Yamaha YSP-1 Digital Sound Projector

Bouncing off the walls.

In a time when housing prices are rising at an exponential rate, making affordable square footage scarce, one of the major challenges to having a home theater system is space. The home-theater-in-a-box phenomenon has attacked this problem by packaging smaller, matched speakers together with a receiver, but there's still the issue of finding space for proper speaker placement and the messy wiring that follows. Yamaha offers the YSP-1 Digital Sound Projector to alleviate this problem.

The YSP-1 is a single speaker cabinet that reflects sound beams off the walls to create the aural illusion of a five-speaker setup. It uses two 4.375-inch woofers and an array of 40 1.375-inch tweeters to accomplish the feat. With the push of a button, you can set these imaginary speakers to emulate four different surround setups: stereo, three beam (LCR), five beam, and stereo plus three (more on these modes later). But, before you can listen to these different modes, you have to set up the speaker.

Where Did All the Wires Go?
When you set up traditional speakers, you must consider different parameters to optimize the listening experience: separation of the speakers; bipole, dipole, standard-firing surrounds; where to put the surrounds; and how to run those pesky wires. You must weigh all of these options when you set up a 5.1 system. While these concerns disappear with the YSP-1 (along with those wires under the rug), a whole new set of problems surfaces. Because the Yamaha reflects sound off of the walls to simulate separate speakers, any wall hangings will wreak havoc with the sound beams. Also, you should mount the speaker high enough to clear the couch and allow the surround sounds to reach your ears. I set up three distinct theater settings in which to test the speaker, two at the Home Theater studio with a projector and screen and one at my home with a direct-view CRT. All three yielded slightly different results.

For the first scenario, I placed the YSP-1 against the front wall of the HT listening room. After I completed the easy setup, which involves answering just three questions about your listening environment, I popped in the "Battle of the Pelennor Fields" chapter from the Return of the King extended-edition DVD. Immediately, I could see that I would need to explore the manual setup. The soundfield across the screen was surprisingly large, although it lacked focus, and the surrounds seemed to be located in front of me rather than beside or behind me. I was also concerned that Howard Shore's score was getting buried by everything else, losing its intensity. Perhaps more fine-tuning was required, so off to the manual-setup menu I went.

What struck me initially about the manual setup was how detailed it was, including options for room dimensions, specific speaker-placement locations, horizontal and vertical adjustments for each sound beam, and even the ability to change the audio delay between 0 and 160 milliseconds. The manual setup time was a little lengthy, at just over an hour, although I spent some of that time listening to sound fly around the room as I scrolled between extremes on the horizontal and vertical placement. This definitely increases the coolness factor. Going back to the LOTR disc, I was pleased to find that I hadn't spent all of my time in vain. Still, I hadn't completely cleared up all of the problems. The front soundstage was incredibly sharp now. But I had trouble getting the surround sound to fully immerse me, and the music was still getting swallowed. Perhaps the problem was with the room itself.

In order to lessen reverberation and create a neutral listening atmosphere, the HT listening room has acoustical treatments hanging from its walls. This is great for listening to most speakers, but not the YSP-1. For my second listening setup, I removed all of the acoustical treatments from the walls to closer emulate a more traditional living-room environment.

With just bare walls, I was hoping to achieve a full five-speaker experience, and the Yamaha came exceedingly close. When I adjusted the surrounds a little more, they moved closer to a side position, but not quite as far back as I wanted them. I deferred to "Pelennor Fields" again and was relieved. The music regained its presence and helped to pull me into the movie. The Omaha Beach scene from Saving Private Ryan put the surrounds to the test, and they survived, but not unscathed. The response was far better than before, but the sound was slightly muddled. The sounds of bullets whizzing near my head never seemed to pass behind me and lost their vibrancy.

Hey, Hey, What Can It Do?
Where the speaker really shines is with its stereo-plus-three beam mode, which Yamaha suggests for live-concert-DVD listening. It sends out a stereo signal to the listening position, as well as the left, center, and right beams. The three beams aimed directly at the listener (stereo plus center) handle the majority of the sound, while the left and right deal with sound reflections from the venue itself. For example, I watched footage of the Led Zeppelin shows at Madison Square Garden in 1973. Jimmy Page's guitar work fills the room, and Robert Plant's soaring vocals sail above. This leads to an engrossing concert experience for those of us (such as myself) who were unable to attend the original.

I was disappointed to find that, at home, where my television is set in a corner, only the stereo and stereo-plus-three modes worked. I could not use the five- or three-beam modes, which rendered the speaker most useful in my home for music. It's a good thing the stereo-plus-three mode sounds as good as it does. There are also DVD and CD racks along my wall, which bounced the sound beams in interesting directions. It made the setup frustrating unless I moved the racks out of the way. The front soundstage, which was impressive in size and matched well with the 87-inch screen at the studio, was a little oversized for my television at home. I was able to scale it down, but the sound was always a little wider than my screen.

Overall, the YSP-1 was missing a substantial amount of low end. While you have the option of running the YSP-1 full-range, the heart-thumping feeling of a sub is missing. Luckily, there is a subwoofer output, and Yamaha even suggests connecting a sub for full enjoyment, as do I.

The concept behind the YSP-1 Digital Sound Projector is absolutely fascinating for audio enthusiasts, and Yamaha deserves credit for their execution. What the speaker does well it excels in, specifically the beam modes designed for music enjoyment. If your walls are bare, the five-beam mode does an adequate job of replicating a five-speaker setup.

In order for technology to move forward and fresh ideas to come to light, products must push the boundaries of possibilities. The YSP-1 faces those boundaries head-on and succeeds in stretching the limits. If you have space constraints and are tired of tripping over speaker wires, the Yamaha YSP-1 would make an attractive addition to your home theater.

• No more wires running all over the living room
• One speaker cabinet replaces five
• Playing with the sound-beam steering makes for an afternoon of wonderment

(800) 4-YAMAHA