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December
2000

Reviewed by
John Potis
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2000


Yamaha
RX-V1 Audio/Video
Receiver

Features SnapShot!

Description

Price: $2799 USD (black), $2899 (champagne)

Dimensions: 17.5"W x 8.5"H x 18.75"D
Weight: 62 pounds

Warranty: Two years

Features

  • Audio inputs: four sets
  • A/V inputs: Eight sets of audio inputs each with composite and S-Video video inputs
  • Component inputs: Three sets   

Features (continued)
  • Digital inputs: Seven sets, three with optical and coax connections
  • Phono stage input
  • Two independent monitor outputs
  • RS 232 Interface
  • Dolby Digital Matrix 6.1 and DTS ES decoding
  • Yamaha’s exclusive Tri-Field Processing
  • Burr-Brown 1705 24/96 DACs for eight channels
  • 6-channel inputs for external decoder
  • Pre/Main Coupling
  • 40-station Direct-Access Tuning
  • Pre-outs for all channels

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a product garner more universal praise than the Yamaha DSP-A1 audio/video integrated amp/surround-sound processor. And for probably the first time in history, all the critics were right: The Yamaha DSP-A1 was a fabulous unit. I should know. After a rather exhaustive search, I bought one almost two years ago. Well, time stands still for no man or flagship product, and the DSP-A1 is now yesterday’s news. Yamaha has replaced its respected DSP-A1 with the RX-V1. When I say that Yamaha went back to the drawing board with this piece, I’m not just spouting rhetoric.

The addition of a tuner, to create a full-fledged audio/video receiver, was one change. To be honest, I don’t listen to much FM and don’t judge myself to be the last word on tuner performance appraisal, but I found the FM tuner to be quite good. It easily picked up all the usual suspects in my receiving area and delivered generally clean and enjoyable sound.

The tuner, along with larger dimensions and greater heft, are the obvious changes to the V1. You have to look a little harder to find the less-obvious changes. The new RX-V1 features Yamaha’s Dolby Digital/Matrix 6.1 processing, which provides a center-surround channel from DVDs encoded with Dolby Extended Surround (ES) and DTS-ES 6.1 soundtracks. There are now 54 surround options available. But the real story is about changes designed to be heard, and that’s the best news yet. Right out of the box I could tell that the RX-V1 was a worthy successor to the DSP-A1, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

During the review period I used three different speaker systems: Tyler Acoustics, Polk Audio, and NHT. These are three very different-sounding systems. The very neutral RX-V1 allowed each speaker system to sing with its own voice. Even when playing two-channel stereo over the very refined Tyler Acoustic 7U, the sound left surprisingly little to be desired. Highs are remarkably smooth and airy, the midrange is crisp and natural, and soundstage portrayal is very satisfying. Bass performance, particularly when the RX-V1 was used with the NHT VT2.4, was startlingly robust, deep, and solid. NHT claims that no subwoofer is needed with the VT2.4, and I would agree provided that a high-quality amplifier capable of real dynamics, speed, and control is used." The Yamaha RX-V1 is more than capable enough for the VT2.4.

Performance

I’m not a huge fan of surround sound for two-channel CDs. For my tastes, most processors just lay too heavy a hand on the music. Changes in instrumental timbre and the all-too-common collapsing of the soundstage are too difficult for me to accept in exchange for what is admittedly a larger, more enveloping, exciting soundfield. Two things about the RX-V1 have taken me a step closer to the other side. The first was the more subtle and better executed surround modes. Of course, if you like this sort of thing, you can still overdo it! You can turn your home into an echo chamber if you like. But stick close to the presets with the RX-V1 and you can’t go too far wrong.

The second and third things that really were appealing, and things I believe are totally unique to the Yamaha piece, are the "Silent Cinema" and "Virtual Cinema" DSP features. These allow you to play multichannel sources on headphones using Head-Related Transfer Function (HRTF) technology. In other words, the new Yamaha allows DSP processing of the signal sent to the headphone output. This is cool! If I’m not a fan of DSP on music, I’m definitely a fan of using it to liven up both music CDs and movie soundtracks over headphones! Gone is the everything-grouped-in-the-center-of-the-head phenomenon, which is the bane of the headphone-using world. DSP processing is able to simulate a real environment within the confines of headphones. And if this cool feature weren’t enough, the 'phones I used were the Sennheiser HD 580s, widely known to require a good outboard headphone amp to drive effectively. Well, the RX-V1 did an excellent job driving my Sennheisers, and that’s no small feat. Headphone listening may not become your format of choice, but those late-night sessions that force their use are definitely going to be a lot more fun with the RX-V1.

Getting back to the way most people will use the RX-V1 (with speakers), I watched a lot of concert DVDs in surround and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Without question, with an image on the TV, I enjoy the surround experience. Rather than stick with the straight Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks, I usually preferred Yamaha’s Enhanced mode. It did a great job of expanding the soundfield and creating an added sense of excitement, space, and depth to the concert. As we are redoing the family room, I even spent some time with no rear speakers at all. I still enjoyed using Yamaha’s Enhanced version of Dolby Pro Logic for the same reason.

