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

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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.

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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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