HOME THEATRE

 

HOME THEATRE

The Aventage line represents Yamaha’s top-end AV receivers, with special attention lavished on everything from construction to internal components and software. The RX-A1080 might be one of the range’s junior models, but there’s nothing junior about its performance …

 

By Deon Schoeman

Another year, and another generation of AV receivers. No other AV product category undergoes as many regular updates and upgrades – and Yamaha’s home theatre receivers are no exception.

Yamaha produces two main AV receiver lines – the mainstream RX-V range, and the fancier (and more expensive) Aventage RX-A family. Both have recently been updated, with the Aventage range only just having become available locally.

There are four Aventage models, with the RX-A880 being the most affordable, and the RX-A3080 occupying the flagship spot.

The RX-A1080 slots in just above the most junior RX-A880 model, but there’s nothing entry-level about this all-new receiver: it has all the bells and whistles that matter, plus some you didn’t even know you needed.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s compatible with most of the important home theatre technologies, including all the latest surround sound and 3D formats, 4K video, and HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2, Hybrid-Log Gamma and Dolby Vision.

It also offers wired and wireless network connectivity, multiroom operation via Yamaha’s MusicCast ecosystem, while it can connect to leading music streaming services, as well as accessing a large database of on-line radio stations, and streaming music files from NAS devices.

There’s even a selection of digital sound-processed sound fields simulating actual venues, together with a surround sound enhancement system Yamaha calls Surround AI.

To ensure that access to this rich feature set is intuitive, the Yamaha not only comes with a sleek and solid remote control handset with backlighting, but can also be controlled via a smart device app.

Let’s take a closer look – and listen.

AT FACE VALUE

The RX-A1080 is a smartly styled AV receiver that looks deceptively uncomplicated and elegant in aesthetic terms. The smooth, all-black finish has become an Aventage hallmark, while the all-metal casing looks and feels robust. It rests on five vibration-absorbing feet.

A large, clear alphanumeric display dominates the top third of the fascia, with a power on/standby button on the left, and a Pure Direct switch on the right.

The lower part of the fascia is home to a pair of large rotary controllers offering input selection and volume control. They frame a hinged, fold-down flap that conceals a fairly comprehensive switchgear array, as well as a USB Type A input, and a line-level RCA stereo input set.

The rear panel offers the usual dense clutter of inputs and outputs, speaker binding posts, network sockets and more, with HDMI being the dominating interface – there are no less than seven HDMI inputs, and a trio of HDMI outputs.

However, the Aventage also makes provision for composite and component video, while both analogue and digital audio are catered for, too. Interestingly the analogue audio input complement includes an MM phono input – testimony to the resurrection of vinyl.

The remote control handset is worth a special mention. It’s a big step up from the usual plasticky designs, with a reassuringly solid feel.

The recessed buttons are located below a soft-touch, rubber-like surface, but still operate with positive precision. And backlighting is automatic, triggered by the lighting conditions and movement of the handset.

UNDER THE COVERS

Being a member of the Aventage family means the RX-A1080 received special attention with regards to its internal circuitry and circuit components. According to Yamaha, it benefits from a beefy power amp section featuring damping heat sinks, custom power transformers, high-performance DSP chips and premium-grade DACs.

On the subject of the latter, the RX-A1080 uses the ESS Sabre ES9007S audio DAC, which offers both high-res PCM and DSD conversion, features both an extended signal-to-noise ratio and up to 120 dB of dynamic range.

It handles a vast array of lossless and lossy music file formats, including WAV, FLAC and AIFF files at up to 384 kHz, and WMA, MP3 and MP4-AAC at up to 48 kHz and a bitrate of up to 320 kbs. DSD compatibility extends to 2,8, 5,6 and 11,2 MHz.

Also of note is an uprated room measurement and calibration system. Yamaha’s proprietary YPAO-RSC uses a supplied microphone, in conjunction with test tones, to measure room acoustics and speaker characteristic, and then calibrates various audio parameters for optimised performance.

