Yamaha YAS-109 soundbar review: Alexa makes a good bar better
“An easy way to give your TV great sound.”
- Clear, crisp sound signature
- Multiple sound modes
- Alexa and Spotify Connect built-in
- Wi-Fi connection
- No discrete subwoofer
- Virtual surround can add sibilance
For over two years, an affordable Yamaha model has sat atop our list of the best soundbars you can buy. With great features and good sound Yamaha’s YAS-207 and its upgraded iteration, the YAS-209, are perfect additions to any TV room for those on a budget. But if you’re looking for something even more affordable (and compact), the YAS-109 may be just the ticket.
While it doesn’t offer an external subwoofer – and as such, loses some cinematic punch down low — the YAS-109 offers the same built-in Amazon Alexa functionality, simple controls, and quality sound as the 209 for $100 less.
Out of the box
It might seem like an insult, but we’re actually impressed with how well the latest YAS soundbar models blend into the background. Simple, cloth-covered bars, they seem explicitly designed to occupy space below your TV without ever averting your gaze.
Even the display and indicator lights are stealthy (for better or worse). Like the YAS-209, the top of the bar has a simple LED display that’s slightly angled so it can still be seen from the couch, with various levels of lighting indicating overall volume from a distance.
Get up closer, and you’ll find indicators for source selection, digital surround sound, and Clear Voice — a Yamaha-designed setting aimed at making sure you can hear everything they’re saying on screen. There’s also a button on the top of the bar for summoning Alexa without a wake word alongside dual microphone ports that let you speak to her.
We’re impressed with how well the bar blends into the background.
The remote is small and simple, but it gets the job done. A rounded rectangle, it features individual source selection buttons, and the ability to quickly toggle between virtual surround, Clear Voice, and six different EQ settings without multiple presses. Yamaha even included a button to summon Alexa, again, for those who don’t want to speak her name aloud.
As with most affordable soundbars, we do wish there was a better digital display — or a digital display on the remote like we’ve seen from Vizio and others — to help better navigate settings and volume levels. At this price, though, we can’t really knock Yamaha there.
Alexa for the win
There are a couple features that set this Yamaha bar above more affordable competitors like the Vizio SB3621n-G8, but first and foremost is the inclusion of Alexa.
With Amazon’s smart assistant on-board, the soundbar quickly becomes (nearly) as functional as any other smart speaker in your house. You can ask for weather or news, set timers, and even ask the soundbar to play your favorite tunes on Spotify (the bar also features Spotify Connect). You can even use Alexa to change sources, which is awesome if you’re trying to swap between a video game system and your Smart TV, for example. (Excluded from the package currently are features like drop-ins and announcements through your smart speaker collection.)
Another great thing about Alexa is that you can use verbal commands to mute or change volume, which can be awesome if you don’t feel like reaching for a remote. Soon, you’ll also be able to use the soundbar as part of a larger multiroom speaker setup, as Yamaha claims support will be added later this year.
Many lower-tier soundbars lack even an HDMI ARC port, instead relying on optical connection for audio. The YAS-109 offers both HDMI ARC and a second HDMI input port, meaning you can easily connect to your TV without losing a precious HDMI input, allowing you to connect a video game system or outboard streaming device directly.
In terms of audio and video features, the bar features Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS Digital Surround, and DTS Virtual: X technology, designed to expand the soundstage on both the horizontal and vertical planes.
With Alexa on-board, the YAS-109 works just like a smart speaker
The HDMI input supports 4K HDR video passthrough, including HDR10, but lacks the ability to pass through Dolby Vision or HDR10+. If you’ve got a Dolby Vision or HDR10+ TV, you’ll either want to connect correspondent outboard devices directly, or possibly for a more expensive soundbar that can handle them, but for most budget TV models (aside from standouts like TCL’s 6-series models) this won’t be an issue anyway.
