Yamaha YSP-5100 review:

Yamaha YSP-5100

Again, the YSP-5100 outdoes other sound bar home theater systems by offering a full suite of decoding for all major surround-sound formats, including both high-resolution formats: Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. One could argue that these formats aren't as important on a sound bar HTIB--where you probably can't hear the difference between, say, Dolby Digital and Dolby TrueHD--but it's still nice to know you're getting the highest audio fidelity your home theater components can handle.

Other connectivity
Subwoofer output Yes Headphone jack No
iPod dock Wireless Satellite radio Sirius-ready

The YSP-5100 trumps competitors by offering more peripheral features, too. As we mentioned before, Yamaha includes the YIT-W10 wireless iPod dock, which in many ways is superior to the iPod docks offered on other HTIBs since it allows you to wirelessly stream music to the YSP-5100, while you browse your music in your hand. We tested the YIT-W10 with an iPod Touch and we were largely impressed; just stick the adapter in the Touch, select iPod as your source, and it works without any further configuring--you can even adjust the volume with your iPod. We didn't hear any significant sonic degradation because of the wireless transmission, although we did experience some drop-outs when the YIT-W10 didn't have a direct line of sight to the YSP-5100. As with all wireless products, your experience will depend a lot on the environment it's used in.

It's not included on the chart, but the YSP-5100 also includes 7.1 pre-outs, although it's hard to imagine anyone using them. Adding an amplifier and a separate speaker system--then just using the YSP-5100 as a switcher--eliminates nearly all the benefits of having an all-in-one sound bar in the first place. On the more useful side, the YSP-5100 also includes the SWK-W10 wireless subwoofer adapter, which takes some of the sting out of the YSP-5100 not including a wireless sub like many of its competitors.

Additional features
Automatic speaker calibration Yes Virtual surround Yes
AM/FM FM Built-in disc player No

Unlike most sound bar HTIBs, the YSP-5100 includes a microphone for automatic speaker calibration, which is an essential feature since Yamaha's virtual surround technology requires careful setup. The inclusion of an FM tuner is also a step-up over competitors that omit terrestrial radio options completely. If you're looking for a sound bar with a built-in disc player, you'll have to check out the Samsung HT-BD8200 and the Philips SoundBar HTS8100.

Audio setup
The sound bar can be wall- or stand-mounted; we went with the second option for all of our listening tests. Since the speakers rely on the room for reflections, sound-absorbing objects such as drapes or couches can adversely affect the perception of surround envelopment.

The YSP-5100 has manual and automatic setup options, but we didn't get very far with the manual setup. It's pretty involved and no matter what we tried we never felt like we were actually improving the sound. Manual setup might be of more use to professional installers.

Yamaha no longer provides a printed owner's manual with its YSP speakers, but you get a CD-ROM with setup instructions. To get the best sound we strongly recommend reading the manual, even if you're an experienced home theater user. However, the basic Auto Setup routine is straightforward: plug in the included IntelliBeam measurement microphone, and initiate the Auto Setup program. It takes just a few minutes to complete. Before and after Auto Setup, the Dynamic Range Control will be set to "On," and since we want to hear movies with all of their sound intact we turned the DRC "Off."

Because each room's acoustics vary, the YSP-5100 offers a range of Beam-Mode settings. The main mode is "5 BeamPlus2" for seven-channel sources, and we also checked out "3 Beam + Stereo + 2", "5 Beam, 3 Beam + Stereo", "3 Beam and Stereo." All but the stereo mode bounce sound off the walls to generate surround sound. The surround modes all sound different, so we recommend experimenting with the Beam Modes to learn which sounds best in your room. The YSP-5100 also features Yamaha's Cinema DSP (digital processing), which is another way to fine-tune the sound balance to your liking.

Audio performance
Yamaha's YSP speakers use the company's best-in-class Digital Sound Projector technology, which reflects sounds off walls to create a surround experience without the back channel speakers. The technology also provides a wider sweet spot than competing virtual surround modes and devices; we heard convincing surround effects from other spots in the CNET listening room, not just the seat directly in front of the speaker.

On the other hand, the YSP-5100 failed to project sound far forward, out to the sides of our couch, 9 feet away from the speaker, or to the rear of our room. In the past we've played other YSP speakers in nearly empty rooms and heard surround that filled more of the room, but we've never heard sound come from behind us, as it can with traditional surround speakers.

The YSP-5100's dual 4.5-inch woofers make a fair amount of bass, so the speaker can be used without a subwoofer. That said, adding Yamaha's terrific YST-SW315 sub ($300) radically improved the overall sound. Of course the YSP-5100 will work with any brand of subwoofer.

We used the "Godzilla" Blu-ray disc to see how the YSP-5100 coped with heavy-duty home theater demands. This is the 1998 flick, and as soon as we heard Godzilla's thunderous footsteps off in the distance we knew the Yamaha was ready for action. Later, the sounds of the monster crushing cars and smashing hundreds of windows, as well as the screams of panicked New Yorkers in the streets, all had plenty of detail. The rainstorm that runs through so many scenes sounded realistic, too, which was all the more remarkable because a lot of surround bars make rain sound more like noise. The YSP 5100's clarity is closer to what we've heard from the best-sounding sound bars, like the unpowered Atlantic Technology FS-7.0, which doesn't even try to generate faux surround effects.

The "Pan's Labyrinth" Blu-ray movie demonstrated the YSP-5100's ability to render more-subtle details. When a dragonfly fairy buzzes around the bedroom, the YSP-5100 let us precisely follow its movements. Dialogue sounded natural, without any of the processing colorations we've heard from many surround bar speakers.

CD sound was also good, if not quite on par with what we heard from movies over the YSP-5100. Philip Glass' dense score to Godfrey Reggio's film "Koyaanisqatsi" starts with an organ playing low-frequency notes accompanied by a vocalist. Few sound bar speakers can play this music without sounding overdriven and distorted, but the YSP-5100 sailed right through it. The score's orchestral strings and synthesizers sounded gorgeous, with a soundstage that stretched from wall to wall. Rock music didn't have anywhere near the power we'd get from a good 5.1-channel speaker/subwoofer system, as you might expect.

We compared the YSP-5100 with Yamaha's smaller and slightly less expensive YSP-4100. The sound was nearly identical so we were hard pressed to hear much difference between the two. Maybe the YSP-5100 had a tiny bit fuller bass (from the larger cabinet) so the speaker blended a bit better with the YST-SW315 subwoofer. In any case, we can't recommend stepping up to the YSP-5100 on the basis of sound quality.

We really like the YSP-5100; it delivers remarkably good sound, but it's an expensive speaker, and it gets a little more so when you add a subwoofer. As always, audiophiles should note that you'll get substantially better sound from a full 5.1 home theater system, such as the Aperion Intimus 5B Fusion SD satellite/subwoofer system ($1,560) used with an Onkyo TX-SR507 receiver ($400).

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