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Yamaha YAS-152 review

Highs

  • Powerful bass response without a separate subwoofer
  • Good feature set
  • Relatively affordable

Rating

Our Score 6
User Score 0

Lows

  • Anemic upper register
  • Muffled midrange
  • Poor detail
  • Narrow soundstage
The YAS-152 is big on bombastic bass, but came up short on clarity and detail.

This year at CEDIA 2013, we got the chance to preview some of the fresh new entries in Yamaha’s home theater line-up, including its value-packed YAS-152 sound bar (available at $350). An upgrade from the 101, the 152 expands its dimensions to stretch beneath the increasingly ubiquitous assortment of mammoth LCD flatcreens on the market, specifically fashioned for 55-inch models and above.

The 152 is loaded with a healthy dose of features, including Bluetooth streaming, virtual surround sound, Yamaha’s patented IR repeater, and dual on-board subwoofers, potentially stockpiling everything necessary to boost the anemic sound of your razor thin LCD in a sleek cabinet. We spent some time with the 152 to see if its compact 2.1 system packs enough beauty and brawn to make it worthy of gracing your TV stand. Follow us below to see the results.

DT video review

Out of the box

Even though we’re getting used to the expanding width of today’s sound bars, the 152’s 4-ft. wingspan seemed a bit gratuitous, especially considering it sports just two front-facing speakers spread out at the extreme ends. Of course, apart from employing the beauty of symmetry to compliment your sprawling flat screen, the 152’s width is designed both to provide a larger sound stage, and to generate more bass from its tapered, ported cabinet.

The finish looks good from afar, but in reality it is prone to scratches and marring, and it has a cheap feel as well.

That cabinet is made out of gleaming, mirrored black plastic. The finish looks good from afar, but in reality it is prone to scratches and marring, and it has a cheap feel to it as well. A slim array of green LEDs at the center of the sound bar serves as the only visual interface for the system, doubling as volume and subwoofer level indicators, as well as designating input and surround mode. The bar’s base is outfitted with slim rubber pads which can be removed for a lower profile when wall mounted via dual key-hole mounts on the rear.

Digging through the box, we found a small remote control with batteries, a thin packet of instructions, and a single digital optical cable.

Features and design

The 152 packs a respectable selection of inputs at the back, including both RCA and 3.5mm analog inputs, optical and coaxial digital inputs, and a subwoofer output. Conspicuously missing from the group is an HDMI port, which are becoming a more common inclusion even in lower level sound bars these days, often with an Audio Return Channel (ARC).

Should the sound bar block your TV’s infra-red (IR) remote control sensor (and it very likely will) the 152 will beam your remote signals to the TV using the aforementioned rear-facing IR emitters, allowing full control of your television using its stock remote or a pre-programmed universal remote.

The YAS-152 sports twin 2.5-inch full range drivers, while the deeper frequencies are reproduced from a tandem team of down-firing 3.5-inch subwoofers. Most of the bass comes from two reflex ports found at the extreme ends of the sound bar’s cabinet. The internal amplifier serves up 30 watts of power to each of the four drivers, and the system runs through a batch of DSP, including Yamaha’s Air Surround Xtreme virtual surround engine. The system also includes Dolby Digital and DTS decoding.

A slim row of control keys at the front of the bar handles basic functions such as volume, input, and power, while the bulk of the features are controlled by a small remote control. The remote offers separate keys for each of the 152’s inputs, surround and stereo keys, mute, volume, and subwoofer level controls.

At the center of the remote is a trio of keys which engage most of the 152’s digital sound processing options. The Clear Voice key adds some punch to the midrange for clearer dialog; Uni Volume normalizes the sound to reduce tame extreme louds and boost extreme softs; and Audio Delay allows for sound to be synced with video content, something we’ll discuss more in the performance section. Rounding out the controls are a set of keys at the bottom to set the 152 to learn your TV’s remote, as well as activating the device’s IR repeater.

The system will connect to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth 2.1, which allows for basic music streaming as well as access to the sound bar’s settings via Yamaha’s controller app for Android and iOS devices. The controller app turns your phone into a secondary remote control, with some added options you can’t access with the standard remote such as a selection of templates for virtual surround like ‘sports’ and ‘game,’ as well as an orientation system to allow custom setup to the dimensions of your TV room.

