Yamaha MusicCast Bar 400 (YAS-408) review

Like a Lego set, this Yamaha soundbar is ready to expand when you are

Yamaha’s MusicCast Bar 400 packs a powerful wallup of sound that expands on command.
Yamaha’s MusicCast Bar 400 packs a powerful wallup of sound that expands on command.
Yamaha’s MusicCast Bar 400 packs a powerful wallup of sound that expands on command.

Highs

  • Clear, detailed sound
  • Powerful bass
  • Multiroom audio support
  • Available surround satellites
  • Impressive control via MusicCast app

Lows

  • Upper register can get shouty
  • No front display
  • Virtual surround just OK

Yamaha’s versatile MusicCast multiroom audio system impressed when it debuted in the summer of 2015. Yet, whether due to its relative late entry into the space (several years after Sonos), branding trouble, or the fact that it only works with Yamaha gear, MusicCast hasn’t become the household name Yamaha hoped it would.

The company’s latest soundbar, the MusicCast Bar 400 (aka the YAS 408), hopes to change that by putting MusicCast at the forefront, while offering plenty of other useful features in a midrange package, including 4K passthrough, DTS Virtual X surround sound processing, and even the ability to link up with other MusicCast speakers for real surround sound. Still, with bars like Yamaha’s $300 YAS-207 offering nearly the same package — sans MusicCast — you’ll want to consider just how important linking other speakers is to you before dropping $500 on the 400.

Out of the box

The MusicCast Bar 400 slides out of its L-shaped box easily enough, revealing a minimalist, all-black design. The bar is similar in design to the aforementioned YAS-207, but trades the fabric front grill for a metal one, while also adding a metallic finish on the topside for a clean aesthetic. Standing less than 2.5-inches tall, 38-inches across, and about 4.5 inches deep, the slim bar continues the trend of audio brands packing big sound into ever tighter packages.

Yamaha MusicCast Bar 400
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Pulling out the wireless subwoofer spurs more YAS-207 déjà vu, revealing a similar PC-tower design, with a wide bass port at the front and a 6.5-inch side-firing driver. Also in the package are some basic instructions, power cables, an optical cable for connection (though you’ll likely want a high-speed HDMI cable instead), and a thin remote complete with watch battery.

Getting going

To connect the Bar 400 to your TV you can use the included optical cable in a pinch, but if you have a newer TV with HDMI ARC connection, we recommend connecting via the ARC HDMI ports on both devices. This method provides the best sound signal, and also allows most TV remotes to control the soundbar’s power and volume. After connecting the cable, you may also need to engage ARC and HDMI-CEC in your TV settings, as well as changing the sound output to External Speaker or Receiver.

The Bar 400 continues the trend of packing big sound into ever tighter packages.

A second HDMI port allows you to connect your primary video component (be it Blu-ray player or gaming console), which generally allows for better audio decoding than connecting to most TVs, including support for Dolby Digital and DTS Digital 5.1 surround sound, as well as offering 4K passthrough to your TV at up to 60Hz. Helpfully, the Bar 400 switches to either the TV sound or your connected component automatically when you start a TV show or movie.

If you’re using MusicCast — especially if you want to connect a pair of MusicCast speakers for surround sound — things get a bit more complicated. First, you’ll want to download the MusicCast app, and then follow the instructions to connect the soundbar (and/or speakers) to your network. For surround sound, instead of “linking” the speakers on the app’s main page, you’ll need to go into the settings and scroll down to MusicCast Surround/Stereo where you’ll be able to connect the speakers, control volume levels, and even manage the delay of each speaker from the source for clear, fluid surround-sound transference.

Can we get a menu please?

The MusicCast Bar 400 is pretty well-loaded with features for its price. The list includes everything from bass and dialogue enhancement, to Bluetooth and (of course) multiroom audio playback, to the aforementioned DTS: Virtual X virtual surround sound, which is designed to offer an extended soundstage both on the horizontal and the vertical planes. Along with the digital audio inputs mentioned in the setup, the bar also offers 3.5mm analog input and Ethernet connection.

The included remote allows for easy control, offering volume and subwoofer toggles, surround and stereo mode control, quick keys to source internet radio stations directly from the bar itself, and even the ability to dim the LEDs for the onboard controls.

One thing that’s vexingly missing here, however, is a decent visible menu. In fact, while the LED indicators on the top panel offer a very basic guide, there are no menu indicators on the front of the bar whatsoever; no input light, no power display, not even an LED array for volume.

There are no menu indicators on the front of the bar whatsoever

The latter won’t be all that necessary if you connect via ARC HDMI — most TVs should display volume level — and since the bar automatically switches between TV and HDMI inputs you won’t really need to keep an eye out there either. Still, it’s rather annoying not being able to tell whether the bar is in stereo mode, for instance, or where you’ve set the subwoofer level. If you’re close enough, you can sort of gauge what’s going on from the top LEDs, but the only real way to get solid visual cues is to get up off the couch and take a look on top.

