But the benefits of the VRS processing also extend to high-resolution Blu-ray material. A practical test I’ve begun to use is the Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live at Radio City Blu-ray disk, where I look to see how processors handle the small louvers on the arched ceiling of the hall and also the close-up details on Matthews’s and Reynolds’s faces. The processors in some AVRs give these details a smooth, almost film-like treatment but one that renders fine, small details just a bit indistinctly. But not so the RX-V3900 with VRS processing; it rendered the ceiling louvers and almost infinitesimally small details on the player’s faces with remarkable clarity and sharpness.
There are several aspects of the Yamaha’s core sound that are worth discussing, so let’s begin by talking about the purest mode of all; namely, the “Pure Direct” mode, which turns off superfluous audio and video processing. I tried the Pure Direct mode on multiple, high-quality CDs and multichannel SACD discs, and in each case came away impressed with the improvements I heard. Specifically, when I flipped on the Pure Direct mode, I heard deeper, finer low-level details that had not been readily apparent before, plus a marked improvement in presentation of imaging and soundstaging cues. As a result, everything sounded more three-dimensional and—as the name of the mode would suggest—purer, too (though not in a sterile, analytical sense). The bottom line, then, is that the Pure Direct mode is often the best way to go when you’re playing audiophile-grade records.
Next, let’s talk about the sonic differences made by using Yamaha’s next generation YPAO room/speaker EQ system. As I mentioned above, the new system lets you optimize equalization for either a single listening position or for multiple positions. In the Playback lab, a multi-position setup worked best, but the good news is that the YPAO gives you both options, so you can choose what works best in your room. Once EQ setup is finished (and it works like a charm), you’ll have to decide whether to use the “Flat” or “Natural” EQ settings (an option some but not all Audyssey EQ systems also offer). I found the“Natural” setting gave the smoothest, sweetest, and most believable tonal balance over all, though you should definitely audition both settings and pick what works best for your room/speakers. (The difference between “Natural” and “Flat” setting mostly involves upper midrange and treble balance, with the “Flat” option sounding noticeably brighter but also just a bit more “edgy”).
How does YPAO affect sound, and how does it compare with the characteristic sound of Audyssey systems? I would say YPAO generally smoothes and tightens up bass and lower midrange frequencies while also cleaning up small peaks and valleys in the system’s midrange, upper midrange, and treble response curves. The result, paradoxically, is a sound that’s at once smoother and more relaxed, yet also more open and intelligible—especially on movie dialog. In comparison to the Audyssey system, its seems to me that the YPAO system affords a slightly more lightly balanced, though also tighter and more focused, bass sound coupled with an every-so-slightly more forward midrange presentation that adds a subtle but welcome measure of dialog intelligibility. Differences between Audyssey and YPAO equalization are subtle, so that I’m hesitant to declare one system better than the other; both do a good job of helping to match your speakers to your room, which is the main point. I will say, though, that the longer I listened through the YPAO-treated system, the better I liked it.
Finally, we should discuss Yamaha’s many proprietary surround sound field processing modes, which are mostly meant to help synthesize believable surround sound effects when listening to stereo material. Here’s what I found. When stereo recordings contain a lot of recording venue sounds, it’s generally better to listen to them in their original stereo format or to use one of the traditional Dolby, DTS, or Circle Surround processing modes. However, when stereo recordings have more of a pure, “studio sound,” Yamaha’s sound field modes can sometimes yield significant benefits. For example, I used the Ludvig Berghe Trio’s Weekend [Moserobie], a fine jazz recording, as a test vehicle and discovered it synced beautifully and quite realistically with the RX-V3900’s Live/Club “Village Vanguard” setting. The setting gave the Berghe recording much greater three-dimensionality within the convincing acoustic setting of a famous jazz club. But keep two points in mind: first, Yamaha’s processing modes work with some recordings but not others, and second, you will always get best results by choosing surround modes that are consistent with the material you want to play (for example, a small chamber group might sound great with the Classical “Church in Freiburg” setting, but terrible with the Entertain “Sports” setting; you get the picture).