Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 Soundbar System Review
Multi-room and multi-channel
What is the Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40?The Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 is the latest entry-level soundbar from the company that practically pioneered the concept. The YMS-4080, as it's also known, is a single, two-channel soundbar with no included subwoofer and, as the name suggests, it boasts Yamaha’s MusicCast multi-room technology. Although it doesn’t support any of the object-based audio formats, it does include DTS Virtual:X which applies psychoacoustic processing to create a more immersive experience.
In terms of other features, there's support for Hi-Res Audio, various music streaming services are built-in, and there's even voice control via Amazon Alexa. You also get HDMI, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, and a Clear Voice feature. The soundbar retails for around £399 as at the time of writing (December 2018), but thanks to MusicCast you can add a wireless subwoofer (SUB 100) and wireless rear speakers (MusicCast 20) to create a genuine multi-channel system.
DesignThe Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 has a simple but elegant design, with a curved leading edge and a metal grille. The soundbar is very well made, uses a brushed metal finish along the top, and comes in black. It has a slim profile and is designed to be discreet, allowing the soundbar to sit under your TV without drawing attention to itself. There are also screw holes at the rear, and a template is included if you want to wall mount. The BAR 40 measures 980 x 60 x 111mm (WxHxD) and weighs 2.7kg.
The only display on the BAR 40 is a series of small LEDs on the top panel, located to the left of centre and towards the rear. These LEDs register which input you have selected: HDMI, TV (ARC), Analogue, and Bluetooth/Net. There are also indicators to show if a surround mode is selected, and if there’s a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection. Located to the right of these display LEDs are some basic touch-sensitive controls for source selection, mute, volume up/down, and also power/connect.
The BAR 40 is well-made, using a discreet design that doesn't draw attention to itself
Connections & ControlThe Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 houses all its physical connections in a recessed area on the underside of the soundbar, and here you’ll find an HDMI input and an HDMI output that supports ARC (Audio Return Channel). All the HDMI ports support Ultra HD 4K at 50/60p, 4:4:4, Rec.2020, HDCP2.2, and High Dynamic Range (HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log Gamma). It's a shame there's only one HDMI input, but since the BAR 40 doesn't support lossless audio, you can simply use ARC.
There’s also an optical digital audio input, a 3.5mm analogue audio input, and an Ethernet port for a wired connection. The soundbar has built-in Wi-Fi (2.4/5GHz), although if you don’t want to use MusicCast, you also have the option of connecting to the sound bar using Bluetooth (Ver. 4.2+EDR/A2DP, AVRCP) or Apple AirPlay. Finally, there is a physical subwoofer output for connecting an active sub and boosting the bass, although you also have the option of connecting wirelessly to the SUB 100 via MusicCast.
The included remote is small, and the kind of controller that often gets lost down the back of the sofa. However, it does include all the buttons you’ll need, and is actually quite effective in operation. You can easily adjust the volume and subwoofer level, change inputs, select favourites, and choose features like Stereo, Surround, 3D Surround, Bass Extension and Clear Voice. You also have the option of controlling the BAR 40 using the MusicCast Controller app, which I'll cover in more detail later.
There's a reasonable set of connections, although only one HDMI input
Yamaha BAR 40 Features & SpecsThe Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 uses two front-firing speakers, each of which is composed of a pair of 4.6cm woofers and a 2.5cm tweeter. In addition, there is 50W of built-in amplification for each speaker, so the soundbar has plenty of power.
The BAR 40 includes DTS Virtual:X, which is described as 3D surround sound processing for a single soundbar solution. What that means in reality is that psychoacoustic processing is applied to a two-channel source, in order to create the illusion of a more immersive surround experience.
The soundbar also supports lossy Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS Digital Surround, but not lossless Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio. As a result, it obviously doesn’t support object-based formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
However, not everyone is interested in being immersed in surround sound, and Yamaha recognises that people often find dialogue difficult to understand in modern surround mixes. For this reason, it has developed the Clear Voice feature which is designed to boost the clarity of dialogue in TV shows and movies.
Another key feature, so much so that its part of the product’s name, is MusicCast. This is Yamaha’s multiroom technology that is now built into most of its products. It allows you to seamlessly stream music from one MusicCast device to another, all controlled by a dedicated app that is well-designed and intuitive to use. There are also a number of streaming services built into the app, including Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, and Qobuz. The BAR 40 also supports High-Resolution Audio up to 24bit/192kHz, for MP3, WAV, AAC, AIFF, WMA, Apple Lossless, and FLAC file types.
