Yamaha YSP-4000 Digital Sound Projector 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Jim Swantko   
Sunday, 01 June 2008

It should come to no surprise that flat panel televisions are all the rage these days, and rightly so. They look great, can be hung on the wall for mega-wow factor and are the reason for marital bliss in countless homes nationwide. The fact that flat screens are as much a fashion item as they are a source of entertainment has done wonders to ease the age-old conflict between a man’s desire for a huge video screen for watching football and a woman’s desire to have an orderly living room. It is my belief that this conflict was a primary motivation for manufacturers to create televisions thin enough to hang on the wall in the first place. I can hear the meetings now: “Make it look nice, so wives will like it and will let their husbands go crazy and spring for a huge, expensive TV – it’s a foolproof plan.” Guess what? The plan worked. 

The first attempts had surround speakers so small that they were unnoticeable. This seemed like a great idea, except for one problem: the speaker wires. Hmm, how about wireless speakers? That too has been tried, but you still need to power them, which means either an ugly AC adaptor or batteries that die and need constant replacement. 

The latest solution is a deceptively simple idea: manipulate the audio signals in such a way that they bounce the surround information from the front of the room, off the side walls, then into your ears. Voila, instant surround. In theory, the concept works just like banking a pool ball off the rail and into the corner pocket. Anyone who has ever played pool can tell you this looks much easier than it is. Bank shots require a nearly perfect angle to make the shot. If you failed geometry in school, stick to pinball.

Yamaha has adopted this strategy with the YSP-4000, which is their top of the line digital sound projector, with a retail price of $1,799. It uses an array of fourty, one-and-five-eighths-inch “beam” drivers, which steer the surround information to the correct angle so it bounces off the wall and to your ear. It also has two, four-and-three-eighths-inch woofers to handle the low frequencies. Each beam driver receives two watts of power and the woofers receive 20 watts apiece.

Bouncing sounds off walls may seem elementary, but when you consider the fact that most living rooms are filled with a variety of surfaces at odd angles and of differing materials, it quickly becomes an overwhelming feat to do so with control. The Yamaha YSP-4000 uses a microphone to monitor test tones generated from the beam drivers. The units’ processors adjust the source signals until the microphone tells it that the surround information sounds correct. Thankfully, this is a fully automated process that takes only a few minutes to complete.

The unit is fairly large, measuring a little over 40 inches wide, nearly six inches high and approximately five inches deep, weighing a solid 34 pounds.  It can be ordered in either black or silver to blend in easily with nearly all televisions (mine was black). It can be wall-mounted or simply placed on a rack. The front has a small center display that provides lots of useful information, such as volume level, surround decoding algorithm, input and more. There is also a large alpha-numeric display that is used for the all the remaining information that the user may ever need. Buttons for power, volume and input are also located on the front of the unit, should you misplace the remote. The front panel is rounded out by an auxiliary input for audio devices like your iPod and the input for the included set-up microphone.

The back of the unit has plenty of inputs and video outputs for the average user.  For video sources, it has two HDMI inputs, two component video inputs and a single composite video input. For audio, it has two sets of analog inputs and accepts digital sources via its two coax and two optical Toslink connectors. There is also an XM mini-tuner jack, as well as an iPod dock port. The XM tuner and iPod dock are sold separately, but adding them will make the integration of these devices much simpler.

The YSP-4000 arrived at my house very well packaged and included a host of cables (video, digital optical and coax, analog audio and an FM antenna) and a very thorough instruction manual, which I was pleasantly surprised to see. I am one of those people who still uses a stand rather than hanging the television on the wall. I am fortunate that my stand is deep enough to hold my television and provide enough space for the YSP-4000 to be placed in front of it. It happens to blend in perfectly with my Sony 60-inch rear-projection set and is all but invisible until you look for it. 

With the unit in place, I began connecting it to my other devices. I used both of the HDMI inputs for my DirecTV box and my VuDu media server. I also used a pair of analog inputs from my Esoteric DV-50 universal player. I connected the optional iPod docking station and XM tuner as well. While making the connections, I noticed that the rear panel is nicely labeled. Some of the connectors are oriented down towards the floor, but the labeling makes this a non-issue. The connectors are deeply recessed to allow for cables to be run between the television and the wall, should you mount it there.

Once all the connections were made, I connected the auto set-up microphone to the front of the unit. This is the first time that I have seen a microphone stand included with a product, and it’s a great idea. Sections of the cardboard packaging have been perforated so that you can pop out two pieces that interlock to form the stand. The holder stands a few feet high and is remarkably sturdy. It’s an idea so simple that it begs the question of why everyone doesn’t do this. I guess Yamaha just has more creative engineers than everyone else.

With the mic installed, I pressed start and left the room as instructed. In about two minutes, the auto set-up was complete and I was ready to start listening.

Music and Movies
The YSP-4000 is designed to be the heart of the entertainment system and is extremely user-friendly and flexible. The number of devices that you can play with it was a little overwhelming, considering that 99 percent of the time I listen to my system, it’s only with CD/SACDs. 

I decided I would start with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ CD Mother’s Milk (Capitol). I cued up one of my favorite songs, “Knock Me Down,” and set the YSP-4000 to stereo mode. Immediately, I noticed Flea’s bass licks had plenty of snap and speed and Anthony Kiedis’ voice was front and center.  The kick drums didn’t have enough output to rattle any windows but, considering the fact that the woofers were less than five inches in diameter, they really did a nice job keeping up with the music. I decided that I wanted a little more oomph in the bass department, so I connected the subwoofer output of the YSP to my Boston Acoustic 12-inch sub. As expected, it was quite a bit better for my tastes. For the average consumer who is considering a product like this, the YSP’s internal woofers will be more than adequate.

