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They got the look
The $600 (list) NS-P610 ensemble includes four satellites, a center-channel speaker, and a powered subwoofer. The level of finish is extraordinarily high for such a modestly priced system. In addition to the drop-dead-gorgeous, piano-black finish, the P610 is also available in cherry.
The 7-inch-tall sats feature 3-inch woofers and 1-inch dome tweeters, while the center-channel speaker matches the sats but doubles up on the 3-inch woofers. The satellites and the center speaker feature rear ports, so they perform best with a little breathing room rather than squashed against a wall. The entire system, including the sub, is magnetically shielded, so it can be placed next to a TV with no picture distortion.
As far as the sub goes, it features a forward-firing, 8-inch woofer with a built-in, 70-watt Advanced YST amplifier. This is one of the smaller subs we've seen, measuring just 9.3 by 14.3 by 12.5 inches. For some strange reason, most subs hide their buttons on the back panel, but the Yamaha's level volume and cross-over control are right up front, so it's easy to reach over and tweak the sub/sat balance for DVDs and CDs. Since the sub incorporates a front-mounted port, it can be tucked into an entertainment center. We found the subwoofer to be one flexible critter, happy in either a vertical or a horizontal orientation.
On the connectivity front, choices include stereo line-level inputs and speaker-level inputs and outputs. However, we noted that one standard subwoofer feature, the 0-/180-degree phase switch, was omitted. That's not a big deal, but ensuring that the sub and sats are moving in phase may be a time-consuming setup task if you need to position the sub in a corner, more than a few feet from the sats.
Looks aren't everything
The first thing we noticed was that dialogue sounded distant and small on familiar DVDs such as The Thin Red Line. Bass was present but indistinct at more than moderately loud levels, and the sub wasn't quite deep and rumbly enough to belt out the sound of speed on The Fast and the Furious DVD. A quick face-off with our Energy Take 8.2 sub confirmed the P610's deficient low-end prowess. More gripes: Surround effects weren't well integrated with the front soundstage. We were always aware of the Yamaha's surround speakers as separate sound sources, which is not a good thing.
CDs sounded a little better, though the P610 couldn't rock out with any sort of conviction. This package was at its best at low to moderate levels. Jazz pianist George Shearing's Back to Birdland CD sounded sweet. On that disc, the sub started off sounding reasonably tight but turned thick and droney as we cranked the volume.
We hooked up the Yamaha posse to a receiver, and the sound quality was on a par with only that of a small shelf system. Well, the Yamaha could play louder than that, but it's not as refined as, say, the or the overachieving . The P610 looks wonderful, but the sound is only barely adequate.