Receivers

Yamaha RX-V3900 7.1 A/V Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX

Design

As I mentioned at the top of this review, the RX-V3900 is, in some respects, a media hub. Yamaha has jam-packed this unit with various means of getting audio content to the receiver. Along side the traditional methods, you can also get audio from XM/Sirius Satellite radio, the Sirius internet stream, the Rhapsody music service, the vTuner internet radio directory service, your iPod, Bluetooth stereo sources (via A2DP), USB hard drive and flash drives, and from a network media server that supports the Windows Media Connect protocol.

Some of these sources require external components, of course. Satellite radio requires the proper tuner and antenna, depending on what service you have, as well as a subscription. For the XM HD broadcasts, the RX-V3900 includes Neural THX Surround processing for the full high definition surround experience. Rhapsody also requires a subscription, but can be a great service to have as it gives you access to a huge catalog of music to which you can listen on demand.

The iPod and Bluetooth functionality both require separate Yamaha parts. The YDS-11SL Yamaha Universal iPod dock enables iPod integration. It supports all current iPod types (not including the iPhone or iPhone 3G). It allows you to listen and control your iPod from the receiver itself. You can use the on-screen GUI to navigate your iPod library, or you can choose to leave that off if you just want to use the remote control or the iPod itself. Also available, and even more intriguing in my opinion, is the YBA-10 Bluetooth audio receiver. This device allows the receiver to accept wireless audio from A2DP enabled sources. At some point in the future this very well may become a standard in A/V Receivers, and has already penetrated the car audio market. A2DP is pretty standard in smartphones these days (coming to an iPhone 3G near you this summer!), and is making its way into portable media players as well.

A2DP enables you to do a few very cool things. First of all, it allows you to stream high quality stereo audio signals wirelessly. This is, of course, the main point of the A2DP Bluetooth profile. Second, since A2DP is really just a way of proxying audio output from a given device, the audio is, of course, controlled from that device. This means that you select the tracks, playlists, etc. from that device, making it a very robust remote control. For example, if I have a Bluetooth adapter for my iPod, I can navigate my audio collection right on the device, yet listen to it over my home audio system. Third, and even more interesting, is that most PCs and all current Macs have the A2DP Bluetooth profile built in. The possibilities become endless as you can basically stream any audio from your PC directly to the Yamaha. A great example is the excellent Pandora Project. You use the Bluetooth A2DP feature on your Mac or PC to send the audio directly to the RX-V3900. Pretty nifty. Unfortunately, my review unit did not include either of these docks, so I cannot comment on how well they work in actuality.

Next up is the ability for the RX-V3900 to access audio files stored on a USB hard drive or flash drive. What is really excellent about this feature is the variety of codecs the Yamaha supports. These include WAV, MP3, MPEG-4 AAC, and WMA files that adhere to the supported sampling rates. The real benefit to this feature is the convenience if you do not have some type of network server that stores all of your music. I tested an old 256MB thumb drive I had lying around. I threw a few MP3 tracks on there, popped it in the USB connector found under the door on the front of the receiver, and was listening in seconds.

The folder structure supported is good too, as you can have sub-directories (which you normally find when ripping CDs with iTunes or Windows Media Player). Another benefit to this feature would be if you have an MP3 player that supports USB Mass Storage Device mode. That way, you can simply plug it in and see the files laid out as you would a USB hard drive.

Last, but certainly not least, is the ability to connect to a server that supports the Windows Media Connect protocol. This includes dozens of services, such as Orb, Twonkey, TVersity and Windows Media Player 11 (built into Vista and the forthcoming Windows 7). The beauty of this is that if you are already using one of these services, there is nothing more to set up! While not required, it is easiest to navigate your music collection with the GUI. You must select the PC/MCX option under the "input select" menu. Oddly, there is not a hard button on the remote dedicated to this input. Once selected, you get a list of all available servers on your network. Selecting one, you will get the top menu that your particular service creates. For example, the standard Windows Media Connect service built into Windows Media Player 11 will show artists, albums, all music, folders, genre, and playlists. An Orb server may show something different, such as music, pictures, and videos (don't be fooled, the RX-V3900 will not stream video).