I’ve watched Armageddon at least two dozen times, and you would think that I’d heard it all where the soundtrack is concerned. But the Yamaha receiver expanded the movie’s horizons -- literally. This movie provides a variety of acoustic environments, and the RX-V1 did a super job of differentiating between them. The first confrontation between A.J. and Harry takes place on the offshore-drilling platform. It just about made me seasick! More than ever, I was made aware of the expansive, encompassing, and convincing sounds of the ocean all around. The underwater training sessions cause some serious concerns over getting up to the surface for air! The hanger scenes sounded so cavernous that those suffering from agoraphobia may want to step out of the room! OK, I exaggerate slightly, but I want to make clear that the RX-V1 concocted the best and most realistic sense of space I’ve ever heard in my room, and did so without resorting to exaggerated levels of phony-baloney reverb. This was one of the two most defining characteristics of the Yamaha RX-V1: the ability to redefine the size, shape, and characteristics of my listening room.

The second most defining characteristic would be just what you would demand of a receiver in the RX-V1’s price class: fundamentally excellent sound. In the area of dynamics, the RX-V1 is surprisingly robust. In this day and age of super-powerful amplifiers, you may have the tendency to underestimate the potency of 110 watts. Don’t. Coupling the RX-V1 to the NHT VT2.4 towers and without the use of a powered subwoofer, even I was surprised at the driving force of this receiver. Bass was deep, tight, and powerful, and even in my largish listening room I was never at a loss for power or system dynamics. Beyond brute force, the sound was extraordinarily smooth and fundamentally correct. At the end of the note-taking sessions, I replaced the RX-V1 with my DSP-A1, and I’d be a liar if I told you that I didn’t miss the RX-V1. The sound of the DSP-A1 is distinctly dryer and less involving. Rendering of acoustic space was no longer on par with the best I've had in my home, that honor now belongs to the Yamaha RX-V1. The DSP-A1 just doesn’t have the ring of truth that the RX-V1 does.

I found the most profound differences between my DSP-A1 and the RX-V1 in their surround processors. Right out of the box I was faced with Yamaha’s new factory-preset surround modes, and to my great surprise, I found them extraordinarily well executed. When I installed the RX-V1, I found the factory presets to work superbly. I suspect that the vast majority of users could happily use the V1 and never touch the factory presets. Furthermore, the RX-V1 frequently sounded better -- more natural than my tweaked settings on the DSP-A1.

Put on a well-recorded concert video such as James Taylor’s Live At The Beacon Theater and prepare for as musical an audio/video presentation as you’ve ever heard. This recording is presented, as it should be, with the musicians up on stage where they belong, the surround channels being restricted to reproducing hall effects and the cheering of the audience. One day all music will be recorded like this and we can forget all about digitally synthesized ambiance re-creation (as well as listening to musicians placed all around us while we look at them in front of us). I settled on Yamaha’s enhanced version of Dolby Digital as it was the subtlest of the modes available, and it sounded just right to me. Through the Yamaha and NHT VT2.4/VS2.4 system, the music was even, detailed, and engrossing.

A comment is in order regarding Yamaha’s Dolby Digital ES surround modes. When I first heard of the RX-V1, I assumed that this advancement was the driving force behind the new product. It’s a nice enhancement, but it will not revolutionize the surround experience. Admittedly, I have few ES encoded DVDs. As more come out, however, I would guess that this could change. I was curious as to the effect the ES decoding would have on non-ES-encoded material. With such program material, the information, matrixed out of the two rear channels and sent to the rear-center speaker is, more or less, random. But after living with the system for several months, I have concluded that the effect is not as potentially deleterious as the word "random" would indicate. As the ear does not locate sounds coming directly from behind nearly as easily as it does sounds coming from directly in front, I found that quite often what I experienced coming from the rear channel offered an additional degree of envelopment compared to regular Dolby Digital or DTS. I can’t say that I had the feeling of being surrounded from behind as much as I experienced an effect not all that different from headphone listening. When listening to headphones, you do not experience the feeling of being surrounded by speakers, but you do feel saturated with the sound. That’s what I experienced with EX processing engaged. Certainly there are and will continue to be more Dolby Digital ES and DTS ES-encoded DVDs coming out that will make use of the rear-center channel, but even now with non-ES encoded discs, I found the effect beneficial much of the time and rarely distracting.

Conclusion

I judge the Yamaha RX-V1 to be not only an excellent product, but also a great step forward from the DSP-A1. Its new and improved enhanced versions of DTS and Dolby Digital put it in a class by itself. If the RX-V1 came with these surround modes only, and the ability to bypass them for two-channel listening, it would still get a hearty recommendation from me. But by no means should anybody be bashful about enjoying the multitude of other modes Yamaha has made available. What’s good for the goose doesn’t have to be good for the gander where home theater and music enjoyment are concerned. There are no rules regarding what is enjoyable, and no other product I know of offers as versatile an assortment of DSP venues as Yamaha has here. While the RX-V1 is not cheap, when you compare its cost to that of a good processor and the required amplification, it’s hardly expensive. As a matter of fact, in that light and considering its fundamentally excellent sound as well as its ease of use and minimum space requirements, it’s a real bargain.

Review System
Speakers - NHT VT 2.4 (mains) and VS 2.4 (center and surrounds); Polk Audio RT1000i (main), RT25i (surrounds), CS275I (center); Tyler Acoustics Taylo Reference Monitors
Source - Sony DVP S500D
Monitor - Proscan 35" direct-view
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Yamaha Electronics Corporation USA
6660 Orangethorpe Avenue
Buena Park, CA 90620

Website: www.yamaha.com

 


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