Yamaha YAS-203 Soundbar Review
YAS is a Yes for improved TV sound
What is the Yamaha YAS-203 Soundbar?The Yamaha YAS-203 is the top product in what the company call Front Virtual Surround Systems. It comprises a Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer with simple audio connections, IR flasher technology and virtual surround modes. It is available in black or white finishes. This system sits below the Yamaha sound projector Soundbars in their range and doesn't employ that technology here. Instead this is a straight forward normal audio system.
When you consider how bad the sound is likely to be from your TV mixed with the simple solution of a soundbar and subwoofer without any complicated wiring or advanced set up required, then the popularity of the solution should come as no surprise. Added to the ease of set up and performance on offer is also the neat design and the fact that at £250 (online prices May 2015) it is also great value, what is not to like? Oh, and did we mention that Yamaha were the Soundbar pioneers all those years ago and know a thing or two when it comes to putting together a good sounding system? Let’s see if this new solution lives up to the promise.
Design and Connections
As the YAS-203 is designed to hit a price point and competitive position within the existing market, the choice of materials in the construction of the Soundbar and Subwoofer are what you would expect to find. The Soundbar is made from plastic and is extruded to form a nicely designed, slightly curved, main body that measures 886 x 79 x 121mm (W x H x D) and weighs 2.9Kg.
Each end of the bar houses the 5.5cm full range driver cones with large magnets which take advantage of the designed enclosures to produce a fuller sound, even within the constraints of the footprint of the Soundbar. The unit is designed to sit as low down as possible so it doesn’t block the screen and also has two feet at either end that are sculpted so the middle section of the bar is raised slightly. This helps it slide over some TV stand designs and there are additional feet included that can raise it further if required. Without the extra feet the Soundbar sits 79mm high and with them it’s 94mm. You can also wall mount the Soundbar and a template is included within the packaging to help with this.
Looking at the central point of the main body we have the key indicator lights along the front of the unit. These are green in colour and light up to say which inputs are being used, what is the designated sound format as well as a Bluetooth indicator and sync light for the subwoofer. These lights also show the volume level of the soundbar and subwoofer as blocks of lights getting higher or lower towards the right depending on volume levels during adjustment. To the right of the lights are an input button, Mute, volume plus and minus and a power button. The rest of the unit is sleek and minimal looking with some nice design touches.
Included with the package is a Wireless Subwoofer. This uses a 16cm bass driver with large magnet and is a front firing design. It features Yamaha’s proprietary Advanced YST II and a Liner port design to the enclosure, and the company claims it produces prodigious bass output. If it manages to underpin and add some weight to the main Soundbar without distortion, then that’s all you can expect at this price point.
As this is an active system the soundbar has 2 x 50w and the subwoofer has 100w of built-in power. Around the back we have some very basic inputs and no HDMI or video capabilities at all. We have an optical digital input (cable supplied), an RCA digital input and stereo RCA analog inputs and that’s it.
FeaturesThe Yamaha YAS-203 has a number of features to help with sound quality. The most important of these is the wireless subwoofer. Because it only needs a power connection it means that the sub can be placed anywhere in the room, and out of sight if required. This cuts down on cabling needs and gives a nice degree of flexibility while maintaining reasonable sound quality by having the mid-bass frequencies catered for and adding some much needed weight to the Soundbar.
The remote control supplied with the YAS-203 is a small credit card sized effort, which is a little bit thicker than a card. Here we have all the buttons you would require for operating the unit, and it can also learn your TV remote commands to cut down on how many you use. At the top we have selections for the source as well as Bluetooth and subwoofer pairing buttons. Next we have surround and stereo buttons and below these Bass extension, Clear Voice, Uni-volume and Audio Delay buttons. Finally there are the volume keys for the subwoofer and Soundbar, a mute button and learn and repeater buttons.
Also available for controlling the YAS-203 is the free Home Theatre Controller App which is available for iOS and Android devices. This allows selection of a few surround options as well as the main controls for the Soundbar and subwoofer. There is also full Bluetooth streaming available with support for aptX audio coding which means full resolution playback of high quality sources, like Tidal streaming.
