What is the Yamaha YAS-209?
The YAS-209 includes built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, plus it also supports high resolution audio, although surprisingly it doesn’t include Yamaha’s excellent MusicCast multiroom system. You still get a basic control app, but the big selling point is the inclusion of Amazon Alexa.
The result is a smart assistant soundbar with AV potential that retails for just £349 as at the time of writing (December 2019). Yamaha certainly knows how to put a soundbar together, so if the YAS-209 is as good as previous efforts, this might be an excellent budget choice.
Related: Best Soundbars of 2019
Design, Control and Connections
The only display is a series of small LEDs on the top panel, located to the left of centre and towards the front. These LEDs register which input you have selected: HDMI, TV (ARC), Bluetooth and Net. There are also indicators to show if a surround mode or Clear Voice is selected, one for the Wi-Fi connection, and a new one that indicates Alexa is operating.
To the right of these indicators are some basic touch-sensitive controls for source selection, volume up/down, and also power on/off. Thanks to Alexa now being built-in, there’s also a button to wake it up, and another to mute the built-in far-field microphones, which are located above these indicators and controls.
The YAS-209 houses its physical connections in a recessed area at the left rear of the soundbar. Here you’ll find an HDMI input and an HDMI output that supports ARC (Audio Return Channel). All the HDMI ports support 4K at 50/60p, wide colour gamut, HDCP2.2, and high dynamic range (HDR10 and hybrid log-gamma but no Dolby Vision or HDR10+). There's also no eARC support, but given the decoding is limited to lossy formats that's hardly surprising.
There’s also an optical digital audio input for connecting to TVs that don’t support ARC and an Ethernet port for a wired connection. There’s a USB port for service purposes and a two-pin connector for the power cord over on the right-hand side of the soundbar. In terms of wireless connections, there’s Wi-Fi (2.4GHz), and Bluetooth (Ver 4.2).
The included remote is small, but includes all the buttons you’ll need, and is actually quite effective in operation. You can easily adjust the volume and subwoofer level, change inputs, and choose features like 3D Surround (DTS Virtual:X) and Clear Voice. There’s also an Alexa wake-up button, and a selection of sound modes, along with a stereo option, bass extension, mute and info. As an alternative to the remote, there’s also the Soundbar Controller app, which is available for iOS and Android.
Related: What is High Dynamic Range (HDR)?
Features and Specs
The included front-ported subwoofer has a side-firing 6.5-inch cone and 100W of built-in amplification. This sub uses a solid MDF construction, with matching wrap-around black fabric and matte finish. The sub measures 191 x 420 x 406mm (WxHxD) and weighs 7.9kg.
The YAS-209 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 2.1-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.
There are a number of surround modes, the purposes of which are fairly self-explanatory: Music; TV Program; Movie; Sports; and Game. There’s also a Stereo mode, Bass Extension, and a Clear Voice feature designed to boost the clarity of dialogue in TV shows and movies.
The YAS-209 doesn’t support MusicCast, but there is a compressed music enhancer for Bluetooth, and support for WAV (PCM format only) and FLAC up to 192kHz, ALAC up to 96kHz, and MP3/WMA/MPEG-4 AAC up to 48kHz.
You can also stream music from your smart devices, PCs or media servers, and thanks to built-in Alexa you can also stream from Spotify and Amazon Music. The inclusion of Alexa means the YAS-209 is a fully-functioning smart speaker, allowing for interaction and voice control.
Related: What is MusicCast?
Set-up and Operation
There is an HDMI input, which you could use if you have a large number of HDMI sources. However, given the YAS-209 doesn’t support lossless audio, you may as well connect everything to your TV and then send the audio back via ARC. This approach is not only tidier, but also allows you to benefit from HDMI-CEC, and avoids any issues with passing HDR10+ or Dolby Vision. If you want to use Bluetooth, all you need to do is pair the Yamaha with your device.
You can connect the Yamaha to your network using either a wired or wireless connection. For the latter, you will need to use the Soundbar Controller app, but the process is very easy, and you should be up and running in no time. Once that's done, you can set up Amazon Alexa, which you simply do by selecting the YAS-209 as a device in the Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet.
