Yamaha YAS-207 DTS Virtual:X Soundbar Hands-On

Yamaha YAS-207 DTS Virtual X Soundbar

Yamaha’s YAS-207 ($300) is an affordable soundbar that’s the first to feature DTS Virtual:X 3D immersive audio processing. Technically, it’s a 2.1-channel soundbar that includes a compact wireless subwoofer. It uses DSP processing to simulate height effects and it offers a variety of connectivity options that include HDMI/ARC, digital-optical, Bluetooth, and 3.5mm stereo analog—lots of goodies for the money.

This is a mid-size soundbar, measuring 36.625″ (W) x 2.375″ (H) x 4.25″ (D). It has 200 watts of total system power, with 100 watts going to the soundbar and 100 watts for the sub. The wireless sub is slim and tall, measuring 7.125″ (W) x 17.25″ (H) x 15.75″ (D), making it easy to find a spot for it. It may be wall-mounted using built-in keyhole brackets, or placed on a TV stand.

Yamaha’s been in the soundbar game a long time, so I expected good sound right out of the box—which it is capable of. But I was also pleased to see the inclusion of HDMI that supports all the latest video formats including UHD with HDR, as well as 3D. My only gripe is it only offers one input, two would have been handy, but perhaps not doable at this price point. Notably, the YAS-207 does not have Wi-Fi, but it does feature app-based control over Bluetooth. It also comes with a physical remote.

Setup and Listening

Setup was the no-fuss 5-minute affair you’d expect from a soundbar, aside from the unit needing a firmware update to enable DTS Virtual:X. It’s an update that needs to be performed manually because there is no Wi-Fi or Ethernet on this model, instead it relies on USB. I placed it on a TV stand I use as a gear rack and that sits underneath the TV.

Unpacking was quick and easy, there are only a few parts to it, and I appreciate that the power supplies for both the soundbar and subwoofer are inside their respective chasses, and not part of the power cord. The included remote is an oversized credit-card design with well-spaced buttons.

Once I got the soundbar and sub running, I checked to make sure it handled UHD and HDR video through HDMI as promised, which it did. I then listened to a number of familiar music tracks to gauge its subjective tonality using out-of-box settings. I quickly found that Stereo and Surround modes provide a relaxed, balanced sound while DTS Virtual:X is brighter and edgier but also capable of producing the most expansive soundfield. The YSP-207 is not going to replace a proper stereo system, but it clearly wears more than one hat.

Since Virtual:X is the primary feature of the YAS-207 sound bar, I quickly moved to examining video clips from DTS:X, Dolby Atmos, and Auro-3D demo discs; an Oppo UDP-203 served as the source. A key thing to understand is this soundbar does not decode object-based 3D immersive audio formats. Rather, Virtual:X is constantly in upmix mode, searching for audio cues in a standard surround-sound mix that it can interpret as height information. Here, the hope is the algorithm will recognize those cues in some of the demo clips that have been intentionally designed to make the immersive effects as obvious as possible and translate them into an immersive soundfield with virtual height effects, despite the audio coming from a 2-channel soundbar.

As a point of reference, I used a 2.1.2 3D immersive audio system featuring a Denon AVR-X4300H AVR, Definitive Technology BP-9060 tower speakers with reflected-sound modules on top and four subwoofers (two KEF R400bs plus two JL Fathom F112 V2s). In other words, a system that is as far removed from a soundbar as you can get while still offering the same promise of 3D immersive audio from a lifestyle-friendly and easy-to-install 2-channel system. It’s just that the soundbar costs about 45 times less! But, there’s good reason for that.

So here’s the scoop on this soundbar’s raison d’etre, the DTS Virtual:X surround mode: If you don’t expect miracles, and understand this is a budget soundbar that’s doing many things right, then I will concede it produces an interesting effect. But to call it 3D immersive audio is to cheapen the concept too much for my taste.

For one thing, when compared to the reference AVR-based system rendering real object-based sound, there’s actually zero comparison. One is the real thing and the other is decidedly not. It’s clear that any comparison with an actual 3D  immersive audio system will reveal its true status as a decent and affordable soundbar, but one that has no actual capacity to render height information. Instead, what Virtual X appears to do is lift everything—the whole darned soundstage—so that even with the soundbar placed under a TV, you hear sounds at ear level or a bit above ear level. And that, when combined with the right visuals, does sound more immersive.

