The biggest attractions of the ever-expanding home-theater-in-a-box market are compact size, ease of setup, and affordability--all of which also happen to be the major allures of Yamaha's new $500 DVX-S120 Home Cinema system. The tastefully designed receiver/DVD player is devoid of glitzy blue lights and garish chrome filigree, while the 5.1 speaker array is commendably demure. Unfortunately, our enthusiasm doesn't extend to the S120's middle-of-the-pack sound quality.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The trim, silver receiver/DVD player and the remote's aqua-green accents add a fresh kick to the Yamaha DVX-S120's look. All of the controls and buttons conveniently grace the front of the component's curved top panel, and setup chores are fuss-free.
We liked the remote's logical button layout and its handy subwoofer, center-channel, and surround-speaker volume controls. On the flip side, the S120's clicker does require more than the average amount of button pushing to accomplish certain tasks; you must first hit the Amp or DVD button to access different functions.
The 6.75-inch-tall satellites and 11.75-inch-wide center speaker are attractively styled in silver plastic and feature muted-gray cloth grilles. The little guys feel pretty solid and weigh an above-average 2 pounds each. The matching 18.5-pound subwoofer is just 8 inches wide, 14.25 inches high, and 12.5 inches deep--that's on the small side, even for compact HTIB subs. The receiver/DVD player houses five 45-watt channels and a generous selection of surround processing modes (see the section of the review), along with the standard set of Dolby and DTS processing modes. Connectivity options are scarce but satisfactory for small home theaters: progressive/component, composite and S-Video outputs, and two A/V inputs, plus one optical digital audio input and one output.
The satellites and center speaker each feature twin 2-inch drivers, though no tweeters, while the 100-watt powered subwoofer has a 6.5-inch woofer. Yamaha supplies metal brackets in case you want to wall-mount the sats and center-channel speakers.
The included speaker wires are fitted with a unique locking connector that mates with the female receptacles on the receiver/DVD player. We've seen similar connectors on Sony's Dream Systems and other HTIBs, but the Yamaha's connectors are uniquely removable; you can easily install them on higher quality speaker wire if you choose to upgrade. Nice. We got acquainted with the DVX-S120's abilities with the Cold Mountain DVD. Set during the Civil War, the battle scenes' cannon blasts rumbled and quaked with visceral authority. Frankly, we didn't expect a big sound from this rather compact HTIB, but its powered subwoofer can fill a good-size home theater with bass. But while the low frequencies are palpable, we were less happy with the quality of the bass. It had a tendency to cross over the line from ample to bloated and boomy, and while that can be a plus for movies or dance music, some buyers might find it problematic for acoustic pop or jazz.
Turning our attention to the satellites, their sound was curiously flat and lacking in dynamics, though the surround effects were nicely enveloping. Once we scaled back the intensity with a DVD from the second season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the S120 came into its own. Dialogue was richly balanced and clear, and the bouncy Larry David soundtrack music sounded fine.
Ah, but the S120's sound on CDs was unexceptional. The satellites' treble was muted and sounded rather tizzy--it was like listening to five small portable radios--accompanied by the subwoofer's overly prominent bass. Even so, the blend between the sats and subwoofer was acceptable, so vocals sounded pretty good--and that's not always the case with HTIBs with tiny sats.
Yamaha has developed a reputation for developing its proprietary DSP (digital signal processing) expertise. So in addition to everyday Dolby and DTS surround processing for stereo sources such as CD or the radio, the DVX-S120 has 19 more surround options. We settled on Music Video and noted it produced an enhanced surround effect compared to Dolby's Pro Logic II. The surround processing is also available via the S120's headphone jack, so we listened over our Grado SR80 headphones. The effect sounded more spacious than stereo, but the S120's sound quality over headphones was very bright and bass-shy.