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Yamaha SRT-1000 review: Realistic surround sound from a compact speaker base

The Yamaha SRT-1000 sound base offers discreet looks, an astoundingly wide soundstage and plenty of features in a package that is still affordable enough.

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Ty Pendlebury Steve Guttenberg
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Ty Pendlebury Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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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.

5 min read

Things are heating up in the sound base market -- speakers designed to sit under your TV -- with some strong releases in 2014 from manufacturers such as Pioneer and JBL . Yamaha has decided to throw its weight around in the category by releasing its first model, the SRT-1000.

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8.4

Yamaha SRT-1000

The Good

The Yamaha SRT-1000 offers the best simulated surround sound of any sound bar at its price level. Dolby and DTS decoding help it sound excellent with movies and decent with music. The speaker is well-built and attractive, with plenty of usability features such as easy-to-access cabling, and the subwoofer out is a welcome addition.

The Bad

Music mode is poor. More expensive than many sound bases.

The Bottom Line

The Yamaha SRT-1000 offers discreet looks, an astoundingly wide soundstage and plenty of features, upping the ante for the sound base speaker category.

Unlike most sound bases, it's designed to give "true" surround sound using dedicated surround drivers. And it kinda works. The effect is the next best thing to actual speakers placed around your room.

In fact the SRT-1000 does very little wrong. It offers smart design and a number of handy features, and really shakes things up in this nascent category. If you want to watch movies in surround but don't want to go the receiver and discrete speaker route, and don't mind spending a bit extra, the Yamaha offers both convenience and great performance.

Design

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Yamaha SRT-1000 is a compact sound base that can support up to 55-inch TVs. It sports a low-slung look, not unlike the LG SoundPlate , and measures 30.75 inches wide by 3 inches tall (though the beveled top makes it appear slimmer) and 14.6 inches deep.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The unit is constructed predominantly of solid MDF rather than plastic, a new and welcome trend for sound bars and stands, while the front panel is protected by an attractive metal grille. The front also contains the main controls including source selection and volume as well as the unexpected inclusion of dedicated source indicators -- almost unheard-of on products like this.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the inputs are at the back of the cabinet there is also a convenient hatch built into the top of the unit which means you don't need to get behind your TV unit to plug new things in.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is a step above most sound bar offerings in that it's an actual remote, not a credit card-size toy. There are even pictograms to explain the different sound options.

Yamaha SRT-1000 product photos

See all photos

Features

The SRT-1000 is Yamaha's first sound base, and features Yamaha's own Digital Sound Projector technology to bounce signals off the side and back walls in an attempt to give you a more localized surround effect.

We give the SRT-1000 a lot of credit for attempting to break through the performance barriers common to all sound bars and bases. What do we mean by barriers? All 'bases funnel the sound of five speaker and subwoofer channels through a single speaker cabinet, and lose most of the room-filling sound, dynamic range and deep bass that you get from bona-fide 5.1 channel speaker/subwoofer systems. The SRT-1000 gets more of that sound than any other sound base in its price class.

Most sound bars, and sound bases for that matter, are simple stereo affairs, and while many offer surround-like modes they're more "wide" than true surround sound. The Yamaha SRT-1000 is the first sound base we've seen to bring "true" surround technology in a compact, affordable package.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The SRT-1000 uses the Yamaha features eight beam drivers that direct the sound around your room in addition to two more "traditional" oval stereo drivers. The beam drivers use phase-shifted technology to aim the beams.

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Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The speaker even comes with a smartphone app that gives you even greater control over where the beams are concentrated. The iOS and Android app "Home Theater Controller" also offers input selection, DSP mode (Game, Movie, Music, Sports or Stereo) and room calibration settings.

While most of its competitors can only decode Dolby, the Yamaha can handle both Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround. This makes the speaker an all-rounder, suited to both TV audio and the surround soundtracks of Blu-rays and DVDs.

Like most powered speakers these days the SRT-1000 includes support for Bluetooth, with the addition of support for aptX which can improve sound quality with compatible devices.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The SRT-1000 boasts two 3.25-inch "subwoofers" that can get down to a claimed 45Hz. There's also a subwoofer output should you want more bass, again unusual at this price. Be aware that there is no external subwoofer control from the remote, however, so you'll need a sub with an independent volume control and crossover. Unfortunately this meant that we couldn't use our customary Aperion subwoofer to test the Yamaha's subwoofer output.

Performance

One of the reasons the SRT-1000 sounds so much better playing movies than other bases is its onboard Dolby and DTS processing. A lot of similarly priced sound bars and bases make do with just Dolby, so unless you want to delve into your set-top box's or player's setup menu every time you watch a DTS-encoded movie, you'll have to remember to switch over to PCM digital (or you won't get any sound). With the SRT-1000 you never have to switch between PCM and bit stream; you can always listen to the movies' bit stream soundtracks, which almost always sound a lot better than the PCM down mix.

We started our SRT-1000 evaluations with the "Flyboys" Blu-ray, and the sound was extraordinarily open and spacious. This film about American fighter pilots flying French planes in World War I has terrific sound, and the SRT-1000 didn't hold anything back. The rat-tat-tat machine gun blasts, plane crashes and explosions were viscerally felt, and the SRT-1000 played loud without sounding like it was working very hard.

We wondered how Pioneer's SP-SB03 Speaker Base would compare, and initially it projected a much smaller, less spacious soundstage. Dialogue was more fleshed out, but there was less treble detail and "air" from the SP-SB03. We had been playing the PCM down mix from the DTS track on our Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player; when we changed over to the French language Dolby bit stream the SP-SB03's soundstage expanded, dynamics increased and the performance gap between the two sound bases narrowed. Even so, we still preferred the SRT-1000 for its bigger, more dynamic and detailed sound. It's simply a better-sounding base.

Eminem's "Live From New York" concert DVD lit up the SRT-1000: the bass was deep and clearly defined, and vocals were spot-on. But the SP-SB03 was no slouch. Its richer and warmer tonal balance was very enjoyable, but it sounded less clear overall.

CDs sounded fine on the SRT-1000 in either the Stereo or Music playback modes. Music produced the larger soundstage, but added a slightly swishy tizz to the sound of cymbals; switching to Stereo eliminated that distortion.

The Yamaha sounded just as good as the Pioneer Sound Base for Bluetooth replay -- even better on less noisy material like music by The Mountain Goats, while the Pioneer's constrained musical nature paradoxically sounded better with raucous guitar music. As we quickly found, setting the Yamaha to music mode at any time is a mistake but particularly so with Bluetooth. It strips the music down to the size and scale of a small transistor radio while simultaneously amplifying Bluetooth "hash" for a sound that is truly dreadful.

Conclusion

Considering that the SRT-1000 is Yamaha's very first sound base speaker, it's all the more amazing that it upped the ante for the category. For the extra $150 premium over the Pioneer Speaker Base you get more features and actual surround sound. While we love the Pioneer for the money, the Yamaha simply outclasses it.

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8.4

Yamaha SRT-1000

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 9
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