Product Review - Yamaha RX-V995 DD/DTS Receiver - August, 1999
5.1 channel A/V receiver featuring Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital, and DTS surround decoding in addition to DSP processing
5 channels rated at 100W RMS each, (8 Ohms) 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.07% THD
Features 5.1 channel input, preamplifier outputs for all channels
Size:17 1/8"W x 6 3/4" H x 15 3/8" D
Weight: 31 pounds (14.1 kg.)
MSRP: $999.95 USA
Yamaha Electronics, USA, 6660 Orangethorpe Avenue, Buena Park, California 90620; Web http://www.yamaha.com.
Chickens don't ask for much. A little scratch to peck at, some water, a box to sleep in, a little companionship, and they're set. Most humans aren't so hearty. To motivate people into obtaining things necessary for the basic functions of life, our fundamental biology incorporates basic characteristics like hunger, thirst, and aversion to extreme climatic conditions. In those respects, we're very much like chickens.
And yet - especially among audiophiles - there remains a perpetual longing, a striving for some abstract, elevated perfection. High-fidelity audio and/or video reproduction isn't a necessity for life in any way, but it does provide a means to enrich it, allowing escape from, or expansion of, our sometimes mundane and occasionally uncomfortable world. The experience might soothe, exhilarate, and occasionally intrigue. Still, we may often idolize the means of the reproduction more than the reality of the original performance. Assembling an audio/video system can become as much an aesthetic or philosophical personal statement about oneself as a recreational vehicle.
As capitalist theory predicts, products accommodate our special needs. We have premium cabling, tweak accessories, and cosmetically/trend-derived gear, often rationalized by pseudo-scientific explanations that assuage our vanity while reassuring our sensibilities. Although most of this gear may actually improve the subjective performance, it seems to me that we often unintentionally magnify, or even generate, small increments of perceived performance to justify their purchase. This makes us feel that we have more discerning tastes than the masses.
I am as guilty as the next fellow. Littering my living room are shielded power cords, AC power purification/conditioning devices, silver conductor, Teflon-insulated interconnects, OFC multi-twisted pair speaker cables, and amplifiers that together have more capacity for AC draw from a wall socket than a large washing machine. I'd upgrade the entire run of Romex to 10 awg all the way back to the breaker box if I could, except that I still rent. Most of my excessive measures have technically valid performance advantages, however minor, and I do believe that their combined effects result in “better” sound. However, the aesthetic virtues of a nicely equipped, carefully integrated system can turn a few twinkles in the eye as well.
I enjoy rolling the solid rocker switches on the amplifiers to hear the large transformer "Boing" from slumber. The knobs on my passive controller, machined of solid aluminum and powder-coated white, provide satisfaction, presenting a very tangible sense of quality. The various cables dressed in nylon mesh, and neatly shrink-wrapped with gold-plated connectors do something for the whole concept or refinement and care throughout the system, my system, an expression of carefully selected craftsmanship.
And along comes a Yamaha RX-V995.
As a definitively mass market product, this Yammie has a big LED display, plastic knobs, a faceplate awkwardly expressing some kind of botched attempt at cosmopolitan, and LOTS of buttons! Compared to many other mass market products go, it's not that gaudy. Next to the $399, loaded with every feature, Vegas Christmas Tree that not only looks cheesy, sounds pathetic, but lasts just long enough to catapult towards the city dump, the Yamaha RX-V995 looks virtually thoroughbred. At least every light and button does something occasionally useful. The build quality isn't overly impressive, nor excessive, but at the same time leans an honest heft to a chassis with a fair deal of rigidity. Or, I could put it the way our editor would in his succinct way, and just say, "It looks nice as receivers go."
Connectors across the back incorporate not only 5.1 discrete analog inputs and preamplifier outputs (pre-puts), but also a bundle of source ins and outs. There's S-Video, composite video, analog audio, and digital audio. Pretty much anything anyone could reasonably ask for in a receiver. Unlike the ultra high-end fare, the connectors aren't bullet-proof, so they won't take kindly to indiscriminate yanking. Secrets' own Yamaha RX-V990 fell victim to disconnected preamplifier outputs some time back, but that is because we are constantly plugging and unplugging things that we are testing. (We see our share of equipment come and go, and sometimes it doesn't go easily.) The RX-V995 is a modest work of art, and the build quality as well as the design have no reason for shame. It's what one should be able to expect for an upper line mass market receiver retailing for $999, minus a few bucks for the street price. With lots of inputs and outputs, as well as a turnkey solution to source selection, processing, and amplification, plus remote control, the term "suitable to task" fits perfectly.
