Light of My Life

Listening to music is boring, right? I mean, it's just sound. There's nothing to look at or anything. That's why you'll gladly spend $2,000 on a TV, but balk at paying $200 for speakers. Right?

Well, maybe. Clearly, flat screens are all the rage, and have pushed audio playback into the more remote corners of our credit cards. The advent of HDTV is actually pretty cool, and deserves all the attention it's getting. After all, audio had its share of headlines when the CD came along. So, equal time for TV. I'm cool with that.

I'm even cool with the idea that speakers must stylistically match TVs. The fact that speakers must now be flat and thin, to match the flatness and thinness of the screens they stand beside, is a given. To their credit, speaker designers are doing a pretty good job of responding to the challenge.

But now Yamaha has given me something else to wrap my head around. Speakers that are accessories to TVs. In particular, Yamaha's YST-001 speakers have built-in ambient lighting.

0806110102This gives audio playback a much-needed visual component (music is boring, right?) and it also, Yamaha claims, improves our visual perception of the screen alongside. The speakers were designed in cooperation with lighting company Koizumi, and each speaker contains three 25-watt halogen lamps that are rear-firing, so they illuminate the wall behind. A remote control adjusts brightness. Sadly, the lamps are not colored, nor do they modulate their brightness with the music (all you color organ guys know what I'm talking about). Philips and their Ambilight TVs are leaving the U.S. market, but these YST-001's pick up the slack.

Actually, there is more than style here. It is well known that watching TV in a very dark room can lead to eye strain due to the contrast of the bright TV versus the room darkness. These speakers give enough ambient lighting, and make it easily adjustable, to prevent problems. And, of course, they look way cool. On the other hand, if you just want a pair of decent Yamaha speakers, buy some NS-M125's and gaff-tape some Maglite's on the back.

Frequency response of the YST-001 is rated at 70 Hz - 35,000 Hz, with a 6-ohm impedance. The speakers are about 47 inches high (and flat and thin, of course). Price is approximately $1,225. This information is from a Japanese web site, and no date has been given for U.S. availability. -Ken C. Pohlmann