Yamaha SR-C20A soundbar review: A sound fit for small spaces

When I reviewed more TVs than I did now, readers would ask me “Which TV should I put in my multimedia cabinet?” This question came to my mind from the little Yamaha SR-C20A ($ 180 on Amazon). If your main criteria for choosing a soundbar is its ability to fit shoes within a particular space, then this compact speaker might be for you.

Like it

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Sounds great with movies and music
  • Many connection options

I do not like

  • No possibility to add a subwoofer or rear
  • No DTS playback limits DVD viewing options
  • Vizio V21 beats it for home theater use

The C20 is the smallest soundbar I’ve seen from Yamaha with a width of just 23 inches. Its sonorous chops are still decent, however, and it sounds better than the even smaller Roku Streambar ($ 130 on Amazon) ($ 130) with more prominent bass and a smoother high end. While it lacks the streaming capability of the Roku, the Yamaha offers more connection options.

The problem is that the Yamaha C20 is simply too expensive for what you get. If you’re not constrained by size, there are plenty of great-sounding options available for the same money, starting with the Vizio V21 ($ 180 best buy). The C20 needs a price drop to become recommendable to a larger group of people.

Small size, solid construction

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

As I found with Yamaha products of the past, elegant looking RX-V6 to its mini systems to its soundbars, the build quality of the C20A is solid. The speaker measures just 23.6 inches wide by 2.5 inches high and 3.75 inches deep, and is covered by an attractive fabric grille in line with the largest speakers in the range.

Yamaha has made some usability improvements that the larger models don’t have. For example, the input display is now on the front of the unit facing you instead of up, making it easier to read. While at the top the controls include an input, volume and power selector.

The C20 offers a pair of 1.8-inch cone drivers, an integrated 3-inch subwoofer: and two passive radiators. While I haven’t heard the B20, that speaker offers a larger cabinet with larger drivers and dedicated tweeters. It also offers most of the features of the C20 by adding a subwoofer output. However, the B20 loses the 3.5mm input.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

For such a compact soundbar it is still well specified with an HDMI ARC port, two optical connections, 3.5mm analog and Bluetooth. This will allow you to connect a set-top box and even a turntable via a preamp if you wish. When I spoke to Yamaha reps, they suggested I connect the soundbar to the computer as well, as long as the 3.75-inch depth of the bar isn’t an issue.

Like all Yamaha audio products from time immemorial, the C20 is packed with some excellent sound modes including Stereo, Game, Movie and Clear Voice. The C20 supports Dolby Digital but sadly not DTS which is odd as it includes DTS Virtual: X surround sound emulation.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Meanwhile, the sturdy remote is pleasantly tactile and offers great control over the soundbar’s functions. Do you want to increase the intelligibility of the dialogue? Press the Clear Voice button. All the functions you might need are laid out clearly, without looking like a scientific calculator.

How does it sound?

The Yamaha may be small but it was able to deliver a large and immersive sound, particularly suited to action movies and games. Meanwhile, its ability to render dialogue made it great for watching news as well.

It may lack the Roku Streambar’s physical side-firing speakers, but Yamaha makes a difference with ingenious software. DTS Virtual: X offers a huge soundstage and I was able to track sounds as they moved around the room and to the sides of my listening position.

When watching action movies, the Yamaha had a distinct advantage over the Roku. Both were excellent at pulling dialogue out of the background, but Yamaha bolstered the performance with better bass. The Roku offers almost no bass (without the optional sub) but the Yamaha offers just enough that you don’t really need it. When Max Rockatansky fired up his Charger’s engines at the start of Mad Max Fury Road, for example, it sounded like a real machine on top of the Yamaha, while the Roku’s tiny cabinet lacked the oomph to look believable.

Compared to a bigger speaker like the Vizio V21, the C20 won’t rock your next party, but at maximum volume the Yamaha was loud enough that my son asked me to turn it down from the next room (not an Elbow fan, of course) . But the songs sounded nice when streamed via Bluetooth, and experimenting with sound modes helped even more. For example, rock sounded best in stereo mode while Dead Can Dance’s choral leanings benefited from the room-level presentation of Music mode.

When I directly compared the C20 to the V21, the benefits of the Vizio’s larger cabinet and separate subwoofer were immediately apparent. In the default movie mode, the Vice sounded more natural and at ease during Avatar’s Thanator Chase scene. The jungle felt livelier and less “kicked” than the C20, and when elephant-like animals smash trees and trumpet in disgust, there was simply no competition when it came to bass response. The Yamaha couldn’t compete with the visceral thud of the Vizio home theater.

However, I noticed a Yamaha advantage in this scene: when I applied Vizio’s vocal mode, the dialogue retreated as if it were in a tunnel, while Yamaha’s Clear Voice made it as crisp as you’d expect.

Should you buy it?

While it’s easy to see the attraction in the lovely Roku Streambar – – it’s cheap, offers advanced streaming features, and sounds great – – the more expensive Yamaha is a more difficult sell. The C20 performs better than the Roku, with richer lows and more refined highs, but it’s not worth $ 50 more. Unless you’re really dictated by size constraints, the larger Yamaha B20 or Vizio V21 with its separate subwoofer both make more sense at this price point.

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