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Yamaha Digital Sound Projector YSP-4000 review:

Yamaha Digital Sound Projector YSP-4000

Yamaha Digital Sound Projector YSP-4000
The YSP-4000 offers an impressive amount of inputs (including HDMI ports, not shown here), but not all of them can be used concurrently.

We experienced some considerable headaches when setting up the YSP-4000 to use multiple AV sources (an Xbox 360, an Apple TV, a DirecTV DVR, and a Panasonic Blu-ray player). Assigning inputs becomes confusing when you move beyond the two HDMI or two component inputs--one each can assigned as "DVD," for instance. Be prepared to invest some time and effort, along with possible limitations (one video input seemed to only match with a coaxial audio input, one with an optical, and so on). Likewise, we experienced problems getting the YSP-4000 to lock into our Dolby Digital surround signal, having the display recognize only "stereo" instead. Those with more than three or four sources might want to consider using an HDMI switcher or going with a traditional AV receiver, and using the YSP-4000 simply as the speaker system instead--or do so with one of the less-expensive stepdown models, the YSP-3000 or smaller YSP-800, instead.

On the brighter side, the YSP-4000 offers analog video upconversion to HDMI. That means that any of the composite or component inputs can be output via the single HDMI port, as well as upconverted to your choice of resolution--480p, 720p, or 1080i. As a result, you need only a single HDMI cable from the YSP-4000 to your HDTV.

We started our auditions with a Stephen King thriller, 1408, which some people have compared to The Shining. Well, we wouldn't go that far, but the movie's hyperactive haunted hotel room did show off the YSP-4000's ability to project creepy surround effects way out into the CNET listening room. During the scene where the hotel room turns bitterly cold, we could almost feel the crunch of John Cusack's shoes as he walked across the snowy floor. Later, when Cusack, in panicked desperation, crawls out of the room's window to escape, the traffic sounds of the city below were spatially believable. We noted that Cusack's voice sounded a bit too chesty at times, but we'd prefer that to an anemic or thin sound.

The YSP-4000 projects the left, right, and surround channels' sounds via user selectable modes: 5-Beam mode, 3-Beam mode, Stereo+3-Beam mode, Stereo mode, and My Beam mode, which allows users to focus the sound to a specific position in the room to avoid disturbing others. That might come in handy for late-night movie viewing, but we found the My Beam's sound to be rather nasal and thin. We mostly stuck with the 3-Beam and 5-Beam modes for all of our listening tests. The 5-Beam setting projected sound further into the room, but sometimes at the cost of coarsening sound quality; when that happened we switched back to 3-Beam.

The YSP-4000 stumbled when we played big special effect driven flicks like Mission: Impossible III. The explosions fell flat, the bass was rumbly, and the Yamaha couldn't play loud at all. We hooked up the Acoustic Research HT60 subwoofer to add extra muscle to the sound, and it helped a little, but we still felt the YSP-4000 lacked punch.

While listening to CDs in stereo, the YSP-4000 sounded small. Switching on the 3-Beam mode dramatically opened up the sound, spreading it out to the full width of the CNET listening room. The Perfume soundtrack orchestrated score demonstrated the YSP-4000 refined sound quality. The velvety smooth violins and the score's crisp percussive accents sounded on a par with some of the better $1,000 speaker packages we've heard. The 3-Beam spacious sound wasn't limited to just the listeners seated directly inline with the speaker, the wide-open sound was available for listeners on either side of the couch.

Yes, you could spend the same amount the YSP-4000 costs on a first-class AV receiver and 5.1-channel satellite/subwoofer package that doesn't need to "simulate" surround sound. That system would produce far better overall sound quality, greater dynamic punch, and more spacious surround effects. If the success of Yamaha's previous generations of YSP's means anything, we've learned that buyers will happily pay extra for the elegance of single-speaker surround. And the YSP-4000, despite its performance shortcomings, is the best there is.

Assistant Editor Jeff Bakalar contributed to this review

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