|Yamaha Multimedia Speaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Kim Wilson|
|Friday, 01 September 2000|
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With true convergence as the objective, Yamaha’s RP-U100 ($499) Personal Receiver is the first audio component to accept the audio signal directly from a computer (Mac or PC). It provides switching capability between the PC, a built-in AM/FM tuner and two other outboard components, such as a CD or MD player. I used the two-way acoustic suspension NS-U50 speakers ($129 per pair) that Yamaha designed specifically for the RP-U100. The YST-SW45 ($149) powered subwoofer rounded out the system.
Regardless of what happens to Napster or MP3.com, it is abundantly clear that our computers will be a primary gateway for distributing, receiving, collecting and storing music files. So it stands to reason that the audio systems that reproduce these files must be of a higher quality than they have been in the past. While many computers are outfitted with speakers, performance levels vary radically. Moreover, even decent speakers are limited by the computer’s internal soundcard.
The Yamaha RP-U100 effectively replaces your computer’s soundcard with an actual audio component that powers six-ohms speakers and delivers 30 watts a channel. While it isn’t an actual 5.1 system, it does include Virtual Dolby Digital (VDD) for an engaging sound field when viewing DVDs or playing video games mixed in the multi-channel format.
The magnetically shielded NS-U50 employs a 3.5-inch woofer/midrange and a one-inch dome tweeter. Rated at eight ohms, the cabinet, which measures 4.3 x 11.5 x 7.8 inches, is vinyl wrapped in a light wood grain finish, permitting the speaker to sit comfortably and attractively on any desktop. When placed on their stands, the speakers tip back slightly so they point directly at the listener’s ears.
The 70-watt YST-SW45 powered subwoofer is rated down to 30 Hz at 10dB and kicks out the bass. The chassis is quite large (approximately 9.5 x 14.5 x 21.5 inches), as it houses an eight-inch woofer, requiring some of your floor space.
The RP-U100 can be interfaced to a computer in several different ways, depending on what the computer has to offer in the way of A/V connections. The RP-U100 provides analog inputs via standard RCA jacks, and digital inputs using either coax or optical connections. The third and most often used hookup is via the USB port, which effectively bypasses the internal soundcard.
Due to RFI generated within the computer chassis, the analog audio signal reproduced by the computer’s soundcard can be seriously compromised. Keeping the audio bitstream in the digital domain by using the USB connection prevents RFI from entering the signal path. Yamaha has also initiated further safeguards to isolate RFI from audio signals within the RP-U100.
The USB connection is the only way to access the Application Software that controls the RP-U100’s basic functions, such as volume and input selection. Arranging the tuner presets, adding equalization and making adjustments to such parameters as delay, seating position and room size are all performed directly from the computer, using Yamaha’s proprietary software. The CD-ROM that ships with the unit provides only the PC version. The Macintosh version was recently added to Yamaha’s website and is simple to download and install.
There are two sets of auxiliary RCA input jacks for other gear; AUX2 also provides outputs for a standard tape loop configuration. Speakers attach to the pull-clip terminals on the rear of the RP-U100, which are only designed for small-diameter speaker cables. The dedicated subwoofer output plugs directly into the YST-SW45, eliminating a more complex speaker arrangement that would require an extra set of speaker cables. Antennas for both AM and FM reception are included with the unit.
There are seven DSP functions on the RP-U100, including Virtual Dolby Digital (VDD), which simulates a 5.1-channel system with only two speakers. It is used to decode any CD or DVD with a Dolby Digital soundtrack. (There are no provisions for DTS discs.) There are three sound fields programmed for sources with both audio and video content: Movie for non-Dolby Digital sources, Live for concert footage and Game for enhancing action-packed diversions such as Quake. Not being a huge fan of DSP effects on my music, I had a lot more fun using the remaining effects Hall, Jazz and Church on the computer’s regular binks and boinks as it opened and closed windows or scrolled down menu lists. AOL’s "Welcome, You’ve got Mail" sounded like a disembodied voice from the bowels of some deep, dark cave.
The front panel screen of the Application Software resembles the face of the RP-U100 and controls input selection and volume directly from the computer. The DSP screen is activated by clicking on the arrow inside the round button (that indicates the currently selected DSP setting) of the front panel screen.
From the DSP screen, clicking on Virtual brings up the rear speaker position screen that adjusts the placement of the "virtual" rear speakers. A pink noise generator allows you to hear the placement of the virtual surrounds in relation to the mains (actual speakers) and the seating position. Grasping the rear speakers with the mouse cursor, they can be moved in an arc and it’s possible to hear the relative difference. If you are not sitting directly between the two speakers, balance and imaging can be shifted to ensure a proper surround effect. Clicking on the Edit function (also in the DSP window) will open the graphic equalizer window, providing a nine-band, 12-step EQ. Up to six EQ settings can be programmed and stored for simple and fast retrieval. From the EQ screen, basic settings for the DSP effects level, room size and seating position are established. A more complex set of parameters defining surround delay and room reverberation can be set in the advanced mode.
When the Tuner is selected on the front panel screen, an arrow appears to the left of the Tuner button. Clicking on the arrow brings up a window with a small, vertically oriented Tuner scale. Clicking the red arrows at the top and bottom of the window selects a station, which is displayed at the bottom of the scale and on the front panel screen. Presets groups are displayed here as well. In fact, if you like to listen to the radio when you’re on the computer, the RP-U100 is your dream machine. It provides up to 40 presets in five groups. There’s even an auto preset function that searches for all the available stations in the area, then presets them automatically. Once stored, they can be rearranged according to your personal preferences. Each group could be your favorite stations that play a particular genre. Here is where you use the RP-U100’s internal memory. Up to 208 presets can be stored directly on the computer’s hard drive in any order that the user desires.
Except for equalization and surround parameter adjustments, most functions are easily accessed from the RP-U100’s "real" front panel, and since it was sitting just to my right on the desk, I used it instead of the software once I got all the settings adjusted.