Secrets' continuing look at budget receivers (MSRP less than $600) picks up again with a very exciting model from Yamaha, the RX-V657.
In recent years, Yamaha has been very
aggressive about trickling down technology from their high-end flagship models
into their more budget-oriented products. About two years and two product
cycles ago, I looked at Yamaha’s
RX-V740, a $600 receiver that I thought
offered good sound and a great balance of features for the price. The new
Yamaha RX-V657 ($549.95 MSRP) adds even more useful features for less money,
including an additional powered channel, so obviously I was very excited to have it in for review.
The RX-V657 offers multi-zone features with the ability to receive a remote IR signal and either power the remote speakers with an external amplifier or use two of the unit’s internal amplifiers.
On the video side, the RX-V657
features full video up-conversion to component (converts S-Video inputs to
component video) and a video bandwidth of 60 MHz
on its component inputs.
Finally, there is a headphone jack and a full featured
front channel A/V input with both S-Video and an optical digital input. The
display is a yellow-orange color, and the main areas of interest - the volume
level and the center text portion used to display surround setting and song
info for XM - were both easily legible from my listening position. The display
also shows information on the channels of the input signal and has
surround indicators for the Dolby and DTS modes. You do need the remote
though, for set-up. You can't do it by using just the receiver display panel
There are also inputs for the FM, AM and XM antennas as well as for a Zone 2.
On the output side there is an optical digital out and the normal VCR and tape loops. There is also a full set of pre-outs, which is always very nice to see. The speaker binding post are all modern five-way connectors that worked well with my banana plugs and provided a sound and solid connection.
Zone 2 has its own pre-outs as well as a separate set of spring clip speaker connectors for use with the internal amplifiers. These spring clips are also where one connects the Presence speakers (a set of small speakers placed above and wider than the main speakers, used by some of the Yamaha Cinema DSPs).
When you set your system up, you have to decide between powered Zone 2 or Presence speakers. Overall, the connections are blocked out into logical and well-spaced units and I had no problem hooking a full complement of sources to the RX-V657.
The remote should be comfortable for most people to hold. It was also relatively light which was nice for those epic XM radio channel surfing sessions. The remote is pre-programmed to control a variety of other components, and set-up is accomplished by entering the appropriate code from several pages in the back of the instruction manual.
Controlling my DVD player with the Yamaha’s remote was easy and
straightforward. Like many remotes, selecting a source automatically changes
the remote to the appropriate button layout for that source. In order to
return to the receiver controls, one has to press the Amp button. This can
create some problems, since the numeric keypad in DVD mode, which gives one
direct chapter access, uses the same keys that adjust the surround field
settings in Amp mode. If one forgets to switch back to Amp mode before
changing a surround setting, the DVD will skip to a new chapter, which can be
I found that everything was spot on for my setup when I performed the YPAO. The only change I might have made is that it selected 90 Hz as the crossover frequency, where I normally prefer 80 Hz. I think this might just be a default setting for Yamaha as they traditionally have preferred a 90 Hz crossover. However, unlike older Yamahas, the crossover is selectable to 40, 60, 80, 90, 100, 110, 120, 160 or 200 Hz which should cover most all speaker systems. This is a global crossover that is applied at the same frequency to all speakers.
Regardless of how your Auto Set-up turns out, you can always go back and manually adjust any of the values that you want to. Auto Set-up also provides a Parametric EQ, which in my case was implemented in my surround channels and center channel. Overall, I thought the EQ was reasonable for the center, but the surrounds were heavily EQ’d due to their position. It seems to work though as I left the EQ in place for all of my listening tests, and those results were all very positive.
Another nice feature of the set-up is the ability to reload either the default
settings or the last YPAO run. This was nice as it allows one to tweak away on
the settings safe in the knowledge that they can return everything to a
reasonable starting point if their efforts don’t improve the sound.
Out of the box, there
was a big difference in levels switching between my two most common inputs,
DVD and the XM tuner. This would normally be quite a nuisance, but the Yamaha
has a Volume Trim option that allows you to adjust the level of the signal at
each input, so that volume remains constant when switching inputs.
front display on the receiver can either be set to show the station name and
number, the music category, or the artist and song title. You can also show
all of this info simultaneously on your TV. It's nice, but could be made more
interesting. Overall, I found it easiest
just to leave it set to the artist and song title mode, since when you change
channels, the receiver initially displays the station name and number before
switching over to the artist and title anyways. Names that are too long to
display scroll at reasonable pace and were clear enough to be read from
In the end I did most of my listening to the XM radio
in the seven-channel stereo mode. This is Yamaha’s Party mode, where the sound is
evenly distributed to all of the speakers so that one can get decent sound
regardless of the direction you are facing or where you’re positioned. This is
a killer feature for good background music, as it allows you to keep the level
relatively low, but still maintain enough definition so the music can clearly
be heard. I essentially kept the Yamaha on, playing the XM radio using seven-channel
stereo all the time I was home during the review period, and I enjoyed every
minute of it.
In my relatively small space, I was able to achieve high volume, but I would not necessarily expect this in a larger space or with less efficient speakers as it felt at times that the Yamaha was at the very edge of starting to compress the dynamics.
Overall, I really liked the sound of the Yamaha with music,
especially using just the Pure Direct mode. I have previously spent a
considerable amount of time fiddling with Yamaha’s music DSPs, with my preference being to just leave
the receiver in Pure Direct for serious music listening.
For movies, I began with an old
favorite, the DTS edition of Saving Private Ryan. I did most of my critical
listening on the last battle sequence around the bridge. I have always liked
this DVD for its very active surround field and its impressive sonics from the
score, the dialogue, and the effects. The Yamaha gave me everything I needed
out of the scene with a clear rendition of the complex surround effects, and
the rich, full bodied harmonics of the musical score filling things in.
Essentially, everything just sounded
like it should. Vader sounded like Vader and a TIE fighter sounded like a TIE
fighter. Overall, the Yamaha RX-V657 was able to provide very accurate and
enjoyable renditions of test DVDs and CDs, so I was extremely pleased with
the sound. As with other receivers in this price category, you should use
speakers with 8 ohm impedance and good sensitivity (88 dB/w/m or higher),
for the best results.
Everything about it just worked well,
from its excellent DVD playback to my favorite feature, the XM radio. In fact,
the XM radio was the main contributor to all of the hours I racked up on the
RX-V657. Now part of this is XM itself and the fantastic content it provides
on its stations, but equally important was the excellent execution of
integrating the XM tuner into the RX-V657, which operated smoothly, simply, and
efficiently. I think most users will simply end up getting more use out of an
RX-V657 and thus better value than they would any of its competition, because
of its XM tuner.