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Yamaha Digital Sound Projector YSP-1100 review: Yamaha Digital Sound Projector YSP-1100

Yamaha Digital Sound Projector YSP-1100

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Steve Guttenberg
headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg

Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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7 min read

Design of Yamaha YSP-1100
By incorporating everything into a single enclosure, the sleek Yamaha YSP-1100 eliminates the standard 5.1-channel system's speakers and most of the wires. The speaker was obviously conceived with flat-panel TVs in mind, but there's no reason the YSP-1100 couldn't be used with any display, including rear-projection TVs and front-projectors (although, while the speaker is magnetically shielded, Yamaha cautions it might interfere with old-fashion CRT tube TVs if it's placed too close to them.) Since Yamaha's Digital Sound Projection Technology works by reflecting sound off of walls, bare walls work best; objects in the room such as chairs, drapes, or furniture may adversely affect the spatial accuracy of the surround sound.

8.3

Yamaha Digital Sound Projector YSP-1100

The Good

The long and sleek Yamaha YSP-1100 is a single-speaker virtual surround system that uses 40 1.5-inch drivers to bounce sound off walls and create enveloping surround effects while a pair of 4.25-inch woofers produce the bass. Built-in digital amplifiers, Dolby/DTS and proprietary sound processing, and video switching features eliminate--or at least minimize--the need for an A/V receiver. Supereasy automated setup with the supplied microphone.

The Bad

The YSP-1100 sounds best in sparsely furnished rooms, and the My Beam focus effect doesn't work as advertised. Video connectivity lacks S-Video and HDMI options.

The Bottom Line

Yamaha's YSP-1100, its best-ever Digital Sound Projector single-speaker surround system, is a breeze to set up and it sounds great on DVD.
Picking the best speaker in a given category is rarely this clear cut, but when it comes to single-speaker surround systems Yamaha's YSP-1100 Digital Sound Projector leads the pack. Look through its perforated-metal grille and you'll see this is no ordinary design; there's a grand total of 42 speaker drivers instead of the usual 3 or 5. With a list price of $1,700 (though widely available for $200 less), the YSP-1100 is just as expensive as some of the better full-fledged 5.1 speaker systems you'll find, but the hefty price is offset by the speaker's internal amplifiers and Dolby and DTS processing circuitry that eliminate the need to purchase an A/V receiver. You simply hook up your audio sources--DVD player, cable box, game system--directly to the YSP-1100, and the speaker to the TV. Then you sit back and enjoy a convincing re-creation of surround sound, with the added satisfaction of not having your room crisscrossed with wires and dotted by unsightly speakers.

The speaker is 40.6 inches wide, 7.75 high, 4.5 deep, and it weighs 28.6 pounds. It can be wall-mounted with the optional bracket or positioned on a shelf under or over a TV. An LCD readout on the lower front panel relates volume level and processing status; there's also a volume control and an input selector. We mostly used the remote control to handle those functions and execute the setup routines.

The YSP-1100's streamlined IntelliBeam autosetup and calibration system was a breeze to use. Once we brought up the onscreen menu, plugged in the supplied microphone, the completely automated procedure takes just a few minutes to complete. With that squared away, the surround effects were accurately placed, but the autosetup's subwoofer volume was too loud (we used a $399 Polk PSW12). We manually lowered the Polk's volume to suit our taste.

Features of Yamaha YSP-1100
The Yamaha YSP-1100 doesn't just function as a speaker, it has the switching capabilities of an A/V receiver. To be more specific, the speaker's connections are arrayed on its hindquarters, facing downward to simplify wall mounting. There are two sets of stereo analog inputs; three digital inputs (two optical, one coaxial); a subwoofer output; two component video inputs; three composite video inputs; and one set of component- and composite-video outputs. Conspicuous by their absence are S-Video and HDMI connections. The RS-232C interface will be of use when the YSP-1100 is part of a custom installation system. The speaker also supports infrared (IR) signal transmission to compatible components passed via its IR remote-in connector.

Surround processing modes include Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, DTS Neo:6, and Yamaha's proprietary Cinema DSP technology. Again, because the surround decoding is built into the YSP-1100, it can effectively take the place of a basic A/V receiver.

The YSP-1100 employs 40 1.5-inch micro drivers and 2 4.25-inch woofers--each powered by its own digital amplifier--as well as projection technology to control the direction of the sound. It does this by focusing the 1.5-inch drivers' sound into groups of "beams" that reflect off the room's walls. The center channel's sound, meanwhile, is projected directly from the YSP-1100 to the listening position.

Because each room's acoustics vary, the YSP-1100 offers five Beam-Mode settings, all controllable via the remote:

  • 5-Beam: The five channels--Left, Right, Center, Left Surround and Right Surround--are completely separate. Each channel's sound is beamed off the walls to create the effect of a surround system with rear speakers.

