+ Very lively, dynamic reproduction
+ Precise, differentiated bass
+ Screw thread for wall mounts
+ Charging station available as an accessory
- Clear Voice function makes the sound a bit shrill even in audiobooks
Sound: Tonal balance / Transparency7.4
Sound: Bass / Dynamics6.4
Ease of use / Connectivity8.2
For some time, we did not hear a lot from Japanese brand Yamaha. But now it’s blow after blow. After the new TW-E5B and TW-E7B earphones, which we were already able to review, the new Yamaha WS-B1A Bluetooth speaker is now entering the market. Finally, they have protected it against dust and water according to IP67 ingression class. Yet somehow you don’t like to expose such a classy-looking mini Bluetooth speaker to sand and water. Its clothes are some kind of wool-like fabric either in Black, Carbon Grey or Light Grey. The top of the speaker measering some 4 inch in height and 3.5 inches in diameter is made of rubberized plastic with recessed buttons. A colour scheme makes it easy to understand – operation is largely self-explanatory. A metal button is used to turn the device on and off, which also initiates Bluetooth pairing when pressing it a bit longer.
The only question might be the speech bubble icon. Behind this is the “Clear Voice” function to emphasize speech. Yamaha promises better dialog intelligibility, for example with audio plays and audio books, or when someone plays web radio with news and reports to the WS-B1A via Bluetooth. Apart from Bluetooth 5.0 with A2DP, AVRCP protocols, there is no other way to play music from the Yamaha WS-B1A.
A bunch of small but handy details
In other places, Yamaha was pretty generous – even more so in a class where you often only just plastic toys. If you turn the Yamaha WS-B1A over, you’ll see two gold-plated square contact rails completely surrounded by a rubber footprint. An unmistakable indication of the existence of a designated charging station. It is called CC-T1A*, but it is not included with the Bluetooth speaker. And those who buy the accessories offered at a list price of 29 bucks to avoid awkward fiddling with the USB-C charging cable and the socket on the back can immediately expect to purchase a universal USB power adapter – if it is not already available in the household. You should allow about three hours for charging, then the battery promises a runtime of up to 12 hours maximum.
Another feature that is by no means a matter of course is the universal thread on the back, which allows the posh mini speaker to be attached to wall mounts. As for the inner values, Yamaha relies on a 2.25 inch full-range driver, which is supported by two passive radiators for deeper bass.
A bit too fresh if not handled properly
Of course, we didn’t miss the chance to test this one. But first there was some astonishment about a supposed abstinence of bass. What made the approach to the promising new product a bit more exciting was based on a simple explanation: Someone in the editorial office had pressed the Clear Voice button while exploring, which is indicated by a tiny LED, but is not necessarily immediately obvious to an instruction manual muffle like me. Ashes on my head. The Yamaha WS-B1A can play bass – and that in a comparatively differentiated way.
When you work with such small enclosure and correspondingly tiny full-range drivers, you really only have two options as a developer: Either you tune the mini speaker with a thick upper bass a bit grumpy. That is usually coming at a cost: lack of precision. Or, like Yamaha, one chooses the way that completely fits the brand’s sonic fingerprint: rather slim and honest, but not as spectacular. Bang & Olufsen, for example, also follows a similar path with the Beosound Explore.
But the Yamaha doesn’t spread a diffuse sound cloud of ethereal treble. Its reproduction is rather bursting with impulses and appearing to be pretty straight forward. If you like this kind of attack and place more value on differentiation than on richness in the bass, the Yamaha WS-B1A should make you sit up and take notice. In terms of transparency and SPL, it is among the best of its class, even if some might find it a bit slim, and rather sober in the midrange.
Hands off this key
The use of the Clear Voice option for audio books or podcasts can be seen as a matter of taste. We would advise against it because it made voices sound huffy and pressed. The Yamaha WS-B1A doesn’t really need this midrange boost at the cost of reducing bass and treble. It sounds clear enough in the mids even without such tricks. But what you should avoid at all costs is using it while listening to music, because then it becomes practically bass-free.
Ode to (Depeche) Mode
Call it a coincidence, the latest Depeche Mode album Memento Mori was released during the time we were doing the listening test of Yamaha´s WS-B1A. Eagerly awaited by fans of the electro-pop band that shrank to a duo, the album was met with a divided response from critics, and with dark songs full of deep and powerful synth bass, it was suitable to duly explore the distance to charming little fudge like the half-priced, pleasantly tuned Tribit Stormbox Micro 2.
With the richly somber track “My Cosmos Is Mine”, the Yamaha’s restrained upper bass, but contoured and deeper tuning was better expressed than with shallower tracks from the usual radio playlists. And the good resolution of the small WS-B1A also paid off. A little tip: True Depeche Mode fans will of course buy the first album in what feels like an eternity on vinyl. So that they can still listen to it via their Bluetooth speaker, they should get a record player with Bluetooth interface (we have compiled a selection of the best here) – if not already available.
Conclusion and alternatives to the Yamaha WS-B1A
We know many good and affordable tiny Bluetooth speakers. Just think of the Tribit Stormbox Micro 2. However, only very, very few in this class come with some sonic as well as haptic noblesse. Besides the B&O Beosound Explore and the Marshall Willen, we don’t know of any that can match the Yamaha WS-B1A in style. With a 360-degree sound concept, the Danish competitor does not sound as impulsive and direct as the Japanese. Marshall´s Willen, on the other hand, lacks a bit of substance in the bass, which is all the more noticeable since it is not stingy with trebles.
The Yamaha takes the happy medium, although its design without a strap and holder, but with a fine fabric casing, is less suitable for tough outdoor use, but even more so for home use with the practical, optional charging cradle. The difference in price between these three is so significant that you can easily afford all the accessories including the USB universal power supply – especially since B&O and the Mini Marshall also come without a power supply.