If you like the single-speaker concept but you're looking to save some cash, consider the Yamaha YSP-800. It's smaller and boasts only half as many minidrivers (21 versus the YSP-1100's 42), but the price tag is a more wallet-friendly $800.
Performance of Yamaha YSP-1100
With the YSP-1100, Yamaha's Digital Sound Projectors have attained a new level of refinement--its sound is notably better than that of the 2005 predecessors, the YSP-1 and the YSP-1000. We were pleased to note the surround effect isn't limited to the listeners seated directly in front of the speaker. As we moved to the left and right across our 7-foot-wide couch, the phantom speakers' positions remained fairly stable; no other virtual surround speaker system can match that feat. Yes, the YSP speakers have had that ability for awhile now, but it's the YSP-1100's sound quality that shows the biggest improvement.
We mostly listened to the YSP-1100 with a Polk Audio PSW12 subwoofer supplying the deep bass, but when we disconnected the sub and listened with just the YSP-1100's twin woofers, the bass was nowhere as powerful, though it was definitely acceptable. We can imagine in smaller rooms, or for buyers who don't need to feel the deep bass effect in their DVDs, an outboard sub won't be necessary.
The Woods, a scary DVD set in a rural, girls' boarding school, demonstrated the YSP-1100's strengths as a purveyor of home-theater thrills. The horde of creepy voices whispering in the surround channels sounded much like the voices in the front channels. That level of channel-to-channel tonal accuracy is rare in virtual surround speakers. Normal dialog was also above par in its naturalness and imaging stability; no matter where we sat in our home theater, the dialog's position remained rock solid, directly under the screen.
We next checked out the Pixies' Live at the Paradise in Boston concert DVD. As long as we kept the volume to moderate levels, the sound quality was fine, and the sense of being in a small club was very good. Turn up the volume too far, and the sound turns harsh. On the song entitled "Hey," when the audience started to chime in with their own "heys," those sounds appeared well out into the room.
With its surround mettle proven, we turned to 2-channel stereo sources. Listening to CDs, we spent a lot of time switching back and forth between the Stereo, 3-Beam, and Stereo-plus-3-Beam modes, while alternately engaging and disengaging Dolby Pro Logic II processing in each mode. Stereo yielded the cleanest, most naturally balanced sound, but the stereo separation was limited to the 40.6-inch width of the YSP-1100. Dolby Pro Logic II surround dramatically opened up the sound of CDs, projecting it three feet out to the sides of the speaker, but the processing made for less sharply defined imaging and thinned out the warmth we liked in Stereo mode. Of course, the spatial effects and sound quality varied from one CD to the next. On Jerry Lee Lewis's new duets recording, Last Man Standing, we definitely preferred Stereo; the sound of the two Beamed modes was too harsh for us. Then again, Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club CD, recorded in a large studio in Havana, Cuba, sounded spectacularly huge in Stereo-Plus-Three Beam Mode. The YSP-1100 recreated the acoustics of the large studio in surround, and much of that spaciousness was lost the second we switched back to Stereo. We preferred Stereo for an intimate Duke Ellington CD, This One's For Blanton, and the YSP-1100 absolutely nailed the sound of Duke's piano. If you're fussy about sound, it's easy enough to switch modes, but we expect many users to just stick with one setting and be done with it.
Bottom line: the Yamaha YSP-1100 was more consistently satisfying with DVDs, but CD sound was still quite good. Was the fashionable Yamaha as enjoyable as a well-set-up, equivalently priced 5.1-channel system? No, but as virtual surround systems go, the YSP-1100 is the state of the art for the time being.