Yamaha MusicCast BAR - the YSP-1600BSW
The YSP-1600BSW is the first of Yamaha’s soundbars to support the MusicCast Multiroom system. We say ‘soundbar’, of course, but Yamaha prefers the term ‘Digital Sound Projector’ to reflect the cunning technology used in all but its entry-level soundbars, where multiple small speakers are used to ‘direct’ the discrete surround channels around your room in an effort to achieve a wide spread of sound. (This does not, in our experience, replace the effect of real rear speakers, but given that soundbars exist precisely to avoid having such a full surround speaker set-up in your lounge, Yamaha’s DSP technology does better than most at achieving a wide and immersive soundfield).
The bar portion of the pair sits usefully low (55mm high) and not too deep either, needing just 14cm depth including the antenna at the back. It is precisely a metre in length (about the width of a 50-inch TV), and uses eight of Yamaha’s usual cunning collection of tiny transducers across the front, each in the case 28mm round, and supported by a pair of 85mm woofers, plus of course the subwoofer.
And given the pairing is priced at $999, it’s impressive to find not some banged-together built-to-a-budget subwoofer included in the price, but Yamaha’s capable little YST-SW030, which normally retails on its own at $399. This has a 20cm driver downfiring onto Yamaha’s pyramidic QD-Bass disperser, in a cabinet about 30cm square and 36cm high. It requires a wired connection, so you lose the convenience of a pre-paired wireless bass unit which can be placed with regard only for a mains plug — here you will need power plus the cable from the soundbar.
And it proved one of the most sensitive subs for soundbars we’ve heard, in that it’s convincingly powerful when delivering big movie soundtracks but unusually inoffensive when underlying daytime TV. Many subs impose themselves regardless of genre, and can be too much for many casual listeners; the SW-030 was capable of a subtle underpinning without undue emphasis, more usually the performance characteristic of a much higher-end unit. In this it is no doubt assisted by Yamaha’s Advaned YST (Yamaha Active Servo Technology) in which the speaker and amplifier work together to cancel out impedance variations, with the effect that the speaker unit can achieve more linear motion.
In input terms on the soundbar you get one minijack analogue aux in, one optical digital input, one HDMI input (4K passthrough capable) and one output to your TV. The HDMI output is also kind of an input, able to receive audio from your TV if it supports the HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC) and plays nicely with the Yamaha. If you don’t have ARC, run an optical or analogue cable from the TV instead, understanding that many TVs will supply only stereo through this connection, not true surround information. From HDMI the Yamaha bar can decode Dolby Digital, DTS, and ProLogic II.
We routed a Blu-ray player through the HDMI to the TV, and an optical cable back again to play sound from our PVR and Chromecast, which are connected to the TV, and for TV tuner audio. As noted, if your TV has HDMI ARC (and talks nice to the Yamaha’s ARC, which ours didn’t), you need only the HDMI link.
Source selection is easy enough, though a less populated physical remote might be more friendly (see below).
In both cases, to watch the HDMI input you’ll need to switch between ‘TV’ and ‘HDMI’ using the Yamaha remote, in addition to changing your TV input. This confused the missus, but it’s worth it, for in addition to the merits of subtlety mentioned above, this soundbar and sub combo proved capable of movie sound which was powerful enough to fill even quite a large lounge room, and capable of keeping dialogue clear in the middle even as all hell broke loose around it. The subwoofer got a workout with the post-baseball dust-storm scene of Interstellar, yet we could still hear what characters were shouting to each other over the storm. It’s a fine sign that we kept the YSP-1600BSW in circuit throughout our time with it — we confess that often, when viewing for pleasure rather than work, we switch back to our main speakers to avoid the performance of other soundbars. Here we felt no need.
Not that the bar/sub combo was perfect — it proved a little problematic for two-channel audio and especially music, not assisted by Yamaha’s extravagant selection of sound settings. There are no fewer than six of these accessible directly from the physical remote with dedicated buttons — Movie, Music, Sports, Game, TV Program, and Stereo. Then there are three more dedicated buttons on the remote to pick a positional setting, plus a ‘ClearVoice’ option.
Having all these sound-changing options available right there on the remote makes it likely many users will accidentally invoke something that damages sound; it’s perhaps more confusing than helpful. If listening to a music radio show, for example, should you select ‘Music’, or ‘Stereo’? Certainly not ‘Music’, which so distorts the centre-channel that your radio announcer is phased halfway to a Dalek. But then the ‘stereo’ setting reduces width and makes the bass a little hot; it’s the better choice, though, since you can nudge down the bass with the remote’s genuinely useful separate subwoofer bass control, and there remained still a strong sense of stereo, for example on the panned guitar parts of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’. Voices are unphased and just a little over-rich in upper bass and spitty on the sibilants.
But in fact we’d suggest you stick with ‘Movie’ for pretty much everything, which restores width but doesn’t muck things up too much, deeper and more balanced — less lumpy.
Given a further EQ setting available within the MusicCast app, the YSP-1600BSW has, as is often the case with Yamaha soundbars, simply too many options for its own good!
Then, of course, you have all the MusicCast abilities here as well. Indeed you have a choice of apps, since you can use the MusicCast one to address all those possible sources, and also Yamaha’s Home Theatre Controller app to run the more conventional side of things. As a MusicCast unit the soundbar worked flawlessly — it was one of the two units we gave Ethernet, so set-up was very quick and it remained stable throughout our time with the system. Of course as a music player it wasn’t our favourite, but as a master from which to drive other units, it worked great.
The MusicCast ability to send via Bluetooth is useful here for listening to TV on Bluetooth headphones, though there is a delay involved — once from TV to soundbar and again from soundbar through Bluetooth to your headphones. We found we had to twiddle with sync settings in the TV (our LG happily has the ability to delay video instead of sound) to get things in sync enough for our admittedly picky preference.
For music playback, then, it’s not good for purists — not offensive, but with inconsistencies and far too many optional EQ settings for its own good..
But for MusicCast operations, top marks. And as a soundbar for TV and movies, also top marks at the price, assisted by a wonderfully subtle subwoofer.
Product page with specifications: Yamaha Music Australia
Here are the links to the rest of our extended MusicCast review:
Other MusicCast reviews on AVHub include: