Yamaha's RX-V4600 A/V receiver has HDMI switching, THX Select2 Processing, and something altogether new: HD Radio. Not to be confused with XM or Sirius satellite digital radio, HD is a new digital broadcast technology for conventional AM and FM stations. Sure, we were skeptical, but HD Radio sounds better than satellite radio, and it's free. This high-end Yamaha does lack a couple of features included by the competition, namely upconversion of analog sources to HDMI, and we found its automatic setup relatively confusing, but its build and its overall sound quality are solidly in the top-tier strata, befitting its $1,899 list price. If you're put off by complicated-looking components decked out with long rows of buttons and knobs, the Yamaha RX-V4600's elegant styling will be a relief. That's not to say that if you want to roll up your sleeves, the RX-V4600 will deny you tweaking pleasures--a full complement of controls are safely tucked away under a flip-down panel. By high-end-receiver standards, the V4600 is reasonably compact at 17 inches wide and 17.2 deep, and it weighs 39.7 pounds. The slender remote's illuminated LCD readout will keep you informed about which input has been selected. A second, smaller remote is provided for use in a second room.
The receiver's Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) system uses a microphone and equalization to automatically set up your speakers. Unlike some of the better autosetup systems we've used, Yamaha's latest system requires a lot of button pushing and menu navigation that we fear will stymie novices or even fairly experienced home-theater buyers. This new version of YPAO is more versatile than its predecessors, found in models such as the , but the added complexity seems to negate the appeal of autosetup. We recommend knowledgeable buyers use the V4600's all-manual setup routine to get the best sound.
On the other hand, HD Radio couldn't be easier to set up and use. There's no separate HD antenna to install--just tune to any AM and FM station broadcasting in HD, and you get HD Radio. HD Radio is just like standard radio, except that stations broadcast digital as opposed to their usual AM and FM analog signals, which improves audio quality and reduces bandwidth. The V4600 can display the song title, the artist's name, the album title, and the music genre--if the station supports that feature. That didn't seem to be the case for any of our 10 New York/metro area stations, most of which are FM outlets. iBiquity Digital Corporation, HD Radio's parent licensing company, claims thousands of local stations are jumping on the HD Radio bandwagon nationwide. This seven-times-130-watt receiver is fully loaded with all of the latest surround processing modes: Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, Neo:6, and 96/24, plus THX Select2 processing. What's more, the Yamaha RX-V4600 also features the company's proprietary Cinema DSP technology, with which you can create customizable surround effects from CDs, DVDs, FM or HD Radio, and so forth. Silent Cinema produces surroundlike sound over conventional stereo headphones. Audiophiles will appreciate the V4600's Pure Direct switch; it shuts down all of the receiver's digital and video processing and front-panel display circuitry, all in an effort to provide the best possible sound quality.
Abundant connectivity options include six A/V inputs, two A/V outputs, and three component inputs with upconversion to component output for your composite- and S-Video sources such as VCRs or cable boxes. That's nice, but since the V4600 offers switching for two HDMI (version 1.1) sources, we're wondering why the receiver doesn't offer upconversion to HDMI ( receiver offers that extremely useful feature). On the upside, you get eight digital inputs (five optical and three coaxial) and two optical outputs--so we doubt you'll run out of digital connections. Audiophiles will appreciate the turntable and analog SACD/DVD-Audio inputs or the two iLink (IEEE 1394) single-wire, all-digital cable connections for use with compatible SACD/DVD-A players. The receiver also has 7.1-channel preamp connections to hook up a separate power amplifier.
The V4600 is a 7-channel receiver, but it has an extra set of spring clip connectors for use with a pair of front "presence" speakers that can produce a larger front soundstage. Zone 2 and 3 (multiroom) capabilities are available, as well as A/B speaker switching for a second set of front-channel speakers in another room. The RS-232C interface is provided for future factory-installed software updates. The Fight Club DVD is a perennial favorite around here--first, because it's a great film and, second, because its soundtrack is loaded with all sorts of hidden treasures. The Yamaha RX-V4600 revealed subtle details buried in the mix, including montages of ticking clock noises, and the 9/11-esque collapsing building with the Pixies wailing "Where Is My Mind?" at the end took on even more fearsome proportions. The V4600's heightened aural resolution made the DVD scarier than ever.
Peter Gabriel's Play DVD collects his best videos and presents them with all-new 5.1-surround mixes. The sound was remarkably alive, with strong dynamics and gutsy bass lines. We listened to the surround mixes in 5.1 and were completely impressed with the receiver's seamless imaging. Even with the volume cranked way up, the V4600 never sounded strained.
Traditionalists that we are, we prefer listen to CDs in stereo, and the Persuasions Sing U2 CD demonstrated the receiver's refinement. The naturalness of the group's five vocalists was truly breathtaking; we felt as if the guys were right in front of us.
The V4600's HD Radio performance exceeded our expectations. FM stations broadcasting in HD were dramatically quieter, with much greater stereo separation than broadcast FM, or even XM or Sirius satellite radio. Still, HD Radio isn't fully up to CD-quality standards. We noted that FM-HD stations we received with fairly marginal signal strength were quiet and sounded awfully good. HD Radio proponents claim that its signals are immune to the most common form of FM interference, multipath distortion, so HD Radio has significantly reduced background noise. We found those claims to be mostly accurate, but we heard an annoying swish on one tough-to-receive FM station as the HD and standard FM signals alternately went in and out. AM stations employing HD technology sounded much improved, but at least here in Brooklyn, we found AM-HD signals to be trickier to receive. We noted a good mix of mainstream rock, urban, NPR, and college stations were using HD technology in our area. You can check which AM or FM stations in your area have HD at iBiquity's Web site.
Finally, we compared the Yamaha RX-V4600 to Sony's flagship receiver, the STR-DA7100ES. The Sony seemed more powerful yet more laid back, while the Yamaha sounded livelier and more precise, with tighter bass. We like both receivers for different reasons, so we'll call it a draw.