When it’s good it’s very very good, but the Yamaha SR-X50A is not quite the complete article
- Well-defined and very broad movie sound
- Articulate subwoofer
- Great build and finish
- Not the tallest Dolby Atmos sound around
- Doesn’t enjoy music playback
- Remote and app could feel more premium
If anyone knows about soundbars it’s Yamaha – and the company’s strategy for returning to Dolby Atmos soundbar action seems sound. But while the SR-X50A soundbar/wireless subwoofer combo has plenty to recommend it, both where performance and quality of build and finish are concerned, there are definite chinks in its armour.
The driver specification is eccentric, but the soundstage created is as deep and wide as they come at this sort of money. It’s well-defined, too, and projects voices with real positivity. The tonal balance is good, and the relationship between soundbar and subwoofer is as cosy as can be – the subwoofer itself hits hard but with a great deal of finesse. Detail levels are high, and there’s reasonable dynamism to the sound too.
There’s not much elevation to the performance, though, which curtails the impact of Dolby Atmos soundtracks. And when the switch to music is made, the composure of the tonality goes astray and is replaced by a rather edgy, toothy alternative. There’s a shortage of substance here that’s quite strongly at odds with the confident, quite assertive performance of the subwoofer.
So if you’re looking for an all-round Atmos soundbar system, there are better options out there. But if you’re after big, wide and well-realised movie sound with expert low-frequency foundations, you might just have come to the right place.
Yamaha SR-X50A review: What do you get for the money?
A return to the Dolby Atmos soundbar market has been a fair while coming for Yamaha – but at least the company that invented the whole idea of the soundbar in the first place hasn’t been sitting on its hands all this time.
Its new ‘True X’ range is a modular system, made up of the SR-X40A Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar (£549), the SR-X100A wireless subwoofer (£299) and the WS-X1A battery-powered wireless speakers (£149) that can be used as surround-sound channels in a cinema system or as stand-alone Bluetooth speakers. Buy the soundbar and the subwoofer together (they come in a single L-shaped box) and you’ve purchased this, the SR-X50A – the subwoofer and soundbar are pre-paired for wireless connection, and you’ve saved yourself a few quid at the same time.
The SR-X40A soundbar is pretty unusual, given that it doesn’t feature a dedicated centre channel – ordinarily, the fact that the majority of movie soundtrack dialogue is routed through the centre channel makes them the first item on the specs sheet. But Yamaha’s engineers have decided they can do without, and that the gains outweigh the disadvantages.
So the SR-X40A features a pair of 46 x 66mm full-range racetrack drivers, one firing forward from each end of the soundbar. Just inside them, and angled upwards from the top surface of the soundbar to create some sonic height, are a couple of 52mm full-range cones. Further inside still, and firing directly upwards, are a pair of 75mm bass drivers. Each set of drivers gets 30W of power between them with which to do their thing, for an all-in total of 90W.
This arrangement delivers a frequency response of 55Hz – 22kHz – that’s if you’re using the soundbar by itself. Once you wirelessly introduce the SR-X100A subwoofer, that response shifts to 100Hz – 22kHz, and the subwoofer uses its 160mm driver and 100W of power to reach down to a nice deep 35Hz.
The connection between the subwoofer and the soundbar is wireless, of course, but the subwoofer has a set-up button in case the connection should be broken. The soundbar supports both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and there are some physical connections on the rear of the chassis. A couple of HDMI sockets, one of which is eARC-enabled, constitute a passthrough, and there’s an Ethernet socket in case you’re after complete network stability. A digital optical input is useful if you have an older TV, and there’s also a USB-A slot that is used only for updates.
Each component in the True X range is available in one of three finishes: black, carbon grey or light grey. The SR-X40A soundbar is a nicely judged 1,015 x 112 x 63mm (WDH) – it’s almost exactly the same width as your average 48in TV and will look right at home underneath screens of up to 75in.
The SR-X100A subwoofer is a similarly tidy 187 x 409 x 407mm, has a front-facing reflex port and its driver is side-facing. The driver sits behind a panel of tactile and tough acoustic cloth, and the majority of the soundbar is wrapped in the same material – as is standard Yamaha operating practice, build quality and finish are well up to snuff.
Setting up the system is really no more complicated than plugging each element into the mains and connecting the soundbar to your TV – there’s no calibration required, and when you buy the SR-X50A the soundbar and the subwoofer are already on terms.
