Introduction to the Yamaha R-S700 Stereo Receiver
5.1, 7.1, 9.2… even 11.2 and beyond. Yes, I’m talking about the numbers of channels available in multi-channel home theater systems. It seems to be getting out of control, don’t you think? Well, Yamaha may have the prescription for your multi-channel nausea: good, affordable, old-fashioned 2-channel stereo, done right. The new Yamaha R-S700 is a no-frills* 2 channel stereo receiver. Notice I did not label it an Audio-Video Receiver. Can a home theater junkie really enjoy such a basic device? Oh, yeah!
*”No frills” does not mean without great features. Read on…
Yamaha R-S700 Stereo Receiver Specifications
- Design: Two-Channel Receiver
- Power Output: 100 Watts RMS x 2, 20 Hz – 20 kHz
- THT+N: 0.019% at 8 Ohms, 0.03% at 6 Ohms
- Audio Connections: 5 RCA Analog Inputs, 2 RCA Analog Outputs, 2 RCA Analog Pre-Out
- Video Connections: 1 Composite In, 1 Composite Out
- Other Connections: 12V trigger, IR (2 in, 1 out), Headphone Jack (6.3mm), iPod Dock, SIRIUS Jack
- Dimensions: 6″ H x 17.1″ W x 15.3″ D
- Weight: 24.7 Pounds
- Retail Price: $549.95 USA
- SECRETS Tags: yamaha, receivers, rs700
Design of the Yamaha R-S700 Stereo Receiver
The R-S700 is almost a throwback to another era. Aesthetically, it looks like a standard black receiver. Up close though, its simplicity reminds me of the old stereo integrated amplifier my father had when I was growing up. It has knobs for bass, treble, and balance, as well as a loudness adjustment. It has a record-out selector dial, a source select dial, an A/B speaker switch, and a headphones jack. Revealing it’s true modern roots though, are the Pure Direct and CD Direct Amp buttons for minimal processing, and the Sirius satellite radio logo.
Around back, the simplicity compared to surround sound AVRs continues. There are only four pairs of binding posts, two each for speakers A & B. There are four pairs of analog audio inputs, as well as some outputs: subwoofer, zone2 pre-out and main-in/out for external amplification. There is also a 12V trigger out for your external amplification. Analog buffs will delight in the inclusion of a turntable phono-jack input and grounding terminal. The phono jack is compatible with MM type cartridges. Again exposing the modern design are the SIRIUS jack, the iPod dock input, and a composite video output for iPod video from the dock. One surprise to this reviewer was the lack of any digital audio input for a CD transport. The only way to hook up your CD player is via analog stereo RCA cables. This obviously simplifies things a bit, as you don’t need to worry if the R-S700 will accept and decode your SACD, DVD-A, HDCD, or Blu-Ray audio via bit-stream or PCM or how or if, it will down-sample the signal. Analog inputs only! If your player has analog outs, the R-S700 can utilize it.
Two features worth mentioning up front (that will get further attention later as well) are the CD Direct Amp switch and the Pure Direct switch. The Pure Direct mode routes signals directly to the amplifier section, bypassing any processing. The CD Direct Amp mode goes a step further by creating a balanced signal from the input source to send directly to the amplifier.
From the owner’s manual:
Generates a normal phase and reverse phase signal for both the left and right channels from the input signal and uses the four electronic volumes to send a balanced signal to the amplifying circuit. This feature provides clearer sound as a result of:
- Improved Signal-to-noise Ratio
- External Noise Canceling
- Reduced Distortion
Use of either of these switches disables use of zone 2 speakers, as well as the bass, treble, balance, and loudness controls. This CD Direct Amp feature is intriguing, but the skeptic in me cried “fat chance!” when I read this entry in the manual. My ears would have to be the judge.
Some other design features of note were the uncommonly high damping factor of 240, and the pre-out/main-in coupler jacks. The coupler jacks allow the user to either hook up an external processor and use the R-S700 for its amps only, or to hook up external amplification and use the R-S700 as a pre-amp/processor only. I did not explore either option but it sure is nice to have these options.
