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Product Review
 

Yamaha RX-V740 6.1 Surround Sound Receiver

September, 2003

Mathhew Abel

 

Click on Photo Above to See Larger Image

Specifications:

● Power: 90 Watts x 6
● 96/24 DACs
● Pre-Outs for All Channels
● Digital Inputs: Four Optical, One Coaxial
● One Digital Output
● 60 MHz Component Video Switching
● 6 Channel Discrete Input Set
● Size: 6 3/4" H x 17 1/8" W x 15 3/8" D
● Weight: 28 Pounds
● MSRP: $599 USA

Yamaha

www.yamaha.com

Introduction

When I started getting interested in home theater, the first thing I purchased was a surround sound receiver. I spent months researching every model and visiting all of my local stores trying to discern which model would be the ideal unit for me.

Finally I made my decision and paid the princely sum of $400 hard-earned high school dollars for a basic Pro Logic receiver that elevated the cobbled together speaker set in my bedroom to a true surround sound system. Despite the fact that I have moved beyond entry-level receivers in my system, I keep a relatively updated surveillance on what the latest receivers offer in the upper budget price range. I do this just so that if I had to buy one, I would still know which would be the ideal one for me.

When I look at these models, I tend not to gravitate toward the absolute bottom of most manufacturers’ ranges, as a few hundred dollars more generally yields a receiver that has a feature set frighteningly competitive with models further up the chain. It seems that throughout the years, different manufacturers have gained slight upper hands with more and better features, but as it stands today, all of the major electronics’ manufacturers are offering relatively similar feature sets in their midrange receivers as well. However, despite my constant surveillance of the receiver scene, my physical experience with most of these models was limited to brief encounters in various demo rooms. Thus I was quite intrigued to bring Yamaha’s new RX-V740 into my house for an extended review. At $599, it would be considered a budget receiver, but mid-level.

Features

The Yamaha RX-V740 is a six-channel (6.1) receiver sporting an equal 90 watts into all six channels (not necessarily driven at the same time) and has all of the standard decoding facilities (DTS, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, DD, DD-EX and DPL-II). The only missing decoding feature is DTS 96/24. While I think DTS 96/24 is a great format and it certainly has potential if the one disc I own is any example, there simply is no software (music) to speak of for this format and the future does not look particularly bright on this subject. Instead of having only one rear center channel, it should have two, as this allows 5.1 to be configured as sides, rears, or both (7.1).

Yamaha also includes a host of their own DSP programs, something Yamaha for quite some time has been known for. I’ll go into greater detail later, but the RX-V740 features five unique music modes and nine unique cinema modes. Like THX, you can layer most of the cinema modes on top of the standard DTS and Dolby Digital processing. The first thing I noticed about the 740 as I hoisted it out of its box is that it is relatively heavy (28 lbs 11 oz) for a receiver of its class. Upon later inspection, much of this weight could be attributed to a large power supply and heat sink inside its case. The nice thing about this is that Yamaha does not use a fan to cool the 740, which is always preferable.

The Front Panel

Examining the 740’s front panel reveals a handsome unit with a simple black faceplate, a substantial volume knob and a separate input selector knob. The front panel also includes buttons for surround field programs, radio tuning, input mode priority, speaker select, and the six-channel discrete input (you could use this for connecting the analog outputs of a DVD-A or SACD player). There is a standard Ľ” headphone input, which mutes the speakers and preamp outputs when you plug in your phones.

The front panel A/V input includes S-Video as well as an optical digital input. Lastly, a large pair of bass and treble tone control knobs are located on the front panel, something you don’t see on every receiver. I left the tone controls in their flat position for the entirety of my evaluation period. One thing I liked about the layout of the front panel is that Yamaha managed to keep a nice clean look without having to resort to using a trap door to hide the controls. Another thing I liked is that one could operate 95% of the receiver’s functions from the front panel including doing system setup. The RX-V740 was excellent in both its quality and its functionality.

Connections

Turning the RX-V740 around reveals a well thought out and relatively complete back panel for any receiver. The input selection is par for the course with three optical and one coaxial digital input. On the analog side there are six line level stereo inputs, four with video inputs, a phono input, and a six-channel input. The video side consists of two component inputs as well as four S-Video/Composite pairs.

