- Written by Gabe Lowe
- Published on 14 May 2009
I unpacked the solid, 38 pound RX-V3900 and slid it into my rack. The two outlets, power cord, and speaker terminals are grouped in the right third of the back panel, while the remaining 2/3 encompass all of the A/V, antennae, and miscellaneous hookups, such as Ethernet, RS-232c, etc. Included in high end Yamaha receivers for some time now have been front effects channel speaker terminals (in this iteration, they are referred to as "presence speakers"). These speakers add ambient effects to the front channels, and are recommended for use with Yamaha's cinema DSP modes. In fact, they are even required in the case of Yamaha's new Cinema 3D DSP mode, which is meant to create a more enveloping, multidimensional sound field in your listening room. They are not part of the DTS or Dolby specs, so there aren't dedicated signals for these channels, yet they can potentially create a more enveloping sound field.
Also to note is that out of the box, this receiver is configured to drive 8 ohm loads. You can power 6 ohm loads (and down to 4 ohm for the front channels only) by booting the receiver into a special advanced settings menu and setting the impedance there. I like the idea of this procedure because the configurations and features found in the advanced menu, if used incorrectly, can potentially result in damaged equipment. By requiring specific steps to boot the receiver into this advanced menu, Yamaha has drastically reduced the possibility that an unknowing customer would randomly stumble upon one of these configurations and modify it inappropriately. Also found in this menu is the ability to update the receiver's firmware either over the internet or from a USB device. This was important for my review, which I will touch on later.
I cabled everything up, using mostly HDMI connections for my sources. One thing of note here is that the RX-V3900 can output to two HDMI connections, though not different sources at the same time. This is an excellent feature for those interested in using ithe receiver to control a second zone. I slid my rack back into place and fired the unit up. The front of the RX-V3900 features the traditional Yamaha orange LED display, with some red thrown in for various indicators. It is crisp and easily readable from a distance. There is a drop down door underneath the display that reveals some added inputs, and advanced controls. The calibration microphone jack is also located there.
Unlike the Denons and Onkyos, which employ the excellent Audyssey system for automatic calibration and equalization, Yamaha implements their own program called Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO). It works in basically the same fashion. You plug in the microphone, and begin the setup routine. It asks you to move the mic to the various listening positions (in advanced mode), generates a test tone, and then calculates distances, speaker sizes, proper equalization curve, etc.
The manual even includes a page dedicated to explaining how this system works in their implementation. The results were quite accurate as they have been with Audyssey, although the big difference was with the amount of time it took to run the calibration. For whatever reason, YPAO took much less time than it usually takes me to run the Audyssey setup. It got all of my distances correct, and even my speaker sizes. It did want to set the crossover level for my surround speakers a bit higher than I like (100Hz rather than 80Hz), but other than that I was ok with the rest of the settings.
The next step was to assign and label the sources. The advanced GUI of this receiver made the former quite intuitive, but as I have lamented about other consumer electronics devices in the past, entering text is a chore, making the latter tedious. Yamaha has introduced an interesting new twist on assigning the source components to the proper connections. The GUI has a table view that shows the sources (in their originally assigned names) on the left side of the chart, and the connection type appears on the top.
You navigate to a given box on the chart, which matches a component with a connection type. Once you select that box, you then choose which number of that connection type the component will occupy. For example, if you want to set your DVD player to use component input 2 and optical digital audio input 1, you would first move the place on the chart where the "DVD" source meets the "Component In" input. When you click "enter" on the remote or the receiver front, you then get a choice along the bottom of none, A, B, or C. After selecting the component input number, you then highlight the "Opt In" input on the same line for the DVD source, and select "1". This is an absolutely excellent way of selecting inputs. Not only is it exceptionally intuitive and easy to use, but it also shows you what inputs are already assigned so you don't have to go back and check which ones you have already used should you forget. This should become the standard for assigning inputs on receivers.
Next, I configured the video settings. The RX-V3900 uses Anchor Bay's Video Reference Series (VRS) technology for its video processing. It is capable of converting all analog connections to digital, as well as upscaling all video to 1080p for output over HDMI. My complaint here is that it seems these settings are universal, and cannot be applied on a per-source basis. That being said, I did set the system to output all video at 1080p to match my HDTV's native resolution. I left processing set to 'on' for all HDMI to HDMI connections (it is unclear from the manual whether it actually processes 1080p at all, but I believe it does not).
One positive about this receiver's video processing is that it will pillarbox 4:3 material for output to a 16:9 TV. This is nice for legacy video such as non-anamorphic DVDs and SD television programs, especially if the source component does not offer a pillarboxing feature. Rather than have to endure stretch-o-vision, you can actually watch content in its native resolution without reconfiguring your source or HDTV. Having the basics all set up, I was ready to explore the huge feature set offered by this receiver.