I love components that walk softly, bear modest price tags, and offer big performance. Yamaha’s $550 RX-V657 A/V receiver does all three, and has become one of the sweetest surprises I’ve encountered in a long time. Most of today’s A/V receivers are full-featured, and the 7.1-channel, 95Wpc RX-V657 is no exception. It sports the expected complement of Dolby and DTS surround modes, plus a broad array of proprietary DSP surround modes. Yamaha allows enthusiasts to access and edit the internal parameters of its DSP modes—adjusting variables such as room size, delay times, and other reverberation characteristics—to fine-tune sound or create new modes. Further, the RX-V657 is an XM Satellite Radio-ready receiver that, through the addition of an optional XM “Connect & Play” module, lets users hook up to the big media server in the sky.
In my system, the RX-V657 followed on the heels of Sony’s flagship STR-DA9000ES. I didn’t expect the Yamaha to come within a country mile of the Sony’s gutsy, highly transparent sound. I was wrong. Though the RXV657 doesn’t quite equal the big-dog Sony in terms of absolute clarity and raw grunt, the performance gap between the two is narrow enough. Not only does the Yamaha’s core sound offer plenty of transparency and pleasing warmth, its automated parametric EQ system manages to smooth in-room frequency response without mucking up the receiver’s underlying clarity. The net result is a far more sophisticated sound than I’ve heard from a receiver at this price.
Whether playing CDs or multichannel DVD-Audio and SACD discs, I was struck by the Yamaha’s transparency, neutrality, and surround-sound imaging. I compared the RX-V657 to a very wellregarded, affordable two-channel integrated amplifier; it sounds every bit as pure and open. To appreciate the RXV657’ s transparency, try “I Could Eat Your Words” from Patricia Barber’s Verse CD [Blue Note], first in stereo, and then with the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode engaged. The track opens with Barber’s voice and solo piano, which—when properly reproduced—can make the singer sound eerily present. Any good AVR can make this track sound pleasant, but it takes a better-than-good one to draw out its underlying realism—something the Yamaha did with nuance aplenty. While the receiver’s various surround modes sound slightly less pure than unprocessed stereo, their clarity is more than sufficient to place Barber in your room, with the added benefit of delicious wraparound imaging.
Sonic neutrality demands smooth, even frequency response, which the Yamaha achieves through its automated seven-band EQ system. The unit’s proprietary EQ eliminates most room-induced colorations, while letting fine inner details and textural subtleties shine. Although you might hear a slight coarsening of treble textures with the equalizer engaged, it’s a small price to pay for ridding unwanted room resonance.
The receiver delivered exceptionally believable surround-sound imaging. When listening to good multichannel stage mixes, as in Gary Burton’s Like Minds SACD [Concord Jazz], I sometimes had the illusion of sitting among the performers. The Yamaha also did a great job on more conventionally mixed multichannel recordings, helping my system cast a wide, deep soundstage with just the right touch of hall ambience. On David Chesky’s “The Girl from Guatemala” [Area 31, Chesky SACD], the acoustics of the recording venue were presented so convincingly I almost felt that I could get up from my chair and walk into the performance space.
Yamaha’s RX-V657 is the bestsounding affordable AVR I’ve ever heard, and will leave many card-carrying audiophiles shaking their heads in disbelief.
A year ago I reviewed Sony’s STRDA9000ES A/V receiver for our sister magazine, The Perfect Vision (Issue 57), and it would be an understatement to say that the unit left a favorable impression. The DA9000ES was built like a Rolex, offered substantial power, and produced delightfully transparent sound. The only significant drawbacks were its overly complicated remote control, and a wallet-crushing $4500 price. Sony now builds a DA9000ES-influenced AVR that offers the same build quality, nearly as much power, a greatly improved remote control, and sound quality at least equal to the original—for less than half the price.
The $2000 7.1-channel DA7100ES features “Digital Drive” amplifiers that put out 170Wpc. It supports Dolbyand DTS-family surround-sound modes, plus 15 preprogrammed Sony DSP “sound field” modes. The DA7100ES can handle every speaker setup from basic stereo to 9.1-channel, and offers a phono input, 7.1-channel analog inputs for DVD-A and SACD sources, and dual HDMI and i.LINK inputs. What’s more, the AVR follows an intelligent HDMI protocol that repeats commands back to source components to seek the best signals from each, then upconverts incoming analog video signals to HDMI using a 12-bit, 216MHz video DAC. HDMI is emerging as the digital A/V interface of choice because it passes both audio and video data through one cable, and i.LINK enables the DA7100ES to decode direct DSD bitstream data from select Sony SACD players such as the current SCD-XA9000ES.