With so many good soundbars available for $200 or less, it can be hard to justify spending more to improve the quality of your TV's sound. On its own, Yamaha's $450 MusicCast Bar 400 offers a modest upgrade over the company's impressive $200 YAS-108 soundbar. But if you're interested in multiroom sound and are willing to invest more to turn your setup into a 5.1 system, the investment pays off.
The MusicCast Bar 400 is a midsize soundbar, at 38.6 x 2.4 x 4.4 inches, making it a good match for TVs up to 55 inches (larger TVs work, too, but may make the soundbar look too small). The main soundbar includes four 1.75-inch woofers and two 1-inch tweeters. The 16.4 x 16 x 7.1-inch wireless subwoofer is larger than many subs included with soundbars and helps to produce a full sound.
The unit includes one HDMI input and one HDMI output, a digital optical audio input, and an analog input, as well as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and AirPlay wireless options.
The soundbar uses LEDs to show volume level, sound mode and current input. But because those lights are on the backside of the soundbar's top, they can be difficult to see while you're watching TV.
The MusicCast Bar 400 offers improved sound over Yamaha's lower-cost models, especially for virtual 3D surround sound. With rich bass and clear vocals, it works best for movies.
When Elastigirl chased the runaway train in Incredibles 2, the soundbar's subwoofer helped make the speeding train and Elastigirl's motorcycle racing through the streets more tactile, and the dialog was easy to hear. Using 3D Surround mode while I watched Daredevil, the background music filled the room, and dialog between Bullseye and Daredevil was clear and resonant,as were grunts, punches and shattering glass. Yamaha's less-expensive models don't handle 3D Surround as well.
To really get the most out of the unit, you'll want to add wireless surrounds, such as a pair of MusicCast 20 speakers. When paired with these surrounds, the system creates encompassing 5.1 surround sound, which greatly improves the listening experience. However, each MusicCast 20 runs $230, which takes the total cost of the system to over $900. For that much money, you can choose from among several high-end soundbars, including some that support Dolby Atmos.
When Elastigirl chased the runaway train in Incredibles 2, the subwoofer helped make the speeding train and her motorcycle racing through the streets more tactile.
Despite its name, the MusicCast Bar 400 comes up short when playing music. On "Shallow," Lady Gaga's vocals were full but the accompaniment behind her sounded a bit flat, especially when compared to the sound quality for movies and TV. Similarly on Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," the guitars lacked punch and prominence.
This soundbar has plenty of power to fill a large room; I measured it at above 95 decibels at max volume.
The MusicCast Bar 400 was simple to set up. I connected the HDMI out to the HDMI ARC input on my TV and connected a Roku Ultra to the HDMI input, and I was quickly watching videos. To enable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, I downloaded the free MusicCast app, and it walked me through the connection process.
The MusicCast Bar's remote has buttons for adjusting the subwoofer volume and selecting from among some of the sound modes. These include Stereo, Surround and 3D Surround, as well as Clear Voice to boost dialog and Bass Extension for more low end. I found that using 3D Surround with Clear Voice was the best combination for watching movies and TV. The soundbar offers additional sound modes that you can access only through the app, including Movie, Music and Sports — but because they're available only through the app, you may miss them entirely.
If you add surround speakers, the app lets you set the levels of the front, surround and subwoofer separately — a nice level of adjustment that is missing from many soundbars in this price range. The app also controls multiroom audio if you have other MusicCast speakers on your network.
The Yamaha MusicCast Bar 400 is a good midprice soundbar thanks to the way it handles 3D Surround and the resonant low end that its large subwoofer adds. It has just enough add-ons to make the extra cost worth it — if you plan to use them.
If you're just looking to improve the sound of your TV, you can get sound that's nearly as good for much less; the $200 Yamaha YAS-108 will do the job. But if you're willing to spend the additional money to add wireless surrounds, or if you have other MusicCast speakers and want multiroom audio, you can make the MusicCast Bar 400 the center of an encompassing sound system.