Yamaha YMC-500 neoHD Media Controller Review 
Home Theater Media Servers Home Theater/Media Center PCs
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Wednesday, 18 November 2009

I think there will come a time at Halloween when I could hand out the remote controls scattered about my house along with candy corn and gum, and satisfy the string of trick-or-treaters that canvass my neighborhood. Honestly, in each room where I listen to music, watch TV or movies I have a minimum of six remotes. It gets tricky, particularly for a reviewer, when one remote will turn on an unwanted component during use of another. I'm not lazy, but it's maddening to leave the chair to turn off a piece of equipment you didn't want to engage in the first place. The universal remote is not a new idea, but most are far more complicated than the originals they intend to replace. If I have a choice between spending an evening listening to music, watching a DVD or reprogramming a half-dozen remotes to do either of the former, the choice is easy. Yamaha offers a couple solutions to corral your electronic devices together under one roof and shed the excess remote baggage.

One Remote To Rule Them All?

At first glance, the YMC-500's remote, with barely a dozen buttons and diminutive size, looks under-equipped to manage an entire A/V system. But Yamaha realizes that most folks just want to play or listen to their devices, and that's what this remote does.

Setup & Features

The YMC-500 neoHD system comes with a pair of 2-way acoustic suspension front speakers (NS-AP7900MBL) and a 50-watt powered subwoofer (YST-FSW050). The fronts sport two 2.5-inch white paper woofers, one 3/4-inch silk dome tweeter, and are rated for 30 to 100 watts input. They can be set or screwed on stands or wall-mounted using the preset mounting brackets. The sub can be placed horizontally on four padded feet or vertically if space is an issue. This 2.1 “surround” system is boosted by Yamaha's AIR SURROUND EXTREME technology, which simulates 5.1 sound using just two fronts a sub. The option to add a center and surround speakers exists, and with ASE, Yamaha asserts that 5.1 can be boosted to mimic 7.1 surround.

The heart of the unit is the YMC-500 Media Controller – a 10-pound black box with a front volume knob and a top control panel whose buttons function like the corresponding buttons on the remote. The controller has an appealing sloped dual-slope design and sports a neoHD graphic on the top panel. The YMC-500 is equipped with 3 HDMI ins and 1 out, a USB port, dock for iPod or Bluetooth wireless audio receiver, coaxial digital audio in, optical digital audio in, analog audio in, component video in and composite video in.  

I've always liked Yamaha's approach to user guides. Along with the standard 58-page owner's manual, detailing the ins-and-outs of the neoHD, a fold-out quick-start guide is included to get visually oriented consumers up and running. System setup, for me, is rarely an enjoyable process, but I actually liked connecting all the pieces to the YMC-500 because Yamaha has made setup akin to a child's game of “match this with that.” As I was hooking up the front speakers – each with its own colored set of wires – to the respective terminals, I thought about my mother and how much she typically struggles to just make the proper connections with A/V equipment. This system would be perfect for her or anyone challenged just to make a TV work with a DVD or Blu-ray player, etc. The color-coded, step-by-intuitive-step setup is nearly foolproof.

Neo HD Closeup

After connecting a TV, source player, FM antenna and speakers, the next step is attaching the IR flashers to the remote control sensors of the TV and any components connected to the receiver. The flasher heads are covered with wax paper, which you peel off to uncover a sticky layer that binds the heads to the sensors. It's a bit like playing doctor with a heart patient. Power up the system and connected components and follow the directions on the TV screen to calibrate the speakers, integrate the remote control and setup source devices. The YMC-500 breaks each step down to basics. If you have a DVD player in the system, you're asked how the player will be used and then incorporated into one of three main menus: Watch (TV/Movies), Listen (Music/Radio) or Play (Photos/Games). It's that simple. From these respective menus you can watch TV, watch a movie, listen to CDs, search for an FM radio station, access music on a USB device or play games.

Design Successes

1. The setup and remote are incredibly intuitive
2. Graphical User Interface boasts large, easy-to-read icons for selecting sources
3. Better than expected “surround” from a 2.1 system
4. All needed speaker cables and wires are included
5. USB port plays MP3, WMA, MPEG-4, AAC and FLAC audio files
6. Compatible with Deep Color and x.v. Color video signals
7. Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS 96/24 and DTS Digital Surround all supported
8. Analog to HDMI video up-conversion

Design Quirks

1. The USB input is on the back of the unit, which means you have to turn it around every time you want to swap a drive in or out. This port should be on the front for quick access and so you know what drive is in the unit.
2. The YMC-500 is compatible with iPods and Bluetooth devices, but you need to purchase an external dock or adapter to play and/or charge a unit. And you can listen to music only; pictures stored on an iPod are not accessible.
3. Speaker terminals are cheap, plastic spring-clips and accept bare-wire only.
4. No indication of the unit's power?!! If you want to move up from 2.1 to 5.1 surround, your choices are to purchase the matching center and surround speakers from Yamaha, or use speakers with 6 ohms or higher impedance. 


For such a spartan system, the YMC-500 delivered surprisingly good surround-like sound. Thin Lizzy's Are You Ready?is a terrific DVD of the band's 1981 performance at the Rockpalast in Loreley, Germany. Phil Lynott's voice and bass were presented with suitable bombast and drummer Brian Downey's kit sounded full and live.

Two-channel music played through the neoHD had good detail – I would describe the sound of the  supplied front speakers as bright and tight. The sub really helps to broaden and fill out the audio. With just three speakers in a setup, the neoHD is necessarily limited to the swath of sound it can produce, but like many of the better soundbars it does a convincing job of dispersing audio to the front and sides. In a smaller environment, I believe most listeners would be satisfied with the 2.1 setup.

Neo HD Input Panel

Conventional A/V receivers come loaded with dozens of sound-enhancing settings to make action films more exciting and to expand two-channel sources into various guises of surround. The YMC-500 sports just a handful of DSP programs – or sound fields – to enhance the A/V experience, but they cover all bases including movie contents, video games and a music enhancer to boost compressed files like MP3s.

Sunday means NFL football, so I set the receiver for entertainment and watched my Green Bay Packers crush the Dallas Cowboys. The roar of a Lambeau Field crowd is like no other, and the Yamaha brought out the energy and sound of a collective 50,000+ strong fanbase during the game's most thrilling moments. I won't say I could hear the faithful slurping beers and belching after too many pre-game bratwursts, but for a simple and engaging football experience the neoHD is the ticket.

Is there a better movie for home theater than Peter Jackson's account of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers? The incredible opening scene follows Gandalf as he battles the Balrog downward through a chasm that seems to go forever. A torrent of sound and fire ripple throughout as the melee unfolds, heightened by Howard Shore's mesmerizing score. Though this film screams out for 5.1 or more, the neoHD was no slouch at delivering the drama.

Final Thoughts

When I first received the neoHD system for review, I didn't know what to make of it. Was it an A/V receiver? Controller? Player? Ita's all of the above and an excellent solution for those wanting to keep it simple or bring an A/V system into a second room. If I went the neoHD route, I'd opt for the YMC-500's wi-fi capable sibling, the YMC-700, so I could network with music stored on my computer and access Internet radio as well. Others will find the 500 plenty of machine. Although it's not perfect, the YMC-500 does a lot right and is likely the first curl of a bigger wave of like-designed A/V equipment to come. I look forward to Yamaha's next ideas.

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