Product Review - Yamaha Pro Logic/AC-3 Home Theater Electronics - October, 1996

By John E. Johnson, Jr.


Yamaha LD Player

Yamaha Receiver

Yamaha Electronics Corporation USA, 6660 Orangethorpe Avenue
Buena Park, California 90620-1345
Phone 714-522-9105; Fax 800-782-8484


Yamaha CDV-W901 Laserdisc Player; Outputs: two composite video (RCA jacks), two S-Video jacks, one optical digital audio, two sets of stereo analog audio (four RCA jacks), one AC-3 RF jack (RCA); Separate drawer for CDs; Karaoke built-in; Remote control; Size 5"H x 17"W x 15 1/2"D; Weight 15 1/2 pounds; $899

Yamaha RX-V990 Surround Sound Receiver; Power output: front left/right 100 w/ch into 8 Ohms, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.015% THD; center 100 w into 8 Ohms, 1 kHz, 0.015% THD; rear left/right 25 w/each into 8 Ohms, 1 kHz, 0.08% THD; Damping factor 200; Output impedance of pre-outs 1.5 kOhms; Tone controls + or - 10 dB; Inputs: Tape 1, Tuner, CD, Phono (MM), Video Aux, VCR 1, VCR 2, LD/TV; Surround sound fields: Pro Logic, Pro Logic Enhanced, 70 mm Movie Theater, TV Theater, Sports, Stadium, Rock Concert, Jazz Club, Church, Concert Hall; Four sets of S-Video/Composite Video/Stereo Audio inputs; Pre-out jacks (RCA) for all channels; Pre-in jacks (RCA) for all channels; Discrete input jacks for all channels (for connection to AC-3 processor audio outputs);AM/FM Tuner with presets; Headphone output jack; Size 7"H x 17"W x 17"D; Weight 32 pounds; $999

Yamaha's *90 series of receivers has been extremely popular over the years. They are well built, and they sound good. A number of receivers from various manufacturers have recently hit the marketplace with AC-3 capability built in (the AC-3 processor is part of the receiver), or they have the ability to be connected to AC-3 processors. They are all quite expensive. However, the new Yamaha RX-V990 is the first one to be priced at less than $1,000. Pre-outs, Pre-ins, and Discrete inputs for all five amplifier sections are integral to this receiver, and if you are planning to get AC-3, DTS, or any other 5.1 type of audio that comes down the road, these features MUST be present on the receiver you buy now. Forward compatibility is the buzz term here, and the RX-V990 has it.

Of course, in order to have AC-3, you need an AC-3 source. DVD will have it, and probably Digital Tape players, but for now, only laserdiscs have AC-3. Since components from the same manufacturer generally are designed to work best with each other, we decided to review the Yamaha CDV-W901 laserdisc player, which has an AC-3 RF output, with the 990. For AC-3 decoding, we used the Yamaha DDP-1, which we reviewed previously
[click here to see review].

The 901 is Yamaha's top of the line laserdisc player. One of the things we liked best about it, is that the front panel is easy to use. The plethora of buttons to accidentally push is not there. Some buttons have multiple functions, such as the search forward/backward. If you just tap it, nothing happens. But if you hold it down, about 1/2 second later search forward or backward will start. Tap it twice and the disc is forwarded or reversed one chapter. The 1/2 second delay is for a purpose. The pause and stop buttons are nearby, and they only need to be tapped for activation, so if you hit the forward or reverse by accident, they won't send the movie action elsewhere. There is a jog wheel (for stepping through individual frames), but it is on the remote control along with other functions not found on the player panel, such as a numeric keypad for programming CDs, and multi-speed control. There is no digital video noise reduction on this player. Two sets of outputs for everything except the AC-3 RF and optical digital are on the back panel. This allows connection to a TV and to a VCR directly if you wish. Although the 990 has very nice switching for video inputs, we always prefer to connect our video sources directly to their recipients. We aren't able to use the on-screen programming capability that the 990 has when we do this, but interrupting the video signal with jacks in between the source and destination will always degrade the image, even if it just a bit. That goes for any receiver.

