Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
Editors' note: As of July 2008, Yamaha has released a follow-up product, the YSP-3050. That model is almost identical to the YSP-3000 reviewed here, but it offers the noteworthy upgrade of analog-to-digital HDMI video conversion.
Editors' note 11/12/2009: The rating of the Yamaha YSP-3000 has been changed since publication to better reflect its value compared to competing home theater systems.
Now that almost every audio company is selling a "surround bar"--that is, a single, long speaker that attempts to mimic the enveloping sound of a real 5.1 system--it's easy to forget just how new the technology is. Yamaha was the first to roll out a consumer-oriented sound bar back at CES 2005, and CNET declared the Yamaha YSP-1 a "Next Big Thing" finalist and went on to give a solid rating. The issues we had on the YSP-1 are pretty much the same ones we have with all surround bars--they're usually expensive and don't sound that great with music.
Yamaha is still a leader in the surround bar market, and the company has reshuffled its YSP single-speaker surround lineup for 2008. The YSP-3000 ($1,000 list, $700 street), the subject of this review, fits between the no-frills, entry-level YSP-900 ($700 list, $500 street), and the fully loaded YSP-4000 ($1,600 list, $1,100 street). The YSP-3000 boasts 1080p HDMI switching, XM satellite radio compatibility, and an FM tuner. Like all YSP speakers, the YSP-3000 speaker has built-in power amplifiers and proprietary signal processing. Just hook up your HDMI video source--DVD, Blu-ray player, game console, or cable box--and you're good to go. No need to buy an AV receiver (though non-HDMI sources will have to be run directly to the TV).
A perforated metal grille covers most of the YSP-3000's front panel; below the grille there's an LCD readout that relates volume level and processing status, and farther to the right is a volume control and an input selector. The speaker feels solidly constructed, and its 25.4-pound weight feels surprisingly heavy for its size. The speaker is 31.5 inches wide, 6.1inches high, and 5.9 inches deep, which is not quite as long as some other sound bars we've tested, but it may be too tall to fit under some TVs. If that's a problem for you, the YSP-300 can be wall mounted with the optional SPM-K30 bracket.
The included remote control is pretty good for enthusiasts, but those who are less tech-savvy may be intimidated by its numerous buttons and functions. We liked that we could directly adjust individual channel volume levels and that the remote could also control a TV. On the downside, the input buttons are small, the remote isn't backlit, and there's little differentiation of button size within each section, making it difficult to navigate by feel. Of course, you can always upgrade to a quality universal remote.
The YSP-3000's 21 1.5-inch microdrivers create surround sound by bouncing the front-left, front-right, and surround channels' sound off your room's walls; the center channel's sound is projected directly from the YSP-3000 to the listening position. Your room's acoustics can play a significant role in the sound you hear; bare walls work best, and objects in the room, such as chairs, drapes, or furniture, may adversely affect the quality of the surround sound. If your room is pretty cluttered with stuff, you may want to opt for a sound bar that doesn't use sound reflection technology, such as the Polk SurroundBar 50 or Definitive Technology SSA-50. The YSP-3000's bass is supplied by a pair of 4-inch woofers, and both the microdrivers and woofers are each powered by their own digital amplifier, with total power rated at 82 watts.
Yamaha's IntelliBeam autosetup and calibration system couldn't be easier to use. Just bring up the onscreen menu, plug in the supplied microphone, and the automated procedure takes just a few minutes to complete. While the autosetup worked quite well, we managed to improve the sound by tweaking the manual setup adjustments. If your dealer has qualified technicians, they might be able to eke out better performance than you'll get with the autosetup. Surround processing modes include Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, DTS Neo:6, Neural Surround, and Yamaha's proprietary Cinema DSP technology. Audiophiles will note there's no support for the newest Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack formats, but we're betting most audiophiles will be sticking with separate speakers anyway.
Most of the speaker's connectors are recessed into its rear panel: there are two HDMI inputs and one output; two stereo analog inputs; a subwoofer output; two optical and two coaxial digital inputs; a dock terminal for Yamaha's YDS-10 iPod dock; and an XM antenna jack for use with XM's Mini-Tuner Home Dock. Not bad, but the YSP-3000 lacks video inputs for composite, S-Video, or component sources, such as a cable box or the Wii. Also note that the YDS-10 iPod dock can only be used for audio--movies and photos won't work. The front panel has a 3.5mm jack for handy connection with portable audio players.
Unfortunately, the YSP-3000's menus aren't available over its HDMI output, so if you're using a HDMI set, you'll need to also hook up the YSP-3000's composite video output to your TV to see the menus. While that might have been passable two years ago when HDMI was still in its infancy, it's really an unacceptable workaround for such an expensive product in 2008, even if you only have to access the menu every so often.
The YSP-3000 has many of the same features as the flagship YSP-4000. The YSP-4000 adds more surround modes, two component video inputs, three composite video inputs, analog to digital (HDMI) conversion of those aforementioned video inputs, and, most importantly, twice as many microdrivers. Then again, if you're not interested in any video connectivity, there's the even more affordable YSP-900, which sounds identical to the YSP-3000 and costs significantly less.
The YSP-3000, like all of the other Yamaha YSP speakers we've tested to date, is capable of projecting a large, immersive soundfield. No other brand's single-speaker surround systems are even close; Yamaha YSP speakers are state of the art in that regard. That holds true for listeners seated directly in front of the YSP-3000 and listeners seated off to the sides of the couch. We could even stand up and walk around the room and the sound remained spacious. However, while the speaker can be used without a subwoofer, we wouldn't recommend it as the YSP-300 won't produce any deep bass on its own. We used a Yamaha YST-FSW100 sub for most of our listening tests.
The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Blu-ray disc sounded good enough for us to forget that all of the sound filling the CNET listening room was coming from the YSP-3000. Sound quality was generally quite good, but when the demands of the naval battle scenes upped the ante, the Yamaha speaker's limitations became obvious. The ships' cannon blasts didn't have the same impact we'd get from a 5.1 channel speaker/subwoofer combination like Aperion's Intimus 5B Harmony SD. The Yamaha YST-FSW100 subwoofer was partly to blame, as it didn't have the sock of the Aperion's Bravus 8D sub. The YSP speaker can also be overtaxed and sound strained by highly dynamic special effects. So overall surround sound was excellent, but judged on a sound-quality basis, the YSP speaker sounded less clear and detailed than Polk's SurroundBar 50 single-speaker surround system.
We switched to music, and the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense concert DVD rocked pretty hard; the audience's cheers and claps were projected well forward of the speaker. CD sound was less satisfying overall, though it was definitely at its best when we listened in stereo. True, separation was fairly narrow in stereo mode, but engaging the YSP-3000's surround processing to create a more room-filling sound also adversely affected the sound quality, making it hazy, harsher, and generally less satisfying. In any case, the Black Key's blues-rock lacked punch and orchestral classical music had a muffled quality. The YSP-3000 was more enjoyable with Blu-ray and DVDs.