The system can either be used to measure a single point, or up to eight different positions, after which it calculates level and delay settings, while also applying EQ adjustments. RSC (reflected sound control) is meant to correct early reflections for optimum sound.

The Aventage’s enclosure features a rigid, reinforced construction, including an H-shaped internal cross member, designed to address enclosure resonance. There’s also a central, fifth foot to further aid stability and combat both internal and external vibration.

SETTING UP

Getting the Yamaha up and running was a relatively quick and painless affair. The rear panel layout makes for clear, unequivocal connections, while the Yamaha also identified and linked up to the listening room network via wired Ethernet without a hitch.

A Wi-Fi Connection was as easily established, but I stuck with Ethernet, which remains inherently more stable, especially when streaming large files.

I’ve always considered the YPAO auto-calibration system one of the more effective and user-friendly systems, and this latest iteration further ups the ante by offering either single or multipoint measurements.

The on-screen directions are easy to follow, and the process is completed with minimum fuss. The results were pretty impressive in terms of accuracy, too and I found little need to tweak any of the crossover or level settings.

The Yamaha graphical user interface has also been further improved, and offers an intuitive gateway to a multitude of settings, including renaming inputs, determining auto-off settings and the like.

Once up and running, the Yamaha recognised the availability of a firmware update, and proceeded to download and install the update – a process which took less than 15 minutes to complete.

All in all, the RX-A1080 was unpacked, connected, set up, updated and ready to rock ’n roll in less than an hour.

IN THE THEATRE

I kicked off the first of several review sessions with the Yamaha by dusting off a Blu-ray copy of <White House Down>, which has a pleasing mix of hard-hitting action, loads of impressive effects, and more than enough atmospherics and dialogue to present any AVR with a decent challenge.

The RX-A1080 certainly rose to the occasion as far as delivering a large, all-embracing and believable surround sound picture was concerned, endowing explosions and gunfire with almost gut-wrenching intensity, and closely tracking the action in directional terms.

At the same time, dialogue was treated with clarity and deference, always ensuring that voices and conversations could be unequivocally understood, even when juxtaposed against an effects-rich backdrop.

One of the highlights of the movie in this regard is the sequence where the Blackhawk attack helicopters are engaged by the terrorists at the White House, while Secret Service agent John Cale (Tatum Channing) and terrorist leader Stenz (Jason Clark) are engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

The action is frenetic, but the soundtrack always remains on point, accurately reflecting the on-screen action, while adding to an overriding sense of realism by resolving fine details with a sense of spatial and directional precision.

Moving on to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the scene where the First Order forces invade the Republican stronghold confirmed the ability of the Yamaha to create a compelling and engaging surround sound experience.

The battle effects were vividly and believably executed, filling the theatre room with sound and creating an impactful and immersive soundspace. Be it the sound of fighters soaring from front to back, canon fire rattling from above or explosions emanating from below and ahead, the Yamaha created a real sense of involvement and believability.

Eric Clapton’s 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival remains a riveting watch, and one is really spoilt for choice. For me, one of the highlights is Vince Gill, Albert Lee and Keith Urban performing the Rolling Stones classic ‘Tumbling Dice’ – and the Yamaha did the DTS-HD MA surround sound track full justice.

It recreated the on-stage action, as well as the ambience of the venue, to thrilling effect: the interplay between the three guitarists was believably rendered, while the AVR always remained mindful of the importance of dimensional accuracy.

The individual instruments of guitar aces were afforded plenty of space and prominence, but the soundtrack also allowed the contributions of the backing musicians to come to the fore, adding to an enjoyable sense of being there.

The RX-A1080 features an AI Surround mode, which is meant to intelligently consider the surround material being decoded, and then enhance key elements – almost like on-the-fly optimisation.

The result was more impressive when compared to straightforward Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA, with broadened dynamics and a stronger tonal flavour. I found the original more realistic during extended auditions, but I’m sure many Aventage owners will prefer the sound, and leave AI Surround engaged by default.

