Home cinema soundbars are taking off big time thanks to the growing number of people getting fed up with their feeble flat-panel TV speakers but can't commit to a full home cinema system. There are aesthetic benefits too, as they can be discreetly integrated into a TV stand or placed on a wall-mounted shelf without eating up a great deal of space.
Perhaps the most active manufacturer in this growing market sector is Yamaha, which was one of the first companies to launch such a product and now boasts six models in its range. I remember visiting Yamaha's Hamamatsu headquarters back in 2004 and hearing a demo of its first soundbar - the results were good if not earth-shattering, but the technology has moved on a great deal since then and recent products from Yamaha and rivals Denon, Marantz and Philips have ably demonstrated the possibilities of the technology. We're hoping this new model from Yamaha can take wireless surround sound to new heights.
Like other soundbars, the YSP-500 fires out precisely controlled sound beams that reflect off the walls into the areas where speakers would normally be - all without a wire in sight. It features a built-in digital amplifier that powers 16 beam drivers at 2W each, with the two subwoofers given 15W each, amounting to a total power output of 62W. You don't need any other equipment - all of the decoding and amplification is performed inside this one box.
And what a good looking box it is too, boasting a smart silver finish that makes a refreshing change given today's black-is-best mentality. The front sports a minimal selection of buttons, including volume control, and a slim display that offers information about the current input and sound mode. The unit's construction is first rate, making it feel satisfyingly solid, robust and reassuringly heavy.
The back panel offers a decent array of connections for external components, which includes two pairs of analogue phonos, three digital audio inputs (two optical and one coaxial), a subwoofer output and a composite video output for viewing the unit's on-screen setup display.