When we set up our first head-to-head listening tests with the latest crop of 2013 AV receivers, Yamaha's RX-V475 ($400 street) came out on top, besting Pioneer's VSX-823-K ($400) and even Denon's $600 AVR-E400.
But edging out its competitors in our subjective listening tests isn't quite enough to make the RX-V475 our top pick at the $400 price point. Differences in AV receiver sound quality tend to be subtle, and factors such as room acoustics and your choice of speakers have a much larger impact on the sound quality you'll hear.
Despite its advantage in sound the Yamaha trails the other models in nearly every other area, with a difficult remote, five HDMI inputs rather than six, and a skimpy selection of wireless and streaming audio options. And if you don't care about built-in networking features (and we're inclined to agree), it's tough to argue with Marantz's NR1403 ($400), which comes in at nearly half the size, sounds great, and has six HDMI inputs.
The Yamaha RX-V475 wouldn't be our first choice for a $400 AV receiver, but it's still a solid value, especially if you prize sound quality enough to overlook its downsides.
Design: Big and too many buttons
Like most multichannel receivers, the RX-V475 is a hulking box of black metal. From the front its subtle two-tone design is nice enough, especially the softer, matte black finish on the bottom, but the excess of front-panel buttons mostly spoils its look. Overall, it's tough to hard to find any of the "big box" receivers attractive compared with Marantz's slimline NR1403.
The included remote is one of the more baffling we've seen. To start with, there are two power buttons at the top, with only tiny labels letting you know that one of them is for controlling other devices. Next up is a grid of small, numbered buttons. If the "1" button is in the HDMI section, it selects the "HDMI 1" input...and you have to remember which device that is. There are also two "star" buttons, but no one could reasonably know what they stand for without diving into the manual. ("Change the external device to be controlled without switching the input source.") And that's just the top third of the clicker. At least you can replace it with a quality universal remote.
You can also control the RX-V475 using Yamaha's smartphone app, available for iOS and Android. It can perform standard functions like adjusting volume or selecting inputs, but it's most useful with networking features; it's much easier to browse Internet radio stations on your phone than onscreen. Unfortunately there's no search for Internet radio, so you're still stuck doing a lot of scrolling.
Features: Lightly equipped, but enough
The Yamaha RX-V475 has a reasonable feature set for the price, although its competitors offer more.
The RX-V475's five HDMI inputs will be enough for most home theaters, although for the same price the Onkyo TX-NR525, Pioneer VSX-823-K, and Marantz NR1403 offer six. One of the RX-V475's rear HDMI inputs is MHL-compatible, which means you can use it with Roku's Streaming Stick, among other devices. It's well-stocked with other ports, including four digital audio inputs (two optical, two coaxial), but those don't matter as much now that nearly every device uses HDMI. There is a handy front-panel minijack input, which is unique among receivers at this price.
Like every other receiver at this price, the RX-V475 lacks both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Yamaha sells accessories for both, but they're very expensive: $70 for Bluetooth, $100 for Wi-Fi. You're generally better off buying a third-party Bluetooth adapter or wireless adapter. If you're looking for built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, you'll need to step up to the Onkyo TX-NR626.
To take advantage of the RX-V475's networking features, you'll need to connect the receiver via Ethernet. Its networking features are decent, including AirPlay, Pandora, Internet Radio, and DLNA compatibility, although the Denon AVR-E300 and Onkyo TX-NR525 offer more for the same price. In any event, while the networking features worked fine in our testing, frequent streamers will likely want a dedicated streaming device that offers more services and a more responsive interface.
The RX-V475 lacks some features found on other AV receivers, but most buyers won't miss them. It's a 5.1-channel AV receiver, rather than 7.1, so you can't run surround back channels, powered second-zone audio, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz "height" channels. There's no analog video upconversion, but again, that's not important since nearly all devices use HDMI.
If you're looking for more detailed feature comparisons, check out our giant AV receiver spreadsheet, which will compare the Yamaha RX-V475 with other 2013 models as we review them.
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 pretty standard for receivers 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 compact integrated amplifier. 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.