Karaoke is a feature found on many laserdisc players. When I visited Tokyo in the early 1980's, singing along with the music was already very popular there. We got up on a stage and selected a cassette tape, inserted it into a player, and sang along with the music using printed sheets that had the words. Now, Karaoke is found in many bars in the USA. The music is on karaoke laserdiscs that have images on the TV to go with the music. The 901 is fully equipped for this, with two microphone inputs, echo, and pitch control. I can't sing worth a hoot, so Karaoke is not my thing, but a lot of people are nuts about it. You can even use a regular CD, and the 901 will reduce the level of the voices. The CD drawer comes out separately from the LD drawer. The 901 CD sound (and FM tuner performance of the 990 for that matter) is good but not extraordinary. However, keeping in mind that these are mass consumer products and very reasonably priced, I was quite comfortable with the quality. The optical digital output on the 901 could be connected to an outboard DAC, but I don't particularly care for optical digital transport-to-DAC connections, and I prefer separate CD players anyway. CDs and FM music, when played with Pro Logic and the other sound fields really sold me on home theater environment for music-only listening (two channel stereo is always available by pushing the "Effect Off" button). The "Enhanced" and "70 mm Movie Theater" alter the content to each speaker, and add some reverberation. The other sound fields do a variety of things that are hard to explain without actually demonstrating them. Suffice it to say that an extensive portfolio of sound manipulation is available in the digital domain with the RX-V990. I like this unit very much.

The image quality of the 901 is excellent. Clear, sharp, good delineation of color, no jitter with freeze-frame. Choice of using the composite video output or the S-Video output depends on the quality of your TV. If it is one of the $599 types, then probably the S-Video output (obviously the TV has to have an S-Video input), but if your TV is one of the really good ones, say a 35" direct view priced around $3,000, then the composite video will probably be better. There appears to be an assumption that the S-Video connection is always best. Not so. If the comb filter is better in the player than the TV, then S-Video. If the comb filter is better in the TV, then composite. Ironically, the best TVs often have multiple S-Video inputs. Ours has three sets, and it is an extremely good monitor, so we found that there was a slight improvement in image definition using the composite video connection. The comb filter separates the chroma (the color signal), or C, from the luminance (the brightness), or Y. If you use the S-Video connection, the comb filter of the player separates C from Y, while using the composite video connection allows the TV's comb filter to do this. In any case, if you are buying a TV, get one that has an S-Video input. They are available in the <$1,000 range, and this should allow you to select between inputs, so that you can connect the video outputs of the laserdisc player as well as the VCR directly to the TV.

As I mentioned above, we used the Yamaha DDP-1 AC-3 processor with the 901 and 990. The DDP-1 is connected between the player and receiver. The AC-3 RF output from the player is connected to the DDP-1, using either a standard coax audio cable or a 75 Ohm digital cable if desired, and then the analog audio outputs of the DDP-1 are connected to the discrete inputs of the 990. The standard two channel analog audio outputs from the 901 are connected to the laserdisc inputs of the 990. This allows one to switch between Pro Logic and AC-3 sound by pushing the same button on the remote control (you KNOW you are going to be doing that for comparison purposes, and so does Yamaha). Now here is where the pre-outs and pre-ins of the 990 come in handy. Although the 990 is rated at 100 w/ch for the front left/center/right, the front left/right amps each have four bipolar output devices, while the center has just two. You can see the effect of this on the specifications. The rear uses a stereo IC rather than bipolar transistors. The power supply has 15,000 microfarads, which is not very much. 60,000 microfarads, plus four bipolars in the center channel amp, and two for each of the rear amps would have been much better, but it would have substantially increased the price. So, what we did was to take the pre-outs from the rear left/right and plug them into the pre-ins of the front left/right, and did not use the power amp outputs from any of the other channels except for the front left/right (which were connected to the rear speakers). Then we connected the pre-outs of the front left/center/right to a three channel power amplifier delivering 200 watts/ch into 8 Ohms. This gave us 200 w/ch across the front, and 100 watts to each of the rear speakers. If you can't afford a good three channel power amp, the inboard amps of the 901 will do in the meantime, but for maximum dynamics with AC-3, get an outboard amp later on. For the subwoofer, we had an interesting setup. We connected the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) output of the DDP-1 to one of the line-level inputs of the subwoofer, and the subwoofer output of the 990 to the other line level input of the 990, rather than routing the LFE through the main AC-3 outputs. This gave us a choice of using the DDP-1 LFE or 990 subwoofer outputs regardless of whether we were using the Pro Logic or AC-3 sound tracks.
[Click here for diagram.] The price for this flexibility is lots of cables (and, since the DDP-1 LFE output is line level, you have to set the volume control on the subwoofer manually). As usual in this type of situation, we pulled out our big bag of Tandy Gold Patch. We went a step further and connected our entire home theater system, using four subwoofers and a three channel crossover, as well as a home theater equalizer and phase coupled activator (creates sub harmonics). [Click here to see list of reference components.] The front left/center/right pre-outs were channeled through the crossover, and > 50 Hz was sent to the equalizer and then to the three channel amp, while < 50 Hz went to three subs. The LFE-out from the DDP-1 as well as the subwoofer-out from the RX-V990 went to the phase coupled activator and then to the fourth sub. With one sub, the sound was great, but with four . . . fantastic. Some may ask, "why four subs . . . won't that blow the walls out?" With multiple subs, the volume is set much lower, so that each sub is not working very hard. The result? Clean, low distortion bass, even when the jets pass overhead. There was a slight attenuation of the high frequencies with so many cables in the sound chain, but the ultimate effect was worth it. (Alas, but the tone controls only affect the front right/left channels.)

