The Yamaha RX-V1500's slender, gracefully designed remote features an illuminated LCD to keep you informed about which input has been selected. A slide switch on the right side offers three operational modes: Amp, Source, or TV, so it's easy to keep track of what the remote is controlling.
Surround-processing modes include Dolby Pro Logic IIx and Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, Neo:6, and DTS 96/24. The Yamaha RX-V1500 also provides THX Select processing. What's more, the receiver features the latest revision of Yamaha's proprietary Cinema DSP technology, which allows you to customize the V1500's 31 DSP programs with 55 variations, including the two THX Select programs. Dialogue Lift heightens DVD dialogue clarity, and Silent Cinema produces surroundlike sound over conventional stereo headphones.
Connectivity options are downright extensive and include component-video up-conversion, which takes any video input and passes it to the component-video monitor output. We counted five A/V inputs and two A/V outputs and two component ins (a bit skimpy as many receivers in this class offer three); a whopping total of seven digital inputs (four optical/three coaxial) and two optical outputs; a 5.1-channel SACD/DVD-Audio input; three stereo ins, plus provisions to hook up a turntable.
Since the V1500 also has 7.1-channel preamp connections, it can be used with a separate power amplifier. In addition to the seven main speaker channels, we were happy to see Yamaha also included something special: connectors for use with two Presence speakers that can add extra depth and dimension to the front soundstage. More conventionally, A/B speaker switching for the front channels is offered for those buyers who wish to have an extra set of stereo speakers in another room. Multiroom capabilities extend to Zone 2 and 3 via remote triggers, an IR port, and an RS-232C interface for compatible home automation systems.The Blue Man Group's new concert video, The Complex Tour DVD's sound was punchy as all get out, and the surround field replicated the ambiance of a large arena. The Blue Men are percussionists with really big drums, and the Yamaha RX-V1500 cranked out their punishing blows without fuss. We had no doubt about the receiver's 120-watt power rating.
The Village DVD's soundtrack requires a different set of talents--it depends on whisper-quiet detail and subtle atmosphere to keep you on edge. Director M. Night Shyamalan's spooky thriller takes a long time to build, but the scenes in the deep forest with heaving trees and creaking branches were especially unnerving. That sort of understated detail adds so much to the realism of the sound, but a lot of receivers seem to gloss over that stuff. If you don't know what you're missing, it doesn't matter, but we do and so will V1500 owners. We checked out Yamaha's Silent Cinema technology over our Grado SR125 headphones and came away duly impressed. The synthesized-surround effect dramatically opened up the sound compared to stereo.
One of the V1500's more interesting proprietary surround options involves the use of stereo Presence channel speakers to augment the sound of your regular front speakers. Switching on the extra channels deepens the soundstage on movies and music. We loved the effect on Rufus Wainwright's Want Two CD. His densely arranged music opened up when we switched on the Presence speakers; returning to standard Dolby Pro Logic II was a disappointment--it seemed cramped and small. The one potential downside of the Presence scheme is that you won't be able to run the side and back surround speakers at the same time.
For the final test of the V1500's sonics, we fired up the Rolling Stones' 5.1 mix of the band's classic "Sympathy for the Devil" SACD single. The first thing we noticed was Bill Wyman's bass line, which sounded more distinct and clearer than we've ever heard it before. The song's surging rhythms and Keith Richards's staccato guitar leads were incredibly vivid. Audiophiles take note: we listened with and without the V1500's Pure Direct button engaged and felt it offered ever so slightly more transparent sound. The RX-V1500 may not be Yamaha's most expensive A/V receiver, but it sure sounds rich.