HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



February
2009

Reviewed by
Kevin East
REVIEWERS' CHOICE


Yambeka Audio
5-Speaker
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: YA-V.2-F tower speaker
Dimensions: 41.9"H x 7.1"W x 13.9"D
Weight: 30 pounds each

Model: YA-V.2-C center-channel speaker
Dimensions: 17.7"W x 5.9"H x 7.1"D
Weight: 6 pounds

Model: YA-V.2-R surround speaker
Dimensions: 9.4"H x 5.9"W x 7.1"D
Weight: 5 pounds each

System price: $299 USD

Warranty: Five years parts and labor.


Features
  • Three-way bass-reflex system (YA-V.2-F)
  • 1" silk-dome tweeters
  • Two 4" coated-paper midrange drivers (YA-V.2-C, YA-V.2-R)
  • Three 4.25" coated-paper midrange drivers (YA-V.2-F)
  • 8" coated-paper woofer (YA-V.2-F)
  • MDF cabinets
  • Black finish

I’ve been at this audio thang a long time -- not as long as some, but long enough -- and I tell ya, it takes forever to build up your cred, and only one misstep to have it come crashing down around you. Make a wrong call and you’re bloggin’ it, a fate worse than a rejected manuscript. I’m about to tell you that you can have one unbelievably whomp-ass, thunder-rumblin’, oh-so-sweet home-theater speaker system (repeat: system), for all of 300 bucks. And for a mere 60 more simoleons, you can add a pair of rear-channel speakers. No, really, I mean it (stop laughing) -- these lightweight speakers, imagined in Ohio and made in China, defy every rule I know of making great sound, and the sound they make is astonishing.

Attributes

The drive-units of the Yambeka YA-V.2-F tower loudspeaker are arranged in a variation of the classic D’Appolito array: one midrange driver above the tweeter, two more midrange drivers below. What Yambeka calls a "subwoofer" -- a single 8" woofer -- is positioned on the lower third of the outside side panel. The rear-panel receptacle contains two five-way binding posts. Their spacing is nonstandard, so dual bananas can’t be used. The front panel and the plinth on which the box sits are finished in a lovely piano-black gloss; the rest is black-ash veneer. The upper two thirds of the front panel is covered with a cloth grille, as are the side-firing woofers.

The YA-V.2-C center-channel speaker is covered in black-ash veneer, while its face is completely covered with a cloth grille. Its driver complement is a horizontal D’Appolito-like array. It has a small receptacle on the rear panel with spring-clip wire connections. The YA-V.2-R surround speaker is likewise finished in black ash with a cloth grille. Its rear panel has a pre-installed metal bracket for wall mounting.

There are some attributes of modern speaker construction that, in and near the high end, we tend to take for granted. First, cabinet construction is assumed to be of MDF of a substantial thickness, 0.75" being common. Second, internal bracing is likewise assumed to be extensive, and tuned to increase rigidity. Third, copious amounts of damping material are usually stuffed into every nook and cranny, again to dull internal vibrations. The result, when you rap your knuckles on the side of the cabinet, is a dead thok.

Well, when you rap your knuckles on the side of a Yambeka tower, you don’t exactly get an echo, but there ain’t a whole lotta dampin’ inside them cabinets. The tower is constructed of 12mm-thick (about 1/2") MDF, the center and surround speakers of 9mm-thick MDF. Conventional wisdom would strongly suggest that these things sound like crap. Ladies and gents, they don’t.

Installation

The Yambekas are the simplest system on the planet to set up. I positioned the towers on either side of our A/V cabinet in the family room, about 8’ apart and 11’ from the sweet spot. The surrounds were mounted on 29"-high stands to either side of the sectional sofa, and the center -- yet another center speaker that proved too large for our A/V center -- was set atop the cabinet. (A brief note to all of you contemplating buying a cabinet for your HDTV, equipment, and center-channel speaker: measure and make sure it can accommodate the speaker.)

