Yamaha YSP-1 Digital Sound Projector Home Theater Speaker System

The modern world revolves around easy. Look at the home-theater-in-a-box products. Consumers only need to make one shopping decision to purchase an entire home theater sound system. Unfortunately, they still need to set up the speakers and connect everything together.

Yamaha has tried to go home-theater-in-a-box one better. They've created a home theater in one box—literally. Yamaha's new YSP-1 Digital Sound Projector includes an audio processor, amplifiers, and speakers in a 40- by 8- by 5-inch enclosure that can sit above or below a flat-screen monitor and create a complete surround soundfield without a bunch of speakers around the room.

Naturally, skeptical audiophiles will wonder whether this technological hat trick can work well and sound good. Let's see.

One Box
The Yamaha YSP-1 delivers a single-box solution to home theater sound by placing 40 small, 1.5-inch speaker drivers and two 4.5-inch midsize drivers in one compact package. Each driver has its own amplifier. The 1.5-inch drivers utilize a miniscule 2-watt amp, while each of the 4.5-inch drivers is attached to a 20-watt amp. Connections include two pairs of analog inputs and three digital inputs (one coax, two optical) as well as a composite video output so the onscreen display can be viewed on your video screen.

Sophisticated DSP (digital signal processing) formulates delay and phase differences between its drivers to create surround effects. The YSP-1 controls sonic parameters based on the dimensions of your room as well as the physical location of the speaker system and listeners within the room. Yamaha's use of the term "Sound Projector" refers to the YSP-1's special ability to focus and bounce sound off a room's walls to generate surround effects.

Given the technologically ambitious nature of the YSP-1, setting it up could be intimidating. But since the typical owner of the YSP-1 wants a simple one-box solution to home theater sound, a complicated installation process could put the kibosh on the deal. Yamaha has addressed this issue with their Easy Set Up menu, which asks simple questions, and can successfully configure the YSP-1 based on the user's responses. Think of it as a built-in "expert system" for installation. According to Bart Greenberg of Yamaha, "Ninety percent of the YSP-1's owners set up their systems using the Easy Set Up menu." For the technologically savvy 10 percent, there's a Manual Set Up menu, which allows fine-tuning adjustments for all the important parameters.

I could expend copious amounts of copy describing the finer points of the YSP-1's setup procedure, but in the interest of brevity I'll just touch on a few major details. The Easy Set Up does qualify as easy; even without referring to the instruction manual, almost anyone can accomplish an acceptable installation. But to obtain optimum performance, you must enter the Manual Set Up menu, within which you can adjust not only the subwoofer and speaker levels and subwoofer crossover, but also room EQ, sound-beam direction, image location, input assignments, and brightness of the onscreen and front-panel displays.

Obtaining the optimum setup requires patience and more than a little courage. The settings appear to have little correlation with anything you'll find in the real world. Just as with CRT projectors, you must write down these initial settings before you begin to mess with them. The YSP-1 features a built-in pink-noise generator to assist with fine-tuning, but figuring out when the sound is right can be daunting. Through trial and error, I discovered the YSP-1's level of adjustability borders on scary. You can, with a bit of effort, make it sound really, truly awful. But if you like to tweak your sound system, the YSP-1 will deliver endless hours of engaging entertainment. Finally, at the end of the day, it's comforting to know that a factory-reset button awaits as a last resort.

Although the YSP-1 doesn't come with a subwoofer, it has an output for one. If you intend to listen to anything with bangs, booms, or thumps, you need a subwoofer. Not only will the subwoofer supply needed low frequency information, but by relieving the YSP-1's midrange speakers of bass duties, the system can play much louder with less strain. Yamaha recommends their own YST-FSW100 flat-profile subwoofer ($179), but anything superior to a Dixie cup and a string will work nicely. I used a small TEAC subwoofer with a down-firing 8-inch driver liberated from their LSR-150 mini-surround system.