One complaint — and something we first noticed on the larger YAS-209 bar — is that you can’t adjust the volume of Alexa independently from the bar, so she can shout at you a bit when you’re listening to quieter content.
As long as you’ve got an HDMI cable (this soundbar doesn’t come with one) and a phone, setting up the YAS-109 is a breeze. After setting up the bar, connect to your TV’s HDMI ARC port from the corresponding port on the back of the bar and you should be ready to listen – the bar typically defaults to the HDMI ARC port. Your TV remote should also automatically control the bar’s volume and power (though you may need to turn on CEC in your TV settings).
Connecting Alexa is simple and relatively painless, too. Just download the Yamaha Sound Bar Controller app and follow the on-screen instructions to get the bar paired with your network. From there, you’re good to ask Alexa just about anything you desire.
The YAS-109 is easily one of the best performing affordable soundbars we’ve tested when it comes to overall fidelity, offering of a smooth and clear midrange, a crisp high-end, and even robust bass response for a soundbar without a separate subwoofer.
In cinema mode, we were especially impressed with the soundbar’s ability to project both crystal clear dialogue definition and surround sound elements — details that often get muddled together on cheaper bars. Action films were among the best example of this, with the sounds of screeching tires, bullets, and small explosions in John Wick always noticeable and physically placeable in the scene, but playing second fiddle to the clear dialogue of the main characters.
We did notice a touch of sibilance and phase-cancellation with DTS Virtual: X engaged, but that’s pretty typical with the technology, especially for soundbars this size that don’t come with discrete surround speakers or advanced processing. When you start bouncing sound around a room at high enough volumes, things tend to get a bit wonky.
Still, at lower volumes, DTS Virtual: X did bring a bit of width and height to the soundstage, and we tended to leave it on so long as a film or TV show didn’t require a ton of volume, or as long as the film had sufficient action to be worth the extra surround sound.
One of the best-sounding affordable soundbars.
When listening to music via Spotify Connect and Bluetooth, we liked the way that the sound became a bit less bright up top in stereo mode, with a noticeable increase in smoothness in the midrange. In terms of fidelity, the YAS-109 isn’t going to replace a high-end smart speaker or dedicated hi-fi setup, but it competes well with smaller, price-conscious bookshelf and Bluetooth speakers, and can be a great way to fill your living room with tunes when you’re entertaining or hanging out at home.
In general, the soundbar brings a significant and impressive upgrade to bogged-down TV audio, bringing your favorite shows to life with more vivid, plush sound than you’d ever get from those tinny TV speakers.
Yamaha offers a two-year warranty on defects in materials or workmanship.
The YAS-109 is a great option if you have a limited budget, smaller room, and want the excellent functionality that comes with Alexa built-in. If you just bought a new TV and are looking for a way to better enjoy your favorite films and shows, the YAS-109 is well worth the cost.
Is there a better alternative?
In terms of sound and functionality, the closest competitor to the new YAS-109 is another Yamaha bar, the YAS-209, which costs $100 more and adds on a discrete subwoofer.
If you’re looking for an even more affordable bar without the same smart speaker functionality, the Vizio SB3621n-G8 is worth checking out, as it comes with the same Dolby processing, a subwoofer, and impressive sound performance, but lacks extras like HDMI ARC connection, WiFi, and Alexa built-in.
Still not finding the bar you want? Check out our guide to buying a soundbar.
How long will it last?
We expect that the YAS-109 will last many years of solid use, so long as you keep it connected to the internet for firmware updates. Unless you’re immediately interested in connecting outboard gear with Dolby Vision, HDMI10+, or advanced technologies like HDMI 2.1 (which is definitely in its nascent stages) the YAS-109 should be a capable audio sidekick for many years to come.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you want the same great functionality as the subwoofer-laden YAS-209, but want to save a bit of dough, the YAS-109 is well worth considering. We still prefer the punch provided from the subwoofer that comes with the pricier model, but otherwise the YAS-109 is a great, feature-packed option.
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