I connected my Monster Cable and RadioShack speaker cables to the center and surrounds after removing the cables’ solderless banana plugs and inserting the wires into the spring clips. There is an abiding fiction in audio writing, mostly perpetrated by the writers, that a speaker connector must be hard-soldered to the cable to ensure a solid connection. Yes, I suppose there are audio writers who will cut the banana plugs (or spade lugs) from their cables before tinning the wires for a spring-clip connection, but most of us don’t. I use the solderless bananas because, like every other audio writer, I’m constantly switching speakers in and out, and you have to be prepared for spring-clipped models like the Yambekas. So either you spend a lot of time soldering, cutting, trimming, and soldering on new plugs/lugs (once you’ve cut off a banana plug, you have to toss it), or you’re smart about your connectors. Solderless plugs work just fine -- I’ve never heard any degradation of the audio signal.

The Yambekas come without a subwoofer on the theory that the towers’ 8", side-mounted woofers can do the heavy lifting, so at first I didn’t use one. After some listening, I decided to switch in a Mirage LF100 subwoofer for the sake of comparison. Finally, I used my Onkyo TX-SR800 receiver’s onboard pink-noise generator and a RadioShack digital SPL meter to measure the Yambekas’ output. Unlike most of the front-channel towers we’ve had here lately, the Yambekas sounded best toed-in a bit.

Listening

Got an action jones, brother? Have I got the budget wonders for you. There wasn’t one crash, clang, swoosh, tweet, or thud that escaped the Yambeka system’s attention. Don’t like action, but prefer the ambience of animated comedy? These are the budget wonders for you.

Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy is one of the few translations of a comic book to the big screen that has, in my opinion, actually worked. I considered Superman too flabby, Batman too artsy, and Spider-Man too cute. But del Toro gets Hellboy right, and actor Ron Perlman breathes fire into him. The film has enough thundering beasties, demolished structures, and oversized clanking machinery to challenge any speaker. After Hellboy refuses to release the Ogdru Jahad, the Seven Gods of Chaos, from their crystal prison, the apocalyptic collapse of the nasties’ universe crashes all about the soundstage (chapter 26). However, when I inserted the Mirage sub into the mix, the thunderous explosion literally shook the room, rattling the proverbial teacups in the proverbial pantry. This sequence underscored the limitations of the Yambeka towers’ "subwoofers." Without the Mirage, the sound was full and forceful. With the Mirage, it was frighteningly present.

Pixar’s Ratatouille offers varying scenes of frenetic activity, high slapstick, and tender quietude, each of which the best home-theater speakers will handle without sacrificing nuance or detail. The Yambekas filled that order with stunning efficiency. Exhibit A: the brilliant off-camera action when Remy’s omelet is unleashed on the unsuspecting Parisian traffic (chapter 5). Exhibit B: Skinner’s chasing of Remy, in which the action whirls with dizzying speed around the total soundstage (chapter 21). Exhibit C: Remy’s desolate solitude when he’s stranded in the Paris sewers, as the slowly turning pages of Gusteau’s cookbook echo throughout the subterranean chambers (chapter 6). All of these the Yambekas rendered with precision, passing the sound from speaker to speaker with seamless clarity.

At first, listening to music was as remarkable as watching movies. Our Sunday-morning pastime involves plowing through the Sunday editions of the Washington Post and New York Times while enjoying varying classical recordings, from Haydn’s "London" Symphonies 93-100, performed by Adám Fischer and the Austro-Hungarian Orchestra (CD, Musical Heritage Society 533232Z), to Dvorák’s lovely Serenade, Op. 22, with Gerard Schwarz and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (CD, Delos DE-3011). And for those challenging recordings, played at soft volumes, the Yambeka towers were front and center, playing the cuts in a full, coherent manner.

It was while listening to some jazz on a Saturday evening that we ran into the first difficulty. On the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s 1962 classic, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (CD, Fantasy OJCCD-437-2), the piano, bass, and drums were convincingly solid -- until I switched to Dolby Pro Logic II. Whoa. The piano sounded as if it had been swallowed by a storm drain -- it lost all sense of timbral integrity. When I switched back to stereo, all was again right with the world. I did this a few more times, until I figured out that Pro Logic II was forcing the midrange to the center-channel speaker, which is simply not configured to render music with the fidelity of the towers. The Yambeka center speaker performed flawlessly with movies, shouldering mostly dialogue, but I don’t recommend it for serious music listening.

