I love audio/video publications with their reviews of the latest equipment and technologies. I even enjoy reading about those elitist or flagship products that I will never be able to afford. For some reason reading about those products brings me one step closer to the experience of having them in my own home. The other reason I enjoy reading them so much, is in two years, that latest and greatest technology will be included as standard equipment on the products that I can afford.
A/V review websites have a tendency to evaluate the newest flagship components because the manufacturers want some free marketing on the six digit R&D project they just readied for market, and website reviewers can get a review published much more quickly than a print magazine. Plus, of course, reviewers love new toys. After putting some thought into what my next product review might be, I thought I would step back from the big budget items and review a current product everyone can afford: a mass market receiver.
I present to you the Yamaha RX-V630 surround sound receiver. Yamaha offers eight receivers in their current lineup, ranging in price from $299 to $2,799. The RX-V630 sits three up from the bottom and sells for $499, certainly closer to the bottom than the top. One might think a receiver of this price would be limited in some way, but if you take a look at the features, you will see it supports nearly all of the newest surround formats like Dolby Digital EX and Pro Logic II (DPL-II), component video switching, pre-outs for all channels, and a six-channel analog input for DVD-A or SACD.
Less than three years ago, the least expensive receiver in Yamaha’s lineup to have these features would have cost you $3,200 and still would not have had DPL-II. Perhaps this may not be a fair comparison though, since that $3,200 receiver did have more power and better build quality than the RX-V630. It does, however, give you some perspective of how fast technology changes and how quickly what were once flag-ship features, become standard offerings on products that are considered entry-level.
I did have some requirements for the budget receiver I wanted to review. First off, the receiver had to have pre-outs for all channels. As long as a receiver has pre-outs, we can always upgrade later to use the receiver as a budget surround sound processor with a multi-channel amp. Secondly, to allow use with the newest media a 5.1 analog input was a must. It had to have built-in amplification for all channels. Many companies over the last couple of years have produced units that do not include amplification to the rear center channel(s). People who buy $500 receivers should not be expected to go out and spend another $150 to $200 on an additional amp. Finally, I wanted real binding posts, not those little spring clips. I would have preferred the unit to include a learning remote, but the RX-V630 does not have one.
The amp is well built, and I do not see any particular flaws in its design. At $499 you will not find a toroidal transformer, detachable power cord, or high quality gold plated connections. The unit does have nicer feet than I would have expected.
All the controls have a solid feel to them and respond very quickly to any command. The binding posts feel a little weak in comparison to my B&K power amp, but only slightly less solid than the binding posts on most $1,000 receivers. The unit for review was black in color with an orange display, typical from Yamaha. It has enough inputs for a standard home theater setup and even an optical input on the front of the unit, which is great if you have an X-Box with a digital output. While the 630 supports four optical digital inputs, the single coax digital input could cause problems for people with two or more devices that only have coax outputs.
I set up the Yamaha RX-V630, connected the wires to the unit, turned it on, selected the right input, and hit play on the CD player. Silence! Hmmm . . . I have set up many receivers in the past, so what did I forget? I checked all my connections, and everything was fine. I tried different inputs, digital connections, analog connections . . . nothing, just silence. After several minutes of trial and error, I discovered the speaker selector switches for both sets of speakers were turned off. At a later date I checked the manual and this was mentioned in the troubleshooting section.
I made a point not to open the manual during setup. The thinking was if I have trouble setting up this receiver without a manual, a first time user could get lost. The RX-V630 does not have on-screen display (OSD). Secrets is on record saying that it is better not to run video signals though a receiver between the source and the TV, if you can avoid it, as you will maintain a cleaner video signal. However, using an OSD does usually make the setup process easier. I managed fine without the OSD. The setup was fairly intuitive; you simply press the menu button multiple times to access all the menus, the right arrow to choose a menu, the up and down arrows to scroll through the menu items, and the right and left arrow to adjust settings. From the menu, you have access to settings relating to speaker levels and delay, assignment of component video and digital inputs, dynamic range, headphone bass, treble and LFE controls, and even a memory lock so the settings do not get changed by accident.
When it came time to adjust levels for each speaker, the first quirk with the unit appeared. The RX-V630 does not allow the user to adjust the main left and right channels directly, and independently of the other channels. Instead you must adjust the balance and then match all other channels to the mains. Once I had the balance set I entered the test tone generator to adjust the other channels with the use of an SPL meter. In most receivers or surround sound processors (SSP) you select the speaker you want and the test tone stays at that speaker while you make adjustments. When you are done with the speaker you move to the next one. The RX-V630 spends a maximum of 2.5 seconds on each speaker, whether you are finished making adjustments or not. After many loops through all the speakers, I did manage to get everything set to the correct level. Note, however, that this procedure is typical of mass market receivers, especially in this price range.
