We were recently impressed with Yamaha's YAS-71 soundbar with its Air Surround Xtreme technology and now it's been joined by a different take on the discrete home theatre system solution; the YHT-S400.
Combining the world's slimmest soundbar (according to Yamaha) and an integrated AV receiver/subwoofer, the YHT-S400 means home theatre system building without masses of boxes. All you need to add are suitable video sources and a TV monitor, and away you go. However, does it deliver the sonic goods as well as its more conventional soundbar cousin?
Design and features
Yamaha's been a bit clever here incorporating a fully active 100-Watt subwoofer into a standard-sized AV receiver component, with a downward-firing 5-inch (130mm) driver and front facing bass reflex port. This arrangement aids bass reinforcement with placement; typically say, on an AV rack or shelf. Additional on-board digital amplification delivers 3x 50 Watts to the soundbar speaker, which comprises three 10x 4cm drivers.
At just 50mm in height, the slimline soundbar tucks neatly beneath most TVs and virtually disappeared below our 42-inch plasma. Its feet can be adjusted both vertically and horizontally, or removed altogether to suit placement under most 32- to 50-inch screens. And with the AV receiver tucked away the Yamaha system does a veritable disappearing act — perfect for those who prefer hardware discretion as opposed to the usual boxfest and cabling everywhere.
The receiver itself offers fairly decent connections with three HDMI inputs and a single out. It's not a full-blown unit though and doesn't come close to the features and specs of your typical AV receiver. There's no on-board video decoding, for example, nor is there any processing of the main surround audio formats although it will accept linear PCM HD audio via HDMI from a suitable source, ie, Blu-ray player. It does have a couple of surround tricks of its own though — namely Yamaha's 24kHz HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function) which "scientifically" aims to convince your ears the sound is multi-directional. The other is an Extended Stereo mode that is said to give the impression that the soundbar is, in fact, a pair of loudspeakers some two metres apart. Listening modes comprise "Movie", "Music", "Game" and "Sports" plus a button on the small remote marked "UniVolume" ensures volume levels during TV program and commercial breaks are kept the same.
Accessories for the YHT-S400 include a floor stand and pedestal if your TV is not wall mounted, plus Yamaha's optional YDS-11 iPod dock and YBA-10 wireless Bluetooth audio receiver can both be integrated.
A 5-inch subwoofer doesn't exactly instil impressions of limitless bass and in practice the YHT-S400 isn't going to be felt by your neighbours in the next street, but, closer to home, its subliminal effects are far more noticeable. We were genuinely surprised at just how much bass this arrangement mustered, and actually found ourselves turning down the subwoofer level during loud and bass-heavy movie passages. OK, so it doesn't have the sheer extension, pace or control of a larger dedicated active sub, but for something that's been shoehorned into the tiny space it occupies, it produces ample low stuff to give action movies clout, or music plenty of substance and drive.
But the YHT-S400 doesn't perform at its best straight out of the box — it needs some consideration setting it up properly; especially the channel output levels. The centre channel, which delivers all-important movie and TV dialogue, can all too easily be swamped and sound muffled unless its output is given a good nudge in the settings. We found it only really sounded suitably prominent with a +4 (out of six) lift. There's no auto-calibration microphone or software on-board the YHT-SW400, so it's something you'll have to do by ear, but believe us, it makes all the difference spending a while experimenting with the levels for both movie or TV listening.
In Movie mode the YHT-S400 combination and the black magic that is Air Surround Xtreme do a convincing job that there's more speaker kit surrounding your lugholes. As with all soundbar set-ups, surround effects' presence isn't as obvious as actually employing rear speakers, but you definitely get a good sense of ambiance and spread from the soundbar. A few things help with this — namely, a blatantly surrounded engineered packed-to-the-rafters soundtrack, solid side walls and a bit of faith on behalf of the listener. It's all too easy to dismiss this sort of home theatre system as a phoney; true enough, there are plenty of poor examples out there, but Yamaha continues to surprise and conjure up decent pseudo surround sound. Musically, it'll never sound as good as a decent conventional stereo system; however, that's not to say the YHT-S400 doesn't provide adequate involvement with all things musical — it does, albeit on a background sort of level.
This breed of home theatre system isn't going to suit all AV applications and tastes. It's for those who want surroundish sound without all the extra hassle of speakers and wires. Plenty of soundbars now offer this singular speaker solution, but this Yamaha duo packs a bit more of a punch with its niftily integrated subwoofer/AV receiver box. This too is great; as long as you're not after gargantuan bass and the sort of AV control/processing that requires constant user manual reference and/or help from online geek forums.