Now, just because Immersive:X can’t perform miracles in the context of the YAS-207 does not mean all is lost. That’s partly because the other modes—surround and stereo—sound very good. Indeed, I think Yamaha’s take on what EQ curve sounds faithful to the source is superior to what DTS came up with, it certainly sounds a lot closer in tone and timbre to what the AVR rig produced, but without the nuance or capacity for multi-kilowatt power.

As you’ll read, Virtual:X did have its moments. So, content and usage should dictate which mode you use. For example, if  you are sitting across the room, browsing the web on a tablet, you might wish to use “stereo” mode, which makes no effort to perform any immersive trickery, and sounds quite neutral and pleasing—certainly non fatiguing. It’s also the most dynamic, you can turn it up a bit and put on something with crisply recorded drums—like Jon Kennedy’s album Corporeal—and jam out to it. Kudos to Yamaha for making this a music-friendly soundbar.

I’d like to note here that regardless of the mode I was in, I thought the subwoofer did a very decent job. These days it seems the wireless subs that ship with soundbars are better than ever, even at this price point. For $300 all-in, this is good bass performance.

Clips from three 3D immersive audio demo discs— DTS and Dolby and Auro—should have clips that at some point or another trigger the YAS-207’s Immersive:X upmix capability. For example, the Atmos disc has the opening of Mad Max: Fury Road on it. Remember, this soundbar only sees regular surround-sound audio coming in, it does not decode height information from object-based immersive audio formats.

If I used my imagination, I could sense a tiny bit more height to the overall effect DTS Immersive:X provided, albeit at the cost of significantly changing the tonal balance of the content to something aggressively bright. Moreover, the moment I played the same clips in true Atmos on the AVR-based system, it was readily apparent that synthetic 3D immersive sound is a poor substitute for even a 2-channel reflected-sound rig, but one that does real 3D immersive audio.

I switched the Oppo to PCM output and used the Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X upmixers on the Denon AVR to listen to the same clips from the DTS and Dolby test discs, wondering if it would find height information in places Immersive:X missed. To the soundbar’s credit, the upmixed clips’ audio did not possess the obvious, synchronized height cues that their object-based counterparts did. So it seems without true decoding of height info, systems like this are compromised from the get-go.

But there is a bright side. While DTS Virtual:X can’t emulate overhead sound objects, it does great with ambience, like echoes and thunder and even fly-overs. These sort of effects are apparently easier for it to decipher and come through with a surprising apparent expansiveness, at least when considering the size of the source of the sound.

The best results I heard from DTS Virtual:X occurred during video game play. In the context of Need for Speed or Grand Theft Auto 5 or Horizon Zero Dawn, having the effect turned on created the more compelling surround effect, and elevated the soundfield to ear-level and above. Faint sound effects were easy to discern, such as when sneaking around in Horizon Zero Dawn. And during GTA5 action, the crunches and gunfire and engine sounds and explosions were very loud and clear and impactful.  So, for gaming I’d say DTS Virtual:X is useful.

I also liked the effect DTS Virtual:X had on electronic music like Deadmau5 or Daft Punk or Infected Mushroom. Although the same aggressive, bright balance was present in the sound, it often rendered quite beautifully.

Before I wrap this up, I wanted to mention that I am completely okay with this sound bar eschewing Wi-Fi and the streaming audio features that usually accompany that capability. At this price point I’d rather see an HDMI input and output included.

Conclusion

When it comes to gauging the YAS-207’s performance, the phrase “everything is relative” comes to mind. It’s fair to say that in terms of fidelity, the 2.1.2 AVR-based system was far superior. But in terms of immersiveness, the YAS-207 was surprisingly engaging.

The YAS-207’s regular “surround” mode had the benefit of restoring some audio fidelity while still providing standard surround-sound, but there’s no virtual height to be heard. However for $300, it’s hard to be critical of the compromises Yamaha made to create what holistically is greater than the sum of its parts.

When it comes to recommendations, I’ll gladly state this is a good, fun soundbar that can be pleasant yet accurate using Yamaha’s surround or stereo modes. Or, it can use DTS Virtual:X to create an in-your-face pseudo-immersive effect that can be interesting and even exciting, especially in a gaming context. Yamaha’s YAS-207 is a soundbar that has lots of features, sounds great and performs well considering its cost.


You can find more notes regarding my hands-on experience with the YAS-207 under the comments in the soundbar forum. Follow the “comments” link at the top of the article, or simply click here to go there.