Related: What is Dolby Vision?
Related: What is HDR10+?
The two-channel nature of the soundbar itself ensures the YAS-209 handles music very well. There’s excellent stereo separation, some nice imaging and an energetic delivery. The subwoofer is also nicely integrated, ensuring the opening drum salvo of You Could Be Mine by Guns ’n’ Roses is delivered with a staccato precision.
The lack of a dedicated centre speaker doesn’t seem to affect the clarity of dialogue, which remains clear and focused on the screen. Whether its Sean Pertwee’s voiceover on Masterchef or a commentator in a sports broadcast, the Yamaha remains intelligible. However, should you find that you are struggling to understand what someone is saying, the Clear Voice feature will help.
The YAS-209 has sufficient scale and amplification to produce a big soundstage, allowing it to handle TV dramas with ease. The music is spread across the front of the room, the dialogue is clear, the localisation of effects is excellent, and where appropriate the bass has some nice kick. Watching His Dark Materials results in an enjoyably engaging experience.
The same is true with movies, and since the decoding is limited to lossy codecs there’s no difference between connecting a source directly to the soundbar or sending the audio back via ARC, nor are there any issues with lip sync. The resulting soundstage is certainly powerful enough to deliver today’s blockbuster soundtracks, and even a low-end monster like Aquaman sounds impressive.
What is lacking is any sense of surround envelopment, with the sonic delivery largely focused at the front of the room. However, you can give the audio greater presence by engaging one of the sound modes. The various modes give the audio more body, but it’s hard to tell how they really differ from one another, although TV Program emphasises voices, and Movie boosts the bass.
There’s also a Bass Extension feature, but that just makes the subwoofer over-powering and the soundstage loses all of its balance. The mode that delivers the best results is 3D Surround (DTS Virtual:X), which uses psychoacoustic processing to give multi-channel audio a more immersive presence. This actually worked surprisingly well, creating a greater sense of surround envelopment and dimensionality.
- Excellent front soundstage
- DTS Virtual:X quite effective
- Built-in Amazon Alexa
- Easy to setup and use
- No Dolby Vision/HDR10+ passthrough
- No eARC support
- No MusicCast support
Yamaha YAS-209 Soundbar Review
The Yamaha YAS-209 is an excellent budget soundbar that delivers a highly competent performance. Yamaha knows the soundbar market extremely well and this model bears the fruit of that knowledge. The main unit is simply designed and finished in matte black, thus not drawing attention to itself or reflecting what’s on the screen. It’s well-made, and there’s a matching subwoofer for deeper bass.
The YAS-209 has a solid set of features for this price point, with an HDMI input and an output that supports ARC, along with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The decoding is restricted to lossy Dolby and DTS:X, but there is Virtual DTS processing for a more immersive experience. There are also a host of sound modes, along with a Clear Voice feature that enhances dialogue.
Sadly, there’s no eARC, passthrough of Dolby Vision and HDR10+, or MusicCast, which is most likely a cost factor, but the file support is good and the inclusion of Amazon Alexa offers streaming services, a smart assistant and voice control. The performance is impressive with movies and music, thanks to a decent front soundstage, excellent clarity and an energetic delivery, making this effective soundbar worthy of a recommendation.
What are my alternatives?
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 40If you really want MusicCast, then the Yamaha BAR 40 SW is the obvious choice. This is considerably more expensive at £649, but does include Yamaha’s excellent multiroom system. However aside from that, the two are very similar, with almost the exact same set of features. The BAR 40 also doesn’t have Amazon Alexa built-in, although it does work with it, so unless you have your heart set on MusicCast it’s hard to justify the extra £300.
Sonos BeamThe Sonos Beam is priced at £399, putting it in the same price bracket as the Yamaha YAS-209. It’s an obvious alternative if you’re already invested in the Sonos multiroom system, but this is a great soundbar in its own right. The Beam is easy to set up, works with Alexa and Google, has an HDMI connection with ARC, and supports AirPlay 2. There’s no separate subwoofer, so the bass is limited, but the overall soundstage is excellent, making the Beam a great all-rounder.
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