The remote control itself is basic, wielding a door that hides DSP modes and setup functions, leaving bare source selection and basic transport functions. It offers learning capability and macros to boot. Airborne IR (infra red) macros are often unreliable, sometimes missing a crucial command in a chain, so I would suggest that, if you really want to do some serious automation, get an RF touch screen with a hardwired IR repeater system. Of course, this costs more by about a factor of ten, and some components won't always work with certain repeaters, but hey, talk to your salesman about that. The learning ability of the remote does not extend to the CD player, the Tuner or Tape function sections, which send out Yamaha IR codes. That bugged me a little, but there's an extra button, indicated by a picture of a disc, which allows an extra “source” on the remote, where I stored my CD player functions. The transport buttons under the door are used to program the remote. When the door's shut, the exposed unified transport buttons send the IR codes of the last selected source, while the master volume and mute buttons remain the same. I liked this arrangement, as it minimized finger labor on my part. Not an end all, by any means, but everything necessary for lounging is within the reach of a single thumb. My passive controller may be clean as can be with audio signals, but it makes me separate my behind from the cushions to change the volume.
Ironically, with all these features and DSP processing (useful if employed sparingly and carefully), there were some features I found lacking. Particularly, the processor setup does not allow time alignment for the rear channels, individually or together. This isn't uncommon or absolutely critical, especially in the case of THX style dipolar surround speakers, in which case time-alignment becomes laughable. But, it would have helped to secure an optimum balance with direct-radiating rear channels.
Also, the receiver uses a fixed crossover setting of 90 Hz between the subwoofer (18 dB/octave) and speakers set as Small (12 dB/octave). It would have made me happier to have a standard THX crossover (80 Hz, 24 dB/octave low-pass and 12 dB/octave high-pass), and possibly multiple or adjustable configurations even lower in order to integrate larger floor-standing speakers while still benefiting from active bi-amping. However, the bass management does allow all bass to route to the front left and right channels, as well as the center or rears if need be, so that an outboard crossover (available with most powered subwoofers or as an option) could take care of the job.
Other than that, setup is pretty much like any other processor with Dolby Digital (DD) and DTS. Configure the bass management, and match levels between the channels. Compression circuits are available for night time listening, but the sacrifice in sound quality doesn't make their use all that attractive. There is no subwoofer limiting level feature, which suits me just fine. Unfortunately, like other non-THX processors, there's no test tone for the subwoofer. This would have been nice, but not a huge deal since most people futz with the subwoofer level after calibration anyway.
The RX-V995 did a great job as a digital front-end/preamp combo for plain vanilla stereo reproduction. Oh, sure, I'll back peddle and excuse it for not approaching the likes of the better dedicated two-channel digital front-ends, or for that matter more esoteric surround processors that excel at two-channel reproduction by means of brute force, but those products also excel at thinning your wallet. The 995 performance certainly exceeded my own expectations, well enough that I let go of my purist passive controller fed by my CD player's analog outputs in exchange for the remote control. A Lexicon, Proceed, Meridian, or Theta would make life easier, but I'll survive in the meantime, and now I can afford the boneless chicken breasts. Hey, I'm tough that way }:>) I threw a lot of music through the digital input to line-level pre-out section of the RX-V995, and never shook my head in disappointment. Not too bad for a product aimed primarily at mass market home theater. I guess what I am saying here is that the Yamaha RX-V995 fits just fine into an audiophile's home.
The DSP modes available on the RX-V995 were alright, but they are really for use with lesser recordings, to provide some enhancement. An exception, not available on the RX-V995 or many other receivers is Yamaha's “Cellar Club” Jazz mode, which I first discovered on the DSP E-1000. Like Meridian's Tri-Field, it's not apparent that it's doing anything until you turn it off, after which the subtly expanded sound field collapses. Yamaha DSP modes work by overlaying acoustics onto the listening environment. Meridian's Tri-Field, like other matrix steering techniques, directs sound around the listening environment based on inter-channel phase and magnitude relationships, coincidentally similar to how our auditory system "decodes" spatial information in stereo, often alleviating the detrimental "imaging" consequences of poor room acoustics. The Yamaha DSP modes, however, do not improve room acoustics, or overcome them, but simply add to them. With some material, it can fit quite well. Often though, if misused, it can prove more of a distraction than an enhancement, so be careful.
