Midpriced soundbars are getting smart — by adding voice control to already easy-to-use sound systems. Yamaha, with a track record of producing excellent lower-priced soundbars, enters the fray with two new models: the $250 YAS-109 and the $350 YAS-209, both featuring Alexa.
The difference? The YAS-209 includes a wireless subwoofer to boost low-end sounds. If you're looking for a smart soundbar in this price range, the YAS-209 is one of the best soundbars available, especially if you plan to use it to listen to music in addition to watching movies and TV.
The 36.6 x 4.3 x 2.5-inch YAS-209 is a slim soundbar, but it doesn't sound thin, thanks in part to its very large 16.5 x 16 x 7.5-inch wireless subwoofer. While many soundbars try to find ways to shrink the sub, this one will definitely take up some space in your room. The main unit includes four 1.75-inch drivers and two 1-inch tweeters, while the sub houses a 6.5-inch woofer.
The YAS-209 has one HDMI output and one HDMI input, along with optical digital audio and Bluetooth. To use Alexa — as well as stream from Spotify or Amazon Music — you'll need to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
The top of the soundbar features LED indicators for the selected input and sound modes; those LEDs also show the volume level when you change it. You can control power, select the input and activate (or mute) Alexa through touch-sensitive buttons. You can also change the settings through the included remote or the free Yamaha Sound Bar app.
Alexa was responsive to my requests — it changed the volume and input on the soundbar and handled typical requests of the assistant as well, such as providing the weather and turning on a Wemo switch. Alexa works even when the soundbar is powered off. However, it couldn't do everything I wanted it to; for example, it couldn't turn the soundbar on or off.
Make sure you update the firmware on the soundbar to version 2.07 when you install it; version 2.06 included a bug that caused Alexa responses to be very loud when video is played. Version 2.07 fixes that.
The YAS-209 delivered very good sound when I watched TV shows and movies. Dialog has excellent resonance, thanks to the subwoofer, and it produces a wide sound when using the 3D Surround mode. It isn't quite as encompassing as the Sonos Beam, but it delivers better bass — though, considering it has a separate subwoofer, I would have liked it to deliver more low end.
During Avengers: Endgame, the YAS-209 made the quiet dialog scenes easy to understand. But in the big battle between the Avengers and Thanos, I expected to feel more floor rattling from the low-frequency effects. The witty dialog of the various Spider-men, women and pigs of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was resonant and easy to hear above the bass-heavy soundtrack.
I was more impressed by the way the YAS-209 handled a variety of music in Stereo mode. The bass on Billie Eilish's "Bad Guy" rattled the floor, and her vocals were still clear. The finger-picked acoustic guitar on Fleetwood Mac's "Never Going Back Again" was crisp and full.
Connecting the YAS-209 to my TV using an HDMI cable was straightforward. To enable Alexa and music streaming, you need to download the free Yamaha Sound Bar app (previously Yamaha soundbars used its HT Controller app), and it walks you through the process of connecting to your network. The YAS-209 can connect to only 2.4-GHz wireless networks, or you can use a wired Ethernet cable.
The YAS-209 offers several modes to adjust the sound to your liking, including Movie, Music, Sports, TV Program and Game. You can switch to Stereo mode for listening to two-channel sources. In addition, you can enable 3D Surround for a wider sound, Clear Voice to boost dialog and Bass Extension for deeper low-end sounds. You can also set the subwoofer level.
Among the options for a smart soundbar in the $300 to $400 range, Yamaha's YAS-209 rises toward the top with good overall sound — especially for music — and responsive voice controls. The Sonos Beam has a wider sound and also offers Google Assistant, but costs more. Polk's less expensive Command Bar can't match the YAS-209 in sound quality or Alexa performance. Of the current choices, the YAS-209 hits an attractive middle ground.