Yamaha YAS-207: Raising the sonic bar

Soundbars come in a variety of flavours. Yamaha’s top-flight digital sound projectors deliver baffling 3D sound thanks to advanced DSP and multi-driver arrays – at a price. The new YAS-207 is a lot simpler, but still manages surprisingly effective sonics

Yamaha’s latest soundbar is not a sound projector like some of its more expensive and complex models, but a more conventional, slimline soundbar with a left/right speaker array in a slim enclosure that fits underneath shelf/stand-mounted TVs or on the wall.

It’s aimed at those consumers who want to upgrade from the often lacklustre sound provided by a TV set’s integrated sound, but don’t have the space (or the budget) to opt for a separate AV receiver-based, multi-speaker sound system.

Budget is also the reason why the Yamaha YAS-207 is not a digital sound projector (as the company calls its more sophisticated soundbar offerings) but a more conventional soundbar with fewer drive units and more limited digital signal processing (DSP) capabilities.

Slimline soundbar slots in easily under TV screen

AT FACE VALUE

It’s a very slim and compact device that’s attractively styled in a minimalist, unobtrusive kind of way, and can either be tucked in underneath a stand-mounted flatscreen TV, or hung below a wall-mounted TV.

The front is adorned by a bank of flush, touch-sensitive controls (for power on/off, volume up/down, mute and source selection) that are almost invisible unless you’re up close. They’re flanked by a row of nine indicator lights to confirm operation mode and function selections.

The array of inputs and outputs is limited, but in line with the Yamaha’s focus on simplicity and ease of use. Thus, you get an HDMI input partnered by an HDMI output (with Audio Return Control), as well as a 3,5mm stereo input jack for an analogue source, and a Toslink digital input.

The soundbar comes with a slim, upright wireless subwoofer that’s easily tucked away out of sight, but needs to be located within 10m of the soundbar, as it links to the soundbar using Bluetooth. That 10m is line of sight, and may need to be closer, depending on location.

Talking of Bluetooth, the soundbar can accept streamed content from paired Bluetooth devices, which means that you can link a smartphone or tablet to the Yamaha via Bluetooth, and then stream stored content from the device (or from streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, Tidal etc) to the bar.

The YAS-207 can also be wall-mounted – and may sound better there, too

UNDER THE COVERS

The Yamaha’s driver array is hidden behind a non-removable black cloth grille, and comprises a 25 mm dome tweeter and a pair of 46 mm midrange cone drivers per side, for a total of six speakers. They are powered by a two-channel power amp rated at 50 watts/channel.

The active subwoofer is powered by its own 100 watt power amp, which drives the 160 mm woofer.

Control of the soundbar is either via the supplied, basic remote control, or a Yamaha Home Theatre app (available as a free download for iOS and Android). The latter requires the smart device to be linked to the soundbar via Bluetooth, as the Yamaha offers no network connectivity.

There’s also no room calibration feature – instead, you can adjust the subwoofer level, and choose a setting to extend bass response, and another dubbed Clear Voice that benefits dialogue by enhancing the equalisation of the upper mids and trebles.

Yamaha has equipped the YAS-207 with a host of DSP-generated surround sound modes for various programme types, ranging from Sport and Music to Movies, TV, Stereo and Game. There’s also a 3D surround mode that enhances dimensionality, and even mimics Atmos-like height effects.

One missing feature was the ability to run incoming surround material in ‘Straight’ mode, i.e. without any additional DSP trickery. In practice, it seemed as if the ‘Stereo’ setting delivered a pretty much unadorned, downmixed 2.1 (stereo plus sub) performance.

Controls and indicator lights are unobtrusive

SETTING UP

Setup was quick and easy, although the sub took quite a while to pair with the soundbar. That aside, installation was as easy as plugging in the HDMI cable from our Oppo Blu-ray deck into the HDMI input of the Yamaha, and plugging the HDMI cable to the Optoma projector into the HDMI output socket. Powering up the bar brought up the indicator lights.

The proprietary Yamaha control app works a treat, and makes use and control of the soundbar a simple affair. It allows switching between four sources – HDMI, Bluetooth, Toslink (digital) and the analogue input.

