We've seen many designs for virtual speaker systems, and most televisions come with technology that claims to be able to produce surround sound virtually using built-in speakers. We've yet to find one that actually manages this convincingly, but most people don't want the hassle of several speakers and the necessary wire, so we continue to look for a good one-box solution.
Yamaha is the latest company to search for the Holy Grail, with its YSP-1100 box. Designed for 42-inch TVs, the YSP-1100 is available online for around £800, but as low as £700 if you shop around. A 32-inch version, the YSP-900, costs around £500.
When the Yamaha YSP-1100 arrived, we were struck by its large size at a touch over 1m long. It's designed for 42-inch televisions -- for 32-inchers, buy the smaller (and cheaper) YSP-900. It's not ugly, although it is a little daunting, and we're pretty sure it won't appeal to every taste.
The YSP-1100 is essentially 42 speakers crammed into one unit. There are 40 small drivers that are used to push sound out in various directions -- this is what creates the surround sound effect from a single location. There are also two bass drivers, which help to deliver a nice, rich-sounding bass. The YSP-1100 uses its multiple speakers to create a number of 'beams'. These beams effectively replace the speakers in a 5.1 surround sound system.
A front grille covers all of the speakers, so you'll never get to see them. This grille covers the entire width of the unit, but beneath it there are a few basic controls for turning the unit on, selecting an input, and adjusting the volume. There is also a simple display, which keeps you informed about what mode you have the unit set to, and allows you to setup the system and increase the power to each sound beam.
Because every room is a different size and shape, the YSP-1100 will need to be setup to produce the best sound. There are two ways to do this. The first is to manually adjust the way the speakers project the sound. This is pretty complex, and will require the patience of a saint to do properly.
Thankfully, Yamaha also offers an automated method for installation. The unit comes with a microphone that you plug into a jack on the side of the unit. Then you hit the auto-setup and the speaker will play a series of test sounds. The sound is then received by the microphone, sent back to the system and it adjusts the sound projection to take advantage of your room.
Once you've got the system set up, you should be good to go. There are a number of modes on the YSP-1100 that allow you to customise the sound. For listening to movies you'll probably want to use the '5 Beam' mode, which produces five sound beams that bounce off the walls and produce the pseudo-surround sound effect. There are other modes for stereo sound and music.
There's also an incredibly cool feature called 'my beam' which is used for listening to TV late at night, when you don't want to disturb anyone. When you press and hold the 'my beam' button, there is a pause, followed by a noise. This noise is picked up by the remote control, which then tells the speaker system where you're sitting. The sound is then focused to that location. This process -- which also cuts the bass to virtually nothing -- means that you shouldn't disturb anyone. It's really very clever, and works surprisingly well.