The next step in setting up any SSP is to time-align the speakers. This setting is usually found under "Delay", as it is with the RX-V630, and should be set up correctly for proper playback of surround encoded material. Many new SSPs allow you to set delay by a physical measurement of how far each speaker is from the listening position. Yamaha has taken the older more traditional method of using milliseconds (ms) to set the delay. I know from experience this is not the best way to allow users to set up delay. You would be amazed at how many peoples’ homes I have visited over the years to find they just leave the delay at the factory level or adjust it to make things sound cool (usually too much delay).
Yamaha's instructions for setting delay were somewhat limited. They basically explain 1ms of delay equals about 30 cm (1 foot) of distance. Only the center and the rear center speaker have options to adjust delay in the setup. To adjust delay of the rear left and right speakers you have to select the surround format you want to set the delay for and then use the down arrow on the remote to access the delay of that surround mode. Once you have done that you can make the adjustment, but that setting is unique to each surround mode, so you will have to make an adjustment for each mode like DD, DTS, and Pro Logic. In most symmetrical setups this will work, but if you have a room where you sit off center, you will not be able to properly time align your main or rear left and right speakers. Although the 630 has very few settings for delay, trying to adjust it properly requires too much thought on the user. Again, this is typical of many mass market receivers, but we have to point it out, and this will become one of the factors we measure in our future SSP Benchmark Specifications.
The bass management in the 630 is pretty simple. It allows each speaker to be set to "Small" or "Large" and redirect low frequencies to the subwoofer, mains, or both. Speakers set to small have a fixed high-pass crossover at 90 Hz. The RX-V630 does not give the user any options to control the slope. At the price and target market of this unit, I do not see a problem with it.
The last set up task was to program the remote. The unit supplied with the 630 is not back lit, and most of the buttons are the same size, making it very hard to use in the darkness of a home theater. Yamaha has struggled with remotes for years, and while the RX-V630’s is better than the last generation, Yamaha still has a long way to go. Things only got worse when I tried to program it with the codes for my equipment. Out of the VCR, SAT receiver, 300 Disc CD-player, and DVD player, the only component that was usable without picking up another remote was the VCR. The 630 remote has no learning capabilities so do not expect to replace all your remotes with this one. On the plus side, the remote has a great range, so I could easily bounce the signal off my screen to control the receiver located behind me (>22 ft). It also works from just about any angle.
As I mentioned, I had set everything up and had been using the receiver for weeks before I opened the manual. However, at the price point of this unit, it is probable that someone new to home theater may be trying to set it up. The manual is reasonably well written, and most pages contain notes on how the settings currently being explained might affect other functions of the receiver.
I have used the RX-V630 in my home theater for two months. Although there were a couple of times I wanted to swap it out for a more expensive unit, for the most part I was very happy. One of the ways Yamaha keeps the price down on this unit is to have a modest power output. At 75 watts per channel, the RX-V630 is not going to break any windows, but will get the job done in a reasonable sized room. I use Mirage OM-6s as the mains in my home theater. They have powered subs and are a relatively easy load to drive. My surround speakers are the matching Mirage OM speakers. During my time with the RX-V630, there were only a few times I drove the amp into clip. Each incident was during a 5.1 movie sound track in an intensive explosive scene. My home theater is a fairly large area to fill with sound (12x20), but in a smaller room, I am sure the RX-V630 could have handled the scenes with a little more grace. This is the exact reason I wanted pre-outs on the receiver. When I connected a two-channel power amp to drive the mains, and left the receiver to power the rest of the surround speakers, it almost completely removed clipping for normal listening levels. I could still clip the other speakers if I tried, but most people would not be listening to movie sound tracks that loud. If you buy this receiver, or any other modestly powered receiver for that matter, get speakers that are efficient, i.e., about 92 dB/w/m or higher.
The RX-V630 has several other features I would expect in all SSPs. This includes three levels of Dynamic Range (Max, Normal, and Minimum). The 630 also allows down-mixing of all surround formats to two channels for use with headphones, and even allows for custom LFE, bass and treble settings when listing to headphones. Finally, the RX-V630 supports five levels of dimming the display, although there was no mode to shut it off completely, and it does not increase in brightness when you are interacting with it.
As with most receivers you can change the level of any speaker during playback. This is a particularly important feature in my household as my wife often requests, "Could you turn the voices up?", which translates directly to increasing the center channel level. The one limitation of the RX-V630 is that any change made to the speaker levels permanently changes the levels we calibrated earlier with the test tones. In other receivers and SSPs I have used, this is a temporary setting, which I prefer.
