When we finally took the plunge and bought a flat-screen television (replacing an early-'90s vintage 32-inch Toshiba), it was mostly because aging eyes were no longer sharp enough to see picture detail. Imagine our surprise when we found out that now that we could see the screen, we couldn't hear anything any more. Welcome to the era of "home theater," we thought.
Recommend this product?
It being FryDay, we headed to the local outlet to talk to the salesfolks about our options (this after having been roundly ignored by a gaggle of blue-shirted "sales"people at a brick-and-mortar store much closer to home - no wonder the company is going under). Though the salesman wanted us to fork over $1300 for a Bose system, we quickly explained that, frankly, we didn't want television to seem that important to our lives and we just wanted something that would allow us to hear what was playing on-screen. In the more reasonable sub-$400 price range, we found a couple of options and ended up taking home a Yamaha YAS-101 Sound Bar.
What you get with a YAS-101:
Dimensions 4.25" x 35.06" x 4.75" (H, W, D); the removable "feet" shorten it by about ¾ inch. Total weight about 9 lbs, 5 oz.
Speakers: two 2.5" cone midrange speakers face forward and two 3.0" woofers face downward; a Bass Reflex channel runs the width of the bar to ports on the ends; augmenting the woofers. No separate subwoofer and no subwoofer driver, does include a jack for a separate subwoofer.
Inputs: two optical digital audio inputs and a coaxial cable input; no HDMI input and no jacks for mini stereo, USB, or RCA audio. No wireless connection.
Specs: RMS power rating of 48 watts (120-watt peak), frequency response 20-20,000 Hertz.
Mounting: table mount (with or without feet) or wall-mount with included bracket.
In the Box: YAS-101 sound bar with attached feet and 6-foot AC power cord, remote control plus 2 AAA batteries, 59-inch optical digital sound cable, wall spacers and wall mounting template, moderately useless owner's manual and registration documents.
Features of the YAS-101:
The YAS-101's sleek, piano-black synthetic case is unobtrusive yet elegant. A cluster of LEDs and a pair of fabric grille covers form unobtrusive breaks in the face; low-profile color-keyed buttons control input, volume and power from the face. Bass reflex ports on both ends amplify the bass response of the downward-facing 3-inch woofers. The bar's firmware is compatible with surround-sound formats such as DTS Digital Surround and Dolby Digital.
An on-board digital amplifier built around Yamaha's Air Surround Xtreme® technology powers the 2.2 speaker system (twin midrange speakers and built-in dual-driver 3-inch woofers). It's capable of delivering 7.1-channel surround sound from its four speakers and the dual bass ports. Spec-wise, the amp runs two channels at 24 watts (RMS) - 6 ohms, 1kHz, 10% total harmonic distortion); and a single channel at 48 watts (RMS) - 3 ohms, 100kHz, 10% THD.
Built-in software features include:
Audio Delay Control: allows adjustment of sound and picture to keep them synchronized.
Clear Voice: increases voice sounds separately from background sounds to make dialog clearer.
Subwoofer Volume: bass volume can be controlled separately from overall volume
TV Remote Control Relay: ostensibly, a function that reflects or otherwise transfers infrared signals shining on the front through an infrared transmitter on the back; used when the sound bar blocks the IR remote-control receiver for the television. Doesn't work.
UniVolume: maintains consistent volume across all channels and programming. In theory, this will prevent blasting of commercials on cetrtain cable channels such as USA and TNT.
Living with the YAS-101:
First-off, it's a very attractive piece that complements the simple design of the flat-screen television without overpowering it. The piano black finish is highly reminiscent of Yahama's grand pianos. Installation and hookup were quite simple: install the included digital optical cable, plug it in, and turn it on. It was a lot harder to change the television's audio-out setting than to install the sound bar.
The remote is quite simple, though it looks like it came from the mid-'80s, if you ask me. Besides the expected power, mute, and volume-control buttons; it also has input selectors, on-off switches for the features (Clear Voice, UniVolume, Audio Delay), toggles for surround sound vs. stereo, and separate volume controls for the subwoofers. Each of the features and surround sound are also represented by an LED on the unit's face. The remote has a nominal range of 20 feet across a 60-degree arc.
Though I don't much care, some people wish they could plug their MP3 players into the system or connect them wirelessly. For $249, I suspect you're not going to get both that capability and decent-quality sound (I'd rather have sound quality, myself). Yamaha suggests running an MP3 player through the television by way of a mini-plug input that converts to an RCA cable output, through the television by way of its audio-in plugs, then out through the digital optical cable to the sound bar. Seems like a lot of hassle...
Oh, yeah, you wanna know about the sound: I'm not a connoisseur; it sounds fine to me. The key feature for me is that it's louder than the speakers on the television... OK, some details: not as rich a sound as the bookshelf speakers on our stereo system, but still quite clear; with crisp highs, and with lows that are actually kind of surprising for a pair of 3-inch speakers.
The difference between "surround" and "stereo" is marginal, though that's probably because we haven't used it on loud, big-screen epics like "Transformers" (and aren't likely to), not to mention that it's in a rather large room. We use it mainly for television viewing, although once or twice we broke out a DVD (we don't own a blu-ray player). Clear Voice has proven helpful for scenes with lots of background noise and I've found that being able to boost (or "unboost") bass is useful for those of us whose hearing suffers from high-frequency lossiness. Huh? Either the UniVolume doesn't work particularly well or I keep accidentally turning it off. Overall, I'm quite satisfied with the sound quality (but hey, I'm not real choosy...)
My chief complaint is something small but irritating. I can't get the TV Remote Control Relay function to work. It's not that it doesn't pass the signals; it's that it won't turn on. That's getting a little annoying; I guess I'll have to raise the TV up on a slightly taller stand. Feh! on that.
Overall, the YAS-101 packs a lot of useful features and some pretty good sound into a sleek little package that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. If you need a sound bar for the flat screen in the master bedroom or if you don't have the room (and/or wallet) to build a gigantous home theater sound system, this is a pretty darned good buy. Recommended for people who want some pretty good sound but can't afford a Bose system because they blew their electronics budget on a new television. Like me, in other words - I'm a guy who likes simple, well-designed products that deliver affordable quality, and (except for that darned remote control relay thing) the YAS-101 fits the bill..
Amount Paid (US$): 249