As for the damping factor for the amplifier section, the manual states a damping factor of 240, rated at 1 kHz and 8 Ohm. Yamaha informed me (and indeed their website agrees) that this is actually the “Linear Damping Factor”. Why linear? Damping factor is simply the ratio of the speaker’s input impedance to the amplifier’s internal impedance. For a given speaker impedance, (say 8 Ohm) the lower the amplifier’s impedance is, the higher the damping factor. However, the input impedance of a speaker varies across the audible spectrum, which is why speakers are given a “nominal” impedance value. So, the damping factor would vary across the audible spectrum as well. A “linear” damping factor implies that the damping factor is either constant across the 20-20,000 Hz range, or that it never drops below a certain value. Indeed the damping factor for the R-S700 is rated at “240 or more”. Supposedly, a higher damping factor means the amp has more control over the physical inertia of the speaker driver. I’ve never personally put much weight (no pun intended) on an amp’s damping factor being a significant contributor to overall sound quality of an amplifier. It is one of many specs that can influence the sound. Higher is generally better, in theory. But it can be too high also. Is a damping factor of 240 too high? No, probably not. Is it higher than normal? Well that depends on what you call “normal”. The Yamaha RX-A2000 surround receiver I just reviewed had a (linear?) damping factor of 150 and I really liked the sound from that receiver. Does the higher damping factor of this receiver mean I’ll definitely like the sound better? No, it definitely does not mean that. There are many factors that can influence the sound. I’m happy to see a high damping factor, just as I’m happy to see higher power in the amps, and a high current power supply, large heat sinks, big capacitors, etc. In the end what matters is how I feel when I sit down in my living room and listen to my favorite music from this receiver, which I’ll write about later in this review.
The R-S700 includes two remote controls, one for each zone. The zone 2 remote is much smaller and IR-only. This inclusion of a zone2 remote is very common with receivers these days. I guess A/V companies expect that everyone with multiple zones in their house will have IR repeaters as well. I don’t, so the extra remote was useless to me, as the main remote can control either zone. There was a time when some devices came with a UHF remote and a UHF receiver built in to the main unit (I had a Dish TV box like this) which would allow you to control the unit with the remote from almost anywhere in the house. Including a UHF stage in an analog stereo receiver might not be the best idea. However, these days with Bluetooth technology, as well as Wi-Fi, it really seems strange to include a second-zone remote that is IR only. If you happen to have an IR repeater, the second remote may be useful to you. If not, it’s a wasted part.
The main remote itself is decent, but not great. The buttons are kind of small, the body is not ergonomic at all, and there isn’t any sort of back lighting or night-glow on any of the keys. Granted, this is primarily an audio-only device so it might not be used in the dark as much as a surround processor, but I often find myself listening to music in dimmed or indirect lighting. The buttons and text are so small it’s hard to read what’s what without direct light. The range of the remote is acceptable (works farther away than one can read the main unit’s display), and the buttons, though small, work well. Programming the remote to operate my Sony DVD player was simple enough, and allowed basic control of the Sony’s transport functions.
The R-S700 is a hefty receiver, considering it is a stereo only device. I’ve reviewed surround sound receivers that weigh less than the R-S700. A peak through the top grille reveals a nicely laid out interior with two large capacitors and two very nice looking solid aluminum heat sinks. Yamaha’s ToP-ART design (Total Performance Anti-Resonance Technology) is apparent in the symmetric layout of the components inside the R-S700. Yamaha claim that this symmetric design allows “accurate sound field reproduction.” In my opinion, this is like having polished chrome headers on your 454 big-block: it may or may not improve performance, but it sure looks nice under the hood. And who among us doesn’t want nice-looking HT gear? The “ART” part of the “ToP-ART” moniker refers to Yamaha’s chassis design that they claim eliminates effects of external vibration. I’m not convinced that a normal level of external vibration really affects solid-state electronics. Maybe this is why Yamaha is able to claim to have completely eliminated these effects with a bit of chassis reinforcement. Regardless of the marketing spin on the technology and design within the Yamaha R-S700, the proof is in the pudding, so let’s see how this baby performed.
Setup of the Yamaha R-S700 Stereo Receiver
Setup was a snap. I connected my Paradigm Titan bookshelf speakers, connected my Sony DVP-S7700 DVD player (which serves as my CD player now) via analog interconnects, connected a decent rabbit-ears antenna I use for FM radio, and I was off and running (or rather sitting and listening.) I do not have an iPod nor a SIRIUS account, nor any vinyl or turntable, so I had nothing else to connect. Well, I suppose I could have connected my old Sony cassette deck, but that’s hardly reference quality material!
I do not have bi-wire-able speakers, but it’s worth noting that the R-S700 is bi-wire ready. In this case, it uses both sets of internal amplifiers (Speakers A & B) for one pair of bi-wired speakers. This implies a true bi-wired scenario, where separate discrete amplifiers are used for the tweeter/mid-range and woofer section of your bi-wire-able speakers. In theory this is a great design for such an affordable receiver. I was unable to test it out though. Note that if you do use this bi-wiring feature, it is important to select the proper impedance (high or low) setting for the receiver. The high setting allows bi-wiring speakers with 6 Ohm impedance or higher, while the low setting allows bi-wiring of speakers rated 4 Ohms and higher. Similarly, the high/low impedance switch needs to be properly set for standard wiring too.