SOUNDS LIKE …

As the Yamaha offers several embedded streaming services and Internet radio, while also accommodating a wide variety of music file formats, it stands to reason that owners will want to use this receiver not only from a multichannel movie surround point of view, but conceivably also as a stereo amp.

Drawing from the music library on our Synology and Lumin L1 music servers, I auditioned the Yamaha in a 2.1 stereo role, using the Atlantic Technology satellites and subs.

The RX-A1080 offers a Pure Direct mode, but as this bypasses all processing, it also cuts out the subwoofer. That’s fine if your front left and right speakers are full-range designs, but not with limited-bandwidth satellites.

Still, running in 2.1 stereo mode, the immaculately recorded <Hell Freezes Over> by The Eagles sounded crisp and vital, with unequivocal imaging and generous staging. The subwoofer’s contribution was seamlessly incorporated in a satisfyingly linear tonal range, and the overall performance was delivered with polish confidence.

Arabella Steinbacher’s rendition of Mozart’s <Violin Concert No.3>, together with the Festival Strings Lucerne has a lightness of touch and an inherent agility that makes for delightful listening. The Yamaha accurately reflected those characteristics, dutifully spotlighting Steinbacher’s violin, but also doing full justice to the accompanying orchestra.

Dialling into the excellent Swiss Radio Jazz from the Yamaha’s exhaustive catalogue of Internet radio stations further underlined the receiver’s liquid, accessible musicality. It approached the station’s primarily mainstream programming with incisive assurance, effortlessly creating an engaging stage, and paying close and careful attention to finer details and nuances.

Elbow’s ‘K2’ on high-res Radio Paradise sounded even better: loads of energy, a broad tonal spread with powerful bass treatment and clear, layered imaging. The soundstage seemed unencumbered by the position of the speakers, allowing the Yamaha to paint a mesmerising soundscape.

Out of interest, I swapped 2.1 stereo mode for DTS Neo6: Music, and liked the results: the sound image remained front-focussed, but steering some of the music to the surrounds created a more immersive effect. Purists may find it too contrived, but the overall result was musically enjoyable enough.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The RX-A1080 deserves its premium billing, living up to expectations with a sound that’s clean and polished, together with a penchant for accuracy and detail. Surround steering is a specific highlight, as is the ability of the AV receiver to mould the various cinema effects and elements into a cohesive and involving whole.

While movie soundtracks remain its strongest suit, the Yamaha’s appeal also lies in its versatility. It deftly fulfils a stereo music role (including the ability to accommodate a turntable) while offering easy access to leading streaming services.

It certainly stands its ground in music reproduction terms, further aided by being able to render a wide range of lossless and lossy music files.

And then there’s the multiroom angle: for those with several MusicCast devices on a central network, the Yamaha really becomes a hub for content that can be seamlessly spread around the house.

Add niceties such as Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2 (itself now multiroom-capable) and voice control compatibility via Google’s Alexa, and the Yamaha RX-A1080 vindicates its acquisition with an extensive list of talents that ensures good value, too.

 

VITAL STATS

Channels: 7.2
Power output: 110 watts/channel (8 ohms, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 0,06% THD)
Surround sound formats: Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and below
3D surround sound formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Audio DAC: ESS Sabre 9007S
Frequency response: 10 Hz – 100 kHz (+0, -3 dB)
Signal-to-noise ratio: >110 dB
HDMI inputs/outputs: 7/3
Analogue video inputs: 2x component, 3x composite
AV inputs: 4
Audio inputs: 1x RCA MM phono, 3x RCA line-level stereo
Audio outputs: 1x 7.2 pre-out. 1x stereo RCA Zone 2 out, 1x stereo Aux (front panel) 1x stereo headphone jack (front panel)
Digital inputs: 3x RCA coaxial, 3x Toslink optical, 1x USB Type A (front panel)
Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay2, MusicCast
Dimensions (WxDxH): 435 x 439 x 259 mm
Weight: 14.9 kg
PRICE
R30 880
SUPPLIED BY
Balanced Audio