The latest feature added to the BAR 40 is voice control via an Amazon Alexa speaker. I set up the Yamaha to work with my Alexa Echo, and while not the simplest process (you have to create a Yamaha account for some reason), it does at least work. I was able to control the soundbar using my voice, getting it to change volume, mute, or select a different source. However, success very much depended on how I phrased the instruction, and personally I tended to just use the remote or the excellent control app instead.
The features include DTS Virtual:X and MusicCast multi-room audio
Yamaha SUB 100 & MusicCast 20You can expand the Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 soundbar into a full, multi-channel system with the addition of the SUB 100 subwoofer, and a pair of MusicCast 20 or MusicCast 50 wireless speakers. The combined cost of such a system depends on which speakers you choose, but in the case of this review the BAR 40, SUB 100, and pair of MusicCast 20s equates to just under £1,000 (thanks to a £100 cash back deal).
The SUB 100 (£399) is an active subwoofer that uses an 8-inch cone driver and 130W of built-in amplification. The sub also includes Yamaha's Twisted Flare Port, which is designed to reduce air turbulence noise, contributing to clear and accurate low frequency reproduction. It also boasts Advanced YST (Yamaha Active Servo Technology) which drives the cone speaker with tighter control. As a result, the company claims a frequency response of 28-300Hz. There's a gain control on the top for setting the subwoofer level, and there's also an auto standby feature.
Since it's wireless, it has built-in Wi-Fi (2.4/5 GHz) and support for the MusicCast multi-room system which allows the sub to form part of a surround system. There's also an Ethernet port, so you can choose between a wired or wireless internet connection. There's even a 3.5mm analogue input, if you want to connect the subwoofer directly to the BAR 40 or any soundbar with a sub output. The SUB 100 uses solid MDF construction with a piano finish, it comes in a choice of black or white, measures 252 x 373 x 418mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 12.5kg.To create the dedicated rear speakers in the multi-channel system, you'll need a pair of MusicCast 20 or MusicCast 50 wireless speakers. I had a pair of MusicCast 20s sent to me for the purposes of this review, allowing me to create a 4.1-channel surround sound system. The MusicCast 20 (£179 each) is a cracking little wireless speaker in its own right, and was recently reviewed by Ed Selley here.
It uses a 9cm woofer, a 3cm soft dome tweeter, a pair of passive radiators, all of which are driven by 40W of amplification (25W for the woofer and 15W for the tweeter). You can use the MusicCast 20s as regular speakers in a multi-room system, or even as a stereo pair, with or without the SUB 100. The MusicCast 20s measure 150 x 186 x 130mm (WxHxD), weigh 2.2kg, and come in black or white.
Add a SUB 100 and a pair of MusicCast 20 speakers to create a multi-channel system
Setup & OperationThe Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 is easy to set up, you simply place it in front of or under your TV – either on a stand or by wall mounting. Since the soundbar doesn’t support lossless audio, there isn’t much benefit from connecting a source directly to the soundbar via HDMI. You could just as easily connect everything to your TV and then send the audio back via ARC. If you want to use Bluetooth, all you need to do is pair the Yamaha with your device.
The MusicCast Controller app is very intuitive, and takes you through the process of connecting the BAR 40 to your Wi-Fi network. Once that's done, you can then use the app to connect the SUB 100 and the MusicCast 20s to your network, before combining them all in a wireless surround sound system. It's worth remembering that although the system is wireless, each of the four devices does require a power socket.
That limitation aside, all you need to do then is position the rear speakers just behind and to the side of the main listening position. The sub is fairly flexible in terms of placement, but I’d recommend at the front of the room and slightly away from the wall. Finally, while sitting in the main listening position use the app to set the correct distance and levels for the soundbar, sub and two rear speakers.
MusicCast is not only a key feature but also, thanks to an intuitive remote app (freely available for iOS and Android), makes setting up and controlling the BAR 40 easier. The app offers extensive setup options that simply aren't accessible from the the controls on the soundbar or the provided remote.
The app has a main page that offers access to various music streaming services (Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, and Deezer) and all the inputs (Bluetooth, AirPlay, Server, Net Radio, HDMI, ARC, and Analogue). You can also use the app to add more MusicCast devices, create MusicCast surround and stereo systems, setup Amazon Alexa, and change your account settings. I found the app to be both intuitive and highly effective, allowing me to effortlessly control the BAR 40, other MusicCast devices, and the surround system that I created.
The entire system is easy to setup and control using the excellent MusicCast app
PerformanceThe Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 is a great example of the company's extensive experience when it comes to designing and constructing soundbars. I started by testing it as a single unit, and the built-in stereo speakers immediately delivered a pleasing soundstage when watching TV programmes. Despite the lack of a centre speaker, dialogue was clearly delivered and music and effects were spread across the front of the room.