The R-S700 also includes a subwoofer output. The manual does not specify, but I suspect that this output is a full range output. There is no bass management of any kind, so if you do choose to use a sub, it would need a built-in, adjustable low-pass filter. A high-pass filter for the main speakers would be nice too, but less necessary since you could simply adjust the sub’s LPF to the pick up where your speakers naturally roll off.
Finally, the R-S700 includes a power management feature that needs to be setup or deactivated. This is basically a sleep timer with three options: 4, 8, and 12 hours. If power management is turned on, the receiver will power down if inactive for the selected period of time.
The Yamaha R-S700 Stereo Receiver In Use
I’ll start with FM radio performance, which is the first thing I listened to anyway. I admit I am an FM radio junkie. I don’t know why I am, since the quality is nowhere near that of CD, let alone SACD or DVD-A. But I really enjoy the variety of radio, the local DJs, news & events and commentary. I recently reviewed a Yamaha RX-A2000 that initially had some problems with the FM tuner (fixed via firmware update). So, I was a bit tentative as I hooked up the antenna and attempted to tune in some FM stations for the first time. I needn’t have worried: the R-S700 pulled in all of my favorite stations quite well, and sounded great. KDFC out of San Francisco is my favorite classical station. The first sounds to come out of the R-S700 seemed at first to be an advertisement for United Airlines, but then I remembered that KDFC was listener supported. What I was hearing was a real performance of Gershwin’s fabulous “Rhapsody in Blue” as clear and noise-free as one could expect from an FM signal. The FM tuner in the R-S700 passed muster. This was a good start to my review.
Next up was one of my all-time favorite classical recordings, Telarc’s “Copland: The Music of America.” The DVP-S7700 DVD player, while a little long in the tooth, is actually quite a good CD player. The Yamaha R-S700 really shined when fed an analog signal from the Sony DACs. I turned on the CD Direct Amp switch for “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which sounded open and clean on the Yamaha. If anything can be said for what the R-S700 does to the sound, it’s “nothing”. The music was unadulterated and neutral in the best way. I then re-listened with the CD Direct Amp switch off. There seemed to be a small difference. I think it did sound a little better with the switch on. It was subtle, and this was by no means a double-blind test, but it did seem to clean up the signal, for a more pure, natural sound. I would be interested to try a double-blind test with this though, and see if I really preferred the sound with it off. I think I would be able to tell that there is a difference, but I don’t know that I would correctly identify which one is better. Turning on the CD Direct Amp mode sounded better to me, but it could have been bias on my part. Regardless I chose to leave it on for the rest of my testing.
To mix it up a little, I threw on “Test for Echo” by prog-rock stalwarts Rush. I cranked the volume and rocked out to Driven. This is a powerful, fast, driving song heavy on guitars and bass. The R-S700 delivered the goods, with ample power and dynamics. Not for a moment did I think about the Yamaha, which is a good thing. I was totally absorbed by the driving riffs of Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee. This receiver had plenty of juice to rock out, all the while maintaining its composure. There was no noticeable distortion or noise, even when I cranked the volume to uncomfortable levels, at which I would never actually listen to anything. Again, the Yamaha was, to my ear, transparent.
Finally, I put on a bit of Norah Jones to test the Yamaha on vocals (and to please the wife). Ms. Jones’ voice is by now, well known. She has a soft mezzo timbre, very little vibrato if any, with a little wispiness. I find her singing on her “Come Away With Me” album to be ideal for teasing out nuances of audio equipment. Again, the R-S700 was totally neutral. We sat back and just enjoyed the pure sound, and smooth melodies of Don’t Know Why, Come Away With Me, Lonestar, and Nightingale. I don’t think my Paradigms and Sony 7700 have sounded better than they did with the R-S700.
Conclusions About the Yamaha R-S700 Stereo Receiver
The Yamaha R-S700 is a welcome addition to Yamaha’s lineup of receivers. It’s also a refreshing change of pace from the typical multi-channel AV Receiver. Many multi-channel units, despite having a cost of well over $1,000, do not do justice to music. Many of them are fine for music, maybe even good, but I think this rating is always tempered by an oft unspoken “for a surround receiver” caveat. The R-S700 cuts to the chase and focuses on one thing and does it very well: 2 channel music. Now, that said, this is not a boutique audiophile 2-channel system. It is very good at 2 channel music, even better than many multi-channel receivers costing much more, but it’s probably not going to compete with a dedicated audiophile tube-amp based analog 2 channel system. Nor however, will it cost nearly as much. With an MSRP of $549, and a street price much below that, the Yamaha R-S700 is hard to pass up. If you long for a decent 2-channel system, but don’t want to take out another mortgage to do it, or if you have a smaller domicile like a condo, town home, or apartment, and don’t have the space for a full surround system, the Yamaha R-S700 deserves a serious look.