Everybody wants surround sound, but some folks back off when they're confronted with the hassles--and aesthetics--associated with placing five or more speakers in their room. Enter virtual surround speakers, which mimic multichannel sound with just one or two speakers. Yamaha's slim, plasma-friendly "digital sound projector," the single speaker YSP-1, falls into this category, and it generated a lot of buzz at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show, garnering a Next Big Thing nomination here at CNET and even a best of show nod from G4 TV. So were the early accolades justified? In our real-world listening tests, the YSP-1 revealed impressive surround imaging, but merely good-but-not-great overall sound quality. That said, the YSP-1 still has plenty going for it that will woo less-critical listeners. In addition to its slick, streamlined look, the unit is self-powered and can be directly hooked up to a TV and DVD player, effectively eliminating the need for an A/V receiver (but you will need to match it with a subwoofer to deliver deep bass.) True, it retails for a lofty $1,500 (hundreds less online), but that's a bargain compared to the original $40,000 PDSP-1 on which it's based. The YSP-1 will look cool wall-mounted under a flat-screen TV (Yamaha offers an optional bracket). The speaker is 40.6 inches wide, 7.75 inches high, and 4.5 inches deep and weighs 28.6 pounds. It can be positioned on a shelf under or over the TV, though we did note that the YSP-1's digital amplifiers put out a moderate amount of heat. The front panel has an LED display, volume control, and an input selector; we mostly used the supplied remote control to handle those functions and to execute the setup routines.
If you're installing the YSP-1 yourself, we recommend sticking with the Easy Setup--the Manual routine's complexity will scare off all but the most committed audiophiles or tech-savvy installers. We started our auditions with the Easy option, but once we plowed through the Manual setup routines, the YSP-1's surround effects projected further out into the room, with greater specificity.
Yamaha's Digital Sound Projection technology works by the focusing the sound into "beams" that are reflected off of your side and rear walls. You'll achieve the best results only when those walls aren't broken up with sound-absorbing chairs, drapes, or bulky furniture. We had to rearrange our room to accommodate the YSP-1's placement requirements. Sparsely furnished rectangular rooms will likely sound better than cluttered, asymmetrical rooms.
In addition to the YSP-1, you will need to purchase a subwoofer to supply the deep bass for the complete home-theater experience. Yamaha is currently developing a sub for use with the YSP-1, but any worthwhile subwoofer should be up to the job.The YSP-1 features a pair of 4.5-inch woofers and 40 1.5 inch microdrivers--the woofers have 20-watt amplifiers, and each 1.5-inch microspeaker is powered by its own 2-watt amp. That adds up to a total of 120 digital watts. Yamaha claims the 40-driver array, along with a whole lot of digital signal processing, creates five distinct virtual speaker channels: front left, center, and right, and left and right surround.