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Yamaha YSP-1400 review: Virtual surround sound on a budget -- with a catch

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The Good The Yamaha YSP-1400 sound bar features the company's Digital Sound Projector technology that bounces sound off the walls in your room to create credible virtual surround sound. The system has built-in Bluetooth and an IR repeater, so it won't block your signals from your TV's remote control. There's also onboard decoding for both Dolby Digital and DTS. And its budget price is far below Yamaha's other Digital Sound Projector sound bars.

The Bad Getting a true surround sound signal to the YSP-1400 can be difficult. While it does sound more spacious than a standard sound bar, it doesn't match the true virtual surround magic of Yamaha's pricier sound bars. And the lack of an external subwoofer means bass won't be quite as deep or powerful as systems with a separate sub.

The Bottom Line Yamaha's YSP-1400 brings the company's Digital Sound Projector technology to a budget price point, but a couple of caveats keep it from being a standout sound bar.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Sound 7
  • Value 7

Lots of sound bars promise to create "virtual" surround sound from a single speaker enclosure, but Yamaha's Digital Sound Projector line have historically been the only models that can actually do it well. It's an impressive feat, accomplished by bouncing sound off nearby walls and furniture, but the catch is the pricing tends to start at $1,000, putting them out of range for most buyers.

That's what makes the YSP-1400 ($400) so compelling. It's a full-fledged Yamaha Digital Sound Projector, but for just a fraction of the price, putting virtual surround sound within reach of a buyer on a budget. It has a sleek piano-black cabinet and a solid set of features, including built-in Bluetooth and an IR repeater so the sound bar won't block your TV remote signals.

But some significant compromises keep the YSP-1400 keep it from being a completely recommendable surround-friendly sound bar. It's built to use your TV as a switcher, but since most TVs "dumb down" incoming audio to stereo, that means you'll miss out on most of the surround effects the Digital Sound Projector line promises. Even if you get the right surround sound signal to the YSP-1400, don't expect the full surround experience you'd get on the more expensive Yamaha models -- although it is more spacious than a typical sound bar. And without a separate subwoofer, the bass just isn't as deep or powerful, however it does have an output for adding one on your own.

The Yamaha YSP-1400 gets a lot right, especially the price, but buyers should be aware of the limitations that keep it from being a standout pick.

Design: Sleek and slim
The YSP-1400 may superficially look like a typical sound bar, but its design is actually pretty unconventional. Rather than a long speaker grille that fills the front panel, there's just a short grille in the center, covering up an array of eight 1.13-inch drivers. That array of drivers is the magic behind Yamaha's Digital Sound Projector technology, creating beams of sound to reflect off walls in your room.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Also of note are the two legs holding up the bar, which enclose two 3.25-inch subwoofers. That mean there's no wireless subwoofer with the system, which is nice for minimalists looking to eliminate another box, but typically bad for making deep bass -- more on that later.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The YSP-1400 is a relatively short sound bar at 3.75 inches high, so you're less likely to run into the common problem of the sound bar blocking your TV's remote sensor. But even if its modest height is an issue, the YSP-1400 has you covered, as its IR repeater will send any codes the sound bar receives out through its back, ensuring they reach your TV set.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The included remote is a cut above most sound bar clickers. Its chunky size fits well in your hand, and important buttons like volume and inputs are nicely separated. Backlighting would be nice, but it's rarely offered at this price.

Features: Bluetooth and a handful of inputs
The YSP-1400's back panel has the standard assortment of inputs: optical, coaxial, analog, and minijack. Typically, that's plenty to cover a standard home theater if you use your TV as a switcher and connect its optical output to the sound bar.

Sarah Tew/CNET

However, it's not quite as simple with the YSP-1400. Most TVs "dumb down" incoming surround-sound signals to plain old stereo, which isn't much of an issue with a standard 2.0 system or 2.0 sound bar. But it's more of a concern with the YSP-1400, which promises a convincing faux-surround experience. That means to get the right kind of signal to the YSP-1400, you'll need to connect your component directly to the sound bar or you'll have to employ a more clunky workaround, like an HDMI switcher with an optical output.

Aside from physical connections, you can also wirelessly stream audio to the YSP-1400 using its built-in Bluetooth. There is compression with Bluetooth audio, so there is some sound quality lost, but it's less noticeable from a sound bar than a system with separate speakers.

There's also onboard Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, which are handy since the YSP-1400 promises a legitimate surround-sound experience.

Setup: Tricky to get it right

The YSP-1400's setup seems straightforward. For the best sound quality, Yamaha recommends keeping the YSP-1400 away from corners, but that's true for all sound bars. Like the more expensive YSP models, the YSP-1400 creates surround sound by bouncing sound off the room's side walls, so best results will be achieved when those walls are free of furniture and thick drapes.

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