AV Systems Guide

Yamaha YHT-S401 Sound Bar review

Yamaha YHT-S401 Sound Bar - A Cut Above the Rest

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Overall rating 9/10
Design:
8
Performance:
9.5
Features:
8.5
Value:
9
THE GOOD
Excellent performance - neutral/natural tone
4 HDMI ports provided
Option to add extra surround speakers
THE BAD
No wireless capabilities
Receiver unit is heavy and a bit bulky
Lacks cinema feel when playing movies


Performance - II

Handling High Definition Audio

Blu-ray ups the ante and poses a range of different questions for speakers to answer. Not only does higher encoded material require greater fidelity of reproduction, but the content also tests the sound bar’s other characteristics such as soundstage. Our Blu-ray testing material includes Michael Jackson’s This Is It and Superman Returns. This provided us a variety  audio materials spanning across music, special effects and movie dialogue.

This Is It - Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was a perfectionist and this trait is evident in his music. Speakers have to aim for the same high standards if they want to replicate his compositions in their full glory. Does the Yamaha YHT-S401 have the capability to do justice to these tracks?

The simple answer is yes. The +1 Bass EQ setting from our MP3 testing phase was kept in place and worked wonders on They Don’t Care About Us. The big bass drum thumps were both felt and heard. Unlike previous contenders such as the Philips HTS7140 and Pioneer HTZ-HW919BD, the Yamaha sound bar’s bass did not over power the track and the overall mix was preserved.

Similarly, Wannabe Startin’ Something was a great listen. The funky track is not the easiest to reproduce with the required verve and gusto. Great low frequency performance coupled with crisp and clear highs brought the song to life. Timbre of the instruments was also impressively well preserved. These traits meant that our next track Jam was handled with aplomb as well.

The coup de grace of our This Is It listening tests is always Beat It. Biting guitars and sharp trebles from the Yamaha YHT-S401 helped it finish on a spectacularly high note. Backup vocalists for the song sounded excellent and their contributions were actually audible, which were not observed with other sound bars. All in all, this Yamaha sound bar really furthered its credentials after our thorough testing with the This Is It Blu-ray disc.

Superman Returns

The Yamaha YHT-S401’s proficiency with music can no longer be doubted. It has proven its mettle with MP3 and Blu-ray tracks. Having already established the tonal characteristics of the sound bar, our next aim next was to determine how well the audio was projected across space. To see if its performance translates to movies as well, we brought out our copy of Superman Returns and gave it a spin.

Yamaha states that the YHT-S401 is armed with Air Xtreme technology that is meant to replicate the performance of a 7.1-channel audio system. That is a tall claim seeing that this unit only comprises of a horizontal speaker and a subwoofer. To test the validity of this statement, we started off by playing the airplane scene at the 33:00-minute mark.

The crisp, clear mids and highs helped the sound bar handled the scene well, as was expected. There was great buildup of emotion and feeling as the melodies and background music were brilliantly reproduced. Bass was also on the money, and the impacts and crashes from the sequence sounded very life-like. Directionality of sound was also impressive and accurately reflected the havoc and chaos as the plane hurtled towards the ground. Looking to further test the unit, we skipped to the opening sequence of the movie. The soundstage came to the fore as Krypton exploded and the shards of the planet went zooming by.

But for some reason, the Yamaha YHT-S401 lacked that X-factor required to completely wow us during the movie testing phase. In essence, while its music playing abilities were phenomenal, the movie performance was just great. The soundstage was wide and expansive, but do not let Yamaha fool you, it came nowhere close to replicating a 7.1-surround sound system. This is to be expected from most sound bars since they can only replicate virtual positioning of audio that is supposed to be coming from dedicated rear speakers. On the whole, we felt that the sound bar lacked a little bit of magic spark and cinema feel to push it into the category of its own. It is almost as if the YHT-S401 is a victim of its own success and the high standards set by its predecessor.
 

Yamaha YHT-S401  - Blu-ray Performance Report Card
This Is It - Michael Jackson Score
Wannabe Startin' Something 9.5
Jam 9.5
They Don't Care About Us 9.5
Beat It 9.5
Superman Returns Score
Opening Sequence 9.0
Airplane Scene [33:00 mins] 9.0