Yamaha YSP-1400 App and Sound Quality Tests
Yamaha sort of blew (get it?) my mind with their App. While there was mention of it in the manual, even on what I thought was a careful inspection I missed it. I "discovered" there was an app from a statement on the side of the box that indicated that there was an app for control. A control app? Without a Wi-Fi connection? Yes, this is the case. It takes place over Bluetooth (now you get it) and you can fine-tune your room and the performance of the YSP-1400. You can use it to change every setting on the unit including selecting for a subwoofer and adjusting the subwoofer volume. The only setting you couldn't adjust was the volume of the individual channels.
What was nice was that you could dial in the size of your room with the app. While the adjustments were gross (length and width of the room were in 2 foot increments), they were better than nothing. Oddly, the test tones sent through the app were different than the ones generated from the remote control. I downloaded the app in seconds from the Google Play store and it worked without a hitch. While this doesn't completely make up for a remote without backlighting, it is better than nothing.
Or you can use these buttons. Your choice
The proof is in the listening, as they say. My room is 17.5' by 11' approximately. Some would call that a small theater. Since it is a dedicated room with its own bathroom, I call it a mini-fridge and a hot plate away from me barring the door and moving in. It is still a work in progress but it is more of a home theater than most people have. It is certainly more of a home theater than the type of person that is looking at a sub-$500 surround soundbar would hope to have.
When I think of surround soundbars, I think of people that have big rooms and no place for freestanding speakers. I can forgive these people. They don't have many options. But everyone admits that a surround soundbar is a poor substitute for dedicated speakers.
The first thing I did was plug in my Oppo DV-970HD into the YSP-1400 via a coax cable and HDMI to the Yamaha CX-A5000 processor I have in for review at the same time (Yamaha might have to send a WWE wrestler to get their separates out of my house or else take them from my cold, dead hands). I put in Porcupine Tree's Deadwing DVD-A and let it play. I then connected my Samsung Galaxy Nexus via Bluetooth so that I could test the switching. I placed the Yamaha YSP-1400 on the small table where my beloved Aperion Audio Verus Grand Center Channel sits and started up the tunes.
My room isn't particularly large but it is sealed so it isn't so hard to pressurize. With the hard walls on either sides and the back, I expected to get very good surround from the YSP-1400. When I figured out how to turn on the test tones, I did that and started playing with placement.
And here is where things got weird.
The right wall, the one that is completely straight except for a window and blackout curtains, proved the most problematic. The left wall, the one with the cutouts for the door and the closet worked much better. The right front and right rear channel seemed to basically come from the same place - the front of the room. When the test tone switched to the right rear speaker, the character changed (sounded more trebly) but the location did not. The left front and rear speakers were definitely better defined and sounded much more convincing. The left rear speaker, in particular, sounded like it was coming from much further behind me.
It was time to play with placement.
Inside that AC vent foot is a small driver
Leaving the test tones running, I moved the speaker forward and back. I moved me forward and back. I angled the speaker. I pulled back (and eventually removed) the blackout curtains. All to no avail. I just couldn't get the right rear speaker to sound like it was coming from behind me.
It was a 12th hour idea that made the most difference.
The window, under the blackout curtains, has wood blinds. These, as they tend to be, were shut but still had a slight angle to them. When I pulled them and left the bare window, the right speaker suddenly materialized. It still didn't sound as good as the left rear speaker but at least it was sort of there.
Sound Quality Evaluation
When testing sound quality, I like to start with test tones. This is just an easy way to figure out, in a subjective way, how a speaker performs in room. I started with the lowest tones and worked my way up. The "sub" woofers on the YSP-1400 kicked in fairly early but were mostly distortion and noise until they hit around 100Hz. There was definite output lower but the stuff under 80Hz was weak and/or distorted. I was glad that there was a way to tell the YSP-1400 you were using a sub. If this engages a crossover, it would make a big difference.
I flipped through the higher test tones and noticed something I hadn't before. When the YSP-1400 hit 5kHz, the character of the notes changed. They no longer sounded like a progress of musical notes and started to distort. In fact, there were many test tones that sounded echoy. At first I thought this was because of the surround mode but the effect persisted even when I switched it to stereo. There could be multiple reasons for this but I feel it was either because of the mix of the forward and downfiring drivers or that the multiple drivers on the front were not playing as one. There could have been a slap echo in my room but I've listened to those same tones on my Aperion Audio Verus Grand Floorstanding speakers and never heard this phenomenon.
During critical listening, the YSP-1400 did not hold up very well. At higher volumes it distorted both the highs and the lows and driver cone breakup and distortion was well evident. I was ready to write the YSP-1400 off but then I left the room.
That sounds weird, but hear me out.
Who is buying a surround or soundbar? Are they really doing a lot of critical listening? No. They are watching Duck Dynasty or So You Think You Can Dance. They are looking for something to augment their display's speakers and give them a simulated surround experience. They aren't blasting their surround soundbar and trying to catch the nuances of their vinyl collection. They are just watching TV. Maybe playing some background music while they clean the kitchen. With a Bluetooth connection, they can do all that and more.
Lots of little lights
For casual listening, the YSP-1400 does a more than adequate job. In stereo mode, it presents a wide soundstage though it does tend to sound very mono to me. I played a couple of tracks with left/right pans and the YSP-1400 really couldn't do them. There was a hint of a pan but nothing like you'd expect. I believe this is because of the speakers all being placed in the center of the unit. When I switched these same tracks to surround mode, they simply sounded more echoy. Sort of like a permanent "Concert Hall" mode.
With the speakers all in the center, the sweet spot for the center channel when in surround mode was miniscule. Even when I optimized my room for the surround effect, I would only describe it as "sort of fuller" and not really surround. When I really enjoyed the YSP-1400 was when I wasn't worried about surround and I just had it playing in the background. Watching TV or for the kids, it was fine. With my critical ear, the YSP-1400 didn't measure up and I'd prefer conventional speakers or one of Yamaha's other, higher cost surround soundbars.
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