Yamaha RP-U200 review: Yamaha RP-U200

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good A host of relevant digital and analog inputs and outputs; incredibly clean sound; powerful PC software interface.

The Bad Expensive; DVD digital surround sound works with only some PC configurations; USB audio can skip during multitasking.

The Bottom Line If you have the cash, this DAR turns your PC into a great-sounding, surround-sound home-theater system.

7.0 Overall

These days, there are many convergence products designed to unite your computer and stereo so that the content available on PCs can be heard on a proper sound system. Yamaha's RP-U200 receiver might be the most sophisticated of these devices to date. Its myriad digital and analog input options, custom PC control software, and remote control make it a versatile way to integrate a computer into a complete home audio system. Plus, it has full 5.1-channel digital surround sound for use with a six-speaker (five surround-sound speakers and one subwoofer) setup. There are cheaper ways to get the job done, but this unit's extras are sure to keep tech-savvy fans of music and movies entranced. These days, there are many convergence products designed to unite your computer and stereo so that the content available on PCs can be heard on a proper sound system. Yamaha's RP-U200 receiver might be the most sophisticated of these devices to date. Its myriad digital and analog input options, custom PC control software, and remote control make it a versatile way to integrate a computer into a complete home audio system. Plus, it has full 5.1-channel digital surround sound for use with a six-speaker (five surround-sound speakers and one subwoofer) setup. There are cheaper ways to get the job done, but this unit's extras are sure to keep tech-savvy fans of music and movies entranced.

Stand and deliver
Standing upright like a microtower PC, the Yamaha acts as both the hub and amplifier of your PC and stereo or surround-sound system. On the front there's a bright, clear LED, an enormous volume dial, a headphone jack, and several control buttons. On the back you'll find an impressive and somewhat bewildering array of inputs and outputs. There are three analog stereo inputs, two digital optical inputs, one digital coaxial input, a USB port, and an antenna connector. Outputs include one pair of analog jacks, an optical digital output, a RCA jack for connecting to a subwoofer, and five speaker-wire connectors for hooking up surround-sound speakers.

All of those inputs give you a lot of options. For instance, you could connect a standalone DVD player to one digital input, your TV to an analog input, and your PC via the USB port or one of the audio inputs via your sound card. The RP-U200 supports Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic surround sound, and if you have only two speakers, it'll use its DSP to create a virtual surround 3D effect. If you have a six-speaker Dolby 5.1 setup, the unit handles that as well. With 12 watts per channel, there's plenty of power to drive your speakers.

Many control options
To operate the unit, you can either use the buttons on the front, the oddly elongated remote control, or (most interestingly) your computer. Using the custom software on your PC, you can modify almost every aspect of the receiver. For instance, you can adjust the output level of each speaker individually, set the graphic equalizer, create presets for the built-in FM tuner, or even change the labels for input sources on the LED. These controls include customizable virtual DSP environments, such as an echoing concert hall or a stadium. We found most of them to be a bit gimmicky, but some users will probably appreciate the enhancements.

In addition to control, the USB interface can be used to bypass your sound card and route digital audio directly from your PC to the RP-U200. This includes the ability to send multichannel 5.1 audio from your DVD playback software if it supports that feature (some do, some don't). Unfortunately, Yamaha doesn't include DVD playback software in the package, which would have solved the problem. In our testing, we didn't find that USB audio sounded any better than a high-quality sound card. In addition, there are some downsides to the USB approach, such as the occasional sputtering if your PC gets too busy with other tasks, (especially on slower machines without lots of RAM). In fact, users with a high-end sound card such as the Sound Blaster Live (which includes digital outputs) would probably be best off using that digital connection to the receiver and using the USB port only for configuration and control.

With a list price of $449, the Yamaha RP-U200 is definitely on the expensive side, but it offers unique flexibility--especially the surround-sound capabilities. This gadget is best suited for technically oriented digital music and movie aficionados who can choose a configuration that works with their existing equipment.

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