The front of the 990 has full featured controls. On/off, Speaker set A/B, Input selector (each has a button), Digital sound fields (each has a button), Rotary volume control, Tone Controls, Balance, Selector for input to the recorder, Tuning and presets for AM/FM, Bass Extension, Tone Bypass, Center channel mode with delay time, and a very easy to read display. The rear of the 990 has lots and lots of RCA jacks, and all speaker outputs are binding posts (adios to those spring clips). The 990 also has a very nice remote control. It is neatly laid out and easy to use. The inputs are all selectable, along with sound fields and volume of all channels (the master volume control is motorized). It is also a learning remote, meaning that you can set it up to control most or all of the other components in the surround sound system (components that have a remote control function). So, it can turn on the TV, the 990, the 901, VCR, fast forward, pause, etc. Most any function on the other remote controls can be learned by the 990 remote. This is performed by setting the 990 remote to "Learn", pushing the desired button that you want to program, then pointing the other remote control into the 990 remote and pushing the button of the function on the other remote that you want learned. When the red LED on the 990 remote goes out, it's done. Very simple, and very handy.

The Yamaha combination, even with the inboard amps powering all channels, has a very clean sound. Pro Logic and AC-3 are decoded and accurately channeled. There is always a little noise from the rear speakers with Pro Logic, but it was less than average from the 990. Being able to switch from Pro Logic to AC-3 on the same laserdisc as the movie is playing provides a good contrast in the quality of the mix. Our observations on comparing Pro Logic to AC-3, based on experiences so far, are (1) AC-3 is not necessarily harsh compared to Pro Logic as has been suggested. It can have more emphasis in the high frequencies, but on some discs, the Pro Logic had more high frequency emphasis. If there is harshness in any of the sound, it is probably more a factor of the sound track itself, rather than the processor. (2) Sometimes the bass is better in the Pro Logic sound track than in the AC-3. (3) Some AC-3 sound tracks are TOO discrete in the rear. A Police radio suddenly coming directly from one rear speaker can be distracting compared to the more ambient surround effect produced by Pro Logic. On the other hand, AC-3, when properly mixed, can result in spectacular sound staging, including the rear. (4) The quality of the AC-3 mix is more variable than the corresponding Pro Logic. This is probably a result of a lack of experience with mixing AC-3 tracks, and should improve dramatically. So, don't make a decision about AC-3 based on just one AC-3 disc experience.

In summary, the Yamaha CDV-W901, DDP-1, and RX-V990 make a very sweet package. Because of the great flexibility in connecting outboard equipment, this system can be purchased now, add a more powerful three (or five) channel amp later, plug the digital AC-3 output of a DVD player into the DDP-1 (the DDP-1 has digital optical and digital coax inputs along with the RF input), and use Y connectors to add a DTS decoder parallel to the DDP-1 (DTS will use the two digital channels that are already present, so DTS is backward compatible). The 990 lets us have AC-3 now, with complete forward compatibility to the future.

John E. Johnson, Jr.

Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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