Editors' note: The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace. The review has not otherwise been modified.
Yamaha basically created the sound bar category and continues to sell its best-in-class Digital Sound Projector line, but it can be hard to recommend the company's sound bars when they generally cost in excess of $1,000. The YAS-101 ($250 street price) is Yamaha's entry into the increasingly crowded budget sound bar field, and it's one of the few that manages to stand out.
That's largely due to Yamaha's decision to eschew a separate subwoofer, instead using a built-in subwoofer, which gives the speaker system a more streamlined look. The YAS-101 also has a very helpful "IR flasher" on the back, so it will pass remote signals through to your TV if the sound bar is blocking the TV's remote sensor. Sound quality is surprisingly strong for TV and movies, although don't expect miracles with two-channel music. Our major criticism is that the YAS-101's connectivity options are bare-bones, but that's not as much of an issue if you use your TV to switch between devices.
With its reasonable price, simple design with built-in subwoofer, and innovative remote-control workaround, the Yamaha YAS-101 is one of the top budget sound bars available.
Design: Not your average budget sound bar
Two design choices set the YAS-101 apart from most budget sound bars: its built-in subwoofer and IR repeater.
Most sub-$300 sound bars include a wireless subwoofer, but as mentioned above, the YAS-101 opts instead for a built-in, dual-driver 3-inch subwoofer. A wireless subwoofer isn't a huge imposition on a living room (heck, it's wireless), but a built-in subwoofer may appeal to minimalists who are hesitant even to add a sound bar to their decor.
We thought the down-firing subs might incite rattles and buzzes in our cabinet, but we didn't heard any noises during our listening sessions. (Less sturdy stands may fare worse.) Alternatively, you can hook up an external subwoofer, which would reduce the amount of bass coming from the YAS-101's subs.
The YAS-101's built-in IR repeater is its real standout feature. Sound bars designed to sit on your TV cabinet have the nasty habit of blocking the TV's remote control sensor, making it tough (or impossible) to switch inputs or turn your TV on and off. The Yamaha cleverly gets around this with the IR repeater, which accepts remote signals from any device and fires them out the back, along a strip of IR blasters. It's an excellent solution to a problem other sound bars just ignore.
Features: Surprisingly sparse
Inputs are located on the back panel, and it's a weakness of the system. There are three digital inputs (two optical, one coaxial), which is pretty good, but we were surprised that there isn't an analog audio input. That's bad news for Nintendo Wii owners (the console only supports analog audio), although you can likely work around the shortcoming by connecting the Wii to your HDTV and using its digital audio output.