Good entry-level sound
Lacks truly impressive power
Undifferentiated sound modes
The key thing to know about soundbars right now is that there are a lot of good options in the sub-$200 range—great news for consumers, not always great news for entry level soundbars hoping to stand out. Fortunately for the YAS-109, it manages to step out of the crowd a bit where value is concerned: not only does it sound pretty good at this price, it delivers a lot of features—like built-in Amazon Alexa integration, WiFi, and Spotify Connect—that you won't always find in budget bars.
If you're primarily looking for huge, space-filling sound, you may not find it easily in this price bracket—though this 2020 Vizio bar comes closer than the YAS-109 thanks to an external subwoofer. But the YAS-109 still sounds much better than stock TV speakers, and its built-in "subwoofers" provide good bass presence overall. Pound for pound, the YAS-109 remains one of the better options in this price range, especially if you don't have room for a sub.
About the Yamaha YAS-109
The Yamaha YAS-109 is a compact, 2.1-channel soundbar with built-in woofers designed as a plug-and-play solution for your living room. It's a flat, handsomely grilled little bar that's nevertheless pretty powerful and intuitive. Here are the core specs:
- Price: $219.95 MSRP
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 35" x 2 1/8" x 5 1/8"
- Weight: 7.5 lbs.
- Speakers/drivers: two (L/R) front 2 1/8" cones, two 1" tweeters, two 3" woofer cones
- Amplification: 120 W (total)
- Wireless connections: Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi (2.4 Ghz), Spotify Connect
- Wired connections: 2 x HDMI (one HDMI ARC input/output, one 4K/HDR input), digital optical, subwoofer out, ethernet (LAN) in
- Sound formats: Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS Digital Surround
- Surround mode: DTS Virtual X
In the box, you'll find the soundbar itself; the same flat, button-peppered remote that's standard with other Yamaha bars in this price range; an AC (power) cable and an optical cable. There's no HDMI cable included, unfortunately—but we strongly recommend connecting via HDMI (ARC) rather than optical whenever possible, so maybe you can supply your own.
What We Like
Reliable and flexible sound quality
Consumer expectations in this price range can be hard to pin down. The bottom of the barrel expectation for a soundbar is that it'll sound better than your TV's stock speakers—by some definitions, that is its only job. However, these days we tend to expect more than bottom-of-the-barrel sound. To that end, the YAS-109 doesn't disappoint.
The YAS-109 delivers an all-in-one 2.1-channel speaker configuration with two midrange drivers, two tweeters, and woofers from within its compact chassis. This range of driver types makes for a clean, balanced soundscape while you're watching movies or TV or playing video games. As usual, you simply can't achieve the same robustness of bass presence from an all-in-one bar like this that you do from bars that include a separate subwoofer (Vizio's 2020 2.1 soundbar comes to mind), but considering what it's working with, the YAS-109 does a rock-solid job.
Much like the newer SR-B20A, the YAS-109 sounds best while playing cinematic content, but still does justice to various other forms of media. One of my favorite experiences with it was watching Blade Runner: The Final Cut via the Movies & TV app on an Xbox game console. Explosions and electrical sounds were sharp and riveting, while Vangelis' synth-heavy score seemed to fill our living room from wall to wall.
Dialogue was a bit muffled, unfortunately, and I found myself constantly adjusting the volume to balance between the dramatically hushed speech and louder ambient elements of the film. Even the YAS-109's Clear Voice setting didn't really fix things completely, though I could tell the difference.
That's not to say Yamaha hasn't equipped the YAS-109 with the necessary features to help assuage audio issues across a variety of situations. You're getting a decent array of sound modes baked in—Movie, TV, Music, Sports, Game, and Stereo modes, to be specific—each of which does its best to emphasize the proper frequencies within those use cases. That said, I tried a few of them during Blade Runner in an attempt to balance out the background and speech better, but nothing really helped. Chalk it up to compression 40 years later, but it also highlighted the inherent limitations of a single-bar system. While using the comparably priced Vizio V21-H8, I found the flexibility of a separate subwoofer made it easier to adjust for these kinds of issues.
The YAS-109 is still leagues beyond your TV speakers in terms of sound quality and flexibility, but in some cases even a finely crafted soundbar isn't going to remedy every issue. I also used it for a good few hours while playing video games, and found the virtual surround sound to be a useful feature as well. The latest gamer craze Cyberpunk 2077 finds you situated in a sprawling city surrounded by cars, random advertisements, and a wide array of very particular sound effects, such as the sheathing of a katana or an AI voice in your head. While the emulated surround effect wasn't as engrossing as my gaming headphones, it did place sounds in a more object-oriented kind of space than the stock playback mode.
All in all, for a product that you can easily find for under $200, the Yamaha YAS-109 punches above its weight class in terms of aural fidelity and EQ flexibility.
A team player in terms of design
From a design philosophy standpoint, the YAS-109 feels like it was crafted to disappear into the background of your entertainment center or living room, and it does so admirably. Our TV is a 50-inch 2019 Vizio M-Series Quantum, and the YAS-109 fits perfectly right between its caltrop feet, sitting shallow enough to not obscure even the bottom bezel of the screen. Its cloth-covered speaker array affixes the chassis in a mix of black plastic and charcoal cloth, giving it a stealthy suit, especially if your TV stand is of a darker hue.
Likewise, the tiny remote seems content to be something you use occasionally. All the buttons you'd need—input selection, volume for the mids/tweeters and subwoofer, sound mode selection, and an Amazon Alexa button—are right here, making it easy to never once touch the on-set controls. Like other Yamaha bars, control feedback is just okay: it's not super easy to tell at a glance how loud the speakers or woofers are set, and adjusting volume with the TV remote is also a bit of a wash: I feel like I have to push volume up or down on my TV remote about ten times before I start to notice an appreciable difference in decibels.
