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Yamaha YAS-209 review: The Alexa sound bar to beat

Big, spacious sound

There are several smart sound bars available now, but the closest rival to the YAS-209 is the Polk Command Bar. Both bars offer wireless subs, onboard Amazon Alexa and HDMI connectivity, so comparing these two is where I started. It's been a year since I reviewed the Command Bar and Polk's since done some fine-tuning, including adding Alexa multiroom music compatibility, and the Command Bar remains a fine speaker. 

The two were well-matched sonically, especially with movies, but the Yamaha pulled ahead of the Polk with its DTS Virtual:X implementation and the improved bass output afforded by its larger sub.

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Firstly, I loaded the 4K copy of Mad Max: Fury Road in our CNET reference player, the Oppo UDP-205. The opening scene's jarring mix of ghostly voices and gunning motors exploded into the room on the Yamaha. I found it was most impressive with the movie mode engaged, as it made the movie wrap around the listening area. The same scene was still enjoyable using the Command Bar, but the sub didn't slam quite as hard as Max Rockatansky fired up the Charger to escape the War Boys, and the effect of the swirling voices preceding it wasn't as pronounced.

With music there was a better separation of instruments with the Yamaha over the Polk and a broader stereo effect with the YAS-209 (in its Stereo mode). I did experiment with the Yamaha's Music mode but it added even more reverb to John Lennon's vocals during A Day In The Life and offered less separation between instruments. The Yamaha wasn't as bright as the Command Bar with the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1, although it sounded a tiny bit compressed once the chorus came in.

The differences showed up during Part II of the song, with the Yamaha subwoofer demonstrating better articulation when the raucous drumset and squishy bass synth kicked in. The Command Bar's sub sounded a little bloated in comparison.

I also compared the new Klipsch Bar 40 -- intriguing because it's now constructed from MDF (medium-density fiberboard) instead of plastic. First impressions were good, with the Klipsch offering plenty of insight into recordings. However, the Yamaha sounded more relaxed and confident with Queen's Don't Stop Me Now, and the tiny Klipsch subwoofer just didn't have as much headroom as the Yamaha. Movies sounded suitably dynamic on the Klipsch, though. 

When it comes to how well a speaker can hear your commands, Yamaha told me that the secret sauce is better microphones. Even though it doesn't have a large array of mics -- only two total -- I found the Yamaha was able to hear me without my shouting even with the music cranked up. No voice assistant speaker is ever able to hear you 100 per cent of the time, the Yamaha included, but I found it performed better than most speakers I've used. 

Should you buy it?

If you have a summer blockbuster you're itching to see at home -- like the recently released Avengers: Endgame -- then the Yamaha YAS-209 will suit you well. It offers some of the most immersive sonics you can get from a single sound bar. It's also a toe-tapper when it comes to playing music. 

If you want to save a little money, though, it's worth considering the Polk Command Bar, especially if you can find it at $250. If there's only the usual $50 between them I'd err in favor of the Yamaha. It sounds better, it looks better and the microphones work more reliably when things get loud.

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