The YHT-160 may be Yamaha's most affordable home theater in a box (HTIB), but it boasts important features lacking in many costlier kits. First of all, the $300 HTIB comes with a component-grade 5.1-channel A/V receiver and a powered subwoofer that supplies deep bass. The Yamaha YHT-160's only obvious cost-cutting concessions are its silver plastic satellite speakers--and its lack of a DVD player. We think the YHT-160 is sonically competitive in its price class, but we're also intrigued by its step-up sibling, the Yamaha YHT-360, which adds more robust speakers and XM-ready capability for just a few bucks extra. The Yamaha YHT-160 comes with a component-grade A/V receiver and a six-piece satellite/subwoofer speaker package but no DVD player. Just like countless other HTIBs, this Yamaha's 6.25-inch-tall silver plastic satellites and its 11.75-inch-wide center speaker have silver knit cloth grilles. The speakers' hindquarters are fitted with keyhole slots for easy wall mounting.
The matching subwoofer's glamour quotient is also low, but it isn't plastic--the baby boomer is constructed from MDF and weighs a solid 22 pounds. It's 12 inches wide by 12 deep and 14 high. The little sub is finished to a higher standard than the subs we see packed with other entry-level HTIBs.
The system's A/V receiver is also way ahead of typical HTIB electronics, and since it's just 12.5 inches deep, it will fit on standard shelves and inside cabinets. The front-panel-mounted bass and treble controls and button layout are nicely organized. Since the receiver lacks onscreen menus, navigating the setup routine via the receiver's display can be a little tricky. We strongly recommend making the effort, because the sound out of the box was subpar. After we cruised through the setup and balanced all the speaker volume levels, the audio quality perked up. As for the smallish, black remote, it won't win any awards for design or ease of use, but it's serviceable. The speakers of the Yamaha YHT-160 are standard issue. The little satellite speakers feature a single, 2.5-inch woofer while the center speaker uses two 2.5-inch woofers, but tweeters didn't make the cut. The speakers' spring-clip connectors are more robust and therefore more secure than the cheesy connectors many HTIB satellites sport. The 8-inch subwoofer has a built-in 50-watt amplifier.
The receiver included in the system is Yamaha's own HTR-5830, which is also available separately for about $200. It houses five 110-watt channels along with the standard assortment of Dolby and DTS surround modes; processing gets expedited with a set of 192kHz/24-bit digital converters. By $300 HTIB standards, the receiver's connectivity is exceptional: you get four composite A/V inputs and one output, plus two component-video inputs and one output. There are three digital audio inputs (two optical and one coaxial); analog connections include two stereo inputs and one out, plus a set of 5.1 SACD/DVD-Audio inputs. The front speakers' binding posts accept banana plugs, spades, or bare wire ends, while the B front speakers and other speaker channels offer the more rudimentary spring clips. Cream's Royal Albert Hall 2005 concert DVD sounded surprisingly credible over the Yamaha YHT-160, but the system couldn't quite master Metallica's St. Anger DVD when we upped the volume above background levels. Still, the fact that we even tried to rock out with Metallica over a set of 6.25-inch-tall satellite speakers says something about our respect for the little system. Also noteworthy, the tweeterless satellites had good treble detail.
Thanks in large part to the potent subwoofer, the alien baddies unleashing death and destruction on the War of the Worlds DVD proved the YHT-160's considerable home-theater skills. Sure, the Yamaha didn't have the gravitas of larger HTIB systems, such as the ($299), but in small to midsize rooms, the Yamaha will deliver the goods.
CD sound was acceptable but nowhere as satisfying as its DVD sound. At this point we decided to replace the satellite speakers with higher-quality speakers (most HTIBs aren't flexible enough to be used with speakers other than their own). When we hooked up a set of Wharfedale Diamond 9.1 speakers and continued to use the Yamaha receiver and subwoofer, the sound was dramatically improved. James Taylor CDs that sounded undernourished over the YHT-160's minispeakers were full bodied via the Wharfedale speakers. DVDs sonic gains were also considerable.
The long and short of it is that while the Yamaha YHT-160 offers good bang for the buck on its own, if the upgrade urge strikes, its receiver and sub can continue to serve in your home theater. But an even better deal is the step-up model, the Yamaha YHT-360. That model adds more robust front speakers and an XM-ready receiver for quick and easy satellite hookup, and it's widely available for just $30 more than the YHT-160's $300 list price.