As the Soundbar sits in front of your TV it might block the remote control receiver stopping you from controlling the TV. The YAS-203 has an IR flasher built-in which takes your remote control signal and passes it through the Soundbar to the TV. The remote can also learn your TV remote functions for on/off, volume and mute.
Other features include AIR SURROUND XTREME which creates virtual surround sound from the two speakers. As you would imagine it doesn’t really replicate a genuine 5.1 or 7.1 system, instead it’s just a wider sounding spread with the occasional instance of you perceiving something that might be to the far side of you. Clear Voice technology does what it says on the tin and attempts to make dialogue stand out against a noisy background without compromising on sound quality. UniVolume attempts to maintain the same volume level no matter what material you are watching and any variances in the volume from that source. For example a TV program which is lower in volume to the adverts can be very annoying, but UniVolume makes sure that once set the volume never gets louder than that selected.
Sound QualityThe whole point of the Soundbar concept is that it has to improve the sound from your TV enough to justify its cost and existence. It is for people who want no clutter or unnecessary wiring but who value better sound quality than just the TV speakers. In the past we had large bulky CRT TVs and Plasma sets which had enough room to fit a decent set of speakers and move enough air to work for the majority of people in most living rooms. Today’s raft of LCD LED TVs on the other hand are so slim that manufacturers have had to resort to downward firing speakers so they can fit something resembling the performance of a speaker into the TV. The YAS-203 fits these situations like a glove and as it is from one of the pioneers of the soundbar concept, it also sounds great too.
TV speakers just can't compete with even an entry level soundbar and sub package like this.
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way first of all. In terms of stereo separation the YAS-203 struggles to create a wide and enveloping sound field, even in the surround modes it only has a sense of being vaguely wider. That’s all down to physics and how far apart the drivers are. For most TVs above 40inch the drivers sit well within the width of the screen. However the point of a soundbar is to substantially improve the existing TV sound quality. In that regard the YAS-203 is a cracking performer for the money. You would be hard pushed to get a better sounding separates system or home theatre in a box for the £250 (May 2015) outlay.
The fact that it is supplied with a wireless subwoofer also helps the Yamaha produce a weighty (but not boomy) sound quality that adds some gravitas to even mundane TV shows. The temptation for some will be to turn up the subwoofer (running it hot) but the trick here is to have the volume set just right so it blends with the Soundbar without drawing attention to itself, and in that regard it works very well.
The YAS-203 adds weight and authority to everything from the 9 O'clock News to the latest exploits of Ed China on Wheeler Dealers and epic battles in Game of Thrones. It also has a good presence with movies, just don't expect hugely enveloping surround sound. Instead expect clean voices where you can feel the breath and music that is full and distinct with no distortion at reasonable volumes. It will be a vast improvement on most LED LCD TVs without breaking the bank on a full separates system that will probably not look as sleek as the YAS-203 in your typical living room.
Yamaha YAS-203 Video Review
- Nice design
- Good sound quality with subwoofer when set up correctly
- Adds weight and authority to most TV shows and out performs most TV speakers
- Very good value for money
- Lacking a wide stereo image
- Surround modes with vague imaging
Yamaha YAS-203 Soundbar ReviewYou are not going to get surround effects to rival a separates system and the lack of a wider front sound stage may be seen as a negative by some. But as an improvement over existing tiny TV speakers, with hardly any wiring and a sub you can place anywhere, it is a compelling package that will suit many. If you want to add some better sound in the living room or to a second screen in another room without breaking the bank, the Yamaha YAS-203 makes a very strong case and comes recommended.
In fact at its current price of around £250 you'll be hard pushed to find a soundbar that can deliver a better performance for the price. However Yamaha's own YSP-1400 might make an interesting alternative, you lose the subwoofer but gain sound projection technology that results in a more immersive experience. Alternatively the Philips HTL5140 and Panasonic SC-HTB680 both include subwoofers but also add HDMI connections as well, which is unusual at this price point.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £399.95
Ease of Use9
Value for Money9
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