Review: Kanto Yaro Amp + Speaker Set for Apple TV
Even though the Apple TV will soon celebrate its fifth birthday -- and is frankly better right now than ever before -- the screenless digital media player has suffered from a drought of third-party accessories unlike any Apple platform released before or since. Armed with only a single USB port that's deliberately locked by Apple to prevent the use of traditional accessories, the Apple TV makes wired connections only to wall power, AV devices, and optionally the Internet, generally achieving the latter connection wirelessly. With few connectivity options, developers have released Apple TV wall mounts, HDMI switchers, AV cables, and the occasional carrying bag, but not much else. So it's genuinely exciting to see Kanto hit the scene with a bona-fide Apple TV electronic accessory: Yaro ($329), which adds a fully powered amplifier and two speakers, connecting to the Apple TV's optical audio output port. While Yaro has a couple of non-trivial issues that are worth noting, Kanto got more right than wrong with this design, and Apple TV users whose HDTVs produce weak sound will find it to be a nice upgrade.
The Yaro amplifier’s roughly 6.4” square footprint is halfway between the first- and second-generation Apple TV, but it’s obvious that Kanto built the system to match the current model’s look and feel. Both the amplifier and speakers are made from glossy black plastic with matte rubber accents, including both flat rubber tops and smaller rubber feet on the bottom. In one of several nice little design touches, the amplifier and speaker footprints match, so the amp can sit atop one of the speakers, and you can easily place the current Apple TV on top of it to preserve space. Kanto includes short and long optical audio cables to make the connection between devices as you prefer, as well as wall power, speaker, and analog 3.5mm audio cables for auxiliary output. On an absolute basis, there are definitely too many connect-it-yourself cables here for average users to figure out without a manual—the reason soundbars have become somewhat popular TV accessories—but Yaro does a good job of supplying you with everything you need to set the system up, and keeping most of the wires hidden behind its components.
The only sort of mismatched piece is the remote control, which while colored like the rest of the system doesn’t feel or use button layouts like an Apple device. Big, thick, and plasticy, it offers power, volume, mute, bass, and treble controls—plus a reset button for the adjustable bass and treble settings—with a large bottom compartment for an included AAA battery. While it feels like something of a missed opportunity for an Apple TV accessory maker to integrate Apple’s own control buttons into a more powerful remote, eliminating the need to have two separate controllers, the fact that Kanto includes bass and treble controls at all is appreciated—regrettably few speaker systems do this, and users who want to tweak the audio for a little extra power can do so here.
Sonically, Yaro offers users a good step up from the audio hardware that’s found in TVs these days, and a potentially huge improvement relative to silent monitors, as well as the ever-thinning and thereby bass-challenged LED TVs that have become more popular over the past three years. Each speaker is capably equipped with a 1.5” tweeter and rear-ported 3.5” full-range driver, and on their most basic treble and bass settings, they deliver what we’d describe as crisp and nicely balanced but dynamically limited audio: you will certainly hear ample treble and midrange with adequate bass, but there’s not much oomph or warmth there. Playing with the treble up control tends to drive the system into sibilance quickly, but does enhance the apparent crispness of audio.
However, if you press the bass up button on the remote, the low end increases to very respectable levels given the limitations of 3.5” speakers, instantly warming music and imbuing bass-heavy beats with enough power to feel complete, even at safe near-distance listening levels. The effect is impressive enough that you’ll likely want to leave the bass level at least a little higher than the default at all times. When you’re sitting directly in the speakers’ sweet spot, audio is impressively engrossing for a 2.0-channel system, with nice staging and apparent depth. Yaro isn’t capable of shaking a room or even the surface it’s sitting on—an issue if you’re expecting to feel deep rumbles in your movies—but the four-driver array offers ample range and power for everything from music to TV shows to common movie dialogue, and provides enough volume to fill a small room or be heard easily in a larger-sized one.
It’s worth a brief mention that Kanto includes some interesting ports on the back of the Yaro amplifier: in addition to four total screw-based speaker connection posts, there are optical audio input and outputs, the auxiliary analog audio input, and a traditional subwoofer output—the latter an easy way to satisfy users who want earth-moving bass performance and are willing to pay to add it separately. There’s also a headphone output on the unit’s front right, below an Infrared sensor and bright white power light, which collectively oppose a large combined volume dial and power button. While there are ways that this amplifier unit could be subtly tweaked, such as a slightly dimmer power light, or temporary bass and treble level indicators, most users will appreciate how close it already is to an Apple-like look and feel, and how clean the 47-watt Band & Olufsen ICEpower amp hardware is inside.
One issue that might bother some users is Yaro’s power management—something that was a bigger issue when we first received the unit for review, and noticed that it was making intermittent popping sounds. A replacement amplifier arrived before we could even request one, following a note from Kanto that an issue with early units had been resolved, and the new unit is definitely better. While it goes to sleep automatically after a period of inactivity, and still wakes—sometimes immediately when the Apple TV starts to play audio, and at other times without any obvious reason—with a small and not particularly welcome pop, these pops were less frequent and quieter in the newer unit. On a somewhat related note, Yaro runs a little warm, which is one reason that Apple TV users accustomed to the completely cool second-generation unit might think twice about stacking those components. These little oddities were the most substantial detractors from the experience of using the system.
Overall, Kanto has done a pretty good job with Yaro. Aesthetically, the three-piece system is a very close to ideal match for the second-generation Apple TV and for most of the glossy black television sets out there, missing perfection only in relatively small elements, some of which are partially outside of Kanto’s control. Of at least equal importance is Yaro’s very capable audio performance, which enables the Apple TV to be used with completely silent monitors and sonically limited HDTVs, delivering truly very good sound with the ability to ramp up nicely in both the bass and volume departments. While Yaro’s power management is a little iffy, and the system runs a little warm, these aren’t disqualifiers for an otherwise very nicely designed system that does exactly what it promises to do, and then some. It’s worthy of our general recommendation, and the price is certainly fair given the quality of the components. Hopefully, Yaro will establish a paradigm that inspires additional options from Kanto and others in the near future.