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Review: Yamaha MusicCast Bar 40 – affordable and expandable

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The MusicCast Bar 400 is a minimalist soundbar with a reasonable price tag and excellent virtual 3D performance. It is a mid-range with many extras, thanks to the MusicCast platform with many streaming options and the possibility to expand the Bar 400 with wireless rear speakers.

Yamaha is known for many things, ranging from motorcycles to self-playing piano. The Japanese also know how to build a good soundbar, something that they have demonstrated several times with the impressive YSP models (such as the YSP-5600). The MusicCast Bar 400 is a brand new soundbar, a slim soundbar with a separate subwoofer that has a lot of streaming options. DTS Virtual: X is also present, a technology that delivers 3D sound in height without needing special height speakers. If you want a more enveloping surrounder experience, you can expand this Yamaha soundbar with two MusicCast speakers that you place behind you in the living room. In this test we do exactly that, so that we can test the MusicCast Bar 400 solo and in a 5.1 setup with two extra MusicCast 20 speakers. That combination is up to date, because Yamaha regularly performs a promotion where you get an extra speaker gift with the purchase of the soundbar and a MusicCast 20. That makes the step to a real surround setup much more feasible.

Compact

The MusicCast Bar 400 is not a big soundbar. The dimensions of 98 x 6 x 11 cm are modest, making this jet-black soundbar relatively subtle on a TV unit. As purebred Japanese, the Yamaha designers have opted for a modest, solidly finished minimalist design. I'm sure it's not going to win design prizes, but it certainly doesn't look cheap. The sleek design is helped by the smart placement of all ports. The connections are bundled in two niches at the rear of the soundbar. Anyone who is a bit handy can cleverly do cable management and discreetly hide all cables to the soundbar.

The accompanying subwoofer with 6½-inch woofer is relatively compact, making it easy to hide in the room. The extra long power cable helps with installation. That may seem like a detail, but many manufacturers keep it on a short cord which makes it difficult to place a sub – especially if you have few power outlets in the house. You can easily hang the Bar 400 on the wall. The necessary recesses are present on the narrow back. It is a light thing of 2.7 kg, an ultra-heavy anchor does not seem necessary (but of course it never hurts).

The Bar 400 processes signals in Dolby and DTS formats. You do not have to set the audio out point of your TV on PCM, the Yamaha will easily swallow the Dolby Digital 5.1 stream that you get via the Netflix or Amazon Video apps on your television itself. We would recommend that you connect your TV to the soundbar via an HDMI cable. Finally, there is an optical digital input and an analog jack input if a device such as a console or CD player wants to connect. The only thing we miss? Nothing really, although a USB port would always have been nice for those times that a visitor wants to make some music heard. This has to be done via Bluetooth.

Smart finds

Equipped with those small, handy extras that are still quite practical during real-life use, Yamaha is really strong at that. For example, most soundbars have a function to raise the voices above the other audio, but ClearVoice is one of the most natural. Completely unique is that the Bar 400 (just like most other MusicCast products) contains a Bluetooth transmitter in addition to a Bluetooth receiver. Through the app you can therefore quickly link the soundbar with a Bluetooth headset and send all the sound from the TV there. That's pretty practical if you want to watch a series episode late at night without waking the rest of the family. We have tested this with a Focal Listen Wireless; you make a connection in a few seconds and the quality is very acceptable.

In the app you can quickly activate the most important functions via an icon next to the volume control. Here you can make the subwoofer louder or quieter, and choose an appropriate sound mode. The latter is also recommended. The Music mode is really much more suitable for listening to streaming music than the other modes. Unless you really like to listen to your songs “pure”, without 3D rendering; then you better opt for the Stereo mode.

You can safely call the MusicCast app user-friendly. If you only buy the Bar 400, the app will immediately take you to all possible streaming options of the soundbar. (If you have other MusicCast devices, you will first see an overview of the rooms / devices). In the same screen you also see the available physical inputs, such as the extra HDMI port or the optical input. The app therefore completely replaces the small remote supplied.

The list of supported streaming services is not huge, but it does contain the most important ones: Spotify (via the Spotify app), Qobuz, Deezer and Tidal. Internet radio is also there, and you can of course also play your own music files. They can be on your mobile device or on a shared folder on a NAS or PC. The support for music formats is very good: in addition to the popular lossy formats, such as MP3, the Bar 400 also plays hi-res PCM files (most up to 192 kHz / 24-bit, with the exception of ALAC, which is limited to 96 kHz / 24-bit). Very recently, the Bar 400 received an update to make it compatible with AirPlay 2. This allows you to easily stream music from an iPhone or iPad, and even link the Bar 400 with another AirPlay 2 product. However, the update arrived just too late for our test, so we did not try this feature. Experience shows, however, that AirPlay 2 rarely presents a problem.

