(CNET.com) -- If you're one of those people who don't want to "live with wires and boxes all over my living room," Yamaha's Digital Sound Projector series of single-speaker surround systems may be exactly what you're looking for.
Building on the success of earlier models, the company's 2007 lineup comes in three flavors: the YSP-900 ($900), the YSP-3000 ($1,200), and the subject of this review, the YSP-4000 ($1,800).
The top model is the first to offer 1080p/720p HDMI switching, analog video upscaling to HDMI, XM surround compatibility, and an FM tuner. The long, sleek YSP-4000 speaker has built-in power amplifiers, proprietary signal processing, plentiful connectivity, and uses 40 "beam" drivers to create a convincing illusion of multichannel sound. Just add a disc player and a TV and you're set.
The YSP-4000 is expensive, but it obviates the need to buy an AV receiver. The YSP-4000 delivered the best, most convincing surround sound we've ever heard from just one speaker. We only wish Yamaha invested more time in making the setup routine fully user-friendly: the surround calibration is a snap, but assigning inputs for multiple sources is likely to induce headaches for all but the most experienced users.
A large perforated metal grille dominates the YSP-4000's front panel; the LED display relates volume level and processing status (there's also a volume control and input selector). We mostly used the remote control to handle those functions and execute the setup routines. It's not backlit, but we found the remote fairly easy to use in our dimly lit home theater. The speaker is 40.5 inches wide, 7.6 high, and 5.75 deep, and it weighs 34.6 pounds. It can be wall mounted with the optional SPM-K30 bracket ($80) or positioned on a shelf above or below your TV.
Yamaha's Digital Sound Projection Technology works by reflecting sound off walls, so bare walls work best, and objects in the room such as chairs, drapes, or furniture may have an adverse effect on the quality of the surround sound. Yamaha's IntelliBeam autosetup and calibration system couldn't be easier to use. Just bring up the onscreen menu (available over the HDMI connection), plug in the supplied microphone, and the completely automated procedure takes just a few minutes to complete.
Yamaha now offers two matching subwoofers for use with the YSP speakers--the YST-FSW150 ($280) and the YST-FSW050 ($200)--they're slim, rack-mountable designs. It's also worth mentioning that the YSP-4000 is available in either black or silver.
The YSP-4000 is more than just a speaker -- it has built-in power amplifiers and the switching capabilities of an entry-level AV receiver. The speaker's 40 1.5-inch microdrivers project the front-left, front-right and surround channels' sound to reflect off your room's walls; the center channel's sound is projected directly from the YSP-4000 to the listening position. Yamaha's TruBass technology is said to enhance the two 4.25-inch woofers bass response (the microdrivers and woofers are each powered by their own digital amplifier). Total power is rated at 120 watts.
Surround processing modes include Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, DTS Neo:6, Neural Surround and Yamaha's proprietary Cinema DSP technology. The only thing missing is the latest Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD formats found on Blu-ray and HD DVD discs.
Most of the speaker's connectors are recessed into the rear panel: there are two sets of stereo analog inputs; two optical and two coaxial digital inputs (for surround sources); a dock terminal for Yamaha's YDS-10 iPod dock; an XM antenna jack for use with XM's Mini-Tuner Home Dock; and a subwoofer output. The two HDMI inputs (and one output) can handle video and audio. Video-only connectors include two sets of component-video and three composite-video inputs; and one set of component and composite-video outputs. Annoyingly, S-Video connections are completely absent. The RS-232C interface and IR input and output jacks are provided for use in custom installation systems. The front panel has a 3.5mm jack for handy connection with portable players.
We experienced some considerable headaches when setting up the YSP-4000 to use multiple AV sources (an Xbox 360, an Apple TV, a DirecTV DVR, and a Panasonic Blu-ray player). Assigning inputs becomes confusing when you move beyond the two HDMI or two component inputs--one each can assigned as "DVD," for instance.
Be prepared to invest some time and effort, along with possible limitations (one video input seemed to only match with a coaxial audio input, one with an optical, and so on). Likewise, we experienced problems getting the YSP-4000 to lock into our Dolby Digital surround signal, having the display recognize only "stereo" instead. Those with more than three or four sources might want to consider using an HDMI switcher or going with a traditional AV receiver, and using the YSP-4000 simply as the speaker system instead--or do so with one of the less-expensive stepdown models, the YSP-3000 or smaller YSP-800, instead.
On the brighter side, the YSP-4000 offers analog video upconversion to HDMI. That means that any of the composite or component inputs can be output via the single HDMI port, as well as upconverted to your choice of resolution -- 480p, 720p, or 1080i. As a result, you need only a single HDMI cable from the YSP-4000 to your HDTV.
We started our auditions with a Stephen King thriller, 1408, which some people have compared to The Shining. Well, we wouldn't go that far, but the movie's hyperactive haunted hotel room did show off the YSP-4000's ability to project creepy surround effects way out into the CNET listening room. During the scene where the hotel room turns bitterly cold, we could almost feel the crunch of John Cusack's shoes as he walked across the snowy floor. Later, when Cusack, in panicked desperation, crawls out of the room's window to escape, the traffic sounds of the city below were spatially believable. We noted that Cusack's voice sounded a bit too chesty at times, but we'd prefer that to an anemic or thin sound.
The YSP-4000 projects the left, right, and surround channels' sounds via user selectable modes: 5-Beam mode, 3-Beam mode, Stereo+3-Beam mode, Stereo mode, and My Beam mode, which allows users to focus the sound to a specific position in the room to avoid disturbing others. That might come in handy for late-night movie viewing, but we found the My Beam's sound to be rather nasal and thin. We mostly stuck with the 3-Beam and 5-Beam modes for all of our listening tests. The 5-Beam setting projected sound further into the room, but sometimes at the cost of coarsening sound quality; when that happened we switched back to 3-Beam.
The YSP-4000 stumbled when we played big special effect driven flicks like Mission: Impossible III. The explosions fell flat, the bass was rumbly, and the Yamaha couldn't play loud at all. We hooked up the Acoustic Research HT60 subwoofer to add extra muscle to the sound, and it helped a little, but we still felt the YSP-4000 lacked punch.
While listening to CDs in stereo, the YSP-4000 sounded small. Switching on the 3-Beam mode dramatically opened up the sound, spreading it out to the full width of the CNET listening room. The Perfume soundtrack orchestrated score demonstrated the YSP-4000 refined sound quality. The velvety smooth violins and the score's crisp percussive accents sounded on a par with some of the better $1,000 speaker packages we've heard. The 3-Beam spacious sound wasn't limited to just the listeners seated directly inline with the speaker, the wide-open sound was available for listeners on either side of the couch.
Yes, you could spend the same amount the YSP-4000 costs on a first-class AV receiver and 5.1-channel satellite/subwoofer package that doesn't need to "simulate" surround sound. That system would produce far better overall sound quality, greater dynamic punch, and more spacious surround effects. If the success of Yamaha's previous generations of YSP's means anything, we've learned that buyers will happily pay extra for the elegance of single-speaker surround. And the YSP-4000, despite its performance shortcomings, is the best there is.
Assistant Editor Jeff Bakalar contributed to this review. E-mail to a friend
© 2009 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. CNET, CNET.com and the CNET logo are registered trademarks of CBS Interactive Inc. Used by permission.