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Yamaha YAS-203 review: Spacious-sounding bar hits sweet spot

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Yamaha YAS-203

(Part #: YAS-203 )
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The Good The Yamaha YAS-203 sounds great for the price, with excellent soundstage depth for surround movies and very good music playback. It offers a host of useful features including Bluetooth and DTS decoding, dedicated source indicators on the front panel and a great remote control. The sound bar comes with a rear-mounted IR blaster just in case the speaker blocks the IR port on your TV.

The Bad No HDMI inputs; it has slightly harsh Bluetooth sound with non-aptX devices.

The Bottom Line The Yamaha YAS-203 breaks free of most of the performance constraints of budget sound bars, sounding bigger, more spacious, more dynamic and clearer than anything near its price.

9.0 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Sound 9.0
  • Value 9.0

While sound bars have been around since the end of the 20th century, it took a long time for them to kill off the horror that is the home theater in a box (HTIB). They require fewer wires, less hassle, and make a much smaller impact on your living space, so it's not a surprise that they're overwhelmingly more popular today.

The Yamaha YAS-203 sits right in the sweet spot between value and sonic prowess. This $350 (street) sound bar, available for £394 in the UK and AU$499 in Australia, expertly combines useful features with thoughtful design and, best of all, killer sound quality. It's an instant home cinema upgrade, and a cinch to set up.

Unlike the more expensive Yamaha sound bars and bases, the YAS-203 uses pseudo-surround to project a room-filling image, but it's a testament to the company's know-how that the YAS-203 is more convincing at creating surround effects than anything near at its price level.

Compared with last year's Editors' Choice Award-winning sound bar, the Pioneer SP-SB23W , the Yamaha has a better feature set, better movie sound, and is almost as good at playing music. If you're looking at buying a sound bar -- and not a sound base to put your TV on top of -- then the Yamaha YAS-203 now rules the roost.

Design

Sarah Tew/CNET

The YAS-203 is basically the YAS-103 with a subwoofer thrown in, though the main unit features a subtly different design and looks more like a pill with its rounded end grilles. It's constructed of black plastic and can be wall-mounted or made to straddle your TV stand with the addition of rubber feet. If you don't want it to block your screen, then make sure you have at least 3.125 inches to accommodate the Yamaha's height.

Sarah Tew/CNET

One welcome inclusion is the dedicated input LEDs, one for each of the four inputs. Some competitors' products rely on different combinations of colors mean to convey this information, which can be confusing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The bundled subwoofer is a solid box roughly 12 inches (about 30.5 cm) square, and actually feels more substantial than the one that ships with the more costly YSP-2500. It's a wireless model and comes ported with a 6.5-inch driver.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If there's a universal constant among budget sound bars, it's that the remote controls are on a par with chintzy garage door remotes. Thankfully Yamaha has put some thought into the clicker that comes with the YAS-203, with helpful pictograms and a logical arrangement of buttons.

Features

For a budget sound bar, the Yamaha YAS-203 offers an unexpected number of features and in this manner thoroughly shames the equivalently priced Pioneer SP-SB23W. The first difference is that the YAS-203 supports both Dolby Digital and DTS, which automatically makes it better suited to movie playback over the Dolby-only Pioneer.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Being a 2014 sound bar, the Yamaha supports Bluetooth with aptX for better quality wireless connections. As far as wired connections the '203 includes a coaxial digital and an optical connection plus a pair of stereo RCA jacks.

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