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- Inputs and outputs
- Indicators, buttons, and remote
- MusicCast audio streaming and AirPlay 2
- Bottom line
After listening to a wide range of movie scenes and audio tracks, I’d say the Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 delivers the best straight-up sound I’ve heard from a 2.1-channel soundbar, which is great news given its MusicCast support. That said, the BAR 400 lacks Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, and its flat soundstage can’t help but disappoint compared to other $500 soundbars that do support Atmos and/or DTS:X (albeit without the BAR 400’s multi-room capabilities, mind you). And while the BAR 400’s DTS Virtual:X mode can serve up virtualized 3D sound, the harsh-sounded result isn’t (to me, anyway) worth the trouble. Back on the plus side, the BAR 400 positively sings when it comes to music.
Starting with the recent UHD Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, I jumped to my favorite scenes: the Imperial Walker attack on Hoth, followed by the Millenium Falcon frantically trying to outrun three Star Destroyers. I switched back and forth between the standard Movie surround mode (which, when you’re dealing with a stereo audio source, upmixes the sound using Dolby Pro Logic II processing) and DTS Virtual:X. While DTS’s virtualized 3D mode delivered a much wider soundstage with some subtle height cues, it also sounded annoyingly harsh and thin compared to the Movie mode. In the end, I opted for the richer, more natural sounding Movie setting, even if it meant sacrificing the nifty DTS Virtual:X surround effects.
In any event, the MusicCast BAR 400 did a solid, subtle as the Rebel snow speeders buzzed around the thudding Imperial Walkers, with the wireless subwoofer serving up deep but precise bass. Still, I missed hearing the impressive height cues from Empire’s spiffy new Atmos mix (such as as when the massive foot of a Imperial Walker hangs perilously over Luke’s head), while the overall soundstage sounded a tad narrow compared to more current soundbars (particularly those with side-firing drivers). Of course, the side and surround effects got a big boost once I connected the BAR 400 to the two Yamaha-supplied MusicCast 20 speakers (which, for the pair, costs a cool $460 in addition to the soundbar’s $500 price tag).
I also tried the Bass Extension mode (remember that button on the remote?) briefly before switching it back off; to my ears, the BAR 400’s standard bass response was more than adequate. Meanwhile, the Clear Voice mode reliably boosted the sound of dialog without distorting the rest of the audio. Unfortunately, the BAR 400 lacks a night mode, which would have compressed the audio’s dynamic range during late-night viewing sessions, so as not to disturb family members sleeping in other rooms.
Next, I queued up the famous opening titles from the iTunes version of Superman, which (like Empire) has a remastered soundtrack (including an Atmos mix for compatible systems). Again I tried the DTS Virtual:X mode, and again I found it to be far too strident, so I headed back to standard Movie mode. As with my Empire test, I found the BAR 400’s soundstage to be somewhat narrow, but I also thought John Williams’ soaring score and the whooshing titles sounded impressively rich and detailed.
I also cranked the first drag race from the Blu-ray of 2 Fast 2 Furious, and I got a kick out of the punchy bass and the full-range roar of the engines as Brian and company careened around the makeshift course. I took the first lap using Movie mode, mind you; I also took a leg using the DTS Virtual:X mode, but once again, I found its virtualized audio to be far too grating.
To get a sense of how this 2.1-channel soundbar would handle lengthy scenes of dialog, I teed up the Blu-ray of Before Sunset from the Criterion Collection, which has a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Now, listening to Jesse and Celine talk and talk and talk for 80 minutes can be a real chore on a so-so 2.1 soundbar, and to be fair, the above-average BAR 400 handled the endless dialog about as well as could be expected. Nevertheless, I could occasionally detect voices leaking from the “phantom” center channel into the left and right channels, and while the effect wasn’t unbearable, it was still annoying.
While I have mixed feelings about the Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400’s movie performance, it’s all good—very good—when it comes to music. Streaming the title track of Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad from my iPhone via AirPlay 2, The Boss’s spare guitar work and reedy vocals sounded nuanced and finely detailed, and the tight percussion absolutely popped. Cycling between the Stereo, Music, and DTS Virtual:X modes, I wound up sticking with the Stereo setting to keep audio processing to a minimum, although the Music surround mode did manage to boost the soundstage a tad. DTS Virtual:X delivered an even larger soundstage, but it also muddied up the mid-range.
After sampling Bruce, I switched over to Vlado Perlemuter’s performance of Maurice Ravel’s solo piano works for Nimbus Records, and I thoroughly enjoyed the clear, clean timbre of the keystrokes and the acoustics of the concert hall. For a final stop, I fired up the Qobuz integration in the MusicCast app for Ciara’s “Level Up,” and the BAR 400 cranked out one of the best performances of this instant hip-hop classic that I’ve heard from a soundbar: tight, clear as a bell, and infectiously punchy.
You can’t get everything you want in a $500 soundbar, and the Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 is a case in point. The BAR 400 is a relative bargain in terms of a soundbar with high-resolution multi-room audio support, and it delivers solid 2D audio and excellent music performances, but it lacks Dolby Atmos/DTS:X support and a center channel. If that sounds like a fair compromise for the $500 sticker price, the BAR 400 is a good bet. If you want multi-room functionality and native 3D audio support plus a center channel, you’ll have to up your budget by a few hundred dollars.
Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400 (model YAS-408)
While it packs DTS Virtual:X and high-resolution multi-room audio, the BAR 400 lacks Dolby Atmos support and a center channel.
- Delivers some of the best audio quality you’ll hear from a 2.1 soundbar
- AirPlay 2 and MultiCast high-resolution multi-room audio support
- Excellent music performances
- Well-designed remote
- No Dolby Atmos or DTS:X support
- DTS Virtual:X mode sounds harsh
- No eARC support