Each service provides a slightly different top level menu, some of which may even be customizable. For large libraries, playlists will be essential to ensure you don't spend a ton of time trying to locate specific music. While the Yamaha's media connect feature is superb, its implementation could use some enhancement. For example, I have a library with nearly 1200 artists in it. This makes for a lot of scrolling to get to the M's! The one nice thing Yamaha did as far as that goes is that if you hold down the down or up button on the remote, after a couple of seconds it will start jumping by page instead of one at a time. Better, but I would rather see the ability to jump to a given letter quickly, or something similar. As of the latest firmware update, you will also get album art on screen if it is included with the audio file being played. Another positive here is that if you are listening to a track and then switch to another input, when you switch back to PC/MCX, the track will pick up playing where it left off (assuming it is still available on the network, of course). Even with the shortcomings, I loved this feature of the receiver.

Folding down the front panel exposes some of the menu buttons and additional input/output jacks.

Surround Modes

Showing that its roots are in music and audio, Yamaha has continued to add and tweak its surround field modes. Back when surround sound DSP modes were new to the industry, I was amazed at how they actually could make your audio sound as if you were in a theater or a jazz club. As time wore on, however, I realized that I didn't really want to listen to my music as if I were in, say, an echo-filled, noisy stadium. As I have said before, I find most of these modes gimmicky and rarely use them.

However, as this technology has evolved, levels of sophistication have been added, especially by Yamaha, that make some of these modes enticing once again. Each of the various DSP modes found on the RX-V3900 has its own subset of modes. The ones I specifically found useful were those included under the Live/Club and Classical headings. Many of the modes under these two headings are meant to faithfully recreate the acoustical characteristics of real venues.

Having quite a few live shows in my music library, I thought this would be a good test to see if the implementation here was useful or still gimmicky. I can actually say that for several of my recordings I truly did appreciate the effect, my favorite being the Roxy Theater setting. This particular Roxy Theater is the one located in Los Angeles, and holds around 450 people. While I can't vouch for the accuracy of the reproduction, since I have never actually been to that theater, I can certainly say that it did apply a small venue sound to my music, which was a perfect enhancement. The effect is subtle, but much more natural sounding than DSP modes once were. The Classical modes are pretty neat as well, as they include several famous European concert halls and even a church. I can honestly recommend at least giving them a try to see if they enhance your experience. Purists may scoff, but then again, these modes aren't really aimed at that crowd.

You will find all of the major flavors of surround decoding from both Dolby and DTS here, as well as Neural THX (US and Canada models only). This includes the latest advanced surround codecs, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. I was not able to test the receiver's ability to decode either of these formats, as I do not have any sources that will output them via bitstream, but it is nice to know they are there as more and more sources become capable of doing this. The RX-V3900 does include an analog multichannel audio input which allows you to take advantage of outboard decoders if you choose. This can also be useful since there are only 4 HDMI inputs on the receiver. Should you have a fifth device that can output surround sound via analog outputs, this would provide a solution. Still, as with nearly all HDMI-capable receivers, the RX-V3900 accepts multichannel PCM signals, which is how I was able to enjoy the high resolution audio soundtracks on my Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs.

Remote

The included RAV386 remote control unit is one of the best I have seen included with an A/V device in some time. With the huge number of universal remote control options available to home theater enthusiasts, it's no surprise that many manufacturers have skimped on their included remote controls, sometimes even with high end models. This was not the case here. Yamaha clearly intended to supply not only a functional remote, but one that excelled in several key areas.

First off, the main remote actually feels pretty good in the hand. The bottom has a slightly textured finish that prevents the remote from slipping out of your hand. There is also an indented groove in the bottom wide enough for just about anyone's finger, which allows the remote to rest perfectly in your hand while you operate it. The remote includes a backlight for the main area which glows a pleasant blue when the button on the left side of the remote is pressed. This illuminates the source keys (shown below), the directional pad, the volume and transport keys, the macro keys, and the small LCD screen. Should you not wish the backlight to come on at all, this feature is also defeatable. A second, smaller remote, is also included.

What does this LCD screen do, you ask? It has several purposes, but the biggest is that it is used to indicate what device and zone is currently being controlled, and what mode the remote is in. Of particular interest is the first point. You can switch between devices to control without changing the selected input on the receiver. Of course, this also means that you can program the remote to control several different devices. The receiver's manual (which is one of the best I have seen for a piece of home theater gear, by the way) includes a list of hundreds of manufacturer codes. The LCD screen is used to walk through the easy programming of these codes for a given source device. If necessary, codes can be learned from a source's native remote control as well. Finally, the remote can also be programmed to use macros, again made easier with the help of the LCD screen. As I said, it is clearly a well thought out remote control, one that I would be happy to use as my universal remote control had I not owned one already.