Sound bars have been one of Yamaha's greatest strengths in recent times with models such as the YAS-203 earning the company accolades, including our own Editors' Choice. But in the two years since, the company has struggled to maintain momentum in the face of strong competition from LG and Samsung. In an era when AV equipment is getting both better and cheaper, models such as the YSP-5600 Atmos speaker and the SRT-1500 sound base were simply too expensive for what they did. Yamaha needed a budget hit -- and that's exactly what its new YAS-106 delivers.
The YAS-106 is evolved from the YAS-203 and yet it offers a more affordable price and support for HDMI. It does lack a subwoofer, but that may well be a feature rather than a bug for urban apartment dwellers. And you can still add a wired subwoofer. Build quality is top-notch, and sound quality is just what you'd hope for from Yamaha.
Throw in a wall-mounting option plus Bluetooth streaming, and you have one seriously flexible sound bar for the price of a portable speaker: Just $200 or £169. The YAS-106 doesn't appear to be available in Australia, but that US price translates to about AU$275.
As soundbars get smaller and shorter, there is one recent trend that is actually helping improve sound quality. Designs like the Sony NT5, Samsung K9500 and the YAS-106 put the drivers on top of the unit where there's more room. By and large, bigger drivers means better sound.
The unit is 35 inches wide, and if you operate it in "tabletop" mode -- sitting in front of a TV -- it's 2.25 inches high and 5.25 inches deep. The speaker is better suited to wall-mounting and comes with a pair of keyholes on the back to attach it -- even the rear-mounted control buttons are designed to be used in this upright position.
We like uncluttered remotes, and we especially like this one because it puts the speaker volume and subwoofer volume buttons side by side for easy access, why can't all sound bar remotes be this smartly designed? It may be a "credit card" shape but this is pretty much a "grown-up" design. The rubberized buttons are easier to use than the blisters you usually see on these things and it's also reasonably ergonomic. (The "subwoofer" volume switch controls the bass level.)
The Yamaha is an affordable stereo sound bar which offers a decent number of connection options and usable sound modes.
The speaker features two sets of drivers each consisting a 2.25-inch cone woofer, a 3-inch bass driver and a 1-inch dome tweeter. If you want to enhance the bass output of the unit, the system comes with a subwoofer out and Yamaha offers a selection of matching subs from about $125. The YAS-106 includes an HDMI input which can pass 4K and HDR material in addition to decoding vanilla versions of Dolby and DTS. The unit also comes with optical in, 3.5-millimeter analog and Bluetooth.
The sound bar offers a "Clear Voice" mode in addition to the standard movie and music modes. If you want more bass out of the smallish cabinet there is also a Bass Boost option. Finally, as this is not one of the company's sound projector models, any surround modes are simulated.
The Yamaha YAS-106 doesn't require much of anything in terms of setup. It's as close to plug and play as sound bars get. Just remember to leave some clearance for the YAS-106's bass ports on the ends of the speaker. The YAS 106's Clear Voice feature boosts dialogue volume somewhat for clarity's sake without adversely affecting sound quality, and Bass Extension does a good job filling out the low-end.
Also noteworthy, the YAS-106 has Dolby and DTS surround processing, something much pricier sound bars such as the $699 Sonos PlayBar do not (that model only has Dolby). We find sound bars with Dolby and DTS tend to sound better with movies when fed Bitstream audio from Blu-ray players or cable boxes than those with only Dolby.
The YAS-106 may be a budget sound bar, but it doesn't look or sound like one. When we tested it in "Surround" mode with "The Revenant," this sound bar produced a wall-to-wall soundstage in the small CNET listening room. Dialogue was clear, and the YAS-106's built-in subwoofer produced satisfyingly deep bass during the scene where the Arikawa attack the trappers. Nothing about the sound betrayed this skinny sound bar's price.
When we switched to the far more compact, but more expensive, Polk MagniFi Mini sound bar, it significantly bettered the YAS-106's room-shaking abilities with the "Star Trek Beyond" Blu-ray. The MagniFi Mini system includes a separate powered subwoofer, so when the Enterprise blew stuff up, the sound packed a bigger wallop and the YAS-106 came up short.
Yes, you can hook up a separate sub to the YAS-106 to augment its home theater oomph, but the MagniFi Mini could play louder, and was also livelier sounding and more dynamically alive than the YAS-106. Ah, but the YAS-106 produced a bigger, wider, more room filling faux surround effect. Both bars are stereo speakers, but the YAS-106's sound was more expansive than the MagniFi Mini's.
The YAS-106 was pretty special when we tested it with music. It didn't sound anemic when we played rock fairly loud, and it handled all genres without running out of steam. The MagniFi Mini sounded like a smaller speaker in the way it filled the room, but it could play louder, and its subwoofer's muscle was more athletically inclined than the YAS-106's built-in dual subs.
Should you buy it?
At $200 there isn't much that can compete with the Yamaha. However, you can pay an extra $100 for the Polk MagniFi Mini if you value better bass. Or you can double your budget and get Yamaha's YAS-203 sound bar for substantially better sound.
That said, the Yamaha YAS-106 has a lot going for it: Features, styling, and sound that's above and beyond what we would expect for the price. If you only have two hundred bucks the YAS-106 is the one to get.