another possible drawback is the absence of 3D video pass-through. If you want to utilize the 3D functionality on a 3D HDTV, you’ll have to connect an HDMI cable directly to your TV and an audio cable back to the YSP-4100.
The YSP-4100 is an impressive, albeit expensive, all-in-one home theater system. It is very easy to use, has very good sound and offers a range of features beyond what most consumers would ever use. It’s no revelation that a true 5.1 system will deliver a better surround experience, but that comes at the expense of space and additional wiring. Though the soundbar/sub combo can project plenty of volume for larger rooms, I particularly like the idea of using the pair in a smaller setting. You’ll get better virtual surround without stuffing the room with a maze of electronics. Paired together, the YSP-4100 and YST-SW315 take the soundbar surround concept to a very high level. Highly recommended.