In movie use, the RX-V995 processing does very well. I watched “The Lion King” on VHS. Although the sound lacked clarity, likely due to poorly recorded VHS audio itself, the Pro Logic combined with the Digital Sound Field enhancement did a very good job with unobtrusive surround envelopment. I'm anxious for “The Lion King” to come out on DVD, but my daughter and I can shuffle through until then. The DVD “A Bug's Life” had a picture and soundtrack that made watching cartoons exciting again. Super high recommendation for that film. Not high-fidelity, but hey - it's a movie. I used the video switching on the Yamaha, and it was pretty good. I was very disappointed, though, on the software side with “Babe.” Great movie, mediocre picture and mediocre sound. Any of you movie producers out there, take a hint and TURN DOWN THAT DATA COMPRESSION, YOU LOUTS! The picture was clearer on DVD than our VHS copy, but so were the motion artifacts, making my Trinitron look like a Plasma screen with a crummy scalar chip. Would you like some pixels with that side order of lima beans?
I ran a few DTS music discs through the unit, and it was pleasant, the best of which was the Alan Parson Project CD. All seemed fine, showing a tactful mastering of the disc. However, the Marvin Gaye and Pavarotti DTS CDs were downright insulting. Why not send EVERYTHING to the rear! It's nice to offer DTS, and the sound quality certainly is generally better than AC-3, as a format, but there are really only a smattering of DTS movie titles, and often the quality of the soundtrack depends more on the mixing/mastering process than the encoding. With the promise of DVD dedicated audio formats, DTS isn't likely to take hold with much mainstream musical material, so I hope they can stick it out to make some headway with the film industry on the consumer front.
The RX-V995 A/V receiver actually works well as a receiver. The internal amps are no match for outboard power, but they are still quite adequate. A 10 kHz square wave test showed a moderately "slow" response, but a responsible lack of overshoot at the same time, indicating good phase stability at the upper end bandwidth limit. Compared to my reference (Aragon and Sunfire) amplifiers, the sound of the RX-V995's amplifier section varied, depending on the loudspeaker load. With the RBH surround setup, the receiver sounded a bit soft and muffled, while with the M&K THX Select system, it was very clear, but a tad hard with a slightly metallic aftertaste. Neither sounded bad, not painful or mushy, but demonstrated the potentially interactive relationship between speakers and the Yamaha's modest amplifier section. I imagine that most speakers found in chain stores, designed to accommodate the power supplies of mass market receivers, would work rather well with the RX-V995. If perchance the receiver recruited a meaty three-channel amp later on, the internal power supply need only worry about rear channel speakers, improving performance all the way around. Should an additional two-channel amplifier, or a five-channel amplifier come into the picture, the receiver goes on vacation, becoming a preamplifier with a relatively large power supply. Think of the internal amps as backup bonus features. Yamaha has been very smart to put pre-outs and pre-ins for all channels on most of their new receivers.
On a functional level, a product like the RX-V995 is almost perfect for me. The ergonomics of the front panel and learning remote are terrific, providing direct access to all basic operations. It also provides decent video switching, plenty of inputs, digital connections, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital, DTS, and 5.1 analog inputs as a back door for emerging formats (DVD Audio), as well as a Tuner that lets me catch morning radio shows or the classical music station to paint the background of my daily routine. The tone controls didn't have enough resolution in terms of frequency adjustment to be of much real use, but were a nice touch, and can be bypassed with a "direct" switch. I suppose component video switching would have been a nifty feather in the cap, were it offered. But, if I'd taken the time to run component video, I'd probably just run it straight to the television/projector anyway, so I can't see missing it much.
Overall, the RX-V995 represents an extremely fair value as a central hub of an audio/video system, either as an all in one solution, a dedicated processor/controller, or a starting point from the former to the latter. It may not have the pedigree of a dedicated preamplifier/processor, or look as nice, but at $1,000, a good receiver like this one might just be the best bet as a dedicated preamplifier/processor, or a starting point towards that end. Mass production, though not conducive to artistic craftsmanship, is extremely cost-effective. Fact is, large companies can sell a lot more receivers than preamps, and make them much cheaper because of it. The result may not be elegant, but it makes sense, and is a heck of a bang for the buck, much, much more so than the high performance products which are produced in small numbers.
Indeed, the Yamaha RX-V995 not only rises among the upper level of its mass market peers, but brings high performance down to earth. It's an attractive conversation piece and a bang up little black box.
So reach up and grab one.
For the Record, components used during review:
Aragon 8008BB Stereo Power Amplifier
Aragon 8008x3 Three-Channel Power Amplifier
Sunfire Stereo Power Amplifier
M&K THX Select 5.1 Loudspeaker System
Infinity Renaissance 90 Loudspeakers
RBH 5.1 Loudspeaker System
JVC XL-Z1050 CD player
Pioneer DV-414 DVD Player
Toshiba 2109 DVD Player
Bybee/Curl Prototype AC Purifiers & Power Cords
M'Dor Power Cord
DH Labs Silver Sonic Interconnects
AudioQuest Diamond Interconnects
Liberty Emerald 14-4 Speaker cable, custom-terminated.
© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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