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Yamaha RX-V861 Receiver Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 July 2007
Article Index
Yamaha RX-V861 Receiver
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Movies And Music
Given Yamaha’s press hype on the RX-V861 and the fact that they tout their DSP software as highly as they do, I felt it fitting to give it a test run. I decided to forego listening to traditional stereo CDs, instead opting for ripped two-channel music through my AppleTV. My entire music library lives on several hard drives in my office and can be streamed wirelessly to any room in my house via my AppleTVs. I’ve ripped my entire collection in Apple’s own lossless format and have had great success with it, so I thought this to be a fair test of the RX-V861’s capabilities. With my new Paradigm S8s at the ready and the RX-V861 set to Enhanced Stereo, I began with Evanescence’s second album, The Open Door (Wind-up). On the single, “Call Me When You’re Sober,” Amy Lee’s vocals were exceptionally non-receiver-like, which is a very good thing. Her voice was full, rich and warm, with terrific presence and weight. Compared to other receivers I had on hand, all of which were at least three times the Yamaha’s price, the RX-V861’s sound fared exceptionally well and was even better than a few of the others, which speaks volumes about the RX-V861’s value. At insane volume levels, the RX-V861 lacked that last ounce of sparkle and air in the upper frequencies. However, that said, the sound was still very listenable and never became fatiguing. When the track picks up in both dynamics and complexity, the RX-V861 did an admirable job of keeping up. The guitars were bold, dynamic and free from nearly any signs of compression. The bass, while thunderously deep, was remarkably controlled, considering the RX-V861’s price. The bass never sounded sluggish or bloated, just not quite as resolute as I’ve heard from my reference rig or costlier receivers, such as my long-standing favorite, the Denon 4806. Still, I was most impressed, not only by the RX-V861’s sound, but by its Enhanced Stereo DSP. In fact, when I did throw on the actual CD, I found I honestly preferred the Enhanced DSP sound to its direct stereo counterpart. For the first time since installing my Meridian G Series, I have found a matrix surround sound mode that is very musically engaging. Amazingly, it’s inside a $1,000 Yamaha receiver.

Moving onto the track “Lithium,” it was more of the same. Again, Amy Lee’s vocals were pristine as ever and magic to my ears. The bass, again, was deep and steered free of overpowering the midrange, which was a tad aggressive and forward-sounding. I decided to punish the RX-V861 and throttled the volume for the stratosphere. The RX-V861 held its own in almost every way. However, at the extremes, the RX-V861’s treble presentation does flatten ever so slightly, as does the bass. Overall, there seems to be a bit of spatial condensing to the soundstage at extreme volumes. At normal listening levels, the soundstage is wider than it is deep and does a good job of keeping multiple instruments separated. One area where the RX-V861 shines is in its center image, which has a real sense of in-room presence you don’t usually hear out of receivers in the RX-V861’s price class.

Moving onto multi-channel music, I opted for an all-time favorite, Monster Music’s presentation of Peter Cincotti’s Live in New York (Monster Music). Let me start by saying the RX-V861 is a multi-channel music lover’s dream. On the track “Sway,” with the help of my new Toshiba XD-A20, the RX-V861 dished out a multi-channel experience that rivaled those provided by some of the best gear, both receivers and separates, that I’ve had in my system over the years. The sound was punchy, lively and extremely lifelike. The treble, especially the upper octaves of Cincotti’s piano, was sweet, robust and completely free of any digital compression or glare. The cymbals simply shimmered with all the air and detail I could ever hope for, especially from a sub-$1,000 receiver. The midrange was pure, natural and rife with emotion you simply don’t find in most of today’s receivers. The bass improved dramatically across the board, gaining in depth and impact and, most importantly, control compared to two-channel music. Beyond its individual attributes, the sound overall had a greater sense of purpose and rhythm through the RX-V861. It was as if the RX-V861 was having fun playing back Peter Cincotti’s live performance, which was an attribute I welcomed and frankly would pay a lot more than the RX-V861’s asking price to have. On the track “I Love Paris,” the musicality and rhythm of the RX-V861 was infectious. Regardless of volume, the RX-V861’s performance was simply toe-tapping fun. To say I got a truer sense of being there through the RX-V861 would be an understatement. The sound was live in my room and just wonderfully balanced throughout all the speakers in my system. Across the board, be it double bass or vocals, the RX-V861’s multi-channel performance was simply stunning. The surround sound presentation was bolder and more inclusive through the RX-V861 than with any other receiver I’ve encountered in recent memory. Where the RX-V861 failed to match my reference gear was in terms of absolute detail, resolution and air. However, the RX-V861 more than made up for that last one percent by being more emotionally involving than anything that came before it. If multi-channel music is your thing, you’ll love the RX-V861.

While I could’ve gone on ad nauseam with multi-channel music, it was time to test the RX-V861’s movie muscle. I kicked things off with the HD DVD presentation of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (Paramount Home Entertainment) starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci. Before I get into the sound and image quality, I want to start off by saying that HDMI is the bane of my existence and I’m always skeptical of any manufacturer’s claims to have tamed the beast. That being said, the RX-V861 not only passed the 1080p signal coming from my HD DVD player flawlessly, it also switched between multiple HDMI sources without hesitation or hiccup. No other product in my experience, save the Radiient HDMI switcher, has managed such a feat so effortlessly. Getting back to the film, the sound emanating from the RX-V861 was excellent. Dialogue was clear and intelligible and remained composed in the face of sweeping action, such as in the church sequence. The bass, especially the thundering hooves of the Horseman’s black stallion, was epic, well-controlled and never threatened to become boomy, despite my efforts. The highs were well-mannered and appropriately sweet, giving just a hint of harshness at the extremes. Overall, the RX-V861’s sound was extremely balanced and poised, never attempting to be something that it’s not, thereby creating an overall sound that was lively, intense and extremely enjoyable. On the image side of things, the RX-V861 didn’t disappoint. Again, the HDMI switching worked without a hitch and the subsequent 1080p image being passed through the RX-V861 was equally impressive. I could not detect any image degradation with the RX-V861 in the equipment chain than with it out. Through the RX-V861, the blacks were deep and inky smooth. The skin tones, while intentionally whiter than normal in this particular film, were incredibly dimensional and textured, without appearing overtly so. The white values were superb and overall the RX-V861 maintained the HD DVD transfer’s terrific three-dimensionality.

I ended my time with the RX-V861 with Ridley Scott’s latest period epic, Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), on Blu-ray. Again, the RX-V861 had no trouble with the HDMI switching nor did it seemed bothered by the stunningly rich 1080p image. Personally, I didn’t much care for the film, but the images contained in it were pretty spectacular. The RX-V861 did a wonderful job of presenting the sheer scope of the picture without adding any unnecessary artifacts or grain. The RX-V861’s video capabilities are rather impressive, given its price. The sound was equally impressive. Again, the RX-V861 is a multi-channel enthusiast’s dream. I’m not entirely sure what Yamaha is doing with their surround sound decoding. Needless to say, I really do like it and find it completely unique to their products. Truthfully, in direct comparison with the competition, the RX-V861’s surround sound performance seemed fuller, richer and simply more dynamic than anything else I had on hand. All nuances aside, the RX-V861’s way with multi-channel music and movies is rather eye-opening, because it’s just so involving and exciting. While some would argue that this “excitement” comes at the expense of fine detail and accuracy, I’d argue that it doesn’t matter, for when I sit down to listen to music or watch a movie, I want to be wrapped up in it and entertained. The RX-V861 may not be the most neutral-sounding nor the most resolving of receivers out there, but it still may be one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever heard.


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