I've had the Yamaha YAS-71 for about two weeks now. Was in the middle of writing a review on Amazon when I stumbled across this. So here are my thoughts.
First, some background on me:
I'm a music composer/audio engineer as a side job, so I'd like to think that I have a very critical pair of ears. I can hear EQ adjustments in .1dB increments, but take that as you will. This is also my first soundbar, and I have no other soundbar experiences to compare it with. However, I am not new to the world of audio, and I run a high-end monitoring setup with Lavry converters in my music studio.
I was looking for a budget solution to upgrade my existing bedroom sound experience, as my LCD TV speakers just weren't cutting it when watching Blu-rays on my PS3. A 5.1 setup was out of the question, along with a 2.1 setup - I just did not have the space for separate speakers. A soundbar came to mind, and is something I wish I had considered sooner rather than later.
After much research, I narrowed my interest to three: the Sony CT-100, the Yamaha YAS-71, and the Denon FS-3. These are all models you can find below $400. There are a lot of higher end models out there than what I set my sights on, but I felt the price of these higher end models ($700-$1600) just didn't justify its functionality, especially in a smaller type room like mine (16ft x 14ft). The Sony generally had favorable reviews but one thing that kept coming up time and again was that it did not get loud enough, and that the center speaker generally made it more difficult than necessary to hear dialogue. The Denon would have been my top choice, but upon looking at the measurements, it would have blocked my IR receiver if placed in front of my TV. I also discovered that the channel levels on the Denon cannot be adjusted. I ended up getting the Yamaha YAS-71...
...and I'm glad I did. Especially since Dell had this for $265, no tax and free shipping! Delivery also took only 1 day.
I was a bit skeptical at first because the YAS-70 model garnered some unfavorable reviews over sound quality not being up to par against other models, and its less than stellar surround effect. However, name aside, the YAS-71 seemed to have a different design in its drivers, using four 3" drivers instead of the YAS-70's six 2" drivers. I am also quite fond of Yamaha's DSP effects on their receiver line, so that also influenced my decision.
After hooking it all up to my PS3/Cable box via optical cable, it was time to taste this baby out!
Four DSP Modes: Movie, Music, Sports, Game
Movie: Wide horizontal projection, and a medium forward projection. Sound had a touch of reverb to it, and audio had greater low end.
Music: Narrow forward projection and medium horizontal projection. No reverb.
Sports: Stadium like effect. Heavy reverb.
Game: Like Music, except a very large forward projection, with a dip in the lower frequencies.
Dimmer: You can reduce the brightness on the front of the display up to four levels, or have it off completely. When making adjustments when it is off completely, you can see the adjustments you are making but after a few seconds of idle, the display then shuts off. Very nice.
Audio Delay: Essential function for syncing the soundbar's audio to your TV, as now audio and video are two separate sources. You can delay audio in steps of 10ms from 0 - 200ms (I don't remember the max number but it was somewhere around there). Without this function, I would have returned the unit.
Enhancer: Adds harmonic noise to enhance high frequency perception. Works very well for what it is, but in most cases, I left this off.
First impressions were very underwhelming. The sound coming out was more muddy than what I am used to. The subwoofer sounded bad no matter what level it was adjusted to. However, it still sounded better than my TV speakers, and that was the idea, right? After about an hour or so, I started to notice some subtle improvements in the audio quality, due to warmup time.
As I was calibrating the audio, I noticed the surround did add a "chorus" type effect to the overall sound, mainly due to the rear speakers being simulated by the front. Once I turned this down, the unit sounded significantly better. I found that Game mode sounded the best out of the four, by a large margin, mainly because I could hear blooming in the other DSP modes, and the bass sounded the most natural in Game mode. After tweaking the center and woofer channels, I became very happy with the unit. Contrary to other opinions, I thought the surround worked well, and there was a perception of hearing sounds behind you as if the audio were expanding from the sides. Let's be real though, room type and placement will have a large role in how well this will work, and don't expect to hear sounds behind you from just a front speaker.
After a week or so, my thoughts on the system remained the same. Very happy with the unit. I noticed that the rubber feet on the unit were pretty...well, flat. I purchased some isolation pads from Radio Shack ($2.50) and applied them.
Result? BIG difference. Sound was a lot more crisp and frequency energies were properly transfered (to the air, and not my TV stand). I was able to knock the surround channel up a notch without hearing that chorus effect. All of the DSP modes sound great, and now I am liking the Movie setting the best, which is strange because prior to applying the pads, I liked Movie mode the least...
I also must comment on the volume of this thing. It does loud, and it does loud well. I've cranked this thing to around 80% (at which any louder would begin to hurt), and it showed no signs of any tinnyness.
Great sound, great price
Easy one touch mode selection
Easy channel adjustment
Some nice features (enhancer, dimmer)
Finicky with placement and adjustments
No settings lock (the settings save, but there is no lock to prevent them from being changed)
Other thoughts: If you plan on using a power conditioner, make sure it is TRANSPARENT, otherwise you will be sacrificing forward projection and some filtered frequencies. A power strip with surge suppression is all you need.