|Yamaha Multimedia Speaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Kim Wilson|
|Friday, 01 September 2000|
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The computer environment is especially interesting because of the variety of sources you can access, from CD to DVD to Internet Radio or MP3 files. So here’s a sampling of how the Yamaha RP-U100, NS-U50 and YST-SW45 fared on several of these sources.
Are people out there really using their computers to watch movies? I don’t know. For myself, I’d go to my home theater room for that. However, if watching DVDs on the computer is your thing, the VDD setting on the RP-U1000 creates a credible surround field. In fact, the sound is far more enveloping than the picture, which is only about five inches by three inches. (While it’s possible to fill the screen, the lower resolution essentially makes the DVD unviewable.) On playing ‘The Mummy’ (Universal), I found the VDD setting exhibited a very tight and localized center with effective ambient effects, providing a good sense of depth and space. The subwoofer was a critical factor, without which the soundtrack was thin and lifeless.
There has been a great deal of interest in the concept of "virtual" surround, but does it have merit? Under normal home theater conditions, I’d say forget the pseudo-surround and go for the full-blown multi-speaker array. It is far more realistic and dynamic. That said, the computer offers a completely unique environment. In most cases, the space is finite and adding speakers all around may be impossible or prove to be too cumbersome. More importantly, the speakers are generally placed on either side of the monitor, creating an extreme near-field positioning. A phantom center is more than adequate and the short distance from the speakers to the back of your head makes it possible to produce a convincing surround effect with only two speakers.
Using a system with this level of quality definitely heightens the game-playing experience. I actually felt an adrenaline surge as those ominous notes that foreshadow doom for ‘Tomb Raider III's’ (EIDOS) popular heroine Lara Croft rumbled through the jungle landscape. Using the Game setting, the shift in environmental effects could change the scene from one of peace to imminent danger quite effectively. Singing birds and chattering monkeys fill the soundfield, providing a realistic 360-degree setting. As you walk toward something like a waterfall, the sound gets louder and its location is easily identified. Playing one of these games with a real audio system pulls you right in the action and is thoroughly engaging. I received the game demo with some other software. What was going to be a five-minute evaluation turned into almost two hours of intense interaction that lasted late into the night.
The NS-U50s are very efficient, requiring a small amount of volume from the RP-U100 for a gratifying performance at any sound level. For instance, Sinead O’Connor’s new CD Faith and Courage is punchy and coherent. For the most part, the frequency response is smooth, a product of the sat/sub configuration, although I detected some instability in the tonal balance on the violins at the end of track 6, "Til I Whisper U Something." The NS-U50s demand a subwoofer, because without the YST-SW45, they were top-heavy and fatiguing.
When it comes to Internet audio, it’s a mixed bag. Like any good sound system, the severe flaws of poor source material are more difficult to tolerate. Browsing to worldclassrock.com, the Internet counterpart of a local Los Angeles radio station, the narrow bandwidth produced a muddy and scratchy signal with less fidelity than a car radio. The RP-U100’s internal Tuner provided a far more pleasing performance. Low bitrate files are, of course, poor substitutes for a well-mastered CD, although MP3s are quite enjoyable despite the data compression. For those that scoff at the MP3 format, get off the computer and listen to them using the RP-U100. Use a "real" audio component for sound and let the computer do what it does best…process data.
The RP-U100 is the real gem of this system, offering switching capabilities, EQ and DSP functionality to computer audio. For the price, performance and functionality, I could find no serious downside to this system. All in all, this complete system priced at $777 delivers clean, punchy audio, whether listening to a CD, watching a DVD or playing a video game.
Since the speakers, sub and receiver are sold as separate products, if I were to make a suggestion that would result in attaining higher fidelity, it would be to search out a different sat/sub system. However, the RP-U100’s 30 watts per channel will limit your choices, especially if the speakers are not very efficient. Still, the standard speaker terminals and direct subwoofer output makes this upgrade feasible.
As music downloads and streaming audio on the Internet become more prevalent, computer sound systems will continue to improve. We already see computer and consumer electronics companies bundling products together. More third-party alternatives are bound to propagate as well. I hope the next generation of PC receivers, including the successor to the RP-U100, contain 24-bit/96kHz digital-to-analog converters. In the near future, I predict there will be a wide variety of audio for PC products. In the meantime, high-end performance for the computer is rare. There is the extreme position such as Evett and Shaw’s Elan Loudspeakers and Flatt 50 Amp (see the review in the Audio Revolution archives), though for a far more modest price, this Yamaha system is about the best option I have come across for superior computer audio.