Setup

Setup is as simple as choosing a connection type and plugging the system into your TV or source component. We connected the YAS-152 to both our TV’s optical output, and our Blu-ray player’s coaxial output, with little to no audible difference between the sources after A/B comparison.

Yamaha YAS 152 front buttons

Engaging the system’s virtual surround feature lets you know whether the device is receiving a stereo mix, or a surround sound mix via an LED indicator that will turn green when receiving Dolby 5.1, red for DTS, and remain off for a PCM stereo mixdown. However, since the system’s speaker configuration is limited to 2.1 (two speakers and a subwoofer channel), we noticed very little difference in surround capability or general performance between the modes.

Performance

For our evaluation we spent considerable time with favorites from our Blu-ray collection, including Total Recall (the original of course), and The Return of the King. We also watched broadcast TV, and auditioned music using our iPhone 5 via Bluetooth connection.

The YAS-152’s most impressive attribute is its seriously potent wallup of bass, especially for a bar that doesn’t include a stand-alone subwoofer.

The YAS-152’s most impressive attribute is its seriously potent wallup of bass, especially for a bar that doesn’t include a stand-alone subwoofer. With the built-in subs set to maximum, the little bar buzzed with an impressive amount of power, diving into the 60Hz zone, bringing some visceral moments to action movies, and hitting all but the heaviest grooves on hip-hop tracks and electronic music. In fact, we had to dial the subs back for risk of generating a buzz from the bar’s cabinet.

When it came to the rest of the frequency spectrum, however, the 152 fell short of expectations. The high frequencies sounded ironically close to the kind of thin, anemic sound reproduced by the flat screen speakers the bar is designed to replace. There was a thin, metallic quality to the attack of dialog, and sounds like horse hooves on rock were delivered with a light, synthetic clatter that pulled us out of the moment. While the lighter color of the attack added some detail to moments like the kissing scene between Schwarzenegger and a young Sharon Stone, it mostly just grated on our ears.

Conversely, midrange information was often muffled and filmy, falling into a valley of disclarity we came to think of as ‘The Void.’ Deeper voices and subtle details such as the ruffle of clothing sounded masked, and made for a strange blend with the lighter, more precise attack of the treble. Not surprisingly, the sound bar’s virtual surround effects were limited at best, but we did expected more stereo movement considering how much separation exists between the front-facing speakers. Instead, we heard only tapered sweeps across the soundstage during widely-panned movie sequences such the Nazgul swooping from corner to corner as the Hobbits made their way into Mordor in The Return of the King.

Moving to TV programming provided an even worse experience. Dialog from female voices, especially, sounded as though they were run through an effects plug-in we might label ‘Aluminum Can.’ We also had a few fairly serious instances of timing delay from broadcast programming, which we were unable to remedy even with the lowest setting on the ‘Audio Delay’ feature. While the issue could be chalked up to our TV or the broadcast itself, it was the first time we’d experienced the issue so dramatically.

Music was also underwhelming for the majority of our evaluation. The normally lush horns and string arrangements in the movie scores we auditioned sounded flat and tinny. And percussion from our music collection had a particularly synthetic color, often sounding more like electronic loops than organic instruments, even when we auditioned acoustic tracks. The 152’s best moments came from tracks like Depeche Mode’s “People Are People,” or Radiohead’s “15 Step” in which the bar’s light treble treatment leaned into the static-y synth grooves and ice-y effects sympathetically.

While the overall experience was continuously bolstered by the powerful pulses in the low end, we were left feeling more like we were listening to TV audio supplemented with a small subwoofer, rather than a full-range audio solution.

Conclusion

While we appreciate YAS-152’s ample array of connections and slick IR repeater, we keep coming back to the fact that it just doesn’t sound up to snuff. Sure, this sound bar is big on bombastic bass, but it is also woefully short on clarity and detail. Though affordably priced, this sound bar has some sweet-sounding, like-priced competition from Sony, Pioneer and Boston Acoustics, as long as you’re down with a stand-alone, wireless sub. That being the case, we’re going to have pass on Yamaha’s entry level model and look higher up in its well-stocked sound bar line for the sweet spot.

Highs

  • Powerful bass response without a separate subwoofer
  • Good feature set
  • Relatively affordable

Lows

  • Anemic upper register
  • Muffled midrange
  • Poor detail
  • Narrow soundstage

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