||4x 4.6 cm woofers, 2x 2.5 cm tweeters (Centre Unit), 1x 16 cm cone woofer (subwoofer unit).
||200 watts total power (100 watts Centre, 100 watts Subwoofer).
||1x HDMI in/1x HDMI out, 1x Digital Optical in, 1x Analogue Audio in.
||Dolby Digital/Dolby Pro Logic II/DTS Digital Surround.
||980x60x110.5 mm (Centre Unit), 180x417x405 mm (Subwoofer).
|| 2.7 kg (Centre Unit), 9.4 kg (Subwoofer)
PRICE R13 990
SUPPLIED BY Balanced Audio 011-259-7850
The aftermath of the print version of Audio Video SA magazine essentially closing its doors left its retrenched employees, myself included, to where I’d reached the point in my life where I never expected to be able to enjoy that awesome sound experience again. Certainly not with the Man Cave now long since dead and buried, and a pretty small cottage to squeeze everything inside (in particular a Tasmanian Devil disguised as a two-year old daughter…)!
Until that is, I got the opportunity to try out Yamaha’s YAS-408 soundbar/subwoofer system.
Over the years of editing at the magazine I had seen the rise of soundbars in the industry. It was a logical product step: while many people aspired to have the kind of home theatre systems that were featured or advertised in the magazine the simple fact of life was that those who had the floor space (not to mention considerable budget) to have a dedicated home theatre were by far in the minority.
Soundbars were the obvious solution for those who lacked space and budget, but were still desperate to get as close as possible to the home theatre experience.
Still, I was dubious and no doubt spoilt by having had the opportunity to sit and listen from time to time to the high-end kit that came through our offices for review. My opinion back then was that there was simply no way that a soundbar could ever compete with a dedicated system complete with multiple speakers.
But the YAS-408 has changed that opinion.
Although I’d edited or written up numerous news items for various industry players on their own soundbar offerings, I actually can’t remember ever having sat down to listen to one before now!
The unit was hooked up to my Samsung Smart television as soon as I found the time to do so, even though my OCD was triggered for several days before I could tidy up the wires. I went for the wall mount option which does pose some issues when it comes to keeping some sort of order for the cables, but I simply couldn’t wait to listen to a Yamaha again and so the cables were ignored.
I confess that I’m still confused by what seems to be (and this after some research on the matter) a focus by many soundbar producers on making the primary connection option between television and the main unit an optical cable. Admittedly being on the editing side at AVSA mostly, I may have missed the industry memo with reference to this. But I saw a good number of televisions coming in over the years for review, and HDMI was without fail the primary connection of choice. I remember Optical choices on AV receivers, but not televisions.
There is of course another option offered by the 408: ARC (Audio Return Channel). This, quite frankly, is the option you should choose above all, if possible. It has all the benefits of HDMI, keeping everything in the digital domain, and cuts down on unnecessary cable clutter.
Unfortunately my Samsung doesn’t support ARC, so I was admittedly frustrated by having to use the 3.5 mm analogue connection since my Samsung also doesn’t have an optical output (note to self: is this a Cosmic hint to upgrade…?). To be honest I didn’t find any fault whatsoever with sound quality when listening to a considerable amount of music via Spotify or streaming movies and television series on Netflix.
With only LTE offerings available where I am at the moment, you have to be … conservative … with the compression of your streaming, but everything we played through the 408 was delivered with ease, and with never any hint that source quality was an issue.
It was about a week later though that I finally got things set up properly. My trusty Mede8er (yes, that’s how old I am…) was hauled out and connected by HDMI, powered up, and I set aside some proper reviewing time, now that I finally had some Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-encoded films to line up via the HDMI input. (Publisher’s note: heavens Andrew! I thought those things went out with Noah. But I still also have one so don’t feel bad).
It bears mentioning that all the films on this player that I have used for reviews over the years are in fact .ISO files – so pretty much the original digital file.
I know it’s très clichéd to talk about ‘chalk and cheese’, but this truly was the moment that the system took off. I’m a huge sci-fi fan, and on individual films I’ve watched over the years, there are certain stand-out scenes that I have consistently been unable to restrain myself from maxing out the volume. On Star Trek Nemesis, it’s the battle scene complete with Romulan Warbirds and Picard’s decision to ram the Enterprise into Shinzon’s ship when he makes the fatal mistake of gloating over what he believes to be the end of Picard and the Enterprise.
Next up was Tron Legacy. While the film has more than its share of action scenes to tax any system’s speakers, I was more interested in seeing how the Yamaha handled the soundtrack by Daft Punk: rich, bass-heavy stuff that can quickly lead to distortion if you’re careless with the volume or the speakers are sub-par. Again, an absolutely sterling performance, which was the same for the title track from Batman Returns, as well as pretty much everything that the first Guardians of the Galaxy threw at it.
The final film I watched was 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. I was running late and close to bedtime for my daughter, so as much as I’d have liked to watch the film in its entirety, I chose to watch the scenes of the final attack on the American compound. There’s a lot going on in these scenes: gunshots, explosions, debris falling, shouting…a lesser system might easily get lost and confused trying to get it all out, focusing possibly on the loud stuff and forgetting that being able to clearly hear voices in the midst of it all is equally important. This was not the case with the 408. I never missed a single word in the dialogue. However, should you ever feel that you’re struggling to hear people speaking in scenes like these the system has a nifty ‘Clear Voice’ function that will sort it out for you perfectly.
The 408 isn’t just a soundbar/subwoofer sound system though. Thanks to Yamaha’s MusicCast you can link it up via a router to a network and enjoy a hugely impressive range of local and international radio stations, streaming services such as Napster, Spotify, Tidal and others, as well as Alexa, if set up accordingly on a suitably-equipped speaker. It also remembers your last radio station choice, as well as offering you the option of storing a limited number of favourites.
Radio reception where we are is extremely limited, so the MusicCast App has been used extensively alongside Spotify. Can’t remember when last our place was filled with so much music, and it’s been a blast.
But is it all really just roses and unicorns and fluffy clouds?
No, of course not. Being a compact system also means that there will be issues with displays. Most, if not all the information you need in respect of the type of input being used, surround sound option and so forth is available on the unit…. but on top of it. This creates visibility issues for users, particularly if it’s been wall-mounted. So no more sitting in your armchair and reading the clear display on your AV Receiver.
Volume control is available via the MusicCast App, but before I discovered this, I was to be honest pretty unhappy never knowing what the volume level was when I turned the unit on. I know of many unhappy people over the years who have damaged loudspeakers by accident by turning on an amplifier that had been cranked up too loud during a previous listening session, and which hadn’t been turned down prior to powering off. Some sort of volume indicator would be a welcome addition.
The 408 is not built to compete on an equal footing with a dedicated home theatre system. But it is sure to give an entry-level component system a proper run for its money. It really is that good. It is also worth mentioning that the option of being able to add wireless rear speakers to the 408 would up the ante considerably and make your listening experience even more awesome than it already is!