Picking the best speaker in a given category is rarely this clear cut, but when it comes to single-speaker surround systems Yamaha's YSP-1100 Digital Sound Projector leads the pack. Look through its perforated-metal grille and you'll see this is no ordinary design; there's a grand total of 42 speaker drivers instead of the usual 3 or 5. With a list price of $1,700 (though widely available for $200 less), the YSP-1100 is just as expensive as some of the better full-fledged 5.1 speaker systems you'll find, but the hefty price is offset by the speaker's internal amplifiers and Dolby and DTS processing circuitry that eliminate the need to purchase an A/V receiver. You simply hook up your audio sources--DVD player, cable box, game system--directly to the YSP-1100, and the speaker to the TV. Then you sit back and enjoy a convincing re-creation of surround sound, with the added satisfaction of not having your room crisscrossed with wires and dotted by unsightly speakers.
Design of Yamaha YSP-1100
By incorporating everything into a single enclosure, the sleek Yamaha YSP-1100 eliminates the standard 5.1-channel system's speakers and most of the wires. The speaker was obviously conceived with flat-panel TVs in mind, but there's no reason the YSP-1100 couldn't be used with any display, including rear-projection TVs and front-projectors (although, while the speaker is magnetically shielded, Yamaha cautions it might interfere with old-fashion CRT tube TVs if it's placed too close to them.) Since Yamaha's Digital Sound Projection Technology works by reflecting sound off of walls, bare walls work best; objects in the room such as chairs, drapes, or furniture may adversely affect the spatial accuracy of the surround sound.
The speaker is 40.6 inches wide, 7.75 high, 4.5 deep, and it weighs 28.6 pounds. It can be wall-mounted with the optional bracket or positioned on a shelf under or over a TV. An LCD readout on the lower front panel relates volume level and processing status; there's also a volume control and an input selector. We mostly used the remote control to handle those functions and execute the setup routines.
The YSP-1100's streamlined IntelliBeam autosetup and calibration system was a breeze to use. Once we brought up the onscreen menu, plugged in the supplied microphone, the completely automated procedure takes just a few minutes to complete. With that squared away, the surround effects were accurately placed, but the autosetup's subwoofer volume was too loud (we used a $399 Polk PSW12). We manually lowered the Polk's volume to suit our taste.
Features of Yamaha YSP-1100
The Yamaha YSP-1100 doesn't just function as a speaker, it has the switching capabilities of an A/V receiver. To be more specific, the speaker's connections are arrayed on its hindquarters, facing downward to simplify wall mounting. There are two sets of stereo analog inputs; three digital inputs (two optical, one coaxial); a subwoofer output; two component video inputs; three composite video inputs; and one set of component- and composite-video outputs. Conspicuous by their absence are S-Video and HDMI connections. The RS-232C interface will be of use when the YSP-1100 is part of a custom installation system. The speaker also supports infrared (IR) signal transmission to compatible components passed via its IR remote-in connector.
Surround processing modes include Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, DTS Neo:6, and Yamaha's proprietary Cinema DSP technology. Again, because the surround decoding is built into the YSP-1100, it can effectively take the place of a basic A/V receiver.
The YSP-1100 employs 40 1.5-inch micro drivers and 2 4.25-inch woofers--each powered by its own digital amplifier--as well as projection technology to control the direction of the sound. It does this by focusing the 1.5-inch drivers' sound into groups of "beams" that reflect off the room's walls. The center channel's sound, meanwhile, is projected directly from the YSP-1100 to the listening position.
Because each room's acoustics vary, the YSP-1100 offers five Beam-Mode settings, all controllable via the remote:
- 5-Beam: The five channels--Left, Right, Center, Left Surround and Right Surround--are completely separate. Each channel's sound is beamed off the walls to create the effect of a surround system with rear speakers.
- 3-Beam: Three beams are produced--Left/Left Surround, Center, and Right/Right Surround. The surround-sound effect is created by reflecting the sound off the side walls.
- Stereo-plus-3-Beam: The Left and Right channels are produced using stereo mode while the surround channels are produced with beams.
- Stereo: No beams are reflected off walls, and the YSP-1100's projects stereo sound directly to the listener.
- My Beam: Instead of creating a broad soundstage for a group of listeners, the YSP-1100 "focuses" the sound to one position in the room, even well over to one side of the room. My Beam does that, but completely squashes the surround spaciousness down to a single (mono) channel of sound. Yamaha claims the My Beam can so closely focus the sound that it would be less audible to other people in the room, but the difference in volume level between the My Beam-directed sound and the other parts of the room isn't all that significant. To activate the My Beam, just point the remote control at the YSP-1100, hold a My Beam button for a few seconds, and the sound is directed to that spot.
The YSP-1100's three late-night listening modes for cinema, music, and TV compressed the soft-to-loud dynamic range of the sound heard over the speaker.