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Review: Yamaha SR-B20A soundbar with DTS Virtual: X playback

Review: Yamaha SR-B20A soundbar is a soundbar from the budget segment. And yet you can count on more than with the cheapest models.
4.5/5 - (69 votes)

There is a boom of high-end sound bars, but not everyone has a huge budget to get better TV sound. Yamaha’s new Yamaha SR-B20A soundbar promises to give you a taste of an enveloping 3D sound experience at a low price, courtesy of DTS Virtual: X.

Yamaha SR-B20A soundbar

We often view and listen to Yamaha AV receivers and more expensive soundbars, but in the past the Japanese brand has also shown itself to be a strong holder in the budget segment. The brand new SR-SB20 wants to keep that image up. For 275 euros you get a compact soundbar that looks good and that you can connect to your television via HDMI. Multiple sound modes and DTS: Virtual X promise a reproduction that looks more cinematic and grand than the TV speakers. So it is not a high-end soundbar that can deliver a great Dolby Atmos experience, but it does promise a lot for a modest amount. You connect it to your TV via HDMI or via an optical cable.

What 3.1 soundbar with built-in subwoofer
Inputs 1 x HDMI-ARC, 2 x optical
Outputs 1 x sub-out
Streaming Bluetooth 5.0 (SBC / AAC)
Formats DTS Virtual: X, Dolby Digital, DTS DS
Power 120 watts in total
Dimensions 91 × ​​5.3 × 13.1 cm, 3.2 kg

Compact and sleek design

Yamaha always knows his sound bars to give a beautiful and / or modest design. The SR-SB20 fits perfectly in the list, with a slim shape that looks even slimmer thanks to the brightly rounded corners. It is covered over its entire length by a black speaker fabric, making it very inconspicuous on our TV cabinet in the test room. The SR-B20A is functional but well finished. Yamaha also offers this soundbar in white, an option that you do not often encounter. We visited the black version, but we can imagine that a white SR-B20 mounted against a light wall would look very sleek.

This Yamaha is only 91 cm wide, a lot shorter than the immense one LG DSN11RG which we looked at before. It’s also about five times cheaper than that Korean flagship, but purely in terms of looks and sense of value, we’re experiencing a smaller gap. About that size: with our 65-inch Sony OLED in the test room, the Yamaha is very small. But it also seems to us that this soundbar will be purchased sooner to use with a TV of 40 to 50 inches. Of course, nothing prevents you from combining the device with a smaller or larger television set.

Nice against the wall

The Yamaha also looks good when you hang it up. You then mount the soundbar with the bottom against the wall, so that it hangs flat. Hanging it up is also relatively easy: just insert two screws in the wall and hang it up. Additional braces are not necessary and the device is also so light that you should not be too concerned about heavy anchoring. You really don’t need M8 bolts right now.

If the soundbar is parked on a piece of furniture, you will find a series of LEDs at the top that tell you which input is active, what the volume level is and which sound modes you have chosen. But at a typical viewing distance of three meters or more, it is of little use. By the way, you can switch off these LEDs completely, a good idea if you watch TV in a darkened living room. This is also useful when the SR-B20A is hanging on the wall.

No subwoofer

The small box makes it immediately clear: this is a soundbar without a separate subwoofer. If you still want that, you should consider a more expensive device. Can’t you expect a thunderous low at all in this price segment? Well, yes, because the SR-B20A is part of a new generation of compact sound bars that apply acoustic tricks to get the most out of an internal subwoofer (usually by means of a long bass reflex port). The big advantage is, of course, that your TV experience improves on the sound level, without your TV furniture being marred by a large soundbar and there is a subwoofer elsewhere in the room that you can trip over. The experience is not the same as with a separate subwoofer, which in reality can really dive deeper. Although we must make a comment on that comparison. A soundbar with a cheaper separate wireless subwoofer is not necessarily that much better, simply because that sub may not be very spectacular. Separate subwoofers often remain a weak point in (affordable) sound bars.

With the SR-B20A you also have the option to connect a wired subwoofer. It doesn’t seem like something that many people are going to do, but it can be done. There is no real night mode with this soundbar, but switching on the effective clear voice function and turning the subwoofer down has the same effect.

Bluetooth comes to the rescue

This is a budget speaker without WiFi. That makes setting up on one side very easy: just plug in the power and HDMI cable and you’re done. But forwarding music via AirPlay 2 or Chromecast is not an option. This soundbar is also not compatible with Yamaha’s excellent MusicCast platform that you will find on the more expensive models and that functions over WiFi.

Still, you can stream songs to the SR-B20A, via Bluetooth 5.0. On the positive side, the AAC codec is supported and not only the minimum SBC standard. In concrete terms, this means that you can stream in decent quality from both iOS and Android devices.

Since there is no WiFi baked in, there can be no app control, right? The answer is nevertheless: “Yes”. Like some rivals, Yamaha offers a remote app that works over Bluetooth (SB Remote). You must therefore first pair your smartphone with the soundbar before you can use it. Fortunately, you only have to do that pairing once. The app itself is really a slightly more colorful copy of the physical remote control, with the advantage that you can see at a glance in the app which sound modes or sound setting you have chosen. When using the supplied remote, you have to look at a series of LEDs on the soundbar to find out such things, something that is not really useful in practice.