My MP3 listening is typically relegated to gym use only, but since Yamaha was kind enough to include their iPod docking station, I decided to give it a try and see how it sounded with something other than earphones. The docking station is a must for anyone who has a large library of music on the iPod. It allows you to control your iPod with the YSP’s remote and I quickly realized how convenient music servers really are. I sampled lots of the music that I keep on my iPod and was quite impressed with the sound. 

Guns N’ Roses’ controversial song “One in a Million,” from the G N’ R Lies album (Geffen), sounded great. Slash’s acoustic guitar sounded clear and nicely detailed. Axl Rose’s voice came through with all the gravelly texture that he is known for. The problem, however, was that the soundstage was flat as a pancake. Luckily, I noticed a feature labeled “enhancer” and read that it was designed to help bring the soundstage back to MP3 music. It has three settings: high, low and off. When it was activated, the difference was staggering. On the high setting (which I preferred), the soundstage easily doubled in width and probably tripled in depth. As with many good things, however, there is a trade-off and in this case it was a sacrifice of a tiny bit of clarity and detail when using the enhancer. To my ears, the benefits vastly outweighed the sacrifice and I left the enhancer on for the remainder of the listening.

The next song after GNR is from Hank Williams, Jr. “A Country Boy Can Survive” is from the 1981 album The Pressure Is On (Curb records). The pedal steel guitar had plenty of twang and the kick drum was tight and quick.  Hank’s voice, like Axl’s, had plenty of texture and gruffness, which came through so clearly you could almost see the tobacco in his cheek. This song made me proud to be a hillbilly. The YSP kept my toe tapping all the way through the tune. 

I decided to continue living in the 1980s and played some old-school hair metal. Don Dokken and the rest of the boys of Dokken kicked ass through the Yamaha. George Lynch’s guitar thrashing in “It’s Not Love” off Under Lock and Key (Elektra) took me back to my high-school weekends searching for someone to buy me some beer and for a hottie to get drunk (among other things) with.  Sometimes I really miss the good old days, and the Yamaha was able to deliver me a suitable flashback to that pleasant past.
This system was a blast with music and would be perfectly happy providing background music or serving as a jukebox for your next party, when everyone wants to hear their favorite Jimmy Buffett song between shots of tequila.

With the easy stuff complete, it was time to get serious and see how the YSP did with its primary mission as a surround system. According to the user’s manual, my room is fairly optimal for reflecting sounds, since it’s basically a rectangle with very little clutter to absorb or diffract sounds.  My seating location is three-quarters of the way back from the TV, with very little between it and the rear wall. I have to be honest and say that even with an optimal room, I was skeptical about this whole thing working. I did not expect it to be able to convincingly offer surround effects. I was wrong, because it did.

The film The Prestige (Warner Home Video) is a tale of two magicians constantly trying to upstage the other. Many of the scenes take place in bars, where the magicians perform their magic in front of drunken crowds of disbelievers. The YSP was able to convincingly immerse me in that bar, while using the 5 Beam setting. Beer bottles were being dropped on the floor and breaking over my right shoulder. To the left, there were yells calling the magician a cheat and a fake. I was impressed. The three front channels were also impressive, as the Yamaha threw a wide soundstage, with voices and effects nicely placed. The biggest complaint I had was that the surround effects didn’t have the dynamics and punch that dedicated speakers do, especially for action scenes.

In Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), the racecar engines behind Ricky (Will Ferrell) didn’t have the bass growl that I had heard with my dedicated surround speakers, which is not a surprise, considering that it was generated from small drivers and reflected off a wall. This is a small quibble, considering that this product is not designed as a reference surround system. Rest assured, however, that Ricky Bobby’s baby Jesus rendition of grace, along with the rest of the film, sounded great.

Again, I was impressed. I decided to try some of the other beam-steering effects that the YSP offers and found some of them to be not only cool, but also really useful. One setting called My Beam creates a focused beam of audio, which can be directed up to 45 degrees off-center of the YSP-4000.  I’m sure we all know what it’s like to try to watch TV in a noisy environment, where someone else is running the vacuum cleaner in the other room or talking loudly on the phone. Usually, you just turn up the volume until you can hear it or the person on the phone mouths a few expletives your way to turn it down. At this point, I typically leave the room for the garage. However, the Yamaha created a small cocoon of sound that I could control as I wished. I used this feature all the time and will really miss it.

The Downside
If you are looking for a reference surround system, this product isn’t for you.  The surround effects aren’t as dynamic as you would get with a dedicated 7.1 speaker system and a powerful surround receiver. You just can’t cheat physics, but Yamaha comes close to doing so in a way that is truly impressive.

The YSP-4000 is also fairly heavy, so if you plan to hang it on the wall, do yourself a favor and make sure you find some solid studs for screwing in the mounting bracket. Otherwise, you will be calling in a sheetrock contractor to rebuild your wall.

I love this thing. It’s so simple that even the most non-technical of people can figure out how to use it. It’s also just so damn convenient that you will find yourself listening to more music than you ever imagined, which is a compliment traditionally reserved for the most lofty audiophile products, with a price tag to match. Yamaha should be proud of how well the YSP reproduces music from such a slim and relevant product.

The Yamaha YSP-4000’s uncluttered, elegant style will go with any décor.  It offers real surround options that actually work without having to snake speaker wires through walls or under carpeting. So if you are looking for a huge upgrade over your standard TV speakers with surround capabilities and the ability to listen to FM, XM, MP3s and switch multiple video sources, you need to take a long hard listen to the Yamaha YSP-4000. It’s one hell of a performer.
Manufacturer Yamaha
Model YSP-4000 Digital Sound Projector
Reviewer Jim Swantko

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