Most A/V receivers tend to exhibit pretty uninspired industrial designs; they just don’t have high-end sex appeal or the dazzling allure of iPods. But Yamaha’s RX-V3800 is different, because its designers somehow juggled the necessary functional elements in an elegant way to come up with a truly handsome receiver. The RX-V3800’s artful combination of subtle curves and crisp edges add up to a unique look. We also think the receiver’s orange-tinted display is easier on the eyes than the usual blue ones.
We were surprised to note that while the RX-V3800 is XM Satellite Radio ready it doesn’t offer Sirius or HD Radio— features that are included in Yamaha’s RX-V863 receiver ($1,000), reviewed in Playback Issue 8.
While the RX-V3800 is a sevenchannel receiver it can drive as many as nine speakers in your home theater. You see, Yamaha has added two “Presence” front speaker outputs to augment the standard left/right speakers; that’s five speakers upfront, and four more are used as surround channels. If that sounds like more speakers than you care to use, remember that the RX-V3800 will sound great with 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1-channel speaker/subwoofer systems.
The RX-V3800 supports all of the current HD audio formats including Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD Master Audio and High Resolution Audio. The network enabled receiver can also play MP3, WMA, and WAV files from your PC. There’s a USB terminal on the front panel for easy access for flash drives and portable USB music players. On the rear panel, analog lovers will find a phono input where they could plug in their turntables.
Yamaha’s YPAO (Automatic System Calibration) handles speaker setup, and it’s easy enough to plug in the mic and run the test tones. But after that point we bogged down on the menu directions and had to rerun the YPAQ a couple of times to get through the procedure. We thought auto setup was supposed to make things easier, not more difficult. Navigating the GUI (Graphic User Interface) to access other onscreen setup menus further tested our patience. The GUI is attractively designed, but our feeling is that the menus are more densely layered than they ought to be. Making detail-oriented adjustments, such as setting HDMI resolution, was somewhat trying.
The RX-V3800 comes with, you guessed it, two remotes. We never got the hang of the fully-backlit primary remote’s button layout, and its smallish LCD readout only displays information for the selected source. The compact second remote, intended for use in multiroom systems is a minimalist affair, and is generally easier to use.
There’s HDMI v1.3a Switching/ Repeating for four sources. The RXV3800 up-converts analog (composite, S-video, component) sources, like your old VCR, to 1080p over HDMI.
The I Am Legend Blu-ray [Warner] provided a real workout for the RX-V3800’s amplifiers. In the early scenes, where Will Smith tears around deserted Manhattan streets in a blazing red GT500 Mustang, the Yamaha was firing on all cylinders. When Smith comes across a herd of deer, the sound of their hooves clacking against the pavement sounded awfully realistic. The surround speakers, in turn, unfurled a panorama of buzzing insects and singing birds.
After that I plugged in a set of Ultrasone HFI-2200 headphones and watched the Awake DVD. This medical thriller hinges on a heart transplant operation, where the patient’s out-of-body fantasies and overheard conversations of the doctors are deployed over the surround channels. The RXV3800’ s Silent Cinema portrayal of surround sound through the headphones was so convincing that I had to remove the ’‘phones to make sure the speakers weren’t still on.
Next up, I listened to John Mayer’s Where the Light Is: Live in Los Angeles CD [Columbia] in stereo just to see if the RX-V3800 could develop a three-dimensional soundstage. But no such luck; for stereo playback the Yamaha proved somewhat spatially challenged, making the live Mayer set sound more like a studio recording.
As an experiment, I switched off the subwoofer (and reset the bass management) to see how the RX-V3800 handled bass on its own through just my main speakers, and all 140 watts-per-channel made themselves known. This is a powerful sounding receiver
Yamaha’s RX-V3800 is a handsome unit, with a fully loaded features set. True, we felt the setup and menus could be more intuitively designed. Sonically, the receiver’s strengths make it better suited for movie than for music playback.