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Yamaha YSP-4100 review: Yamaha YSP-4100

Audio decoding capabilities
Dolby Digital Yes DTS Yes
Dolby TrueHD Yes DTS-HD Master Audio Yes
Dolby Digital Plus Yes DTS-HD HR Yes

Again, the YSP-4100 outdoes other sound-bar home theater systems by offering a full suite of decoding for all major surround-sound formats, including both high-resolution formats: Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. One could argue that these formats aren't as important on a sound bar HTIB--where you probably can't hear the difference between, say, Dolby Digital and Dolby TrueHD--but it's still nice to know you're getting the highest audio fidelity your home theater components can handle.

Other connectivity
Subwoofer output Yes Headphone jack No
iPod dock Wireless Satellite radio Sirius-ready

The YSP-4100 trumps competitors by offering more peripheral features, too. As we mentioned before, Yamaha includes the YIT-W10 wireless iPod dock, which in many ways is superior to the iPod docks offered on other HTIBs since it allows you to wirelessly stream music to the YSP-4100, while you browse your music in your hand. We tested the YIT-W10 with an iPod Touch and we were largely impressed; just stick the adapter in the Touch, select iPod as your source, and it works without any further configuring--you can even adjust the volume with your iPod. We didn't hear any significant sonic degradation because of the wireless transmission, although we did experience some drop-outs when the YIT-W10 didn't have a direct line of sight to the YSP-4100. As with all wireless products, your experience will depend a lot on the environment it's used in.

It's not included on the chart, but the YSP-4100 also includes 7.1 pre-outs, although it's hard to imagine anyone using them. Adding an amplifier and a separate speaker system--then just using the YSP-4100 as a switcher--eliminates nearly all the benefits of having an all-in-one sound bar in the first place. On the more useful side, the YSP-4100 also includes the SWK-W10 wireless subwoofer adapter, which takes some of the sting out of the YSP-4100 not including a wireless sub like many of its competitors.

Additional features
Automatic speaker calibration Yes Virtual surround Yes
AM/FM FM Built-in disc player No

Unlike most sound-bar HTIBs, the YSP-4100 includes a microphone for automatic speaker calibration, which is an essential feature since Yamaha's virtual surround technology requires careful setup. The inclusion of an FM tuner is also a step-up over competitors that omit terrestrial radio options completely. If you're looking for a sound bar with a built-in disc player, you'll have to check out the Samsung HT-BD8200 and the Philips SoundBar HTS8100.

Audio setup
The sound bar can be wall- or stand-mounted; we went with the second option for all of our listening tests. Since the speakers rely on the room for reflections, sound-absorbing objects such as drapes or couches can adversely affect the perception of surround envelopment.

The YSP-4100 has manual and automatic setup options, but we didn't get very far with the manual setup. It's pretty involved and no matter what we tried we never felt like we were actually improving the sound. Manual setup might be of more use to professional installers.

Yamaha no longer provides a printed owner's manual with its YSP speakers, but you get a CD-ROM with setup instructions. To get the best sound we strongly recommend reading the manual, even if you're an experienced home theater user. However, the basic Auto Setup routine is straightforward: plug in the included IntelliBeam measurement microphone, and initiate the Auto Setup program. It takes just a few minutes to complete. Before and after Auto Setup, the Dynamic Range Control will be set to "On," and since we want to hear movies with all of their sound intact we turned the DRC "Off."

Because each room's acoustics vary, the YSP-4100 offers a range of Beam-Mode settings. The main mode is "5 BeamPlus2" for seven-channel sources, and we also checked out "3 Beam + Stereo + 2", "5 Beam, 3 Beam + Stereo", "3 Beam and Stereo." All but the stereo mode bounce sound off the walls to generate surround sound. The surround modes all sound different, so we recommend experimenting with the Beam Modes to learn which sounds best in your room. The YSP-4100 also features Yamaha's Cinema DSP (digital processing), which is another way to fine-tune the sound balance to your liking.

Audio performance
Yamaha's YSP speakers use the company's best-in-class Digital Sound Projector technology, which reflects sounds off walls to create a surround experience without the back channel speakers. The technology also provides a wider sweet spot than competing virtual surround modes and devices; we heard convincing surround effects from other spots in the CNET listening room, not just the seat directly in front of the speaker.

But the YSP-4100 failed to project sound far forward, out to the sides of our couch, nine feet away from the speaker, or to the rear of our room. In the past we've played other YSP speakers in nearly empty rooms and heard surround that filled more of the space, but we've never heard sound come from behind us, as it can with traditional surround speakers.

The YSP-4100's dual 4.5-inch woofers make a fair amount of bass, so the speaker can be used without a subwoofer. That said, adding Yamaha's terrific YST-SW315 sub ($300) radically improved the YSP-4100's overall sound, though you can use any brand of subwoofer.

The "Across the Universe" Blu-ray sounded especially good, and the YSP-4100's clarity and resolution brought to life the Beatles songs used throughout the film. It was much the same with the "Toy Story" Blu-ray, and we noted that the dialog, from Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) to Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) to Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) sounded great, without the artificial, processed quality we've heard from some sound bars. Imaging focus was exceptional, and remained so even when we changed positions on the couch--again, no other surround bar we've heard can match the YSP-4100 in that regard.

Ramping up the action with the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray didn't faze the YSP-4100 one bit. The clarity, even in the midst of battle and helicopter crashes, was intact. Dynamic range was lively, even after we turned the volume up. The YST-SW315 subwoofer proved its worth here, providing the visceral impact the speaker's twin 4.5 woofers couldn't muster on their own.

Acoustic music on Jerry Garcia and David Grisman's self-titled CD sounded quite natural. The soundstage, with Dolby Pro Logic processing, spread the full width of the CNET listening room. Hard rock, played just moderately loud, was less convincing. The blend between the Yamaha subwoofer and the YSP-4100 wasn't perfect, so rock music's midbass punch was in short supply. That's par for the course however; sound bar speakers simply don't have the muscle to rock like larger speakers.

As much as we like the YSP-4100, it's an expensive speaker, and it gets a little more so when you add a subwoofer. For about the same price as the YSP-4100 you could get substantially better sound with an Aperion Intimus 5B Fusion SD satellite/subwoofer system ($1,560) and an Onkyo TX-SR507 receiver ($400). On the other hand, if Yamaha's high-end Digital Sound Projectors best fit the needs of your budget and living room, the YSP-4100 is the model to go with, as we found it sounded just as good as the more expensive YSP-5100.

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