Yamaha has just announced its latest cheap and affordable soundbar, and it looks like a seriously tempting package – especially compared to the Sonos Ray, which is aiming to be the budget ’bar to beat in our list of the best soundbars.
The Yamaha SR-C30A will launch in October, and will cost $279/£299/AU$399. That's basically identical to the official price of the Sonos Ray, except that with the Yamaha SR-C30A you get three features the Sonos Ray doesn't have: HDMI-ARC connectivity, Bluetooth wireless streaming, and – most importantly – a wireless subwoofer to handle bass.
The Yamaha SR-C30A is very compact: the soundbar is 600 X 64 X 94 mm / 23-5/8 x 2-1/2 x 3-3/4 inches, while the subwoofer is just 160 X 335 X 364 mm / 6-1/4 x 13-1/4 x 14-3/8 inches. This means it'll work with the best 32-inch TVs and bigger, while the subwoofer is small enough to fit even in small gaps, as demonstrated by this handy image from Yamaha.
In terms of speakers, you're getting a very simple setup here: there are two 4.6cm drivers in the soundbar, and a 13cm bass driver in the subwoofer. That's fewer drivers than you get in the Sonos Ray (which has four), which may mean less dynamic and clear sound… however, the Sonos Ray's speakers also have to handle bass, and the Yamaha gets to pass that work off to the subwoofer, which could go a long way to balance out that on-paper disadvantage.
Yamaha is promising some kind of virtual surround support here, which can be controlled via an app, but we're skeptical about the effectiveness of that from just two drivers – we'll find out how worthwhile it is once we get our hands on it for review later in the year.
You don't get any Wi-Fi connectivity or streaming, which is a downside compared to the Sonos Ray, but you do get multi-point Bluetooth connectivity, so you can actually switch at will between playing music from your phone and from something like an Amazon Echo Dot. And being a Yamaha bar, the sound quality for music will probably be pretty good, unlike a lot of cheaper soundbars.
Our reviewers have tried both the similarly budget-friendly Yamaha SR-B20A and Yamaha SR-C20A, and were seriously impressed with them both, so we have high hopes for the C30A.
Analysis: it's all about that bass
With small one-box soundbars, such as the Sonos Ray or Yamaha's own budget options, what you tend to miss out in the overall sound is bass.
We're not talking about wanting explosions to rock the house and shake the pictures off the wall – but if you don't have a system with good bass, you'd be surprised at what you miss out on.
The example I always use is when watching a movie with people surfing in a storm. Without a subwoofer, you hear the waves crashing in detail, no problem. But with a subwoofer, you get much more of a sense of the danger and weight of those waves from the deeper crash. It sounds more realistic, as well as adding a menace that's supposed to be in the sound, but isn't in a system with weaker bass.
So getting a package at this price with a subwoofer is not only a great deal for people who want full sound from their TV but don't have much space – it's also from a company that you can feel reasonably confident will do a good job in smoothly integrating the sound between the two boxes (which can be a problem with cheap soundbar/sub combinations).
The main soundbar is designed to tackle high-end and mid-range sounds from 22kHz to 210Hz (which covers most of the range of sound, including speech and effects), while the subwoofer handles sound from 210Hz down to 40Hz. As mentioned above, having the subwoofer to handle bass duties can really help to free the soundbar itself to deliver audio better at the higher end.
However, we are a bit concerned about the lack of a center channel for speech in the Yamaha SR-C30A – it has a speech mode for clarity, but we'll have to see how it holds up in practice. The big danger to this soundbar is that these days you can find the Sony HT-G700 soundbar and sub package for around the same price, and that includes a second HDMI port, and Dolby Atmos support.
However our review pans out, one thing is for certain: there's never been a better time to buy a soundbar on a lower budget.
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Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, meaning he's in charge of persuading our team of writers and reviewers to watch the latest TV shows and movies on gorgeous TVs and listen to fantastic speakers and headphones. It's a tough task, as you can imagine. Matt has over a decade of experience in tech publishing, and previously ran the TV & audio coverage for our colleagues at T3.com, and before that he edited T3 magazine. During his career, he's also contributed to places as varied as Creative Bloq, PC Gamer, PetsRadar, MacLife, and Edge. TV and movie nerdism is his speciality, and he goes to the cinema three times a week. He's always happy to explain the virtues of Dolby Vision over a drink, but he might need to use props, like he's explaining the offside rule.