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

The Yamaha YSP-1600 makes a big impression and offers plenty of features, but competitors that have separate subwoofers can offer better sound for less money.

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Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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7 min read

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.

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7.5

Yamaha YSP-1600

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.

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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Sarah Tew/CNET

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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Sarah Tew/CNET

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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Sarah Tew/CNET

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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Sarah Tew/CNET

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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Sarah Tew/CNET

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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Sarah Tew/CNET

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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Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

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.

Setup

Yamaha recommends against placing the YSP-1600 close to room corners, and you'll want to avoid placing any large furniture near the sides of the sound bar. This speaker bounces sound off the side walls of a room, it needs some space to deliver its maximum soundstage width and depth. So don't plan on placing it inside a cabinet. The YSP-1600 will do its best placed in front of a display, and even if it blocks your TV's IR receiver the YSP-1600's built-in repeater should allow your display's remote control to work normally.

Updating this sound bar via the Ethernet connection was a little more nerve-wracking than usual. For whatever reason the update status isn't indicated on your TV, but only by a series of flashing lights on the front. When the buttons on the remote wouldn't work and the unit did nothing but flash at us, we had no choice but to check the manual. We found out that this meant it had completed and needed turning off via the unit itself. Not the most self-explanatory install procedure we've ever endured.

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Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

When we used the sound bar as part of a MusicCast system we found it was easy enough to set up -- just press the Connect button on the front and let the app do the rest. By contrast the Play-Fi app can leave you hanging in the middle of a setup routine -- as we found when trying to set up the Polk Omni S6 , which cut off our Wi-Fi altogether and failed to find the speaker at all.

Performance

We were concerned that since the Yamaha YSP-1600 doesn't have a separate subwoofer, bass would be lacking, but the sound was reasonably full. Its treble-forward sound made it both bottom- and top-heavy, however, especially with the "subwoofer" control wound all the way up. A kind of sonic dumbbell, if you will.

The sci-fi action movie "Mad Max: Fury Road" Blu-ray's full-frontal assault didn't faze the YSP-1600. The big guns, heavy-duty firepower and explosions were handled without duress. Still, something was missing.

We weren't convinced the YSP-1600 was delivering the sort of impact we expect from this film so we switched over to one of our favorite sound bar systems, the $400 Yamaha YAS-203 -- $100 less than the YSP-1600.

Running through the "Mad Max: Fury Road" scenes again, the YAS-203 unleashed considerably more of the film's visceral sound. That sound bar comes with a wireless subwoofer, and the film's low bass foundation that was merely hinted at over the YSP-1600 was restored by the YAS-203 system. The fire-breathing cars and Tom Holkenborg's pounding score loomed larger over the YAS-203, and were scaled way back over the YSP-1600.

One thing that the YSP-1600 does really well, however, is something that the YAS-203 can only hint at: a truly enveloping soundstage. While the YAS-203 could sound big it could never convince us things were coming at us from the sides or rear of the room. With the Thanator chase scene in "Avatar," the YSP-1600 captured bugs flying to the sides of our seat as well as the swirls and eddies of water rushing all around us at the end of the scene. Meanwhile the bugs and water stayed locked to the front of the soundstage on the YAS. Music too was helped by the "sound cannons" of the YSP-1600, with acoustic instruments and the ethereal backing vocals of "Strange Form Of Life" seemingly coming from the sides of the room.

Next we popped on Bruce Springsteen's all-acoustic "Live in Dublin" concert DVD from 2007 and the sound was rather thin and bright over the YSP-1600. Too bad this sound bar lacks bass and treble controls, but you can turn the built-in subwoofer's volume up and down via the remote. So we nudged the sub up a bit, but even then the sound was less satisfying than what we heard from the YAS-203. The vocals, guitars, mandolins, brass and so on sounded more natural over that sound bar-sub system.

Straight-ahead dramas, such as the "Mad Men" Blu-rays, fared better over the YSP-1600. It was more than up to the job of bettering the sound you'd get from the speakers built into your TV; that it can do.

Stereo music sound quality was good enough, but despite toggling through the various modes for music, movies and even straight stereo the YSP-1600 always sounded a little thin and lightweight. The YAS-203 was better -- again that sound bar mustered a fuller, more satisfying tonal balance.

Setting up music to play via MusicCast was an easy experience, but music had the same inconsistencies that CDs did. Some acoustic music sounded good while other types of rock and jazz sounded constrained or boxy.

Adding a subwoofer such as the $500 Klipsch R-110SW to the YSP-1600 helped immeasurably by adding deep controlled bass to both movies and music such as the tricky "Yolngu Spirit Dance" by Dead Can Dance. Of course this effectively doubles the price of the system, and makes us womder what a subwoofer-inclusive version of this product could do.

Interestingly there was a palpable delay between the RXV-479 we partnered with it and the sound bar, regardless of music format. While you won't tell in another room, in the same room it sounded like bad delay -- even with all processing turned off. This doesn't give us confidence in the ability to join two MusicCast speakers in a stereo pair.

Conclusion

The extra money spent on the YSP-1600 will get you better features than most sound bars, but its sound quality was a little disappointing. Sure, this subwoofer-less system might be attractive to buyers who would like to avoid having a sub taking up floor space, but the YSP 1600's merely adequate bass compared with the less expensive YAS-203 surprised us. For $500 we expect more and the YSP-1600 didn't deliver as expected.

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7.5

Yamaha YSP-1600

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Sound 7Value 7