Although the Yamaha NS-P20’s sound quality knocks your average TV speakers into a cocked hat, it simply doesn’t cut the mustard when compared with some of the budget systems we’ve tested of late. It’s no disaster, but is unable to hide the limitations of its peanuts price tag.
We gave it a baptism of fire with our favourite test scene from Hellboy II in DTS HD Master Audio (the Elemental tearing up the city), and were left underwhelmed. It struggles to convey the required sense of scale, making this chaotic scene sound thin and contained. Effects could also do with a bit more snap to drive up the adrenalin levels further.
It’s also lacking midrange clarity – the sound is either treble-heavy or overly bassy, there seems to be a void in between. Speech sounds clear though, so at least you won’t miss any important dialogue.
The subwoofer also does a decent job, backing up the satellites with punchy bass, although you need to be careful with the volume – set it too high and the cone flaps wildly, and the distortion has a detrimental effect on its depth and coherence. But when adjusted correctly it’s actually an effective performer.
Another positive is that the sound is crisp and zesty, delivering high-frequencies with a clear tone. Subtle details poke through this chaotic scene, like breaking glass, crumbling debris and shattering metal. The soundstage is spacious and the energy level is pleasing.
We also tried out the system with some TV material, boosted to pseudo 5.1 with Dolby Pro Logic II, and it actually suits the system much better. World Cup Rugby on ITV1 sounds exciting and immersive, particularly the crisply rendered crowd noises, while Torchwood’s mixture of action and dialogue sounds perfectly clear. Music playback lacks balance and finesse but is enjoyable enough.
If you’re on a tight budget then Yamaha’s NS-P20’s ultra-low price tag might prove too tempting to resist. The satellites’ curvy gloss-black design makes them a snazzy addition to any room, and the inclusion of a powered subwoofer is a bonus.
Sound quality is OK – unfussy listeners will appreciate the crispness and depth of the sound, particularly if you’ve just upgraded from TV speakers – but there are definite shortcomings, such as the contained soundstage, a lack of midrange clarity and an inability to convey blockbuster soundtracks on a big enough scale.
But picking faults in a £125 speaker system is like shooting fish in a barrel – the inevitable compromises made in reaching that alluring price tag mean it’s never going to match pricier compact systems on build quality or sound. And if that’s not a problem, then the NS-P20 might make a decent purchase.