Most helpful positive review
42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Family-friendly design with sound-enhancing features
on May 18, 2011
I searched the Internet thoroughly before buying my first receiver in about a decade. I have been an audiophile since the 70's and used to use tube electronics and other exotica, but I was out of date regarding practical family-friendly AV receivers. I was put-off by the emphasis that some manufacturer's place in iPod/iPhone compatibility -- that feature is a nice-to-have in my book but it doesn't address the core requirements of a good home theater system. In the end, I selected Yamaha due to consistently good reviews for performance, reliability, and customer service; good reviews for sound quality in the British press; Internet software upgrade capability; CinemaDSP and similar features; and positive previous experience with the brand (although with musical instruments rather than electronic equipment).
I hope that my review will touch on topics of interest that are not well-covered in Internet reviews such as late-night listening, two-speaker systems, and the operation of CinemaDSP and other DSP functions.
So far I am very satisfied with the product. I hooked it up and got it going without consulting the Easy Start guide or the owners' manual (provided on a CD). The menus are intuitive for nearly anyone who has worked with other AV equipment in recent years, and it has defaults set for parameters that one either doesn't understand or doesn't care about. In fact, I only needed to consult the owner's manual for two issues: Updating the firmware (which worked flawlessly) and operating the network features.
Unlike most users (apparently), my living room isn't well-suited for surround sound. So, I run my system with two high-end speakers and a subwoofer. Therefore, I was very interested in what CinemaDSP could do to make the two-speaker system into a credible home theater system. To my surprise and delight, it actually works very well: Dialog is well-centered and the background effects seem widely spread beyond the edges of the speakers. Although it isn't a substitute for real surround, it is much better than my previous receiver which created a traditional 2-channel stereo sound field. The CinemaDSP effect is somewhat retained off-axis as well, so it isn't necessary to sit precisely in the center "sweet spot."
I have the two speakers wired up in the receiver's bi-amp mode. (Note that this isn't a true bi-amp mode; it only works with loudspeakers that have a built-in crossover designed to function in this manner.) The music reproduction is vastly improved compared to my previous Pioneer receiver and is somewhat "high-end" in character with outstanding clarity and a treble that is very clean rather than harsh. Since this model has pre-out jacks, one could use a true external audiophile-quality power amplifier for the main speakers (and any other channel) if desired.
The YPAO automatic calibration system couldn't be easier to use. I mounted the supplied microphone to a camera tripod, plugged the cable into the receiver, turned it on, and the receiver knew what I wanted to do and guided me step-by-step through the process. I had it do measurements at three different listening positions and setup the calibration automatically; the whole process took 20 minutes (including the time it took to find the tripod in the basement). Although the receiver provides the option for manually tweaking the equalization, it claimed to have achieved a flat frequency response so I see no reason to change it. The sound quality was significantly better, with improved midrange clarity and smoother bass performance. Maybe the Audyssey system of other receiver brands is more sophisticated, but the YPAO seemed to do the trick of taming the resonances of my highly reflective listening room.
The networking functionality was very easy to get up and running. Configuring it for my household LAN was performed fully automatically. By setting Windows Media Player to "streaming" capability on my Windows 7 machine, I was able to access my complete music collection using the receiver. The user interface is easy to understand, and it displays cover art on the TV screen as well as correctly displaying English and foreign alphabets. It seems to be able to play the variety of file formats that my collection is in (AAC, MP3, WMP). The Internet Radio feature allows users to search the world for radio stations and easily play them; the sound "Enhancer" significantly upgrades the sound quality from these sources.
My lifestyle usually dictates that TV-watching or what-have-you begins rarely earlier than 9pm on most evenings. And that means that sleeping children and neighbors are not far away. So my primary concern is with high quality sound at low-to-moderate levels rather than the full-impact of THX reference-level theater sound, which I can only rarely use. Practically, I was looking for dynamic range compression that enables the dialog to be heard reliably, without constantly changing the volume levels using the remote throughout the show. The Yamaha has two methods of controlling dynamic range, and I have been using both. They seem to do a good job of keeping dialog audible at lower listening levels and preventing the commercial "blast away" problem, but without adding audible side-effects. I don't know how it compares to Audyssey's Dynamic Volume, but it does work and is very easy to adjust as desired. Also, it reduces the quantity of low bass when listening at low levels (kind of the opposite effect of a "loudness" button), which reduces annoyance to others trying to sleep.
The application of CinemaDSP to headphones is fascinating - it changes the character of the sound from being "inside your head" to a more natural sound field. It doesn't give you true surround sound when wearing headphones of course, but it does give you a more convincing experience than regular 2-channel audio. I like it a lot - it really improves the headphone listening experience. Note that when you plug headphones into the receiver, it automatically configures CinemaDSP for headphone use.
Other random thoughts: The thin remote is elegant and easy enough to use (although it doesn't fully replace the functionality of my other remotes, which is par for the course); the HDMI and video digital conversion features are working without a hitch; and the receiver runs cool when running at normal volume levels, although it is installed in a cabinet. Overall, this receiver is a very well-integrated design that is sophisticated underneath but easy to approach for users. If you just want to do basic functions, then they are easy to do. If you want to geek-out with tweaking, you can do that as well.