Editors' Note: As of fall 2007, this product has been replaced by the Yamaha YSP-900 Digital Sound Projector.
Think of it as a home theater in a box--without the box. The Yamaha YSP-800 Digital Sound Projector is a self-powered, single-speaker virtual surround system; just add a TV and a DVD player and you're all set. In early 2005, Yamaha's first Digital Sound Projector, the black or silver finishes. The lower-front panel houses a small LED display, a volume control, and an input selector, but we mostly used the remote control to handle those functions and execute the setup routines. The YSP-800 is 31.5 inches wide, 6 high, and 4.5 deep, and it weighs 19.8 pounds. It can be wall mounted with the optional bracket (the SPM-K8) or positioned on a shelf under or over a TV.
Yamaha's Digital Sound Projector doesn't just eliminate the clutter associated with five speakers and their wires, it also eliminates the need for an A/V receiver, though it will work fine with one, if you prefer. The convoluted setup logic of the YSP-800's predecessor, the , tested our patience, so we were pleased by the new model's streamlined autosetup program; it's similar to what you find in autosetup-equipped A/V receivers. Just plug in the supplied optimizer microphone and follow onscreen menu prompts. The whole operation takes just a few minutes, and once it was complete, we were satisfied with the sound. The manual setup offers the potential for better sound, but it's a fiendishly complex process. Unless you're an astute technopuzzle solver, stick with the autosetup. The Yamaha YSP-800 Digital Sound Projector generates surround sound with its onboard digital processing feeding a pair of 4-inch woofers and no fewer than 21 1.5-inch microdrivers; the woofers each have a 20-watt amplifier, and each 1.5-inch microspeaker is powered by its own 2-watt amp. That adds up to a total of 82 digital watts. That number may not sound like much, but the YSP-800 can play reasonably loudly, filling moderately large rooms with sound.
The YSP-800 was designed to hook up directly to your TV, cable box, or DVD player. To be more specific, the speaker's connections are arrayed on its hindquarters and face downward to simplify wall mounting. There are two sets of stereo analog inputs, one coaxial and two optical digital inputs, a subwoofer output, and one video output that supplies the YSP-800's onscreen menus to your TV. Surround-processing modes include Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, DTS Neo:6, and Yamaha's proprietary Cinema DSP technology. Of course, if you don't need the YSP-800's internal surround processing or, like us, still prefer the flexibility of a full-on A/V receiver, you can connect one, so long as it has optical or coaxial digital outputs (virtually all of them have at least one).
It's worth noting that Yamaha's Digital Sound Projection technology works by reflecting sound off of your room's side and rear walls. Bare walls work best, and objects in the room such as chairs, drapes, or bulky furniture will interfere with the YSP-800's surround effectiveness. Also, for the best sound, your couch shouldn't be located against a wall. We had to rearrange our room to accommodate the Yamaha YSP-800's demanding placement requirements and fell far short of the ideal acoustic setting for the unit. Even so, the surround effect was fairly convincing.
While the Yamaha YSP-800 Digital Sound Projector can be used on its own, it won't develop soul-satisfying bass. Any good subwoofer will supply the missing bass, but for this review, we paired the YSP-800 with Yamaha's matching YST-FSW100 subwoofer. Yamaha also offers the YSP-1000 ($1,700 list). That larger model uses the same general design as last year's : it doubles the number of speaker drivers (vs. the YSP-800) to 42 and has slightly larger woofers, as well as an RS-232 port for use with computer-controlled home-automation systems. But unlike the older model, the YSP-1000 includes the same autosetup feature and microphone as the YSP-800. Rival Polk Audio also offers a single-speaker Sound Projector competitor, the $800 SurroundBar. We put the Yamaha YSP-800 Digital Sound Projector through no-holds-barred home-theater trials with Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds DVD. The sounds of panic in the streets and massive alien destruction were scary, and when cars are thrown up into the air only to come crashing down seconds later, we weren't thinking about the YSP-800, we were caught up in the film. Morgan Freeman's sobering narration had just the right amount of chesty resonance. The YST-FSW100 subwoofer provided a rock-solid foundation for the special effects mayhem.
With Cream's Royal Albert Hall 2005 concert DVD cranked up loud, the YSP-800's 21 1.5-inch drivers rocked and rolled like a grown-up speaker. Ginger Baker's drums had remarkable presence and realism. The crowd's applause seemed to come from well in front of the speaker itself, but room-filling, true surround it was not. The YSP-800 won't duplicate the spaciousness of a multichannel speaker array, but that's not something we've heard from other virtual surround systems either.
During quieter listening sessions at night, we noticed a small amount of noise coming from the speaker when we weren't playing CDs or DVDs; once we were more than two or three feet away, the hiss was inaudible. The noise wasn't noticeable when playing DVDs or CDs.
CD sound was almost on a par with that of DVDs, though we preferred listening in Dolby Pro Logic II rather than stereo, which added a spatial depth that complemented all sorts of music. Yamaha's engineers have clearly done their homework, and this second-generation Digital Sound Projector will be popular with folks who don't want to deal with the hassles of installing a 5.1 surround system. The Yamaha YSP-800 Digital Sound Projector bests the virtual surround competition, including the similarly designed Polk Audio SurroundBar and even Denon's excellent 2.1-channel HTIB ($1,599) by creating a more immersive sound experience.