Remote Control and General Use
The Yamaha RX-V659's remote control looks like it came from the 80's with lots of small hard buttons and a garish color scheme. However, when I began using the remote, its inner beauty shone through.
The remote has three modes, Amp, Source, and TV, depending on what you want to control. The modes are selected with a toggle switch on its right side. This turned out to be a very effective method for switching between the control of my source components and the receiver, and is a much better solution than the more common use of an Amp button in the source selection area.
It is good that
Yamaha has made this ability to switch back and forth easy, since you will
be doing a lot of it as you need to reset the surround mode frequently
depending on what you are listening to. For controlling other components,
the preprogrammed codes for my TV and DVD player worked flawlessly, but the TiVo codes did not work very well. Using the XM tuner was also a joy, with
the big, clear display scrolling off the song info, and easy access to the
numeric keypad for station selection.
Actually, using the interface is problematic though. The first major problem is scrolling through your music, which is painfully slow using the Yamaha interface which scrolls at a constant speed. Having a scroll speed that becomes progressively faster would work much better. The second problem is that there is no separate podcast area in the music section, which makes finding your podcasts somewhat difficult. My last problem was that I was not able to access any video or photo content on my iPod using the Yamaha interface. This is a huge problem for me as I do buy TV shows from the iTunes Store (my cable company does not carry the SciFi Channel, so I have to get my Battlestar Galactica fix somewhere else).
The primary advantage of
using the YDS-10SL with the RX-V659 is the ability to select items with an
on-screen menu. However, the poor scrolling and the inability to select
video files makes this a moot point for me and negates the advantages the
YDS-10SL has over other options, like Apple's Universal Dock.
Next I cued up "Saeglopur" from Sigur Ros's Takk, which has a slow crescendo throughout the track that builds to a raucous sound at the end. I wanted to see if I could crank up the Yamaha, and indeed, it did not disappoint, letting me push it to uncomfortably loud levels without a problem. The Yamaha kept my "crank it up, party vibe" rolling through to the next track, "So Far We Are" from French Kicks' Two Thousand. The vocals on this track were clear and well balanced in the overall sound, which I again cranked louder than my neighbors probably appreciated.
As impressed as I was with the Yamaha's dynamics and bass, I
decided to take it down a notch and listen to some tracks from Sufjan
Stevens's The Avalanche, a collection of outtakes and B-sides from Illinois.
The Yamaha was able to deftly reproduce the light, airy, almost baroque
orchestrations and intimate vocals that Sufjan's music is known for.
Finally, no review of mine would be complete without listening to Gustav
Holst's "Fantasia on the Dargason" from the "Second Suite in F" on
for Band. Here the Yamaha was able to produce excellent bass and a very
pleasant tonal character. However, I felt like some of the
subtle details on the track were not as clear as I have heard from other
receivers, despite it producing a very musical sound.
I had better results when
I switched to even poorer quality audio files, like podcasts from KEXP.
Using it on the low setting restored some bass, without messing everything
else up and generally improved the music. The compressed music enhancer is
worth experimenting with, just do not expect it to work wonders.
Next I watched The Incredibles, but this time I added one of Yamaha's DSP modes. Yamaha offers a wide variety of DSP modes for both music and movies, and even on the moderately priced RX-V659, Yamaha allows the user excellent control of these modes with the ability to modify DSP levels, delays, reverberation times, and other parameters.
These DSP effects can work very well at times, but I find
that the best mode can often vary widely from disc to disc. The more subtle
modes, like Enhanced Surround for movies, seem to be more universally
beneficial. This is the mode I used with The Incredibles. The Enhanced
Surround mode broadened the soundfield a bit and made for smooth and even
pans from speaker to speaker. The action sequences were excellent, with the
RX-V659 really transcending its price point with its power and bass.
Finally, I finished my listening with Batman Begins, and the Yamaha rewarded
me with a strong driving soundtrack and well delineated effects.
The RX-V659 also has almost all of the features one would want in a modern receiver. Its only real omission is HDMI switching, which is starting to appear in some of its competition.
Ultimately, all of this means that the
Yamaha RX-V659 offers good value. This receiver is one of my
favorite budget components, and it should be a very appealing option for many
- Matthew Abel -