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver
Oppo BDP-95EU universal player
Atlantic Technologies 7.1 surround speaker system
Optoma HD80 DLP projector
Synology DS-214se NAS

SOFTWARE
White House Down (Blu-ray)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Blu-ray)
Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013 (Rhino Blu-Ray)
The Eagles – Hell Freezes Over (Universal WAV)
Mozart – <Violin Concert No.3>- Arabella Steinbacher/Festival Strings Lucerne (Pentatone DSD)

The evolution of home theatre receivers never seems to let up. If anything it’s accelerating as AVR makers squeeze in more and more features. The latest Marantz AV receiver is a good case in point

By Deon Schoeman

Things happen quickly on the home theatre front. It wasn’t that long ago that we replaced our ageing Marantz SR6005 AV receiver with a shiny new SR6011. And here we are, just 18 months later, reviewing the replacement of the replacement of the SR6011.

The SR6013 takes over from the SR6012, and to be frank, you need to be a Marantz connoisseur to pick up the differences. Most of the key features, facilities and performance stats are identical.

In fact, it’s possibly easier to think of the SR6013 as a tweaked and further improved SR6012, rather than a completely new model.

In a nutshell, the key highlights of the SR6013 include multiroom-capable Apple AirPlay2 compatibility, while its HEOS multiroom talents have been extended to include voice control in conjunction with Amazon’s Alexa voice control protocol.

There are extended capabilities on the 3D surround front too, with the SR6013 offering Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS:Neural-X and DTS Virtual:X. Although it’s a 9.2 AV receiver (nine internal power amps, and two independently controllable subwoofer channels), the Marantz has 11.2 processing capability.

Less obvious are some tweaks to the internals, including improved circuit components, and the implementation of Marantz’s latest HDAM (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module) technology. The receiver still employs current feedback-based amplification.

AT FACE VALUE

As already mentioned, the styling of the SR6013 is identical to its predecessor and features what has become Marantz’s trademark ‘porthole’ display, together with big rotary controllers on either side, and a hinged cover that folds down to reveal a bank of switchgear.

Most users will prefer using the remote control handset, however – or the Marantz AVR Remote app for iOS and Android smart devices, which is even more intuitive, and easier to use in dimly lit rooms (the remote doesn’t offer any backlighting).

In fact, you’ll need to make use of two apps to fully utilise the SR6013’s talents: there’s also the HEOS app, which allows access to the receiver’s extensive array of streaming and multiroom capabilities, and works in conjunction with the Marantz AVR app.

The receiver’s casework is a reassuringly solid, all-metal affair, while the faceplate’s curved cheeks and recessed centre section add visual interest.

Not surprisingly, the rear panel is crammed with a variety of inputs, outputs, connections, aerials and speaker binding posts. To Marantz’s credit, the layout is pretty logical, with colour-coding for the speaker binding posts, while the various inputs and outputs are neatly and (and functionally) grouped together.

UNDER THE COVERS

Without resorting to a long-winded description, the Marantz caters for almost every AV-related connection out there. HDMI remains the interface of choice, with eight HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs, as well as full HDCP 2.2 support and eARC audio return, allowing 3D audio playback from smart TV-based applications.

Of course, there are also options for conventional composite and component video connections, and the SR6013 makes provision for both analogue and digital audio, including a MM-compatible phono stage.

The Marantz is fully network capable via either wired Ethernet or 802.11 Wi-Fi, and also offers Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay2. Network access allows the SR6013 to find and play back audio files from UPnP-compatible network-attached storage devices.

It also opens the door to a host of streaming services, including Deezer, Spotify Connect, TuneIn internet radio and Tidal. All streaming functionality is controlled via the HEOS app.

The HEOS ecosystem delivers multiroom capability to other HEOS-compatible devices. You can also opt for more conventional wired multizone functionality via RCA, HDMI or by assigning spare channels to a second zone.

