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Yamaha YSP-1600 review: Enveloping sound, but not enough low-end punch

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The Good The Yamaha YSP-1600 gives you convincing pseudo-surround sound in a compact package. Its long list of features includes HDMI, Bluetooth and multiroom streaming. Despite lacking a subwoofer, it's still capable of decent bass.

The Bad Better sounding sound bars are available for less money. For the best sound quality you'll also need a separate subwoofer, which adds extra cost.

The Bottom Line The Yamaha YSP-1600 is well equipped, stylish and produces a wide soundstage, but overall sound quality isn't impressive enough for the price.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Sound 7
  • Value 7

While Yamaha didn't invent the sound bar, the company has produced some winners over the past few years. Models such as the YAS-203 and the SRT-1000 are stars in their respective fields. Given that its most serious competitor, Pioneer, has seemingly ducked out of the race -- the excellent SP-SB03 is alternately heavily discounted or listed as discontinued, for example -- Yamaha is now one of the "go-to" brands.

As a result Yamaha's strongest competition for YSP-1600 is the company itself. This sound bar is a competent performer with a bunch of useful features including HDMI, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi multiroom music. The problem is that at $499, £499 and a kind of crazy AU$999, it's not as good as the cheaper Yamaha YAS-203, which has a more balanced sound with both movies and music.

Because the YSP-1600 lacks a dedicated subwoofer, it's not capable of the bombast of its label mate, not to mention pretenders to the throne like the LG Music Flow LAS751M , which also includes wireless music playback.

The YSP-1600 does have its pluses though, and number one is its ability to beam "surround" sound around your room in a believable way. Neither of the aforementioned systems can do that. Instead they suffice with a kind of wide mode. The Yamaha looks great too, and the MusicCast architecture is one of the most promising multi-room systems. However, if you're looking at a set-and-forget system that works better with movies and music, go with the YAS-203 instead.

Design

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Where the former YSP-1400 had feet elevating the sound bar above the surface, the brand new YSP-1600 is flush with the ground. The slimmer 2.5 inch height means it will also fit underneath a greater number of TVs than Yamaha's 3.75-inch YSP-1400.

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Cosmetically the 1600 differs from the curvy 1400 with a more "plank-like" look. The arrangement of drivers is still the same across the front of the 39-inch wide device and the bar is just as deep at 5 inches. The subwoofers are now in the top and protected by wire grilles.

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The remote control is friendly and easy to use. It has all of the necessary buttons and its wide flat shape should fit most hands comfortably.

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The on-screen menu system? Well, what can be said apart from "it has one"? It's small, and not very powerful, and doesn't inform you of what's occurring at some of the most crucial times. For firmware updates, for example, it resorts instead to a series of incomprehensibly flashing lights on the unit itself rather than a more helpful "Updating Firmware" message on your TV.

Features

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The YSP-1600 is an all-in-one sound bar with two 3.25-inch "subwoofers" on board. While it's only a front-facing unit, it does use eight 1.125-inch beam drivers to simulate surround sound by reflecting off surfaces in your room.

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Unlike many sound bars at or below the price, the YSP-1600 includes HDMI in and out with support for 4K standards including HDCP 2.2. The sound bar will also decode both Dolby and DTS (though not their HD equivalents).

To complete the company's fully-rounded offering the YSP-1600 also includes Bluetooth, digital optical, an analog input and a much-needed subwoofer out. Alongside comes Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity which brings with it Apple AirPlay and the company's own MusicCast system.

MusicCast

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Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The Yamaha is the first product we've seen to support the company's new MusicCast multiroom system. It promises playback for Pandora, Spotify and Rhapsody as well as Internet radio and music stored on your phone and your network. Unlike some other systems -- namely Sonos and Denon's HEOS -- the Yamaha MusicCast system is able to play hi-res files up to 24-bit/96kHz, which is handy even if just from a compatibility standpoint.

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Control of your digital music (and limited control of the unit itself) is possible with the use of an app for both Android and iOS. It offers the ability to control multiple zones and a degree of customization including configurable artwork for each zone.

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Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

As with any new software, though, there are some things it can't do, and the most obvious is that it's not yet possible to make on-the-fly playlists. You get one song, the whole album or old playlists created elsewhere. And we're not even going to touch the lack of a search function.

The player offers the ability to skip tracks, play pause and all the usual stuff, but it doesn't always let you rewind or fast-forward within a song. This was especially true of music played from a network device, and as reviewers who have to wait till past the 2-minute mark in some songs we found this particularly annoying. Hopefully these features, as well as further streaming services like Amazon and Tidal (to name just two), can be added without too much difficulty.

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