Click on Photo Above to See Larger Image

The RX-V740 can up-convert composite video to S-Video for simplicity of hookup to your TV. I didn’t test this feature, but it is nice to see its inclusion on a budget receiver. There are spring clips for an AM antenna and a coaxial hookup for the FM antenna.

Moving on to the speakers yields sets of two-way binding posts for banana plugs for all of the main speakers as well as “B” second main speaker outputs. I wasn’t overly impressed with these binding posts, as they felt a bit flimsy when unscrewed, but my banana plugs fit nice and tight and never game me any problems during the testing period.

The final thing that really got me excited was the inclusion of a full set of 6.1 preamp outputs. In comparison, I would say that only about 50% of the receivers in the RX-V740’s class include full preamp outputs. Receivers like the RX-V740 are often the first component one will buy when setting up a home theater, and the upgradability afforded by preamp outputs is important for someone just starting out. Whether you choose to add an external amp to improve the dynamics of the receiver, or if you decide that you really want a full on stereo rig with supplemental surround, the preamp outs give you this option. While the back panel didn’t bowl me over with class leading connectivity, it was the nice, clean, logical layout that truly impressed me.

The Remote Control

The remote for the Yamaha is a very traditional looking medium sized rectangular model. The remote is on the thinner side of receiver models and is not too heavy. It fit comfortably in my hand, and the buttons were easy to use. The remote can control a number of other components through its internal preset library, but it does not have either learning or macro capabilities. When one selects any of the twelve input buttons at the top of the remote, the receiver will switch to that input (there are three extra remote areas, A, B, C, ostensibly for controlling components not attached to the receiver) and will change the remote to that input’s control mode.

The name of the selected component appears in a very cool red LCD and you can rename the component’s display here (only four letters though). You can also scroll through the components on the LCD to control a component without changing the input. This is a really good idea that a lot of other multi-component remotes miss. The volume punches through to the receiver on most inputs, which is another nice feature. When controlling normal playback components, like a DVD player, there is a five-button menu select area, as well as a similar play, stop and chapter select area. With the distinct positions of these areas and their natural layout, I had no problem using these controls in almost all conditions.

Things only get better when trying to control the receiver and its myriad of sound modes. One of the things that Yamaha is known for in its receivers is its DSP algorithms for both music and movies. The RX-V740 offers five music and nine movie DSP modes on top of the normal Dolby and DTS surround modes. With all of these modes to choose from, I was glad to see that Yamaha had ten dedicated keys at the bottom of its remote reserved for selecting the different modes. Many receivers make you step through each sound mode one by one, something that makes comparing their effects somewhat difficult. With the Yamaha, I could toggle back and forth between stereo and music surround with the click of a button, which made my life a lot easier when I was evaluating all of the modes.

If you’ve read between the lines so far, you can probably figure out what I’m going to criticize about this remote. Twelve identical input buttons at the top and twelve identical sound field buttons at the bottom of the remote make it pretty hard to keep things straight in a dark room. It would be nice if they backlit the buttons so one could see them better, but I’m not complaining too loudly. I would much rather have the ability to directly access inputs and sound fields than have a simpler remote. I can see how some people might be frustrated by the complexity of this remote, but I found the RX-V740’s remote to be very usable and better than many other remotes I’ve seen.

Setup

I set up my RX-V740 using the front panel and its relatively intuitive menu system. One can individually set speaker levels in one dB increments for all of the speakers, as well as the speaker distance in one foot increments. The speaker size can be set in the symmetric groups of main, center, surround left and right and surround center (back). I set all of my speakers to "Small" and matched my levels using the test tones.

For a number of years, Yamaha has bucked the industry standard 80 Hz crossover frequency in favor of 90 Hz. The RX-V740, like other Yamaha models, only has a fixed 90 Hz crossover. However, throughout my listening tests, I did not find it to be an issue at all.

The RX-V740 allows you to reassign the component video and digital inputs to all of the logical input choices and rename the components on the front display with up to eight characters. There are also some unique setup features that are worth mentioning even though I did not find uses for them. The 740 lets you set subwoofer levels independently for your speakers and your headphones and also gives you separate tone controls for your headphones. There is also an equalizer for the center channel offering five bands (100 Hz, 300 Hz, 1 kHz, 3 kHz, 10 kHz) with up to six dB of boost or cut.

