Yamaha YHT-S401 review

Sophisticated soundbar serves up plenty of features and processing options, but struggles with dialogue

The YHT-S401 seemingly has a lot going for it, including Yamaha’s rich heritage in soundbars and a comprehensive specification that makes a mockery of the similarly-priced Bose Solo. The YHT-S401 boasts four HDMI sockets, a headphone jack, FM aerial input and a USB input. No simple booster for your TV’s sonics here, we’re talking HD audio decoding for Blu-ray discs and streaming of MP3 and WMA files from USB flash drives, plus iPod and smartphone compatibility. In a perfect world we’d also be talking about Bluetooth and AirPlay, but you don’t need to be the taxman who studies Google’s annual return to know you don’t always get what you want. 

The front-facing reflex port gives away Yamaha’s unusual, inspired approach of combining the receiver and electronics with the subwoofer in one unit. This can be placed horizontally or vertically, although opting for the latter tends to make reading the LCD display a pain in the neck unless you’re lying flat out on a sofa directly opposite.

The elegant-looking soundbar houses three drivers and has spring-clip terminals for connecting the speaker to the receiver using the supplied cable. The bar itself is height-adjustable between 79mm and 100mm and should sit in front of most screens without impinging on your viewing. A plastic receptor is provided for relaying TV remote control signals should you find the bar blocking the screen’s IR receiver window. Neat. Wall-mounting is possible thanks to the supplied bracket.

As well as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA decoding there are six surround modes (Movies, Music, Sport, Games, TV and Standard) plus features such as dialogue and music enhancement, extended stereo, dynamic range control and tone control.

The supplied remote control is a chunky number and while it makes basic input selection and volume control simple enough, the section reserved for fine-tuning the system is cluttered and, without the aid of onscreen menus, a tad confusing. You can delve in to the menu system and re-set individual channel levels, assign names to inputs and set the HDMI control, including ARC.

Beast of bass 

The most impressive aspect of the YHT-S401’s performance is the subwoofer, which exhibits an almost effortless precision. With the roar of aircraft engines at the start of the tree destruction sequence in Avatar the Yamaha provides just the right amount of scale and vibration, such that you’re almost unaware of it. Increase or decrease the volume and you appreciate how wonderfully this complements the main soundtrack. 

Effects from the soundbar, such as whizzing mortar shells, gently falling ash and the Na’vi arrows hitting the gunships, are all delivered with startling accuracy and fidelity, but unlike some of Yamaha’s more expensive sound projectors it’s hard to feel any real sense of surround sound, just plenty of detail that’s highly involving. 

The Yamaha's real weakness, and a bit of a surprise, is that dialogue feels thin and compressed. It’s particularly obvious with Richard Burton’s narration on War of the Worlds (Super Audio CD) and Mad Men. Voices have clarity but lose much of their warmth and resonance. This high-end thinness also affects the 'bar's musical performance, with David Byrne’s vocals sounding even more piercing than ever in Life During Wartime. This is a pity, as the sub does a sterling job with the bass and other instruments blend together well. 

My advice, therefore, is to get a demo before shelling out £350 for this otherwise impressive product.

Yamaha YHT-S401

HCC Verdict: 4/5