Day-to-Day Operations
Once you've set up the Yamaha YSP-1, the hard work should be over. Its fully featured remote control can be programmed to also control your DVD player and TV. The front-panel display reveals information about your current input source, volume level, and audio mode. For unsophisticated or technophobic users the YSP-1's unintimidating interface should be easy to assimilate. Too bad the remote control doesn't light up.

During the review period, the YSP-1 operated flawlessly. Its remote control sensors have a wide angle of acceptance and excellent sensitivity. I found no instances in my small room where I couldn't either bounce the remote's signals off the wall or go for a direct shot without success.

The YSP-1 supports Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, and DTS Neo:6 surround formats with built-in decoders. It also has four "beam mode settings" that are similar to audio modes in a conventional audio processor. Stereo mode turns the YSP-1 into a two-channel, forward-radiating system, while Three-Beam mode creates right, left, and center-channel outputs, directing the left and right channels' sound off the sidewalls. Five-Beam mode bounces the right and left front and surround channels off the room's walls, and ST+Three-Beam mode gives you a direct signal from front right, left, and center channels while reflecting rear-channel information off the sidewalls. This last setting is intended for both two-channel music and live-concert DVDs.

One Voice
Just because the YSP-1 succeeds ergonomically doesn't insure that it succeeds sonically. It will not induce audiophiles accustomed to top-flight audio to swoon with ecstasy. The YSP-1 sounds good, but never great. Its primary sonic attribute is clarity. Its principle deficiency is lack of midrange warmth and body. However, casual and less discriminating listeners will be delighted by the YPS-1's ability to play loudly in a small room (if used with a subwoofer) as well as its pseudo-surround capabilities.

If you use the YSP-1 primarily for video sources, its strengths will far outweigh its weaknesses. On boisterous soundtracks such as Lost in Space, it delivers easily decipherable dialog even during the loudest and most frenetic action scenes. The YSP-1's crisp, matter-of-fact sonic character preserves all the low-level details of a soundtrack. But music, especially from less-than-perfect sources such as MP3s or iPods, sounds mediocre through the YPS-1. At louder-than-background volume levels, music develops a hard, dry, two-dimensional character that makes it cold and uninviting. Aggressive material quickly becomes fatiguing, and you will either turn the volume down or axe-murder someone. The ST+Three-Beam mode does expand two-channel music's somewhat limited soundstage and spatial parameters, but it also adds a hollow and artificial harmonic character. Unlike Lexicon's Logic 7 or Meridian's Tri-field modes, the YSP-1's surround augmentations subtract rather than add to musical enjoyment.

Surround effects are well separated from front-channel information, but except in rare cases they never seem to emanate from behind as with conventional 5- or 7-channel surround systems. I must admit that the surround test signals from Video Essentials actually circled behind me during my initial setup, but most movies' surround effects came from behind the boundaries of the front channels instead of from behind me.

Other users may find the YSP-1's surround sound effects far more convincing because the DSP employs HRTF (head-related transfer functions) to alter the time alignment between drivers and phase coefficients to create surround effects. Different people have varying sensitivities to these sonic manipulations, which will determine their degree of perceived veracity. I'm a tough sell, I guess.

One World
The YSP-1 epitomizes the successful lifestyle product. It elegantly fulfills the particularly challenging ergonomic function of delivering home theater surround-sound capabilities from a single low-profile, visually unobtrusive enclosure. It works well on movies and video sources, delivering crisp dialog, satisfying volume levels, and sometimes convincing surround effects. For music, the system is less endearing, especially when subjected to critical listening standards. Still, for background music and video sources, the YSP-1 performs remarkably well. When you consider its price, features, and overall performance level, only a complete curmudgeon could view the Yamaha YSP-1 as anything less than a spectacular A/V miracle.

Highs and Lows

• Compact home theater solution
• Works well with movie soundtracks
• Excellent dialog clarity
• Can play surprisingly loud when mated with outboard subwoofer

• Not convincing with music
• Lack of midrange warmth and body
• Manual Set Up mode (more flexible than the simple, Easy Set Up option) is complicated