On the video front, the SR6013 offers full 4K/60 Hz video pass-through with 4:4:4 colour resoution and full-rate 4K upscaling, together with analogue to HDMI conversion. The receiver is also compatible with Dolby Vision, High Dynamic Range, Hybrid Log Gamma and BT.2020.

The SR6013 offers 11.2 processing but provides nine discrete power amplifiers, each rated at 110 watts/channel. Improved circuit components and the latest HDAM op amp modules are said to have achieved improvements in performance and sound quality.

All-important digital-to-analogue conversion is via AKM AK4458 DACs, while a Cirrus quad-core 32-bit DSP chip looks after digital signal processing.

For a full run-down of features, you can download the Marantz SR6013 product information sheet here.

SETTING UP

For the review, the SR6013 was linked up to the Atlantic Technology surround sound speaker system in the AVSA listening room, and allowed to burn in for the first 100 hours or so before final set-up.

Our trusty Oppo BDP95EU universal deck provided the source signal, while the Marantz also had access to a UPnP music library stored on the network’s Synology NAS. As usual, our Optoma HD80 projector was in charge of visuals.

Network connectivity was via wired Ethernet, although linking up the Marantz to wi-fi was equally painless and appeared to be as stable. As soon as a network link was established, the SR6013 downloaded and installed a firmware update.

The SR6013 uses the latest Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room set-up and calibration software in conjunction with a supplied microphone and an eight-point measuring regimen, which takes about 25 minutes to complete.

The results were impressive and required very little in the way of post-measurement tweaking: the system uses a test signal to measure room characteristics and then sets up the AVR’s key parameters accordingly. I found almost all the settings to be spot on, with just the back surrounds needing a little extra toning down.

IN THE THEATRE

Starting off with The Avengers: Age of Ultron on Blu-ray, the Marantz easily tracked the often complex and intricate effects as Ultron and Ironman confront each other at the tanker graveyard.

Explosions were delivered with an almost tactile sense of force and power, and the amp tracked directional sounds with realistic precision, creating a three-dimensional soundspace that perfectly qualified the on-screen action.

Later, when Ultron attempts to escape in a pantechnicon, the street scenes with Black Widow (Charlotte Johannson) chasing the truck on a motorcycle showed off the same talent for precision as the big truck careens through inner city while Captain America (Steve Rogers) engages Ultron.

Excellent vocal projection throughout ensured that the frenetic action was never allowed to overshadow the dialogue between the characters, while the realism of the effects in both directional and impact terms highlighted just how vital the soundtrack is to overall movie enjoyment.

I know it’s an old, has-been movie by now, but I still rate Live Free Or Die Hard as one of the best action movie workouts for an AVR. There are just so many excellent action scenes, and most are both aurally challenging and visually arresting.

One of my favourite scenes is the mayhem that ensues when John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his hacker charge Farrell (Justin Long) are chased into a traffic tunnel by a machine gun-toting terrorist helicopter.

When the terrorists divert all the traffic into the tunnel from both sides, there’s utter chaos as cars crash into each other and fly through the air. The scene’s climax is when the chopper is struck by MClaine’s airborne patrol car.

The effects are almost visceral in their forcefulness – and the Marantz did well to make the most of them, immersing the viewer in a precisely steered force field of sound that left me out of breath, while endowing the on-screen action with real impact and realism.

There’s more to the SR6013 than crash-bang effects, however. Music playback is a traditional strength of Marantz AV receivers, and the review unit didn’t disappoint in that regard either.

Tasked with recreating the magic of Leonard Cohen’s live sets in various cities around the world immortalised on Songs From The Road, the receiver made the most of the engaging
5.1 TrueHD soundtrack, accurately placing the musicians on the stage and filling the room with captivating music.

The Marantz never had to resort to any hyperbole or exaggeration, but managed to make the music come alive. It displayed a penchant for attention to fine detail, but always carefully and accurately contextualised those details to augment an overriding sense of sonic realism.