The sound of the RX-630 is excellent. It draws a little more attention to itself than the Marantz I was previously using, but this is a welcome change for high-action 5.1 material. I found the Marantz to be a little more laid-back than I would like for high energy action films. However for music, either 5.1 or 2-channel, I preferred the laid-back nature of the Marantz over the Yamaha which I found a little bright at times. I should mention that I am not particularly fond of bright-sounding equipment, and you may not find the Yamaha bright at all depending on your preferences and system configuration. Many people prefer this audio signature as they find it brings more detail to the music. You might infer from this that I am a tube aficionado, and that would be correct. Tubes almost never sound bright.
Yamaha is famous for having an extensive number of surround modes in their receivers. As the receiver increases in price, the number of surround modes also increases. Even though the RX-V630 is inexpensive, it still has plenty of options to choose from. Personally, I almost never use any other surround format except the standard ones from Dolby or DTS. I figure if the producer mixed the sound track for a standard decoder, why make it sound like it is being played in a stadium. I realize that some people do enjoy having the additional formats or use them for other material like sports events or added ambiance to music. Dolby Pro Logic II is worth mentioning, as I am rather impressed with it, and though I do not use if for two-channel music at home, I am considering putting it in my car. The movie mode of DLP II is also excellent for older two-channel surround encoded material.
The RX-V630 has two options for auto-detecting the surround formats it is being fed. One is for determining DD, DTS, or PCM, and the other is for enabling the matrix (EX/ES) decoder. Both modes functions properly when determining DD or DTS, and worked perfectly detecting the EX flag. I did not have a DVD to test the functionality of the ES detection. However, there is also a flag to tell the decoder if a signal is Pro Logic or two-channel stereo. Regardless of the flags, the RX-V630 defaults to whichever surround sound mode you last had that input on when being feed a Dolby Digital 2.0 or PCM signal. I would have preferred the decoder to have properly read this flag as well. It is also worth mentioning that the "Effect Off" feature is a complete override of all surround formats and when enabled, or if you plug headphones into the receiver, the unit will down-mix all signals, regardless of type, to two-channel stereo.
The manual mentions that if a DTS signal is being processed and is stopped, the DTS light may flash for up to 30 seconds, trying to re-lock on the DTS signal. This fixes the problem with some processors that lose a couple of seconds of audio when you hit play or change chapters on a DTS track. During my time with the RX-V630 this never happed with DTS CDs or DVDs. Every time I stopped, paused, or changed tracks on either medium, the unit would quickly default back to the last surround mode it was in and then relocked on the DTS signal. In a unit with slow detection, this would be bad, as a 1-2 second gap could occur in the audio stream. Luckily, the RX-V630 has a very fast auto detection algorithm and locks onto DTS or DD signals so fast that you hardly notice it other than seeing it on the display.
The Yamaha does not attenuate DTS signals by 4 dB to make them the same level as DD signals. It is worth noting that if you directly compare DD to DTS tracks using this receiver or any processor that does not attenuate the DTS track, you might find you prefer the DTS track not because it is better, but because it is louder. Our mind has a tendency to be tricked into thinking louder is better. That is not to say that, even if the DTS track is attenuated, they will sound the same. In a lot of cases, the DD and DTS tracks are mixed completely different. I should also mention that the DTS-ES functionality is documented by Yamaha as being 'compatible', though I doubt that will affect your listening pleasure.
Dolby Pro Logic II, which I am impressed with for both music and Dolby Pro logic encoded material, is properly implemented with the RX-V630 and allow for the optional customization of setting for Panorama, Dimension, and Center Width in music mode. For a quick explanation of these settings, there are links at the bottom of this review to several papers. The preference would be that changes made to these settings would be input specific, but they are global with the RX-V630.
As mentioned previously, Secrets does not recommend running video signals though a switching device (receiver) if it can be avoided. We also realize that you may have more components than inputs on your display device. So if you must use the switcher in the receiver, keep your high quality sources connected directly to the TV, and switch the lower quality signals, such as a VHS VCR, in the receiver. I did try the video switching in the Yamaha and it was reasonable. There seemed to be some minor signal degradation when doing a direct A-B comparison but nothing I would notice using a VCR or Playstation. Yamaha claims the component output is ‘Fully HD Capable’, but the specifications only state 30Mhz at 3 dB down. You really need at least 100Mhz at 3 dB down to give you minimal loss with a 1080i signal, so I would not use the component inputs on the receiver to switch any formats higher than 480i.
I have been recommending Yamaha to my friends and family for years. Their products are very reliable and present very good value for the money spent. The RX-V630 is no different. While it has its limitations, Yamaha had to leave something for the five receivers in the models above this one. However, I feel the RX-V630 has all the necessary features required to get started in home theater or even as an upgrade for someone with an older similar-sized unit. It has support for the newest mediums like DVD-A and SACD, and you can add more power down the road if necessary. For the price and feature set of this unit, I do not think you can go wrong. If you have a large room or difficult speaker to drive, you might want to purchase an outboard power amplifier later on.
- Sandy Bird -