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Review: Yamaha True X Bar 50A

This Dolby Atmos soundbar offers an awesome balance between sound quality and price.
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Yamaha True X Bar 50A soundbar
Photograph: Yamaha
Yamaha True X Bar 50A
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Clear and detailed upper register. Rich and full midrange. Included subwoofer for powerful bass. Effective Dolby Atmos overhead effects. Wi-Fi streaming and built-in Alexa smarts. Simple and stable controller app. Available fully wireless surround speakers.
Limited surround sound immersion. Treble occasionally sounds thin. Wireless surround speakers are high maintenance. No Chromecast or DTS support. No EQ.

Yamaha’s YAS-209 is something of a soundbar unicorn. It’s hard to find a soundbar with solid performance that offers so much bounty at its $350 price point, from Wi-Fi and Alexa support to an included subwoofer and a spare HDMI input. Even four years on, it’s considered by most to be one of the best soundbars in its class.

Yamaha has had a tough time replicating that success over the past few years. Meanwhile, brands like Sonos, Bose, Sony, and Samsung have dominated the market with network-ready Dolby Atmos soundbars in a variety of sizes and prices. Considering Yamaha created one of the first Dolby Atmos bars on the market, the brand has been surprisingly quiet on that front.

The new True X Bar 50A feels like a fresh start. It’s a sort of spiritual successor to the YAS-209 that tows punchy and clear sound performance alongside solid features and upfiring Dolby Atmos speakers at a price that falls well below many competitors. While not without some drawbacks, it’s an enticing system that will significantly energize your TV room for $700 or less.

Simple Simon

Pulling the Bar 50A from its L-shaped box evokes YAS-209 flashbacks, from its rounded corners to its acoustic-wrapped frame. The design is much more about utility than style, with a basic LED display up front and a smattering of premium touches like the sparkling silver power key. The subwoofer looks suitably brawny with its front bass port, standing 16 inches tall and harboring a 6.3-inch side-firing driver on its right flank.

Setting up the system is fairly easy thanks to its HDMI eARC/ARC connection, which lets your TV remote take the wheel for power and volume after connecting to your TV’s corresponding port. One annoyance there: The bar does not come with an HDMI cable. You’ll want to make sure and get an ultra-high-speed cable or you could run into bandwidth issues. Accessories include a small mounting kit, an optical cable, and a loaded remote that reads like a compact version of what you’ll find accompanying an A/V receiver.

Photograph: Yamaha

A spare HDMI input makes up for the loss of one of your TV’s inputs. There’s also an optical port for older TVs or legacy components (this will not pass a Dolby Atmos signal), and Ethernet connection, but no analog input.

Wi-Fi setup is a snap with the Yamaha Sound Bar app. I had the system connected to my local network in a matter of minutes, and you can also set up Alexa smarts for access to basic voice controls and the usual smart home fare. Streaming options include Apple AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth 5.0, but Google’s Chromecast is conspicuously absent for Android users.

The app is relatively easy to navigate, from streaming directly via Spotify and Tidal Connect to controlling the subwoofer and the optional rear surround speakers. You can cycle through the system’s inputs and sound modes, and engage parameters like Bass Extension and Clear Voice, but unlike a lot of Dolby Atmos bars, there’s no EQ or settings to adjust the bar’s front-facing or overhead channels.

The system also lacks support for DTS audio formats, including DTS:X, Dolby Atmos’ biggest 3D audio rival. That’s something you’ll find in many pricier soundbars from Samsung, LG, and Sony, though brands like Sonos and Bose offer limited or no DTS support as the format is becoming less common.

Punch, Poise

The 50A offers a good sound profile that often stretches to great. There’s plenty of detail up top and a nice heap of brawn in the midrange and bass that brings delightful heft to everything from bombastic explosions to gunshots and roaring engines.

The buzzing motorcycles in the multi-vehicle chase scene that kicks off Sam Mendes’ Skyfall are rendered with just the right growl, while the gunshots between Bond’s Walther PPK and the assassin’s submachine gun come through with thrilling pops.

You’ll find plenty to smile about in chaotic action scenes like the sister duel in Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume II. As Nebula pilots her gunship toward a kamikaze collision with Gamora, the battery of bullets, roaring turbines, and thundering crash are thoroughly captivating. The capable subwoofer blends fluently with dual woofers inside the bar in such scenes to rake up some low-frequency gold, going above and beyond both standalone soundbar setups and the dinkier subwoofers that ride along with many budget soundbars.

The sound does come off boxier than bars that push closer to the $1,000 line. This can occasionally lead to some shoutiness in sharp effects and dialog or particularly bright instruments when streaming music. That’s countered by a nuanced touch to quieter moments in sitcoms and dramas. Subtle dialog is smooth yet present, with detail that approaches premium quality. Michael Scott’s comical mispronunciations and literal paper-pushing in The Office are eloquently delivered, going far beyond what you’ll hear from your TV alone.

Up Not Out

Upward firing and angled drivers at the Bar 50A’s flanks assure notable sonic expansion for Dolby Atmos content, especially for overhead effects. Raindrops, buzzing insects, and strafing starships in Atmos films and demo reels burst to life with appropriate awe, bringing much more gravitas to such scenes than cheaper bars with virtual Dolby Atmos systems.

The lack of side-firing drivers or virtualization software like room calibration keeps the soundstage short of the mesmerizing surround sound expansion you’ll hear from systems like the Sonos Arc and Bose’s Soundbar 900. While Yamaha’s bar certainly extends beyond its frame, curling around toward the listening position at times, it can’t quite capture the same brain-tingling “dome of sound.”

The Bar 50A can’t serve as an anchor to a multiroom audio system like those bars, either, but you can add Yamaha’s new True X Speaker 1A satellite speakers ($300) to create a true surround system. It takes some finagling to set these up, mainly because they’re not just surrounds, but also act as separate Bluetooth speakers you can take around the house or out into the world.

It’s an intriguing concept we’re starting to see more often, but I’m not sure how useful that flexibility is. The speakers provide excellent upper register clarity that’s great for podcasts, but there’s no shortage of Bluetooth speakers on the market and they’re lacking bass when compared to something like JBL’s rugged portables. One can also imagine scenes like Dad yelling from the basement on movie night, “Who took the left surround speaker?!”

Photograph: Yamaha

If you want to plug the speakers in permanently, you’ll need to add a USB-C wall adapter and likely a longer cable (Yamaha actually sent me a pair of each from Amazon for my review). Proprietary charging cradles will cost you an additional $50. That’s a lot of hullabaloo compared to regular plugin surrounds, but if you have an awkward room and desire a clutterless setup, it could be a good solution.

Overall, the Bar 50A strikes a nice balance, providing true Dolby Atmos extension, cinematic gusto, and good detail at a price that falls well below many competitors. It can’t quite compete with Sonos or Bose when it comes to sonic immersion from a single bar, but it makes up for those shortcomings with an included subwoofer that ramps up the bass significantly. If you don’t want the subwoofer, you can also get significant savings on the similar Bar 40A.

Vizio’s M-Series (8/10, WIRED Recommends) provides a full 5.1.2-channel surround system (including Dolby Atmos drivers) at the same price, or much cheaper on sale. But the surround speakers must be wired into the subwoofer and you’ll have to give up Wi-Fi and Alexa smarts. If those features are important to you, Yamaha’s True X Bar 50A is a worthy option for well south of $1,000.