June 4th, 2009 -- by Chris Martens
Fans of the 1984 Barry Levinson film The Natural (or the Bernard Malamud novel upon which the film is based) will recall an epic baseball story where the mythical Roy Hobbs (played by Robert Redford) emerges as one the most versatile and naturally talented players the game has yet seen. Roy, we are shown, is not only a smokin’ hot pitcher but an astonishingly skilled hitter, too; in the world of baseball, it seems there’s nothing Mr. Hobbs can’t do and do well. Our review subject this month, Yamaha’s third-from-the top-of-the-line RX-V3900 ($1,900), is a bit like The Natural, too, because it covers all the key bases—sound quality, video performance, and overarching flexibility—with a kind of muscular grace. In short, this receiver has all the right moves, including a few I’ve not seen before from models in this price class.
Consider this AVR if: you want an A/V receiver that combines three essential qualities: natural and very refined sound quality, killer video processing capabilities (thanks to an onboard Anchor Bay/VRS video processor), and input/output options galore. The only drawback: this Yamaha offers options upon options in places other receivers don’t even have places, so you really must read the manual to have any hope of getting the most out of this baby.
Look further if: you need or want a receiver sufficiently simple that you can set it up purely through experimentation and trial-and-error—without cracking open the manual. Yamaha’s RX-V3900 isn’t particularly “mysterious” or hard to use and many of its functions are self-explanatory, but it is extremely rich in features; some serious manual study time will be needed in order to master them.
Ratings (compared to sub-$2K AVRs)
- User Interface: 8
- Sound Quality, Music: 9
- Sound Quality, Movies: 10
- Value: 9
- 7x140 watts per channel with Yamaha Digital ToP-ART (Total Purity Audio Reproduction Technology) amplifier circuits.
- Unused amplifier channels can be re-routed to serve three different purposes: to bi-amp main loudspeakers; to power front “Presence” speakers—a unique-to-Yamaha technology where supplementary L/R front speakers are positioned well above the L/R main speakers and are used control perceived image height; or, to power a stereo pair of speakers in a second zone.
- 7.1-channel analog pre-amp outputs mean the receiver can drive a standalone multichannel amplifier, if desired.
- Yamaha next-generation YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Acoustic Optimizer) automated room/speaker EQ system applies multi-band parametric equalization to support several processing options: EQ optimized for a single listening location; EQ optimized for multiple listening locations (requires additional measurements); or, EQ optimized, at user’s option, for textbook “Flat” response or for slightly warmer-sounding “Natural” response.
- Video Processing: Anchor Bay VRS video processor provides 1080p upscaling for all video sources (including component video sources) via HDMI.
- Tuners: the receiver is XM/XMHD and Sirius satellite radio-ready, with AM, FM and HD radio as standard.
- Networking features: receiver provides Ethernet connectivity, is DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) certified, and provides built-in support for Internet radio and for the Rhapsody music service.
- Bluetooth and iPod support: receiver supports optional docks for iPods and for connectivity to Bluetooth devices.
- Moving magnet phono input is a plus for vinyl fans.
- Supports all contemporary surround sound codecs including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, THX Neural Surround, and Circle Surround II (licensed from SRS Labs).
- Provides extensive range of proprietary Yamaha surround processing modes, including five Classical music modes, five Live/Club modes, five general-purpose Entertain modes, six Movie modes, two Stereo modes, and two compressed music Enhancer modes.
- Yamaha describes many of these modes in terms of four key parameters: size of sound field space; vertical/horizontal balance (where the “vertical” component refers to ceiling reflections, and the “horizontal” component to sidewall reflections); front/rear balance (where “front” implies a greater “feeling of openness and depth toward the screen” and “rear” implies a “sense of envelopment and movement”oriented more toward the back of the room); and sound field atmosphere (which Yamaha describes on both a “Simple-to-Complex” axis and also a “Calm-to-Powerful” axis).
- Pure Direct mode shuts down all extraneous processing (video and audio) to maximize sonic purity.