We imagine most RX-V2600 owners will go ahead and use the Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) autosetup system, which not only determines speaker size and volume level but measures the distances from the speakers to the listener, checks the wiring, and uses equalization to balance the frequency response of all the speakers. YPAO is an automatic system, but you still have to navigate the receiver's rather convoluted video and input-assignment setup menus. We'd like to see something a lot more intuitively designed here. On the upside, the setup is extremely accurate.
The Yamaha RX-V2600's power amplifiers generate a lot of heat, so don't even think of placing this bad boy inside a cabinet, or at least one that's not ventilated. Reading the owner's manual, we discovered you can select continuous cooling fan operation, which can no doubt help, but we'd still want to make sure the receiver doesn't overheat. The menus also offer controls to compensate for the relative volume level when you switch between FM radio, DVD, your cable box, and other sources, so the volume doesn't suddenly jump up or down.
The receiver's remote is fully backlit and has a small illuminated LCD screen that displays the selected source. The large buttons for receiver volume and TV channel are handily positioned, and the side-mounted slide switch provides easy control of your TV, other selected sources, and the receiver itself. You also get a second, small remote for use in a second zone or room, but because it's infrared and not RF, you'll need a signal repeater that's wired back to the receiver in order to use it. This seven-times-130-watt Yamaha RX-V2600 receiver isn't lacking for features and sports most of the latest surround processing modes: Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital EX; DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, Neo:6, 96/24, plus THX Select2 processing. The only one missing is Dolby Headphone surround processing, but Yamaha engineers probably left that out because the V2600 instead uses Yamaha's Silent Cinema to produce quasi-surround sound over stereo headphones. Oh, and there's an adjustable lip-sync function for use with video displays that lag behind the audio.
Connectivity options will fulfill the needs of even the most complex home-theater installations: You get a total of six A/V inputs (including the one front-panel input) with S-Video. High-def sources are also well served: three inputs can be toggled to accept component video, and two more can handle HDMI. Even better, any of the analog sources (composite, component, or S-Video) can be converted to component or HDMI output at 480p, 720p, or 1080i. (To be clear, while 720p and 1080i are high-definition resolutions, do not expect to see a true HD picture on your display; as with upscaling DVD players, the real goal here is to better match the video resolution to something that's more easily "digested" by your HD display.) The 480p progressive-scan option is particularly important because it maximizes compatibility with HDTVs; many older models can't accept a 480i video signal via HDMI. If you're comparing this model to Denon's similarly priced ($1,100) AVR-2807 , that model features only conversion to 480p via HDMI. To get 720p and 1080i upconversion in Denon's A/V receiver line, you currently have to step up to the $2,000 AVR-4306.
Digital audio inputs are plentiful--there are six opticals and three coaxials--along with two optical outputs. Audiophiles will appreciate the turntable and analog 5.1-channel SACD/DVD-Audio inputs. The receiver also has 7.1-channel preamp connections to hook up a separate power amplifier. Like most receivers, the RX-V2600 is XM-ready--just add an XM Connect-and-Play antenna (such as the Audiovox CNP1000) and sign up for the $13 a month subscription, and you're good to go.
Like all of Yamaha's higher-end receivers, the RX-V2600 comes with a set of connectors for use with a pair of left and right front "presence" speakers. They augment the normal front speakers to produce a larger front soundstage. Extensive Zone 2 and 3 (multiroom) capabilities are available, plus A/B speaker switching for a second set of front speakers in another room. An RS-232C port rounds out the V2600's back panel and--according to Yamaha--will facilitate future factory software updates. There's nothing like a hell-bent sci-fi flick to stretch the audio muscles of an A/V receiver, so we loaded The Island DVD, and let 'er rip. The film that some have described as a mix of Logan's Run, Blade Runner, and 1984 follows the travails of two clones, Lincoln 6 Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan 2 Delta (Scarlett Johansson). The film's brilliantly executed car chases and smashups had lots of impact, and the DVD's spacious surround mix made our speakers disappear. Even with the volume cranked way up, the Yamaha RX-V2600 never sounded less than totally in control, and the bass had the sort of fullness and power that we associate with more expensive electronics.
A brand-new surround SACD from jazz pianist Michel Camilo demonstrated the RX-V2600's more refined side. The disc features a drop-dead gorgeous rendition of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and what stood out was the way the V2600 resolved individual instruments in the orchestra. We heard a real sense of three-dimensional space and the sound of Camilo's piano filling the concert hall. It was like being there.
We also took advantage of the RX-V2600's phono input and listened to John Hiatt's Bring the Family LP with a Music Hall MMF-5 turntable. Ry Cooder's jagged lead guitar fills and the music's spiky rhythms came through loud and clear. The LP sounded more alive and realistic than any CD or even any SACD that we played.
Turning to video performance, things were a bit more disappointing--relatively speaking. Don't get us wrong; the Yamaha's high-def video features and performance trounce those of just about every other receiver we've seen in 2006. But we've been spoiled by the excellent performance of the two notable exceptions: the Denon AVR-4306 and AVR-2807. Unlike those two, the RX-V2600 couldn't pass a 1080p video signal. That's basically meaningless for now, but it's important for buyers who want to future-proof their purchases--it means the RX-V2600 wouldn't be the best match for forthcoming Blu-ray players or for the PlayStation 3, both of which boast 1080p output. Moreover, the Yamaha had some trouble navigating the tests on our HQV disc. For instance, detail was noticeably softer and video processing was sporadic on all resolutions--the moiré pattern was noticeable on the race-car video loop, for instance. By comparison, both Denons offered better video processing when converting analog to digital (HDMI) video.
Summing up, not only were we pleased by the Yamaha RX-V2600's sound, but the sumptuous look and feel of the design makes this receiver a pleasure to use and helps justify its premium price. But discriminating videophiles will be better served by the superior video processing offered by competing models from Denon.