ZVOX, Soundmatters, M&K, Polk, and Yamaha One Box Surround Sound

Simplifying Surround Sound

Polk Audio SurroundBAR: $950

Technology:

Polk Audio’s SurroundBAR is a passive, five-channel speaker intended for use with an outboard powered subwoofer. The SurroundBAR achieves surround effects via a special version of Polk’s proprietary SDA (stereo dimensional array) technology. SDA broadens the main soundstage by minimizing “interaural crosstalk,” and creates surround effects by applying “head related transfer function” filters that create the illusion that surround information originates from behind the listener.

The SurroundBAR provides three sets of tweeters and mid-bass drivers for the front (L/C/R) channels, two mid-bass drivers to handle L/R surround channels, and two SDA/surround drivers that provide SDA compensation/correction signals.

How it Sounds:

If you want a singleenclosure, multichannel speaker system that creates spacious soundstages and strong surround effects, Polk Audio’s SurroundBAR is for you. One guest listener pointed toward the empty spaces to the sides of the SurroundBAR and said, “It sounds like you’ve got two front speakers placed right there.” We agree; surround soundstage presentation is the SurroundBAR’s strong suit.

Surround channel effects are heard as if they originate from the sides of the listener or, at times, from slightly behind the listener. A good example would be the famous “Under Attack” scene from Master and Commander, where the SurroundBAR reproduced the menacing whirr of cannon balls passing overheard from the front to the rear of the stage. Sometimes, however, the SurroundBAR exaggerated vigorous surround effects, making them sound somewhat garish and overwrought.

The SurroundBAR requires a good subwoofer, though it crosses to its sub at a much lower frequency (80–100Hz) than the M&K speaker does. We used Polk’s excellent and affordable PSW12 ($400) subwoofer, which matched beautifully with the SurroundBAR.

On music, the SurroundBAR’s presentation is clear and energetic, but characterized by a trace of upper midrange/lower treble forwardness that can be mitigated, though not eliminated, by extended break-in.

Some will find this mid/treble prominence makes vocal recordings sound overly bright, while others will find the SurroundBAR’s voicing bespeaks clarity and excitement. Either way, the speaker proved especially effective on material rich in transient details, such as the percussion passages from “Movement IV” of Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra [Telarc, SACD].

The SurroundBAR should be a good choice for irregularly shaped rooms, because it is not overly dependent on room acoustics for surround effect. The SurroundBAR filled the TPV Audio Lab with an expansive soundstage, while its voicing proved effective for music playback, and even better for films.

Yamaha YSP-1100 Digital Sound Projector: $1699

Technology:

The self-powered Yamaha YSP-1100 is a DSP-controlled, 42-driver (40 “beam drivers” plus two woofers) speaker array that produces digitally synthesized “beams” of sound that can be angled to create wall reflections, which simulate the output of conventional five-channel surround speaker systems. For optimal results, the YSP-1100 should be used with a powered subwoofer. The YSP-1100 provides a full suite of Dolby and DTS decoders, plus proprietary “Cinema DSP” processing modes. The unit also provides analog and digital audio inputs, composite and component video switching, and five “beam modes.”

Conclusion

The Yamaha YSP-1100 comes close to sounding like a real 5.1-channel surround speaker system and also serves as a full-featured A/V amplifier. But the pièce de résistance may be the YSP-1100’s effective and easy to use IntelliBeam automated setup/ room EQ system. Just mount the included calibration microphone atop Yamaha’s do-it-yourself cardboard mic stand, initiate the setup procedure, and leave the room. About three minutes later, the system will be good to go. From the outset, the YSP-1100 produced a broad surround sound field whose presentation sounded much like that of a conventional 5.1-channel system. The only significant difference was that the virtual L/R main channels seemed to be spread farther apart than might ordinarily be the case. Virtual surround channel information originated from above and behind the listener, with image localization that was stable and precise. Remember, though, that the YSP-1100 should be placed between reflective sidewalls to function at its best; otherwise, all bets are off. The YSP-1000 kept its composure on complicated cinematic action sequences, such as the “Echo Game” scene from House of Flying Daggers, and it also did a fine job on music. In particular, the YSP-1100’s natural, “organic” voicing helped bring sweet-sounding vocal recordings, such as Rebecca Pidgeon’s The Raven [Chesky], alive. While the YSP-1100 relies heavily on digital signal processing, it rarely exhibits the sterile, “synthetic” sound that afflicts some DSP-driven products. In fact, the only potential DSP artifact we observed was slightly truncated resolution of lowlevel details—something many listeners would never notice. Purists, however, might find the M&K or Polk solutions offer slightly greater transparency. During our tests we paired Von Schweikert Audio’s VR-S/1 sub ($1695) with the YSP- 1100—a combination that sounded great. For listeners who cannot, or do not want to, install multi-speaker systems, the self-powered YSP-1100 comes closer than anything we’ve heard to producing surround sound from a single enclosure, and it’s a model of convenience. TPV

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