HDMI will be the interface of choice for most end users, who will hook up the soundbar to the TV via the HDMI output, and link a Blu-Ray deck or universal player to the bar via the HDMI input.

If the TV is ARC compatible, the soundbar will play back the audio from the TV and devices linked directly to it. If it’s not ARC compatible, the digital input still allows audio to be sent to the soundbar from the TV, with HDMI used for video only.

The HDMI input can be used for a Blu-ray player, a media player or a satellite decoder. The analogue stereo jackplug is useful to hook up older TVs lacking a digital output, or ancillaries such as a game console.

Inputs are limited, in line with the soundbar’s ease-of-use approach

SOUNDS LIKE …

The soundbar easily exceeded my expectations. In our symmetrical listening room, the illusion of multi-speaker surround was impressively persuasive for such a slim, compact soundbar without the complex driver array or steering software of Yamaha’s sound projector models.

Staging was expansive and believably dimensional, although height representation could have been better, suggesting that the bar may perform best when wall-mounted a little higher than ear level. In 3D mode, height representation and sonic steering improved markedly, but could be accused of being a little gimmicky.

Tonally, the bar and the subwoofer integrated very well. The bass sounded too boomy when positioned too close to walls, and I found it operated best when located in a more freestanding position.

I never needed the bass boost function, and preferred dialling in a bit of extra sub level via the app, when required. However, those with an appetite for bass may well prefer locating the sub closer to a wall for extra bottom-end performance.

I found the Movie setting to be the best for all programme material, including live sport. The  exception was music-only stereo material, which not surprisingly sounded best in Stereo mode.

Bluetooth connectivity allowed streaming from my smartphone, with equally good results. Streaming from my iPhone 5S, Radio Paradise sounded impressively lucid and expansive via the Radio Paradise high-res app, as did music stored on the phone.

Overall tonal spread and integration was wholesome, with the subwoofer offering decent oomph and punch for such a compact design. Indeed, the soundbar/sub combo always over-delivered in terms of tonal spread, attack and stage size.

Sleek minimalism and surprising performance are key YAS-207 traits

THE BOTTOM LINE

The YAS-207 is a cost-effective soundbar solution that does without many of the features offered by Yamaha’s more expensive sound projector models, but still delivers a hearty, engaging sound from a slim, user-friendly and visually pleasing package.

It might not quite deliver on the 3D sound promise, at least not without sounding a little artificial, but the overall performance is streets ahead of what any TV can deliver, with the added advantage of additional sources (including Bluetooth streaming) and the ability to tweak the sound to better suit programme material and personal preference.

DEON SCHOEMAN

PROS
Great value from a sleek, well thought out, versatile and engaging soundbar solution
CONS
No network connectivity. Not as believable as Yamaha’s (more expensive) sound projector models.

VITAL STATS

Type: 2.1 soundbar with wireless subwoofer
Supported audio formats: PCM (up to 5.1), Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS Surround 5.1
Drive units (soundbar): 4x 45 mm midrange drivers, 2x 25 mm tweeters
Drive unit (subwoofer): 160 mm woofer
Output: 50 watts x 2 (soundbar), 100 watts (subwoofer)
Frequency response
Soundbar: 180 Hz – 23 kHz; Subwoofer: 40 Hz – 180 Hz
Connectivity: Bluetooth Class 2 V4.1, A2DP and SPP
Inputs: HDMI (with ARC), 3,5 mm stereo minijack, Toslink optical digital
Output: HDMI
Soundbar dimensions (WxHxD): 930 x 60 x 108 mm
Subwoofer dimensions (WxHxD): 180 x 437 x 401 mm
Weight: 2,7 kg (soundbar); 7,9 kg (subwoofer)
PRICE: R6 990

SUPPLIED BY
Balanced Audio

TESTED WITH
Oppo BDP-95EU universal deck
Optoma HD-80 DLP projector
Marantz SR6011 AV receiver
Atlantic Technology 7.1 surround sound speaker set
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite SACD/CD player