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Yamaha RX-V659 7.1 A/V Receiver

Part II

February, 2007

Matthew Abel

 

Remote Control and General Use

The Yamaha RX-V659's remote control looks like it came from the 80's with lots of small hard buttons and a garish color scheme. However, when I began using the remote, its inner beauty shone through.

The remote has three modes, Amp, Source, and TV, depending on what you want to control. The modes are selected with a toggle switch on its right side. This turned out to be a very effective method for switching between the control of my source components and the receiver, and is a much better solution than the more common use of an Amp button in the source selection area.

It is good that Yamaha has made this ability to switch back and forth easy, since you will be doing a lot of it as you need to reset the surround mode frequently depending on what you are listening to. For controlling other components, the preprogrammed codes for my TV and DVD player worked flawlessly, but the TiVo codes did not work very well. Using the XM tuner was also a joy, with the big, clear display scrolling off the song info, and easy access to the numeric keypad for station selection.

Once I started using the RX-V659, I was very interested in how well the YDS-10SL iPod dock would work. One selects the iPod dock by pressing the V-Aux input and then pressing the display button to call up the iPod interface on screen. At this point the Yamaha logo will appear on your iPod and a reasonable facsimile of the iPod interface will appear on your display where you can select music or playlists like you normally would with an iPod.

Actually, using the interface is problematic though. The first major problem is scrolling through your music, which is painfully slow using the Yamaha interface which scrolls at a constant speed. Having a scroll speed that becomes progressively faster would work much better. The second problem is that there is no separate podcast area in the music section, which makes finding your podcasts somewhat difficult. My last problem was that I was not able to access any video or photo content on my iPod using the Yamaha interface. This is a huge problem for me as I do buy TV shows from the iTunes Store (my cable company does not carry the SciFi Channel, so I have to get my Battlestar Galactica fix somewhere else).

The primary advantage of using the YDS-10SL with the RX-V659 is the ability to select items with an on-screen menu. However, the poor scrolling and the inability to select video files makes this a moot point for me and negates the advantages the YDS-10SL has over other options, like Apple's Universal Dock.

Overall, I enjoyed using the RX-V659 and over the course of my review I had no problems with it.

The Sound

I started my listening evaluation with some stereo music, using the RX-V659 set in Pure Direct mode. I began with The Warning by Hot Chip, and I was instantly impressed by both the quantity and quality of bass this receiver was able to ring out of my towers. Moving on to my favorite track on the disc, also called "The Warning", I was rewarded with a rich, punchy sound with great rhythmic drive. For such a reasonably priced receiver it was quite astounding how effective the RX-V659 was at really delivering such a balanced and full presentation of the track.

Next I cued up "Saeglopur" from Sigur Ros's Takk, which has a slow crescendo throughout the track that builds to a raucous sound at the end. I wanted to see if I could crank up the Yamaha, and indeed, it did not disappoint, letting me push it to uncomfortably loud levels without a problem. The Yamaha kept my "crank it up, party vibe" rolling through to the next track, "So Far We Are" from French Kicks' Two Thousand. The vocals on this track were clear and well balanced in the overall sound, which I again cranked louder than my neighbors probably appreciated.

As impressed as I was with the Yamaha's dynamics and bass, I decided to take it down a notch and listen to some tracks from Sufjan Stevens's The Avalanche, a collection of outtakes and B-sides from Illinois. The Yamaha was able to deftly reproduce the light, airy, almost baroque orchestrations and intimate vocals that Sufjan's music is known for. Finally, no review of mine would be complete without listening to Gustav Holst's "Fantasia on the Dargason" from the "Second Suite in F" on Suites for Band. Here the Yamaha was able to produce excellent bass and a very pleasant tonal character. However, I felt like some of the subtle details on the track were not as clear as I have heard from other receivers, despite it producing a very musical sound.

Before I moved on to movies, I wanted to experiment a bit with sound quality using the iPod dock. Apple Lossless and iTunes Store tracks played fine and sounded generally good, with the former obviously better than the latter. I experimented using the compressed music enhancer on iTunes Store files, with mixed results. The main sonic quality the sound mode imparted was a mild to significant bass boost depending on whether the enhancer was set to Low or HIgh mode respectively. The enhancer also made music sound muddier and less direct, particularly in the High mode. I generally preferred to leave it off when using it with the iTunes music files.

I had better results when I switched to even poorer quality audio files, like podcasts from KEXP. Using it on the low setting restored some bass, without messing everything else up and generally improved the music.  The compressed music enhancer is worth experimenting with, just do not expect it to work wonders.

I moved on to surround sound listening with Super Speedway using straight Dolby Digital. The RX-V659 was able to produce excellent dynamics and powerful bass with this disc that really brought the racing scenes to life. Particularly impressive were the hard front to back pans when Michael Andretti's car passes under the bridges at Road America.

Next I watched The Incredibles, but this time I added one of Yamaha's DSP modes. Yamaha offers a wide variety of DSP modes for both music and movies, and even on the moderately priced RX-V659, Yamaha allows the user excellent control of these modes with the ability to modify DSP levels, delays, reverberation times, and other parameters.

These DSP effects can work very well at times, but I find that the best mode can often vary widely from disc to disc. The more subtle modes, like Enhanced Surround for movies, seem to be more universally beneficial. This is the mode I used with The Incredibles. The Enhanced Surround mode broadened the soundfield a bit and made for smooth and even pans from speaker to speaker. The action sequences were excellent, with the RX-V659 really transcending its price point with its power and bass. Finally, I finished my listening with Batman Begins, and the Yamaha rewarded me with a strong driving soundtrack and well delineated effects.

Overall, I really liked what the Yamaha was able to do with these selections, producing bass and dynamics well beyond what a receiver its price normally does.

Conclusions

The Yamaha RX-V659 is an excellent budget receiver, with "better-than-you-expect-for-$550" sound quality and a rich feature set. The receiver is sonically impressive, with bass and dynamics that are well beyond receivers at this price point in the past.

The RX-V659 also has almost all of the features one would want in a modern receiver. Its only real omission is HDMI switching, which is starting to appear in some of its competition.

Ultimately, all of this means that the Yamaha RX-V659 offers good value. This receiver is one of my favorite budget components, and it should be a very appealing option for many people.
 

- Matthew Abel -

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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