As far as control is concerned, there are some physical buttons on the top of the soundbar (and a series of lights across the front to confirm your actions): they cover power on/off, input selection, volume up/down and action – this button is most useful when you’re initially establishing the soundbar’s Wi-Fi connection. There’s a mute button for the integrated mics, too, in case you don’t fancy using the built-in Amazon Alexa voice assistance as a control interface.
Further control options are available using the Yamaha Sound Bar Controller app – it’s free for iOS and Android. It’s good for accessing your Spotify, TIDAL and/or QQ Music accounts, controlling volume, balancing subwoofer output against soundbar output, selecting your sound mode (your choices are Stereo, Standard, Movie or Game), and switching the Bass extension and Clear voice options on or off. And all of these functions are duplicated on the little remote control handset that’s included in the package.
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Yamaha SR-X50A: review: What did we like about it?
It’s quite easy to be impressed by the way the SR-X40A soundbar conjures the impression of a centre channel from two racetrack drivers positioned at the very ends of the soundbar. Listen to the dialogue-heavy Dolby Atmos soundtrack to Glass Onion and voices are distinct, detailed and positioned securely on the relevant part of the soundstage. There’s real positivity to the way the Yamaha presents speech, and plenty of character and emotion revealed at the same time.
The soundstage itself is notably wide, properly organised and nicely controlled. Effects are steered from left to right, and from back to front, with confidence – and the Yamaha does a good job in securing effects into position, so there’s no blurring of the stage even when the effects and/or movement gets hectic.
As well as creating a centre-channel out of thin air, the SR-X40A is also quite adept at producing crisp, clean treble sounds even though it features no tweeters whatsoever. There’s good extension to the top end here, an expertly judged level of attack and just enough bite to keep things interesting.
At the opposite end of the frequency range, the SR-X100A proves more refined than many alternative designs. Bass sounds are deep and impactful but are also detailed and textured – and in a break from the mid-range subwoofer, they’re also properly controlled. The leading edge of bass sounds is very straight indeed – so when the explosion (or similar) occurs, the Yamaha doesn’t slur its way into the occurrence but rather has it begin with startling immediacy.
The crossover between soundbar and subwoofer is smooth to the point of imperceptibility, and the overall top-to-bottom tonality is convincing. The SR-X50A system sounds neutral and unflashy where tonality is concerned, which can only be a good thing – it allows the flavour of the soundtrack to be expressed without the system sticking its oar in too overtly.
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Yamaha SR-X50A: review: What could be improved?
Ergonomically, there’s not much wrong with the Yamaha SR-X50A. But given how nicely finished and even quite tactile the subwoofer and, especially, the soundbar are, it’s odd that the two main control interfaces – the app and the remote control handset – seem relatively down-market and uninspiring. The app isn’t as easily navigable as it might be, and it’s certainly nothing special to look at, while the remote control is built from hard plastic that looks and feels inexpensive. It could do with some backlighting, and its layout is far from intuitive.
As far as performance is concerned, though, there are a couple of areas in which the Yamaha seems deficient.
The first, and probably most problematic, is the height element of Dolby Atmos soundtracks: there just isn’t all that much of it. The soundstage the SR-X50A creates is spacious and it’s got depth and width to burn – but despite the presence of dedicated up-firing drivers, and despite being tested in a room with ceilings that are not especially high, the Yamaha can’t seem to extend its soundstage above the top of the TV it’s accompanying.
And the SR-X50A is no great shakes as a music system, either. When wirelessly streaming via TIDAL, the previously quite substantial tonal balance takes a bit of a hit – and so a file of John Cale’s Hanky Panky Nohow sounds a little thin and sibilant where the midrange modulates into the upper frequencies. The lack of substance makes recordings sound flimsy and somewhat indistinct – and that’s only aggravated by switching to music that’s mastered in Dolby Atmos.
Yamaha SR-X50A: review: Should you buy it?
The Dolby Atmos soundbar with wireless subwoofer gig is a tough one, for no other reason than there is plenty of competition. Where physical presentation is concerned, the Yamaha SR-X50A is ahead of the game – and where performance is concerned, it has a lot going for it, too.
No price-comparable rival creates a wider, better-defined soundstage and no rival strikes a better tonal balance where movies are concerned, either. But listening to music demonstrates that this system is no all-rounder, and it could be more demonstrative where the height aspect of spatial audio is concerned.