One day, I was over at the in-laws' house, and they were complaining about the sound quality from their Sharp Aquos TV (LC42D64U). Built-in speakers are never adequate, but in their large living...
Sub integrated with Amp equals space savings, beautiful piano black glossy finish
Mids could be more pronounced
One day, I was over at the in-laws' house, and they were complaining about the sound quality from their Sharp Aquos TV (LC42D64U). Built-in speakers are never adequate, but in their large living room, it was actually quite tough to hear the TV audio. We went out to Target to remedy the situation and bought a Bose Cinemate with RCA inputs. I know, I know, but it was literally the best thing Target had in stock that night, and they wanted a solution right away. It worked at increasing the volume, but that was about it.
Two years later, and I decide it's time to replace the substandard Bose with something better. The Cinemate is louder, but we still can't hear the dialogue very well on TV shows, movies, you name it. So I found a great deal on the Yamaha YAS-101BL (not the subject of this review) sound bar. It sounded unbelievable compared to the Bose, and at half the cost! I'm a huge Yamaha fan, as I already have a Yamaha horn, guitar, and some day, motorcycle. So the Yamaha brand was a no-brainer.
Roku Troubles with YAS-101
HOWEVER! The one area that the YAS-101 wasn't able to keep up was with Roku content. We have a Roku 2 XS for Plex, Netflix, etc, and it's connected to the TV via HDMI. There is no optical out on the Roku box, so we couldn't wire it directly into the Yamaha YAS-101. The TV might have passed the Dolby Digital+ signal directly to the YAS-101 via TOSLINK, but the sound bar wasn't able to decode the Dolby Digital+ signal. No sound from Roku = no dice.
I figured, since we need HDMI switching (Panasonic Blu-ray Player and Roku 2), we might as well get a soundbar that can actually decode Dolby Digital+ and switch HDMI. I'm a stickler for details, so I want the full digital signal (TrueHD, etc) going to the receiver for decoding. So we sold the YAS-101 and bought the YHT-S401. Wow.
The YAS-101 has unbelievable clear sound as it is. I listen to music on a pair of Sennheiser HD-595 headphones through a home-made O2 amp regularly, so I know what great sonic quality sounds like. The YHT-S401 is at least two times better than the YAS-101. The depth of sound is so rich and realistic that it really makes movie night all about the experience again!
The built-in subwoofer provides the perfect amount of bass (and actually too much, if you increase its gain much past 0). It's not so much that you can't hear the dialogue, and it's not so little that you wonder why it's even there. It's just the perfect amount of bass to balance out the rich highs and mids coming from the three-channel speaker bar. You can adjust the subwoofer level from -6 to +6. I just leave it at +1, and it sounds fantastic.
The YHT-S401 hasn't had any trouble decoding Dolby Digital+, DD, DTS, TrueHD, or DTS-MA. Those are the only formats I've thrown at it, but it can decode a whole handful more. It's nice that the receiver will show you what format it's decoding at all times. This system plays audio from the Roku with no problems, so I'm a happy camper!
The YHT-S401 has plenty of input options for the average-sized home theater setup.
It has 3 HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. Each HDMI port has HDMI pass-through, so if you want to listen to the sound via your TV's speakers, you don't have to turn the S401 on. There's also an optical input (as well as digital coax), which is nice for accepting Dolby Digital surround signals from OTA TV. You can also pass in an analog RCA signal, but who would do that??
There's an FM antenna hookup as well, and this unit provides fantastic sound on all local FM stations in my town. The only port left is the IR repeater, but I didn't need to use this, as the TV remote still works just fine, even with the sound bar in front of it.
There's a USB connection on the front of the device for connecting iPhones/iPods, but there's sadly no AirPlay in this unit. I tried hooking up my iPod mini, but it turns out the unit can only play iPods since about the second or third-gen iPod Touch and newer. No worry, as I prefer listening to iPod music via headphones anyway.
Overall Sound Impressions
The sound that this system is able to produce is really impressive. A lot of people say that it's 'not great' compared to a 5.1 system. I'm not a fan of surround seups (I prefer 2.1 - or soundbars), so I can't comment on that, nor do I want to. That's why I'm giving it 4.5 stars here - because I'm not too concerned with the "virtual surround", as the room its currently in is not perfectly square anyway, so I can't get that virtual surround effect.
I turned on the opening scene from Fast Five (1080p, DTS HD) and my FIL walked in the room from outside. His response was, "That sounded amazing from outside, and I'm not even in the room!" The sound reproduction is really, REALLY realistic from the YHT-S401. Movie soundtracks sound full and rich, and dialogue sounds extremely clear - even without 'Clear Voice' activated.
By the way, the 'Clear Voice' feature is not just a gimmick - it will enhance the frequencies near human speech, and it doesn't muck up the rest of the sound. I'm sure it was simple for the engineers to implement, but it works wonders in real world applications.
The way we have it set up, the TV/soundbar are in the corner of a tiled room; so the virtual surround doesn't function very well. I'm fine with that, however, as the sound is so rich nonetheless. There are a few times - when I've been sitting directly in front of the unit - that I've noticed some surround effects, but I like this system more for its overall sound quality, not the surround attempts.
Another nice thing about it is that it comes with connections for all 5 speaker terminals, so if you want to add 2 surround speakers in the future, it's as easy as plugging in more speaker wire. If you want to use two different left/right channel speakers, you can continue to use the soundbar as the center channel and hook up different speakers to the front left/right channels. It's cool how expandable the system is.
The only con I can think of is that the highs aren't as rich and clear as I would prefer. The system doesn't have dedicated tweeters, so it's understandable; and let me be clear, the sound from this system is unbelievable clear. There's just a certain quality to ridiculously clear high frequencies that makes a sound system PERFECT - and this system doesn't hit those frequencies. I'll say it again, the highs are still fabulous on this system, but they just don't ring like they do coming from dedicated tweeters. Since the movie-watching experience is not hindered by this, it doesn't affect my rating at all. For the money, this system is fantastic.
The other con is that the mids aren't as pronounced as they could be. I don't really think the highs are as much of a problem as the relatively unclear mids are. If the mid frequencies were clearer, there probably wouldn't be a need for the Clear Voice setting.
When you're streaming your music library, music sounds best in "Stereo" mode. There's a "Stereo Enhanced" and "Music" (probably ProLogic II) mode, but they don't recreate the music in as raw a fashion as just plain old "Stereo" mode does. Try it - you'll see what I mean.