The all-new YAS-207 is arguably the best soundbar you can get in India today south of a 50k pricepoint. For Rs 29,990, you get a super-slim (6 cm high) unit, the world’s first soundbar to feature DTS Virtual:X virtual 3D surround sound. And there’s a wireless subwoofer in the package. For the record, it’s just $299 in the US (and even less on Amazon) but I don’t know if the imports are covered by the one-year warranty.

There’s HDMI in and out (ARC) with 4K high dynamic range (HDR) video passthrough at up to 60 frames per second video. There’s also optical in, bluetooth streaming, a 3.5 mm jack for analog input, and a phone app that’s functional but not yet very exciting. ‘Smarts’ include a Bluetooth standby function that lets the soundbar turn on or off automatically, linked with the Bluetooth device, and support for your TV’s remote for soundbar functions if your TV is compatible with HDMI-CEC.

But the top feature is DTS Virtual:X. That’s an adaptation of DTS:X, a completely immersive surround-sound format—you hear birds chirping above you, and a glass shattering, below. But DTS:X uses a complex speaker array, including speakers on the ceiling.

Virtual:X, first seen in this soundbar, uses digital signal processing to simulate that 3D sound, complete with height, in a single unit. The processing tricks you into apparently hearing sound all around you, irrespective of room layout and even in larger areas. It works best with soundtracks created for Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. But it improved sound for most movies I tried off Netlfix and Prime—including Mission Impossible 5.

This is different from how single-unit soundbars simulate surround sound by projecting and reflecting sound off walls—which is affected by room layout. In fact, Yamaha itself pioneered ‘sound projector’ technology—a single-unit soundbar that would project sound to simulate a 5.1 or 7.1 speaker array. Their YSP-1 ‘Digital Sound Projector’ won the Best of Show award at the January 2005 CES show in Las Vegas. That soundbar used a phased array of 40 small centre drivers, configured automatically via a setup program that used a test mic to control sound reflected from the walls of the room.

I’ve always wanted a Yamaha soundbar. The first one I bought online was earlier this year, a YAS-306 with 7.1 surround, Apple Airplay, and Yamaha’s MusicCast wireless multiroom audio system. It packed a lot into one slim bar (no external sub, but built-in dual subwoofers) for Rs 40k. But what was delivered turned out to be a badly-packed, dusty though functional unit. I returned it, and got a refund from Amazon. This was fortuitous. The lack of an external subwoofer did mean some missing punch. And a month later, I managed to get the new YAS-207—brand new, sealed, and for 10k less. No Airplay, but I loved it.

I’ve been using the YAS-207 for two months now, and it’s easily my second-best online purchase this year after Amazon’s Fire TV Stick (Rs 3,999). My Fire TV Stick is plugged into the Yamaha’s HDMI IN port. The soundbar’s HDMI out (ARC) port connects to the TV, passing on video and audio to the TV—even with the soundbar powered off. Audio from my Tata Sky Plus HD box comes into the soundbar via optical cable, while video from DTH box to TV is directly via HDMI (as the YAS-207 has only one HDMI IN port).

This is not the usual way of doing it. If your TV itself has an HDMI (ARC) out, you’d usually plug the Fire TV stick directly into the TV (HDMI 1), take the Tata Sky HD into HDMI 2, and take the HDMI (ARC) out to the soundbar. If you have a third device like a Blu-Ray player that could go into HDMI 3.

I prefer my way for three reasons. One, this lets me play music from apps such as Gaana on the soundbar with the TV off. Two, in the ‘usual way of doing it’ there’s no guarantee of good quality multichannel sound being passed on correctly via ARC to the soundbar. With my setup my soundbar gets digital sound direct, and what it passes on to the TV’s stereo speakers is less critical. Anyway, I hardly ever use the TV’s sound (but I could, if I wanted to, with the soundbar off). And finally, my TV doesn’t have HDMI ARC out.

My soundbar was shipped without DTS Virtual:X enabled. That needed a firmware upgrade, which was released early August (the YAS-207 was launched in June, and was available from July). The firmware upgrade was easy and really quick (it involved downloading to a flash drive and plugging that into the soundbar). If you buy the YAS-207, you might need to check if it’s been upgraded in August, or get the dealer to do it.

The DTS Virtual:X signal processing can muddy your music just a bit. When I’m listening to music, I switch to plain old stereo mode on the remote.

So if you’re looking for a sub-50k soundbar to use with your TV, I strongly recommend the YAS-207. Especially with a Fire TV Stick plugged into it. In fact, it almost matches the sound quality of soundbars more twice the price, such as the Bose SoundTouch 300 (Rs 70,000 without an external subwoofer). Good luck with getting it: I got it in 6 days from Amazon, but of five other friends who tried two haven’t managed to (it’s out of stock).

And if you’re looking for an even cheaper option for, say, a bedroom TV, the new YAS-107 (Rs 22,000), launched alongside the YAS-207, is a single-unit option with built-in woofers, also with 4K video passthrough but no external subwoofer.

Pros:

Compact. Good sound. DTS Virtual:X 3D virtual surround. 4K HDR video passthrough. Good price.

Cons:

No Wi-Fi or Airplay. Low availability: stocks run out.

social-fb COMMENT NOW