I felt as if I was right there, in the concert hall, experiencing not only the music, but the ambience of the venue and the atmosphere of the occasion.

Surprisingly, the Marantz treated the 2.1 stereo soundtrack with equal respect and realism: it couldn’t quite match the 5.1 soundtrack for ambient realism, but still managed to create a strong sense of three-dimensional imaging, broad staging and rich tonality. If anything, the stereo focus added to the impact and focus of the music.

Staying with the music theme, I swapped Cohen for Eric Clapton’s marvellous Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 set. Here, the surround mix was more focussed on the on-stage action, while paying less attention to ambient information.

That said, the resulting sound lacked nothing in terms of realism and managed to closely examine each element of the often crowded stage with clarity and admirable balance.

Clapton and friends’ rendition of the classic, reggae-infused ‘I Shot The Sherif’ was a good case in point: the mix exposed each element of a full but perfectly captured performance.

Steve Gadd’s drum kit was spread wide, while the backing singers remained in superb supportive harmony with Clapton’s unassuming vocals throughout. The keyboards and bass found a delicate balance with Clapton’s articulate solo guitar riffs, too.

The Marantz’s music talents extended to its treatment of CD-quality music from streaming service Tidal, delivering a rich and convincing performance. Access speeds and signal stability our 20MB ADSL line were impressive – and that also went for Deezer and Spotify Connect.

The Marantz easily recognised the Synology NAS on the network, and navigating the content in folder view was a cinch, too. The list of compatible file formats is fairly extensive, and includes MP3, WMA and AAC, as well as WAV, FLAC, ALAC and DSD (up to DSD128).

Interestingly, it couldn’t play back some AIFF-encoded material on the server, though.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It never ceases to amaze me just how much functionality AV receiver makers are able to squeeze into a single chassis. Bar making a decent cup of espresso, there’s almost nothing the Marantz SR6013 can’t do.

Access to its multitude of features is intuitive, thanks to the excellent Marantz AVR app, which is definitely preferable to the remote control handset. And while I thought that having to deal with a second, HEOS app for streaming, the reality isn’t nearly as laborious as expected.

Set-up is simple too, aided by automated room calibration and an on-screen start-up guide. And while I wasn’t able to check out its 4K video features, picture quality in plain old 1080p HD was superb.

But most of all, the Marantz sounds great, regardless of source material. It’s an immersive surround sound performer, delivering its multichannel wares with oodles of energy and precision. And it really comes alive with music, both in surround and stereo.

HEOS-multiroom with Alexa voice control, and AirPlay 2, as well as easy Bluetooth connectivity and user-friendly streaming are the cherries on top of a very impressive AVR cake.

VITAL STATS

Channels: 9.2
Power output: 9x 110 watts (8 ohms, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 0,05% THD)
Surround sound formats: Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and legacy formats
3D sound formats: Dolby Atmos, Auro 3D, DTS:X, DTS Neural:X
DSP: Quad-core, 32-bit
Audio DAC: AKM AK4458 32-bit
Signal-to-noise ratio: 102 dB
HDMI inputs/outputs: 8/3
AV inputs: 4x composite, 2x component
AV outputs: 1x composite, 1x component
Analogue audio inputs: 6x line-level, 1x phono
Digital inputs: 2x coaxial, 2 Toslink digitalConnectivity: Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi (2,4/5 GHz), Bluetooth, AirPlay 2
Dimensions (WxDxH): 440 x 391 x 161 mm
Weight: 12,8 kg
PRICE
R29 990
SUPPLIED BY
HFX Systems

 

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver
Oppo BDP-95EU universal player
Atlantic Technologies 7.1 surround speaker system
Optoma HD80 DLP projector
Synology DS-214se NAS

 

SOFTWARE
The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (Blu-ray)
Live Free Or Die Hard (Blu-ray)
Leonard Cohen – Songs From The Road (Blu-ray)
Various – Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010 (Blu-ray)

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