The mid-range was well-defined and the higher end was nicely balanced, but the bass was understandably lacking in the absence of a separate subwoofer. However, the overall result was a solid performance, with good stereo imaging and placement of effects. Shows like Masterchef: The Professionals and Dynasties sounded great, and the Clear Voice feature proved effective at enhancing dialogue when necessary.
These overall strengths meant that the soundbar also proved very adept at handling music. Listening to the Memphis recordings of Primal Scream's Give Out but Don't Give Up, revealed the wonderful musicianship hidden within the more soulful ballads. Vocals came across clearly, stereo separation was pronounced, the guitar work was suitably driven, and the drums were fast and tight.
The performance with movies was understandably limited by the two-channel nature of the soundbar, but 100W of amplification allowed the BAR 40 to go loud without becoming strained or fatiguing. The audio was obviously focused at the front of the room, but again the dialogue remained clear and effects and music were effectively spread across the soundstage.
The addition of the SUB 100 subwoofer and MusicCast 20 rear speakers raised the surround performance to another level, adding greater depth to the bass and a defined rear presence. A dynamic mix like Ready Player One sounded extremely good with a lively effects up front and plenty of low-end impact as well. The system steered sounds around the room, and the arrival of King Kong had an excellent low-end thump.
The MusicCast 20s were particularly effective at the back, adding surround effects with precision and depth. The 40W of amplification in each speaker matched the 50W allocated to each channel in the soundbar, and there was a nice tonal balance. The wireless connection was robust, and there were no obvious synch issues or timing delays. The SUB 100 was also very effective, with its 8-inch driver and 130W of power delivering plenty of low frequency energy.
There are surround options designed to deliver a more immersive experience when using the soundbar on its own, but these vary in terms of their success. You can choose between Music, TV programme, Movie, Sport, and Game, but none of them were especially effective, sounding rather flat and echoey. This was especially true when comparing them to the actual MusicCast surround system.
The one exception is ‘3D Surround’ option, which engages the DTS Virtual:X processing. This can be used with the soundbar in its single unit configuration or as part of a MusicCast surround system, and was successful at giving the audio a greater sense of three-dimensional space. When watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which has a DTS:X soundtrack, there was more depth to the sound thanks to the psychoacoustic processing, although with the single soundbar it was still fairly limited. The effect was more pronounced with the full system, but the addition of a sub and rear speakers immediately provided the soundstage with a more solid foundation anyway, and the DTS Virtual:X processing simply gave the effects a bit more space.
The system delivered deep bass and great surround, making it ideal for movies
- Great performer with movies & music
- MusicCast multiroom audio
- Option to add sub & rear speakers
- Nice design & solid build quality
- Easy to setup
- No Dolby Atmos or DTS:X
- Only one HDMI input
- Multi-channel system expensive
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 Soundbar System Review
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 VerdictThe Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 is a solid, single unit soundbar that delivers an excellent performance with both movies and music. The front soundstage is effective, and dialogue is clear despite the lack of a centre speaker. The bass is understandably limited, but the inclusion of DTS Virtual:X does at least add a greater sense of three-dimensional space to the sound field. The pricing seems about right for a speaker that has the MusicCast multi-room system built-in, but more HDMI inputs would have been nice.
The inclusion of MusicCast means that you can expand the BAR 40 into a full multi-channel system with the addition of the SUB 100 subwoofer and a pair of MusicCast speakers for the rear channels. I tested the soundbar with a pair of MusicCast 20s as the surround speakers and their addition, along with the SUB 100, resulted in an impressive multi-channel system with deep bass and great steering of effects. Overall, the Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40 is an excellent all-rounder with good features and effective expansion options, making it worthy of recommendation.
What are my alternatives?Since one of the big selling points of the BAR 40 is DTS Virtual:X, the obvious alternative is the Sony HT-ZF9. This compact soundbar and subwoofer combination may cost more at around £629, but it not only includes psychoacoustic processing, it also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Throw in other features like Hi-Res Audio support, a second HDMI input, built-in Chromecast, and Google Assistant, and you've got a great package from Sony that also sounds very good.
The MusicCast surround system that you can create around the BAR 40 might sound good, but at a total cost of around £1,000 it also puts it up against some exceptional competition. The Samsung HW-N950 might be over £400 more but you get an awful lot for your money. First, you get support for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but more importantly you also get a genuine 7.1.4-channel system thanks to a wireless sub, wireless rear speakers, and four upward-firing drivers. The N950 sounds superb, and when you throw in Hi-Res Audio support, Amazon Alexa voice control, and compatibility with Samsung’s SmartThings app, it's the soundbar to beat at the moment.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £399.00
Ease of Use9
Value for Money7
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