Under the hood

Yamaha MusicCast Bar 400
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

We originally figured the lack of a front display was due to a center channel speaker, but the Bar 400 only offers two discrete channels, loading up a pair of 1.75-inch cones at the left and right flanks, each matched by a 1-inch dome tweeter. The speakers receive a claimed 100 watts total power (50 watts per channel), with another 100 watts assigned to the 6.25-inch subwoofer.

Performance

Note: As of time of publication, Yamaha has informed us of a known issue with the soundbar’s center channel decoding on select Cambridge/Oppo Blu-ray players. According to the company, a firmware update to fix the problem should be available by the end of November 2018.

The MusicCast Bar 400 offers impressive sound for its slim design, including detail and clarity to spare alongside smooth and musical bass from its powerful subwoofer. While it gets plenty loud for a medium sized room, the system also revels in the details, offering the kind of clarity that allows you to pick up little slivers of dialogue, even unearthing moments you might have missed in previous listens, though you’ll need to engage the Clear Voice function to keep dialogue balanced with ambient sound, especially during heavy surround sound action.

There’s detail and clarity to spare alongside smooth and musical bass.

Speaking of surround sound, the system’s virtual surround sound isn’t as expressive or effective as we’ve seen in our favorites of the genre. Most recently, Sony’s HT-Z9F soundbar proved just how much movement and expansion you can get from a tiny bar, but it also costs as much as $900 (MSRP). The MusicCast Bar 400 is priced quite a bit lower than that, of course, but we still wished for more movement from the virtual surround. You can get a bigger soundstage with DTS: Virtual X engaged, but as with the YAS-207, that also tends to add more stridence to the upper register, leaving us favoring just the basic surround setting.

Yamaha MusicCast Bar 400
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

On that note, while the sound performance is generally impressive thanks in no small part to the nuance and overall clarity the system provides in the treble and upper midrange, the bar’s tiny drivers revealed their limitations on occasion, sounding a bit shouty and metallic. Michael Scott’s voice on The Office got a little pinched and sibilant when he goes into his usual shouting shenanigans, while the sharpest laser strikes and explosions of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 were occasionally icier than we wanted them.

Music has similar issues until you move to stereo mode, which offers a much more balanced overall tone and plenty of presence. It’s not going to wow you, but it works just fine for dropping in your favorite Spotify playlist and rocking out.

True surround

Adding surround speakers really ramps things up, and while the MusicCast 20 speakers are also a bit tight in the upper register, we were able to lock in an impressively fluid hemisphere of sound between the four units (soundbar, subwoofer, and L/R surrounds). A particularly lovely moment came during Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when the Dementor approaches the train car in the early going. As the creature places its hand on the window, we could almost feel the waves of cold coming off the ice as it passed from the front speakers to the back right.

We especially appreciate the ability to adjust the delay time of all four devices from within the MusicCast app, allowing for the kind of fine-toothed control former audio engineers like yours truly love (and rarely find in an all-in-one system, satellites or no). That alone gives the system a leg up over most soundbars that include wireless surrounds, though at $900 for the total system, you’ll need to have deeper pockets to piece it all together. The good news is, you can always add on more pieces to the puzzle down the road — though, of course, you’ll be at the mercy of whatever Yamaha wants to keep in its MusicCast arsenal.

Warranty

Yamaha goes the extra mile and offers a two-year warranty on its MusicCast devices when directly purchased from a dealer. More info can be found on its website.

Our Take

The MusicCast 400 offers powerful, detailed sound and plenty of features, though at $500, it’s an investment that will appeal much more to those considering Yamaha’s particular flavor of multiroom audio and/or discrete surround sound. In other words, the 400 is not only an ambassador for MusicCast, but its overall value quotient is pretty well tied to it.

Is there a better alternative?

As we’ve alluded to throughout this review, those who aren’t high on MusicCast multiroom audio or adding surround sound speakers later on may want to look at the YAS-207 instead, which offers very similar performance — as well as a visual display — for just $300.

Those looking for a soundbar with discrete surround sound speakers also have multiple options, not the least of which is Vizio’s Dolby Atmos soundbar, the SB46514-F6 (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) which adds upfiring speakers in a 5.1.4 surround configuration for just $100 more.

How long will it last?

Yamaha is one of the most well-respected names in audio and with the ability to add on speakers and features like 4K passthrough, the MusicCast 400 is well future-proofed.

Should you buy it?

If you’re looking for a slim soundbar with powerful, detailed performance — and you think MusicCast is for you — the MusicCast 400 is a good choice in its price class. If you couldn’t care less about multiroom audio or surround sound speakers, we suggest saving some cash and picking up the YAS-207.

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