Returning to the DSP sound fields, the Yamaha offers extensive control over a number of parameters, including DSP level, initial delay, room size, liveliness, surround initial delay, surround room size surround liveliness, rear center initial delay, rear center room size, and rear center liveliness. One can spend months trying to dial in the perfect set of parameters for each sound field, but I mostly left these parameters in their default settings.

General Use

The RX-V740 spent a couple of months as the centerpiece of my home theater, where it played back its fair share of music, DVDs and TiVo. Throughout this time, I had no problems whatsoever in the operation of the receiver, and in fact, there were even a few things that stood out to me as particularly nice about its operation. The first of these was the volume control, which Yamaha has dubbed their “Accurate Touch Volume Control.” The nice thing about this was the narrow 0.5 dB steps that really let you dial in the volume you want with a very intuitive fast-up, fast-down that seemed to minimize any overshoots. This may seem trivial, but when it comes right down to it, there is no more used feature on a receiver than its volume control. With the 740, you don't have to dive into a bunch of menus every time you sit down to watch a movie or some TV. In fact, it speaks highly to the painless operation of the RX-V740 that all I usually did was turn it on, toggle up my desired input and dial in the volume.

The Sound

As I mentioned previously, Yamaha makes a big deal out of its DSP modes, so I was instantly curious as to how they sounded. Yamaha offers five modes for music, Concert Hall, Jazz Club, Rock Concert, Entertainment – Six Channel Stereo and Entertainment – Disco. I’ll concentrate on the first three, as they are the ones designed to produce a simulated acoustical environment, where as the other two are more “party modes”. None of these three modes use the center channel, for better or for worse. All of the modes use some kind of delays and reverberation enhancement to give the effect of listening to your music in an acoustical place. When I listened, it seemed that generally the Concert Hall was using the most delay and reverb, followed by the Jazz Club and then the Rock Concert. Overall, the use of the surround channels was not particularly aggressive, but of the three, the Rock Concert had the loudest surround effects, followed by the Jazz Club and then the Concert Hall. I tried to evaluate each of these modes versus straight stereo and DPL-II using a host of different music that I felt might suit each mode well.

The first disc I ran through the system was Charles Mingus "Live at Antibes" (ASIN B000008BRQ). Musically, this is a fascinating disc, but I’ve never been particularly impressed by the sound, particularly the soundstage, so I figured this would be the ideal test of the Yamaha’s DSP. My initial impression was that all of the DSP modes changed the timbre of the music in a negative way. The music also lost some of its immediacy and detail using the DSPs when compared to straight stereo. The Concert Hall was the most egregious offender, creating a distant and washed out effect. The Jazz Club was more timbrally correct than the Concert Hall, and the sound was better defined spatially, but the timbres of the instruments still did not sound as correct as in stereo. Rock Concert just sounded a bit washed out on this disc. In comparison, DPLII had a better defined front stage than any of the Yamaha DSP modes and was relatively enjoyable to listen to. I still found that even on this weak stereo recording, I preferred the stereo sound, which was detailed and smooth if not very dimensionally interesting.

I continued my exploration of the DSP modes with "Fiesta" by the Dallas Wind Symphony (RR-38). Listening to the first track on the disc, I felt that the bells and horns that begin Reed’s “La Fiesta Mexicana” had a nice, resonant, natural sound that was very impressive for a receiver of this price range. Engaging the Concert Hall DSP gave me the effect of the bells filling my room, which was quite impressive. However, I also immediately noticed that the percussion was not as tight and immediate with this DSP engaged. Jazz Club tightened the sound up a bit, but also had the effect of making the front stage sound brighter. I was a little perplexed by the Rock Concert mode as the balance between the instruments was messed up with it engaged. Finally, DPL-II gave me the most correct front stage, but the ambience seemed a bit too aggressive. So, I just came back to stereo again, which made the most of this fine recording.

