Second, I wanted to make sure that this lone speaker could reproduce a convincing stereo panorama. Would there be a solid center image and good left/right separation? In the ballad "Calling All Angels," the piano is recorded with a slight delay to create a wide image, which was realistically reproduced. In contrast, the vocals and snare drum were solidly locked to a tight center image. When the strings came in, they completely filled the stereo soundstage with a balanced spread. In other words, the YSP-1 created the same panorama I'd expect from a normal pair of speakers. Even at moderately loud levels, the speaker showed no signs of stress or strain in this mode - at least in my small room.
I moved on to multichannel music and loaded up the Dolby Digital mix of Seal's Seal IV. (Since the YSP-1 lacks six-channel analog inputs, I couldn't listen to the high-resolution mixes on DVD-Audio discs or SACDs but was able to play the Dolby Digital or DTS versions.) The music was firmly placed across a wide arc before me. On "Love's Divine," lead vocals were clearly front and center, flanked by piano, brass, and backup vocals, while reverberated vocals, piano, and strings appeared at either side of my shoulders and slightly behind - as if out of thin air. Seal's vocals had a smooth and natural sound, with just a bit of distortion at loud volumes. Sound quality, like the artist himself, was earnest and refined, and the surround mix was surprisingly expansive.
MOVIE PERFORMANCE Next, I loaded in Dodgeball, a goofy Ben Stiller comedy that's funny in a low-IQ sort of way. In stereo mode, dialogue was intelligible, and sound effects were realistically placed in the panorama. When a car drove out of a scene, I could clearly hear it move across the front and exit right.
The 3-Beam mode provided a much wider soundstage without seeming exaggerated or unnatural, and 5-Beam opened up the soundstage even more and occasionally even gave a hint of sound from behind me. In the film's finale, shouts of approval and dismay from a crowd of spectators join other sound effects in the surround channels. The YSP-1 gave the impression that there were surround speakers on the sides, just not as far back as they should be. It wasn't as enveloping as true surround sound, but it was still engaging.
Looking for the ultimate stress test, I loaded up the Master and Commander DVD. Being hit by a dodgeball might be humiliating, but at least it's not as painful as a cannonball. In the battle scenes, you have cannonballs, musket balls, ship's rigging, and body parts flying through the air. The 5-Beam mode really let this movie rip, conveying all the terrifying sound effects that accompany the visuals. The YSP-1 created a realistic sense of sonic space around me, though it only put me three-quarters of the way into the field compared with the total immersion I get from true surround.
I pushed the YSP-1 to its volume limit, and I must admit it played loud enough to make even this naval mayhem seem pretty real. Nonetheless, its total output of 120 watts can't compete with a steroid-pumping 500-watt receiver. And unfortunately, there's no way to upgrade the amplifiers to get more power.
BOTTOM LINE Keeping in mind its limitations, Yamaha's YSP-1 is an excellent solution for some challenging situations. Are you after a very clean, minimalist installation with your on-wall flat-panel TV? Is your room too small to accommodate lots of speakers, or does its design prohibit a traditional setup? Or maybe you're just looking for that all-in-one package for watching movies in bed? If any of these apply, check out the YSP-1. This is not another me-too product. And it does border on genius.
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