Calling the sound that comes out of a regular soundbar 'surround sound' is like saying that watching the World Cup on TV is the same as being in the stadium. But, judging from marketing literature, it's a good selling feature.

Sound projectors, of course, are a different beast, using multiple drivers to direct sound beams off walls and ceilings. Over a decade ago the first such model went on sale from Pioneer, a massive coffin-sized unit priced at an eye-watering £25,000. Using technology invented by a Cambridge-based company called One Ltd, it was, unsurprisingly, a short-lived venture. However, Yamaha took up the baton and has been refining the art of sound projectors every since.

The YSP-2500, its latest offering, is an unqualified success aesthetically. It’s a compact unit with a slight wedge-shaped footprint. Made from highly rigid aluminium, the 'bar looks and feels like a premium product. The design is simple and uncluttered, with minimal buttons and sockets on show. The central speaker array is flanked by a high-contrast display on one side and jacks for headphones and the calibration mic on the other. The internal structure and layout are designed for optimum sound dispersion.

Rear connections befit the price point, including HDMI ARC and three other HDMI inputs (offering 4K 50/60p passthrough, 3D and HDMI CEC). There’s a line-out for hooking up to the subwoofer, although many users will take the wireless approach for connecting to Yamaha's 130W bass bin. This, too, is neat and compact, and seems equally well built.

The soundbar is 51mm high when used without its puck feet, although it looks smarter on the low-profile appendages. It can, of course, be wall mounted.

The supplied remote control is nicely laid out but it’s a shame it can’t learn to operate a TV, nor is it backlit. It's complemented by a neat iOS/Android app that allows you to set a target mode, narrowing the soundfield to any specific position in the room. Useful when watching TV on your tod.

Intelligent setup

To get started with the YSP-2500, you plug in the supplied calibration microphone and let Yamaha's IntelliBeam system work its magic. This measures the layout of your room and adjusts various parameters (including beam angles and frequency response) to suit. You can check the results using the rather chunky-looking onscreen menu and manually tweak the levels and distances, but I didn’t feel the need to make any changes.

The remote control allows you to save three different room settings, which could be handy for personal preferences or daytime/nighttime options. The front panel display is almost redundant in that most information is too small to see from a typical viewing distance, so you'll resort to using the onscreen info to check modes, input signals, etc. All the main display is really good for is seeing which input is in use.

The YSP-2500 can decode DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD bitstreams, and is aptX compatible on the Bluetooth front. What you do with the source is up to you. There are six Beam modes to experiment with, including 5 Beam+2 for watching movies, 3 Beam, which is suitable for widening the listening area to listen to music, and Stereo+3 Beam, which is designed for music videos. You can let the unit select the surround mode automatically according to the incoming signal if you want.

Bar for all eventualities

The YSP-2500 is a supreme performer, with an effortlessness to its sound quality that instantly allows you to engage with whatever you’re watching. It's particularly adept when it comes to dealing with dialogue. One of my toughest test discs is a DVD of the classic BBC series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, recorded in 1979, much of it in noisy locations with awful acoustics. The YSP-2500 simply transforms the audio, reducing its inherent brightness and delivering voices that are clear and resonant. When Smiley arrives at a country house in the rain the water dripping from an overflowing gutter is clear and seems to emanate from the side rather than masking the dialogue. It's a clean-up job that would make MI5 envious.

With multichannel soundtracks, the auto setting is a reliable way of selecting the most suitable mode but the soundscape sometimes seems less defined by directionality than I would expect. Effects do, however, ping out distinctly in terms of clarity and resolution. The flying fish in Life of Pi woosh nicely around your head and there’s a satisfying texture to the soundfield that’s simply absent on a TV’s speakers. Highly impressive is the tiger’s roar, which is meatier here than a Texan barbecue.

The subwoofer proves its chops when the submarine explodes under the sea in The LEGO Movie, building to a well executed boom. And when Emmet gets dragged off to the Old West, the YSP-2500 does a fine job of serving up the horses' neighs and clopping hooves, with the sub's punchiness underpinning Batman's ‘I call them my dogs!’ bellow.

Yamaha's svelte duo relishes scenes with a musical score. Throughout the dynamic range, instruments seem well defined and have a presence that’s perfectly matched to the dialogue and effects. With stereo music material the imaging is broad and coherent. Close your eyes and you may think you're listening to a pair of monitor speakers driven by a more powerful amplifier.

The YSP-2500 is a triumph of refinement over power. In a small or medium-sized room it produces a comfortably immersive output. You can crank it up to dust-shifting levels but it becomes tiring. Your own ears will intervene before the neighbours get on to the council.

Within each Beam setting you have the option of choosing one of 10 DSP modes. By emphasising or downplaying certain frequencies they often prove suitable – Sports mode, for instance, boosts commentary and spreads the sound of the crowd.

Yamaha's YSP-2500 is not quite perfect in terms of user-friendliness, but its performance is nothing short of brilliant. Its success in creating genuine surround sound will depend a lot on the environment in which it is used but the clarity, smoothness and refinement of the sound is never in doubt.