The last disc I tried was the Talking Heads’ "Remain in the Light" (ASIN B00002KO3). Listening to “Once in a Lifetime” in stereo, I was impressed by the clarity of the sound and balance between the vocals and the percussion. DPL-II rounded out this song with nice, but a little over the top sound that truly filled my room. The Rock Concert DSP seemed to lose some of the balance between the vocals and the percussion. Concert Hall’s heavy DSP effect just did not seem to fit this music at all, as the song lost its rhythmic energy. Jazz Club was probably the best of the DSP modes with the most balanced sound. All of the DSP modes do have a distinct effect on the sound and are effective in expanding the sound field. However, I felt that the better detail and timbral accuracy of stereo made it my preferred listening format for music on the RX-V740. Of course, this had a good deal to do with how much I enjoy the sound of the RX-V740 in straight stereo, using either a digital or analog input. The sound was detailed, dynamic, and impressive with all of the music that I threw at it.

Since I was quite happy with the RX-V740’s sound on music, I was excited to see how it handled itself with some DVDs. I started out my listening just using the straight decode functions of the Yamaha without any of its Cinema DSP enhancements. The results were quite good, with the Yamaha driving a full six-speaker array to impressive levels in my apartment. The dynamics were all there, with compression just starting to set in at the same time as concern for my hearing and my apartment’s lease.

The sound from DVDs with Dolby Digital and DTS was detailed and clear with above average dialogue intelligibility. Being completely convinced of the Yamaha’s worth as a surround receiver, I started to experiment with the Cinema DSP modes to see if it could improve the sound further. In general, I felt that the Cinema DSP modes worked better than their music DSP variants, but I still found the same faults befalling them. The general problem is that most of the Cinema DSP Modes seem to trade detail and immediacy for a more expansive sound field. Now I feel a number of people will be more than willing to make this tradeoff, as it really is a very impressive effect, I’m just generally not one of them.

I tried all of the different modes and ultimately I settled on the Enhanced mode, which to me was the subtlest of all of the Cinema DSP modes and the most true to the original source. This made even more sense when I read its description in the user manual, since the “digital sound field processing create precise effects without altering the original surround orientation.” Enhanced mode seemed to trade very little detail for a nice increase in the fullness of the sound field. I liked Enhanced since it worked well on all of the DVD’s that I used it with and not just a specific disc or genre. I really liked the RX-V740’s performance on DVDs and using the Enhanced mode definitely increased my enjoyment of the movies I watched with it.

As much as I enjoy watching DVD’s and listening to music, in a pure a time usage comparison, nothing even comes close to my TiVo. During the time that the Yamaha RX-V740 was in my house, I spent countless hours on my couch watching my TiVo with the Yamaha providing sound. The TiVo outputs an analog stereo signal, which I usually process with DPL-II Movie regardless of the type of program. Over the course of the review period, I watched everything from Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship on the Speed Channel to dramas like "CSI". As with DVDs, I experimented with the different Cinema DSP modes, again some produced some impressive effects with truly room expanding sound, but due to the wide variety of material I watch on my TiVo most of the more heavily processed Cinema DSPs could not be universally applied to all material. Again, I settled on Enhanced mode with its subtle, but effective expansion of the sound field layered over DPL-II’s excellent decoding of matrixed material. The TiVo has generally good sound, but by no means is it a high definition or audiophile quality source. Thus I was quite impressed as to how clean and clear it sounded through the RX-V740. In fact, this may have been the RX-V740’s most impressive feat, making even the terrible sounding television shows enjoyable to listen to. One of the key aspects of this was that dialogue intelligibility was excellent, even during these poorly mastered programs.

Conclusions

As it’s pretty obvious to tell, I really liked the Yamaha RX-V740. It is a well-built, well-designed receiver that can handle music, movies, and television with equal aplomb. I kept the Yamaha in my system for three months, and it kept me happy the entire time. I’m still amazed that all of this performance can be had for such a reasonable price, $599 MSRP, and if you can forgo the phono input, the onscreen display and the LCD remote, you can have this performance for $100 less.

When I finished my review of the Yamaha, I hooked my Pioneer VSX-49TX back into my system and I started to see just what the extra money buys you: more dynamics, more detail, and more inputs. The RX-V740 is also an ideal choice for someone looking for their first receiver to start building a system around, as it has the inputs, outputs and sound quality to keep pace with someone’s growing system and taste. Ultimately, the Yamaha is not perfect, but no audio component is and especially not one at this price. There are many competing products, and some surpass the Yamaha in one category or another, but the Yamaha RX-V740 offers the performance and the right balance of features to make it my choice and an easy recommendation.


- Matthew Abel -

 

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