Home theater receivers are becoming increasingly complicated as new audio and video standards are constantly cropping up. Sorting out what you need and what you don't can be difficult, and getting back to basics can not only save you money but counter some of the hand-wringing that complexity can bring. The Yamaha RX-V379 may have a couple of concessions to modern features, but largely they're features you might actually use.
When you consider what the Yamaha RX-V379 offers in terms of features, ease of use and performance for the money, you might conclude there's no reason to spend more for an AV receiver in 2015. Models that sold for double or triple the price five years ago lacked RX-V379's Bluetooth wireless and 4K pass-through connectivity. Of course, those more expensive and powerful units may still sound better and play louder than the RX-V379, but taken on its own merits, this receiver offers tremendous value for your dollar, which in the US would be $299.95 retail.
In the UK it sells for £299.95 and in Australia for AU$599, which is an impressive price for the amount of functionality packed in.
Partner the RX-V379 with any decent speaker/subwoofer system, and the sound of your movies, TV and music won't disappoint, and it will certainly trump even the best sound bar or sound base systems on the planet.
There's nothing about the RX-V379's design that overtly reveals its budget price; we think it's rather handsome and it feels solidly built. The front panel might look a little more complicated than many at this level, but its direct input buttons are so much more usable than the dials on most receivers. Want to switch to cable TV? Press a button, rather than spin an imprecise dial. The LED display is large and easy to read from across the room.
The no-frills remote that ships with the Yamaha has fewer buttons and controls than higher-end receivers' remotes, but we like that.
The RX-V379's menu system covers speakers, HDMI, Sound, Eco, Function and Language; there are no fancy visuals, just a straightforward graphic menu design.
The RX-V379 is a 5.1-channel receiver, but if you have a large room and need the two extra rear surround channels to accommodate a 7.1-channel system, consider stepping up to Yamaha's RX-V579 model. That said, for most rooms five speakers -- front-left and -right, center and two surround speakers, plus a subwoofer -- will produce excellent results.
The RX-V379's power is rated at 100 watts per channel, double what you get from the Denon AVR-5500BT receiver. Of course, it comes with Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio decoding.
If you're looking at buying a 4K TV in the future -- and eventually there won't even be a choice as 1080p panels fade away -- then consider that the Yamaha is capable of passing 4K signals with support for the HDCP 2.2 encryption standard. Connectivity runs to four HDMI inputs (the Denon AVR-5500BT has five). There are also one optical and two coaxial digital inputs, as well as two stereo analog RCA jacks and three composite video inputs.
The receiver utilizes higher-quality binding posts to connect to the front-left and -right channel speakers, but uses spring clips as its connections for the center- and surround-channel speakers.
The system comes with a setup microphone and Yamaha's own YPAO calibration routine. However, if you prefer to roll up your sleeves and fine-tune the sound of your speakers, the RX-V379's GEQ feature boasts seven equalization bands, from 63Hz to 16kHz, for each of the five speaker channels.
If you have five speakers and really like to line them up in front of you (however, we don't recommend this) then the Yamaha comes with a Virtual Cinema Front mode that mimics surround sound from all the speakers. Or, you could just use the surround speakers in the way they were intended.
Don't let the RX-V379's entry-level price fool you -- this receiver can dish out home theater thrills with real gusto and play music with equal skill. All of our evaluations were performed with Andrew Jones-designed Pioneer SP-FS52 towers, a SP-C22 center channel, SP-BS22-LR surround speakers and a SVS SB-1000 subwoofer. Since we haven't liked the sound balances we've been getting with most receivers' auto-setup programs, such as the above-mentioned YPAO, we did a manual speaker setup and calibration with the RX-V379. That took about 5 minutes for us to complete.
We started off watching "American Sniper," and the RX-V379 put us in the thick of combat in Iraq, with the sense of bullets flying everywhere around the CNET listening room. Shifting between outdoor battle scenes and indoor house searches, the surround envelopment was hugely effective in building tension, and the sheer clarity of the sound was impressive.
Then we shifted to Steven Wilson's "Hand. Cannot. Erase." audio-only music Blu-ray, which has a beautifully executed surround-sound mix, with hard-hitting dynamics and power. Wilson's vocals were forward in the mix, and the instruments were set back behind him; the five speakers created an immersive sound environment. The blend between the SVS SB-1000 subwoofer and the Pioneer speakers was truly seamless, so the speakers sounded a lot bigger than they actually are.
With the scary storm scene on the ocean from the "Life of Pi" Blu-ray, the wind and ferocious waves crashing over Pi's little boat sounded hugely powerful; the RX-V379 didn't shirk from its duties.
At that point, we switched over to a Denon AVR-S500BT receiver, and its sound was slightly richer and warmer than what we heard from the RX-V379. But we also found the AVR-S500BT's imaging was less precisely focused. Continuing comparisons with CDs, listening in stereo with just the SP-FS52 tower speakers, again the AVR-S500BT was the more mellow-sounding of the two receivers; the RX-V379 was more exciting. Even so, they were both enjoyable, just slightly different-sounding.
How does this Yamaha/Pioneer combo compare to an high-end sound bar? The high-end Naim Mu-so wireless speaker ($1,499) is considerably more expensive than the combination of RX-V379, speakers and subwoofer, but even so, the Mu-so can't begin to approach this 5.1-channel system's sound quality. The Mu-so sounds awfully small, dynamically challenged and underpowered compared with the RX-V379 and Pioneer speakers -- it wasn't even close.
Moving to Bluetooth, we found setup on the Yamaha was sadly unintuitive, and required digging out the manual. You need to set it to the Bluetooth input (which is accomplished only via the remote), then press the Memory/Play button for 3 seconds. Most competitors offer a dedicated Pairing button or the ability to access it from the menu.
Once paired, though, it worked as expected. The compressed music enhancer is on by default, which added some zing to vocals and acoustic guitars on Father John Misty's "Fun Times in Babylon," but it also added a little bit of graininess to sibilant sounds. In comparison, running it in Straight mode sounded much better -- warmer with plenty of spacial information and unexpected insight.
Play something with distorted guitars and cymbals like Helmet's "Ironhead" though, and the graininess returns: the hi-hats sounded like someone was rhythmically swinging a baseball bat at coke bottles. As always, Bluetooth was at fault here: wide spectrum sounds like distorted guitar and even cymbals tend to break up unpleasantly under this wireless standard.
If you have a very large room, hard-to-drive speakers or a taste for very loud music or home theater, a significantly more powerful receiver or amplifier would be a wise investment. That said, most buyers will be perfectly satisfied with the Yamaha RX-V379's feature set and sound quality. As always, investing in better-quality speakers is the best way to get better sound