With wireless speakers

A plus with the Bar 400 is the MusicCast Surround option. You then wirelessly connect two equal MusicCast speakers (the 20 or 50) with the soundbar. You place the pair next to or behind the sofa in the living room. It is also possible with a single MusicCast 20 or 50, but that seems less optimal to us than two speakers. MusicCast Surround is different from linking multiple MusicCast speakers in one group. You can, and do it from the main screen of the app, via the “link” option. You can then send the sound from the soundbar (for example from your TV) to MusicCast speakers or devices in other rooms. This is useful if you want to follow the comments of a football match while you take something in the kitchen. With MusicCast Surround, the film sound is distributed over the soundbar and the two speakers in the same room. Sounds in the film soundtrack at the front in the surround field (such as dialogues) come from the Bar 400, sounds at the back of the soundtrack (such as gunshots in the distance) come from behind you. Moving sound effects also become more dynamic in nature through the use of the additional speakers. You hear the movement much more than with the soundbar alone.

Yamaha offers surprisingly extensive settings to fine-tune a MusicCast Surround setup. If you dive into the settings, you can adjust the distance from each speaker to your seat and the volume level per speaker. Not everyone will want to experiment with this, but it may be worthwhile doing it so that you get a better surround feeling. After all, every room is different and the standard setting may not suit your living room. To make the setting easier, you can also play a test tone.

From Mexico to King Kong

To discover how well surround equipment handles fine details placed in a spacious surround field. we present to the Netflix topper 'Roma'. The Oscar-winning film by Alfonso Cuarón is very thoughtful in terms of sound production, much more thoughtful than you would expect if you look at it and listen to it quickly. For the best audio result we watch from an Xbox One X connected to the HDMI input of the soundbar, then we are sure that we will receive a good surround signal. Basically that is Dolby Atmos, but the Yamaha may only process the Dolby TrueHD part. From the very beginning, the Bar 400 shows itself quite well in placing the many sound effects in the room. The huge soundscape of Mexico City as you experience it with discreet surround speakers or an Atmos soundbar is not there, but the spatial appearance is good for a soundbar of this price. The street vendors calling in the street, the birds in their cages whistling in the background, the street noise … you have the impression that they are far beyond the TV screen. The 3D Surround function, which can be switched on via the app, does its job very well.

With the two MusicCast 20s added, “Roma” becomes even more atmospheric. Now we really get a surround field in which we sit in the middle. Proper positioning and adjustment of the two speakers is the key to the best experience.

It is clear: even with films with a less pronounced surround soundtrack, the two extra MusicCast 20 speakers are useful. 'Apollo 13', via Netflix in Dolby Digital 5.1, consists mainly of dialogue, but when, for example, the NASA rocket does its liftoff, the Bar 400 with its subwoofer fills the room well with the roaring rocket engines – and the spacecraft moves near its launch from the screen to the left in the back of the room.

The Bar 400 with the two extras of speakers comes naturally to its right with an action film full of spectacle. That is a striking description for “Kong: Skull Island” from 2017 (Dolby Digital 5.1). It is not only a visual feast (the film won an Oscar for best special effects), but the soundtrack can also be there. Early in the story, the expedition arrives on the island of Kong with a whole host of army helicopters, a magical moment on the tones of Black Sabbath that the Yamaha soundbar puts on compellingly. The short one anyway because of the storm clouds, the animals that run away from the helis and the bombs that are scattered by the team … it pops through space – to the point that Kong throws a palm tree through the cockpit and briefly in slow-motion the SFX move to the left in the room (they move with the gaze of a character). It is a trick that often occurs in the film, for example during the first confrontation with the giant monkey. The rear speakers then take over the role of the front speakers in the soundbar, which creates a distant atmosphere. That is of course the intention to give you a kind of I-experience-it-yourself feeling. You don't get the same with the Bar 400 solo, but that would also be the case with other middle-class soundbars.

Conclusion

The compact size of the MusicCast Bar 400 makes it ideal for people with a smaller TV unit. Or for people who don't like huge audio devices in the living room. The Yamaha soundbar is well equipped for its price. The additional HDMI input and especially the possibility to expand with wireless speakers are not common to many rivals.

The greatest asset of Yamaha remains the excellent MusicCast platform with its user-friendly app. It is easy to use and allows you to easily stream music from a number of services. Don't find your taste in terms of music source? Then there is AirPlay 2.

By combining the Bar 400 with two MusicCast 20 speakers you get a sound experience that is immersive. It is therefore an upgrade that we recommend. You don't have to do that right away, you can always expand with the extra speakers.

Cons

  • Subwoofer tends to be woolly
  • No USB port

Plus points

  • Compact and well built
  • MusicCast platform
  • Expandable with wireless speakers
  • Can be used with Bluetooth headphones
  • Larger surround field than you would expect

Homecinema Magazine
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8.0 10 Jamie Biesemans View

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Source: kieskeurig.nl

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