Music listening revealed another limitation. Listen to almost any modern speaker in a vacuum (not literally; there’s no sound in a vacuum) -- that is, without a frame of reference -- and subtle deficiencies in sound reproduction will not be readily apparent. Any truly cheesy speaker will sound bad from the get-go, but a speaker that’s making an honest effort will be more difficult to pin down. There are two basic kinds of references: recordings and other speakers.

The Black Orpheus incident suggested that I play my reference recordings only in stereo, through the Yambeka towers. The deep-bass figure in the bridge of "Orinoco Flow," from Enya’s Watermark (CD, Reprise 26774-2), was well rendered if polite. Though that ultimate note can defeat many speakers, the Yambekas were up to the task. But while the note was recognizable, it lacked the depth that a real subwoofer can reveal. When I switched the Mirage sub back into the mix, the note bloomed.

The Yambekas captured the rich interplay of the acoustic guitars in "Mr. Chow," from Acoustic Alchemy’s Red Dust & Spanish Lace (CD, MCA MCAD-5816), but lacked the depth and height, especially in this track’s signature percussion bridge, that genuine audiophile speakers can convey. However, the Yambekas handled favorites -- Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks’ "Canned Music," from Striking It Rich (CD, MCA MCAD-31187), and Jellyfish’s "The Man I Used to Be," from Bellybutton (CD, Charisma 2-91400) -- with a fluid grace that, again, one would normally expect only from much more expensive speakers.

After several listening sessions, it became evident that the Yambeka towers could nail the all-important midrange and had excellent treble response, but rendered bass that was, at best, polite. However, when challenged with high-end tasks, instead of making a mess of things, they simply pooped out, which is the best one can expect from a less expensive speaker. The Yambekas’ shortcomings would be unpardonable in a true audiophile speaker. But in a five-speaker system costing only $299, these differences are not deal killers, but merely attributes you choose to live with. Or not.

Other audio parameters, such as soundstaging and depth, were adequate without being impressive; but the Yambekas’ ability to throw out-of-phase information was impressive. Stereo imaging was excellent, even though the Yambekas weren’t all that transparent. What won the day for me was their utter lack of coloration. For a speaker without all the physical attributes we’ve come to expect (panel thickness, bracing, damping, etc.), I didn’t get the sense that the Yambekas tilted the sound in any particular direction. What I heard were clean, unadulterated reproductions of recorded sound: no additions, no subtractions, no biases.

Summary

I’ve spent more than a few pixels here pointing out the Yambekas’ limited audiophile cred, but these are minor quibbles when you consider their considerable attributes, and especially when you consider their price. I had not heard speakers with the Yambekas’ quality of resolution at this price point since I heard the original Dana Model 1s over 15 years ago. Yes, the Yambekas are that special. Their performance with DVDs is extraordinary. With the exception of very large rooms, I can’t think of any other home-theater speaker system, at any price, that anyone could need. These terrific speakers are the first bona-fide audio deal of the millennium. Hands down.

In the last two years a dizzying array of speaker systems have passed through my home theater, and I have admired most of them for their musicality, as well as their faithful renditions of cinematic sound -- some I have even adored. But while they all surely equal the Yambekas’ performance with films, I don’t think any have surpassed it when considering the price. Still, I recommend the addition of a subwoofer, which will appreciably improve the low end. The Yambeka tower’s musical performance is likewise excellent, but limited if you crave every aspect of truly audiophile sound. And here, too, adding a sub would be wise. But if your primary interest is home theater, then the only reason you’ll want to spend more than $299 on the Yambekas is because you require audiophile-grade stereo music performance. Otherwise, stop here.

Review System
A/V receiver - Onkyo TX-SR800
Subwoofer - Mirage LF100
Source - Pioneer DV-563-A DVD player
Cables - Monster Cable, RadioShack; generic 14AWG speaker wire
Display device - Dell WD4200 42" plasma
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Yambeka Audio
Columbus, Ohio, USA

E-mail: info@yambekaaudio.com
Website: www.yambekaaudio.com


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