Have it your way
The V1200's soft, orange display is easy on the eyes, and the receiver's sleek faceplate hides a cluster of buttons and knobs, as well as a complete set of audio/video/digital inputs behind a flip-down panel. The Bass Extension button on the main front panel lets you add a low-frequency boost without the hassle of using setup menus, and the Processor Direct feature gets you back to the original format in a jiffy. We spotted one rather unusual but potentially very useful feature: Center GEQ. If your center speaker is of a different brand or doesn't sonically match your left and right speakers, the Center GEQ's five-band graphic control can smooth things out. It's a way cool feature.
In addition to Yamaha's proprietary Tri-Field Cinema digital signal processing (DSP), this receiver is decked out with the latest Dolby Digital and DTS-ES Matrix and Discrete 6.1-channel surround-processing modes. Stereo CDs, FM radio, and older video sources will benefit from Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo: 6's exquisite 5.1 surround effects. The receiver delivers 80 watts to each of 6 channels.
The V1200's back panel is chock-full of jacks: two sets of component-video inputs, numerous S-Video and composite-video ins and outs, and a grand total of seven digital-audio inputs (and two outputs). Audiophiles with turntables and Super Audio CD/DVD-Audio players will find all of the necessary connections. Future upgrades are possible via the 6.1 preamplifier outputs. Oh, and Yamaha wisely included A/B speaker connections so that you can toss an extra set of stereo speakers in another room. Setup procedures were fairly standard, but we never got used to the remote's awkward button layout.
Sounding out the V1200
There's a direct quality to the sound of the V1200 that brings out details such as the distant droning drums in the funeral procession at the beginning of The Godfather Part 2 DVD. As that scene unfolds, the viewer is surrounded by acres of hissing and whooshing cicadas, but the V1200's sound was more forward and detailed than we're used to. For example, Denon's receiver was warmer and more laid-back than the V1200. The Yamaha's leaner balance will appeal to some buyers, but we prefer components with a fuller sound.
The V1200 put Morphine's The Night CD on a diet--the band's thick-toned stand-up bass and husky baritone sax lacked their proper weighty presence. Ah, but that was with the tone controls set to their flat positions--customizing the sound is especially easy on the V1200, thanks to its front-mounted bass and treble controls.
That said, even after we jacked up the bass, the V1200 couldn't match the Denon's wide-open soundstage; the Yamaha flattened the spacious sound of our stereo classical CDs. So we next experimented with the simulated surround modes and settled on the Hall setting for Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta CD. We usually shy away from the artificial sound of these sorts of quasi-surround effects, but the Yamaha's processing is excellent. What's more, the V1200 allows the user to individually adjust a number of surround parameters--including room size, liveness, delay, and so on--for each DSP setting.
Yamaha's RX-V1200 carries a list price of $899, but you can typically find it for less than $700. The V1200's awesome processing capabilities will be just the ticket for hands-on home-theater aficionados. But for everyone else, we recommend checking out Denon's AVR-2802 or Onkyo's superb .