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Editors' note: The rating of the Yamaha YSP-900 has been changed since publication to better reflect its value compared to competing home theater systems.
The YSP-900 may be the entry-level model in Yamaha's YSP single-speaker surround lineup for 2008, but it sounds largely the same as its immediate step-up model, the YSP-3000, with which it shares the same basic design. Yamaha's single-speaker surround systems all use advanced technology to project sound into the room to create the illusion of 5.1 channel sound (the ".1" comes with the addition of Yamaha's optional YST-FSW100 subwoofer) without all the messy satellite speakers and wires. Yes, the no-frills YSP-900 lacks the pricier YSP models' 1080p HDMI switching, FM and XM radio compatibility, and optional iPod dock, but that lets it sport a consumer-friendly $700 list price--and it's available for even less online. Like all Yamaha YSP systems, the YSP-900 is self-powered, so you don't necessarily need an AV receiver--but you may still need one if your TV can't handle the video switching duties between your various AV sources (games consoles, DVD players, DVRs, and the like).
A perforated metal grille covers most of the YSP-900's front panel; below the grille, the LCD shows volume level and processing status, and further to the right there's a volume control and input selector. The speaker feels solidly constructed, and measures 31.5 inches wide by 6.1 inches tall by 4.5 inches deep; it weighs 19.8 pounds. The speakers size may make it difficult to fit under your TV, but it can be wall mounted with the optional SPM-K30 bracket.
The included remote control is pretty good for enthusiasts, but its numerous buttons and functions may intimidate those who are less tech savvy. We liked that we could directly adjust individual channel volume levels and that the remote could also control a TV. On the downside, the input buttons are small, the remote isn't backlit, and there's little differentiation of button size within each section, making it difficult to navigate by feel. Of course, you can always upgrade to a quality universal remote.
The YSP-900's 21 1.5-inch microdrivers create surround sound by bouncing the front-left, front-right, and surround channels' sound off your room's walls; the center channel's sound is projected directly from the YSP-900 to the listening position. Your room's acoustics can play a significant role in the sound you hear; bare walls work best, and objects in the room such as chairs, drapes, or furniture may adversely affect the quality of the surround sound. If your room is fairly cluttered with stuff, you may want to opt for a sound bar that doesn't use sound reflection technology, such as the Polk SurroundBar 50 or Definitive Technology SSA-50. A pair of 4-inch woofers (the microdrivers and woofers are each powered by their own digital amplifier) supplies the YSP-900's bass. Total power of the YSP-900 system is rated at 82 watts.
Yamaha's IntelliBeam auto setup and calibration system couldn't be easier to use. Just bring up the onscreen menu, plug in the supplied microphone, and the automated procedure takes just a few minutes to complete. Yamaha's auto setup worked quite well, but we managed to improve the sound by tweaking the manual setup adjustments. If your dealer has qualified technicians they might be able to eke out better performance than you'll get with the auto setup. Surround processing modes include Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, DTS Neo:6, and Yamaha's proprietary Cinema DSP technology.
The YSP-900's no-frills feature set is most evident when you check out its rear panel: there are just two stereo analog inputs; a subwoofer output; and, for surround sound sources, two optical, and one coaxial digital input. The YSP-900 doesn't switch video signals, so video connections between your sources, such as Blu-ray, DVD, and cable box must be made directly to your TV (or an AV receiver).
The YSP-900, like all of the other YSP speakers we've tested to date, is capable of projecting a large, immersive soundfield. No other brand's single-speaker surround systems are even close, so Yamaha YSP speakers are state of the art in that regard. That holds true for listeners seated directly in front of the YSP-900 and listeners seated off to the sides of the couch. We could even stand up and walk around the room, and the sound remained spacious. Also, while the speaker can be used without a subwoofer, it won't produce any deep bass. We used a Yamaha YST-FSW100 sub for most of our listening tests.
The Ratatouille Blu-ray Disc demonstrated the YSP-900's tasty sound. The pitter-patter of the rats' feet scampering across the fancy French restaurant's kitchen floor was perfect, as was the hiss of the gas flames, the thick burble of simmering soups, and the plops of ingredients dropping into the large pots were all realistic. Dialogue was nicely balanced.
While the Flyboys Blu-ray Disc made greater demands on the speaker, the aerial ballet of the World War I war planes swooping across the sky sounded pretty good. The rat-tat-tat of the planes' machine guns was appropriately fierce, but when some of the planes crashed and burned, the YSP-900's dynamic range limitations were obvious. Part of the blame can be attributed to the Yamaha YST-FSW100 subwoofer--it didn't have the sock of Polk's PSW111 sub--and the YSP speaker was overtaxed by the war film's highly dynamic special effects. When we heard the speaker straining, we turned the volume down and that did the trick. Surround spatiality is excellent, but judged purely on a sound quality basis; the YSP-900 was less clear than Polk's SurroundBar 50 single-speaker surround system.
We next listened to CDs, and while we liked what the surround processing did to "open up" the sound, pushing it out to the sides of the room, the YSP-900's sound was better--clearer and cleaner--in stereo.
We think the YSP-900 might be the go-to choice in the YSP line. Yes, the YSP-3000 offers more features, including HDMI switching, but even if you have a DVD or Blu-ray player with HDMI, you can send the video straight to your TV and use the digital audio connections to enjoy the YSP-900's sound. Sure, you'll lose out on some of the extra resolution available on Blu-ray's Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, but the difference isn't significant on a system like this. Sonically, the YSP-900 and YSP-3000 are pretty much the same thing; the larger YSP-4000 sounds better, but not as good as Polk's SurroundBar 50.