Yamaha SR-B20A soundbar with DTS Virtual: X

On the remote of the SR-B20A is the button ‘3D Surround’. Actually, you enable DTS Virtual: X, an upmixing codec from DTS that simulates height channels starting from a limited number of speakers. It seems challenging to simulate a few extra speakers on the ceiling with the SR-B20A’s three channels, but when we press the button we still notice a more than subtle difference – and usually in a positive way. First, we’ll take a look at ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ (Amazon Prime, 5.1), a neo-noir adaptation of one of our favorite Jonathan Lethem books and starring Ed Norton and Bruce Willis. The jazz music that returns often (Thom York from Radiohead and RHCP bassist Flea co-wrote) and many dialogues are central here. This film is especially about the latter, the verbal. The main character who plays Norton suffers from Tourette syndrome and from the most strikingly formed sentences. It’s an impressive piece of acting, and thanks to the Yamaha soundbar you get all those language twists.

We regularly switch the 3D Surround function on and off while watching. Ultimately, we decide to leave it switched on, because then the SR-B20A produces a surprisingly large soundstage, also in the vertical plane. You don’t suddenly think that there are speakers hanging from the ceiling, but it is strong what comes out of the soundbar. Effects seem to come much more from the screen itself. When it comes to the spaciousness and a 3D effect, DTS Virtual: X comes across as impressive here. However, the higher tones are a bit more artificial than normal and there is a little more reverberation, which is especially noticeable when you switch back to normal mode. You should therefore not listen too critically; you just have to go along with the enveloping character and let yourself be carried away by the movie you are watching. We suspect this will work best in a smaller living room.

The 3D Surround mode also scores when we watch the long intro scene of ‘Specter’. The manic music and street noise of the Diaz Del Muerte party in Mexico City is immediately conveyed perfectly. When Bond eventually blows up a building – by accident, it must be – the explosion will be smashing and relatively large. It impresses and keeps you in the mood of the movie. But the debris does not fly around you and you do not think that you are really in the explosion, as you experience on a discrete surround setup or a Dolby Atmos soundbar with separate speakers. Again, what you get for your money is very good, but it is obviously not the pinnacle of what is possible. If your basis for comparison is the speakers of your TV, you will probably already find the Yamaha SR-B20A a serious upgrade.

Other, but also good performance on the wall

Displaying the full richness and detail of the Atmos soundtrack at ‘Roma’ (Netflix), we do not expect that at this price point. And are we therefore satisfied that in the opening scene, when the maid clears up throughout the house, you still get an impression of how big the house is. When the children are picked up from school a little later, there is a pleasant depth in the representation of the street scene. The car driving through the screen with its horn sounds very close to us. Not bad.

In terms of music, you only have the option to stream via Bluetooth or via your TV. The latter is possible if you own a television with Airplay or Chromecast built-in, or via a music app such as Spotify or YouTube on the TV itself. We opt for Bluetooth and play test tracks from Spotify. We quickly switch to Stereo mode, because the other modes are a lot less natural. What is especially striking is that you do not hear detailed basses here and that not all low frequencies are really there – but that is also to be expected with a soundbar like this. It depends a bit on the genre whether this ‘lack’ is really disturbing. With a playlist of jazz songs, it was noticeable that not all frequencies are well represented (because, for example, a double bass lost its detail), but with a series of classic rock songs there was less of a problem. You can also play with the bass slider to get a slightly better balance. Vocals sound pretty good, we also notice that in Specter’s opening songs, with the voice of Sam Smith.

We mainly tested the Yamaha with the device on a TV cabinet, but we also mounted it on the wall. As mentioned, this soundbar is well suited to use in this position. To begin with, it looks really nice on a wall, just below a TV screen. What did we notice in terms of sound? The Yamaha SR-B20A soundbar now sounds different. It produces a clearer sound in the wall stand, making dialogs very understandable and you also get a larger soundstage. However, the 3D Surround mode that works well in landscape mode is not recommended for wall mounting. You then get a very hollow, echoing reproduction. We got the best results – when watching ‘Aquaman’ via Netflix – with the Bass Extension switched on and with the Movie mode. And that actually sounded fine.

Yamaha SR-B20A soundbar – Conclusion

The Yamaha SR-B20A soundbar is a soundbar from the budget segment. And yet you can count on more than with the cheapest models. The 3D Surround mode does its job well, provided the soundbar is placed on a piece of furniture. If it hangs up, Movie mode is a better option. While not quite an enveloping movie experience, the SR-B20A goes beyond a stereo soundbar. We especially note that it displays dialogues clearly and provides a more open display, which makes it a good asset for those who think their current TV speakers sound too thin.

It really is a soundbar designed to make your movies or TV series via Netflix or another streaming service more immersive. The emphasis is on a powerful reproduction of sound effects, but also on better dialogue reproduction. In short, for its price (around US$200) the SR-B20A performs well. Music may be a little less his thing, but if you think it’s important you may have to spend more.

Positives of Yamaha SR-B20A soundbar

  • Value for money
  • 3D Surround mode works well
  • HDMI-ARC and Bluetooth 5.0 (AAC)
  • Gives a surprising solid bass boost to movie effects
  • Good sense of detail

Negatives of Yamaha SR-B20A soundbar

  • Not hugely musical
  • No WiFi
  • Less interesting for large living rooms

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