The LED array for feedback is dim enough to use in a shadowy, cinema-like setting, which is a plus (unless your room is very bright). There's nothing super premium-feeling about using or observing this soundbar, as you'd expect, but it slides out of the way and lets its sound quality do the talking, which is all you really need in this price range.
So long, and thanks for all the features
In a weird twist of fate, we (Reviewed) ended up checking out the newer and slightly more affordable Yamaha SR-B20A before the older YAS-109, and the juxtaposition is revealing.
No one's asked me, but if they did, I'd tell them that I truly don't care about things like built-in streaming apps or voice assistants in my soundbars: give me something like the Klipsch Cinema 400 and I'm a happy listener. However, it's hard not to scratch my head a bit at why so many features were removed this year for the similarly priced SR-B20A when the YAS-109 comes standard with them.
I didn't find myself regularly using the YAS-109's Alexa functionality nor WiFi/Spotify Connect capabilities, but it certainly doesn't clutter or compromise the bar, and it's a good thing that you've got those features if you're so inclined. Ultimately, I'm not sure what rationale there is for buying the newer Yamaha SR-B20 over the older YAS-109: the latter has all the same sound fixtures and modes as the newer one, as well as the extra features detailed here. They're features that are well-implemented, and never once did my patient, pliant YAS-109 make any demands to be put online or used alongside Alexa—as stated, it's content to play a supporting actor role beneath your TV. The inclusion of a spare HDMI input is also very much appreciated in a bar at this price point.
All that to say, it's a bonus to have these features, even those I don't use often, since they simply don't get in your way (unlike my Vizio TV, which sometimes won't let me watch things at all if it isn't online). They're there if you want them, but otherwise most are confined to tiny buttons on the remote.
What We Don't Like
Ultimately, kind of forgettable
I've already praised the YAS-109 for its understated design elements and easy-to-use presentation, but it's kind of like that kid in acting class who is content to be a really convincing tree: sometimes, you want the YAS-109 to really get out center stage and belt a solo, and it simply can't.
This is true of many soundbars in this price range, but without the inclusion of an external sub, the YAS-109 simply doesn't have a ton of power and punch. Its sound is like cursive writing when compared to your TV speakers' jagged crayon, but for all its balanced presentation, it lacks any jaw-dropping power. You're not going to have the "THX sound demo in a movie theater" experience here.
Basically, once this little ninja of a soundbar is hiding under your TV, providing decent sound for content of all stripes, you may completely forget it's even there. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially for what you're paying, but it'd be nice if there was some way to eke just a little more intensity out of the YAS-109 when content called for it.
But wait—there potentially is. The one caveat to this complaint is the YAS-109's subwoofer out port, which means you could potentially integrate a wired sub into your setup to give the YAS-109 the raw power it lacks on its own. Of course, unless you already own a favorite wired sub, you'd likely be better off just spending a little more money on Yamah's YAS-209, which offers all the same features plus a wireless subwoofer.
Modes could be better differentiated
Yamaha likely knows that folks buying the YAS-109 may be buying their first-ever soundbar. So setup is super easy, and if anything, the YAS-109 seems afraid to potentially make something sound bad. For example, you can use any sound mode with a movie—the Movie one, sure, or TV, or Music, or Sports—and they all gently shift some aspect of the EQ, but not enough to make your movie unlistenable. And that's a strong move for uninitiated consumers; no one's going to blow their speakers out by switching to the wrong mode.
But what if the modes were tuned just a little more specifically? Maybe watching a movie on Game mode should sound awful. Would that mean Game mode was even better when it came to video games? Maybe, maybe. It's a tall order to levy a complaint about such a complex element of engineering and marketing, but at the end of the day, the YAS-109 (and many soundbars) could be more valuable by taking the arrogant liberties that TV engineers take—have you seen how oversharp and blue-tint of most Vivid modes on TVs are?
Should You Buy It?
Yes—if you want reliable sound that's easy to grasp
Like the newer entry-level Yamahas, the YAS-109, hailing from 2019, is still poised to be a great choice for uninitiated consumers who are sick of their TV's incoherent dialogue, or having Michael Bay movies lose their full explosive luster. It's super easy to plug in and use, and offers enough modes and features to play around with to justify its price tag. You will be pleased by the improvement in sound quality compared to your TV, especially when you realize it's a job being handled by such an understated and compact product.
Unless you're already deep in the throes of audio passion, that is. You don't need to be an audiophile to have an appreciation for EQ and the emotional impact of sound that's as balanced and nuanced as your 4K/HDR TV seems to be. And if you're somewhere in that crowd, you won't have any complaints about the YAS-109, but after a couple of months you may start to forget it's even there, wishing it stood out more and was capable of powerfully complementing various kinds of content.
If that's the case, there are other options to consider. If really impressive and flexible sound is what you want, take a look at the Klipsch Cinema 400, which will cost you another $100 but is head, if not head-and-shoulders, above the YAS-109 in terms of pure power. If you're capping your soundbar budget at $200 and want as much power as your money can buy, I have to point you towards Vizio's latest 2.1-channel option, which is currently our favorite soundbar under $200.
Finally, if you want all the YAS-109's great features and the better sound provided by a wireless sub-woofer, the step-up bar—the Yamaha YAS-209—is only around $100 more, and is our current top bar where value is concerned.
Meet the tester
Editor, Home Theater@Koanshark
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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