Setup: Quick speaker calibration
Unlike with Denon's new Setup Assistant, there are no initial guided onscreen instructions when you fire up the RX-V475. Yamaha does include automatic speaker calibration, specifically Yamaha's Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO), and plugging in the supplied Optimizer microphone does automatically bring up the onscreen menu. Yamaha's onscreen display is text-based and looks awfully outdated, but that's actually at this price. All of the measurements are taken from just one mic position, which is faster and easier than Denon's or Onkyo's Audyssey setup programs, which require multiple mic positions and running test tones again and again to complete the setup.
YPAO correctly identified all of the speakers in our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference system as "small" speakers, and adjusted the Hsu Research VTF-1 subwoofer's volume level correctly, which isn't always the case with automatic speaker calibration systems. While YPAO doesn't equalize the speakers' sound or tackle room acoustics problems as Audyssey does, we can't say we found the RX-V475's sound lacking in any way.
Sound quality: Best of the bunch
Sound quality evaluations of AV receivers (and other amplifiers) are controversial. Some say all AV receivers sound the same, others disagree, and we're not likely to settle that argument anytime soon.
What we can say is that AV receiver sound quality has much, much less effect on overall sound quality than speakers or room acoustics, so you're better off spending your home theater budget there. CNET's sound quality evaluations are strictly subjective, with resident golden ear Steve Guttenberg comparing similarly priced models in an identical listening environment using the same speakers.
The RX -V475 produced some of the best sound we've heard with our reference system powered by an AV receiver this year. We started our auditions with a high-resolution (24-bit/96kHz), multichannel Blu-ray, "BNO, Here & There, Volume II." The music was recorded without compression, equalization, or artificial reverberation, so the country-flavored tunes with guitars, fiddles, mandolins, bass, and vocals were a good test of the RX-V475's naturalness. Denon's AVR-E400 receiver sounded more distant, its bass was looser, and the cymbals were less dynamically alive. The RX-V475's immense, room-filling soundstage floated free of the speakers, and that's always a good sign.
We were a little concerned that stepping up to more action-packed home theater trials with the "Master and Commander" Blu-ray might challenge the RX-V475's power reserves -- it's "just" 80 watts per channel -- but we didn't detect any problems when we pushed the volume way up. We cranked the naval battle scenes, where cannon balls blast through the sides of wooden ships, and the RX-V475 didn't let us down. The AVR-E400 couldn't match the low bass fury of the RX-V475 when it came to reproducing the sound of cannon blasts.
Great home theater isn't always about the loudest sounds, RX-V475 also took us inside the halls of Congress when they were debating slavery in "Lincoln," and the voices sounded like they were really in the room. The quieter details of the mix were revealed with great subtlety; the ticking of a clock off in a corner of an office sounded realistic.
We went back to the loud stuff with the Rolling Stones' "Some Girls: Live in Texas '78" Blu-ray, which is a terrific-sounding recording of the band at its late 1970s peak. The band's dynamics and power were given their full due by the RX-V475. Again, it was the receiver's poise when pushed that impressed us.
What are the alternatives?
The Yamaha RX-V475 has some stiff competition at the $400 price point.
The Marantz NR1403 is tough to beat, offering six HDMI inputs at the same price and in a considerably smaller profile that looks much more attractive. It doesn't have AirPlay -- or any networking features, actually -- but, in our view, that's not much of a downside since you're generally better off using a dedicated device for media streaming.
Onkyo's TX-NR525 also has six HDMI inputs, plus it can be upgraded with wireless capabilities using relatively affordable Wi-Fi ($30) and Bluetooth ($50) accessories. And while Denon's AVR-E300 is limited to five HDMI inputs, it does have more built-in streaming services, plus Denon's new Setup Assistant features. So, altogether, if you're not sold on Yamaha's sound, one of its alternatives probably has a feature you might find handy.
Finally, it's worth considering whether you even need an full-fledged AV receiver in the first place. If you're willing to downsize your home audio system to stereo, you might be able to use a. They sound great, take up a lot less room, and can make your home theater much simpler.
Conclusion: Solid, but not the best
The main reason you'd opt for the Yamaha RX-V475 over other $400 receivers is sound quality as shown in its performance in our listening tests, but for most buyers that won't make enough of a real-world difference to outweigh its other shortcomings. The Yamaha doesn't have any deal-breaking flaws, but unless you get it at a discount, the alternatives will likely offer a better value.