  • 3-Beam: Three beams are produced--Left/Left Surround, Center, and Right/Right Surround. The surround-sound effect is created by reflecting the sound off the side walls.

  • Stereo-plus-3-Beam: The Left and Right channels are produced using stereo mode while the surround channels are produced with beams.

  • Stereo: No beams are reflected off walls, and the YSP-1100's projects stereo sound directly to the listener.

  • My Beam: Instead of creating a broad soundstage for a group of listeners, the YSP-1100 "focuses" the sound to one position in the room, even well over to one side of the room. My Beam does that, but completely squashes the surround spaciousness down to a single (mono) channel of sound. Yamaha claims the My Beam can so closely focus the sound that it would be less audible to other people in the room, but the difference in volume level between the My Beam-directed sound and the other parts of the room isn't all that significant. To activate the My Beam, just point the remote control at the YSP-1100, hold a My Beam button for a few seconds, and the sound is directed to that spot.

The YSP-1100's three late-night listening modes for cinema, music, and TV compressed the soft-to-loud dynamic range of the sound heard over the speaker.

If you like the single-speaker concept but you're looking to save some cash, consider the Yamaha YSP-800. It's smaller and boasts only half as many minidrivers (21 versus the YSP-1100's 42), but the price tag is a more wallet-friendly $800.

Performance of Yamaha YSP-1100
With the YSP-1100, Yamaha's Digital Sound Projectors have attained a new level of refinement--its sound is notably better than that of the 2005 predecessors, the YSP-1 and the YSP-1000. We were pleased to note the surround effect isn't limited to the listeners seated directly in front of the speaker. As we moved to the left and right across our 7-foot-wide couch, the phantom speakers' positions remained fairly stable; no other virtual surround speaker system can match that feat. Yes, the YSP speakers have had that ability for awhile now, but it's the YSP-1100's sound quality that shows the biggest improvement.

We mostly listened to the YSP-1100 with a Polk Audio PSW12 subwoofer supplying the deep bass, but when we disconnected the sub and listened with just the YSP-1100's twin woofers, the bass was nowhere as powerful, though it was definitely acceptable. We can imagine in smaller rooms, or for buyers who don't need to feel the deep bass effect in their DVDs, an outboard sub won't be necessary.

The Woods, a scary DVD set in a rural, girls' boarding school, demonstrated the YSP-1100's strengths as a purveyor of home-theater thrills. The horde of creepy voices whispering in the surround channels sounded much like the voices in the front channels. That level of channel-to-channel tonal accuracy is rare in virtual surround speakers. Normal dialog was also above par in its naturalness and imaging stability; no matter where we sat in our home theater, the dialog's position remained rock solid, directly under the screen.

We next checked out the Pixies' Live at the Paradise in Boston concert DVD. As long as we kept the volume to moderate levels, the sound quality was fine, and the sense of being in a small club was very good. Turn up the volume too far, and the sound turns harsh. On the song entitled "Hey," when the audience started to chime in with their own "heys," those sounds appeared well out into the room.

With its surround mettle proven, we turned to 2-channel stereo sources. Listening to CDs, we spent a lot of time switching back and forth between the Stereo, 3-Beam, and Stereo-plus-3-Beam modes, while alternately engaging and disengaging Dolby Pro Logic II processing in each mode. Stereo yielded the cleanest, most naturally balanced sound, but the stereo separation was limited to the 40.6-inch width of the YSP-1100. Dolby Pro Logic II surround dramatically opened up the sound of CDs, projecting it three feet out to the sides of the speaker, but the processing made for less sharply defined imaging and thinned out the warmth we liked in Stereo mode. Of course, the spatial effects and sound quality varied from one CD to the next. On Jerry Lee Lewis's new duets recording, Last Man Standing, we definitely preferred Stereo; the sound of the two Beamed modes was too harsh for us. Then again, Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club CD, recorded in a large studio in Havana, Cuba, sounded spectacularly huge in Stereo-Plus-Three Beam Mode. The YSP-1100 recreated the acoustics of the large studio in surround, and much of that spaciousness was lost the second we switched back to Stereo. We preferred Stereo for an intimate Duke Ellington CD, This One's For Blanton, and the YSP-1100 absolutely nailed the sound of Duke's piano. If you're fussy about sound, it's easy enough to switch modes, but we expect many users to just stick with one setting and be done with it.

Bottom line: the Yamaha YSP-1100 was more consistently satisfying with DVDs, but CD sound was still quite good. Was the fashionable Yamaha as enjoyable as a well-set-up, equivalently priced 5.1-channel system? No, but as virtual surround systems go, the YSP-1100 is the state of the art for the time being.

8.3

Yamaha Digital Sound Projector YSP-1100

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8
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