The Yamaha RX-V473 does a solid job, but its competition offers better value.
AV receivers are notoriously jam-packed with features, most of which you'll never use. Yamaha's RX-V473 ($350 street price) is notably lacking many of those niche capabilities common on other receivers, but it's also light on the one feature that matters the most: HDMI connectivity. With just four HDMI inputs, the RX-V473 falls behind most of its major competitors, especially with the
The sole bright spot is the RX-V473's built-in AirPlay functionality (and other limited network features), but in most cases it's better to add AirPlay with a separate Apple TV box. Most buyers will be better off with competing receivers like the Onkyo TX-NR414 or
The Yamaha RX-V473 looks no different from other mainstream AV receivers. It's big and boxy, with a two-tone look of glossy black on the top and matte finish on the bottom. If you're looking for something more stylish,
The RX-V473's remote is as bad as it gets. It's covered in tiny buttons, most of which are unnecessary and many are poorly labeled. Even something as simple as a power button is confusing. There are two identical power buttons at the top, one to power off the receiver and one that can power off other devices if you program the remote to do so. Between those buttons is a white button with no label or obvious function; only after I looked it up in the manual did I learn it toggles the remote between controlling the receiver and other devices.
The smartphone remote app is better, although not that useful. You can access music stored on your phone within the app, which is a nice plus for Android users who can't take advantage of the receiver's built-in AirPlay functionality. It's also a faster option for navigating Internet radio stations, although there's no search functionality.
Nearly all AV receiver user interfaces are hopelessly archaic, and the RX-V473's setup menus are no better. The setup menus feature blocky white text that makes it look more like the display of a Commodore 64 than a modern high-definition display. More annoying is that every time you navigate the menu, the entire screen goes blank, before refreshing again, sort of like those early, clumsy e-ink displays. It's not a huge drawback since you'll rarely need to use the setup menus, but it remains shocking how backward AV receivers are compared with nearly every other home theater device.
The RX-V473 doesn't support many streaming-audio services, but it does have a basic user interface for AirPlay and Internet radio. Don't expect any eye candy here, not even album art, as all you get is basic artist, album, and song info.
Four HDMI inputs: The RX-V473 has four HDMI inputs, which is definitely on the skimpy side for this price range. If you want the most HDMI connectivity for your buck, go with Onkyo: the TX-NR414 ($275) and TX-NR515 ($400) offer six and eight HDMI inputs, respectively. The Yamaha RX-V473 is well-appointed with the rest of its connectivity, including four digital audio inputs: two optical, two coaxial. (Check out CNET's 2012 AV receiver spreadsheet for a more detailed comparison of AV receivers' connectivity.)
Built-in networking: The RX-V473's Ethernet port makes possible all kinds of networking functionality, including firmware updates, AirPlay, smartphone control, and media streaming via Internet radio. I still don't think networking is an absolutely essential AV receiver feature (largely because AV receivers shouldn't be media streamers), but it's a nice bonus. The RX-V473's set of streaming-audio apps is somewhat limited compared with competitors', so if you won't be using a separate media streamer or iOS device (with AirPlay), you'll get more options, like Spotify, from Onkyo's network receivers.
Built-in AirPlay: If you own an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, the RX-V473's built-in AirPlay is a nice bonus, although it's not essential since you can always add AirPlay later with a $100 Apple TV. If you're not sure whether you should pick a receiver with built-in AirPlay, check out our rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of built-in AirPlay versus buying a separate Apple TV box.
Two-year warranty: Yamaha's two-year warranty is standard, although it's better than the one-year warranty offered on Pioneer's competing receivers. And if you're really looking for peace of mind,
3D pass-through, audio return channel, standby pass-through: The RX-V473 supports all three of these HDMI features (each of which is explained in more detail here), but while they're all useful, you can largely ignore them when making a buying decision, since almost every newer receiver supports them.
iPhone/iPad-friendly USB port: The USB port on the front panel supports iPhones, iPods, and iPads, so you can connect those devices directly using a standard cable and navigate your music collection onscreen. We also had success using the USB port with a standard USB drive filled with music.
Powered second-zone audio: Unlike most of the AV receivers at this price level, the RX-V473 has no support for second-zone audio. That's not a critical missing feature -- especially since we get the impression that second-zone functionality isn't used that frequently -- but it's still surprising that Yamaha left this relatively common feature out on a $350 receiver. If you're really interested in multiroom functionality, Onkyo's TX-NR616 has the most features in this price range, with powered second-zone audio, unpowered second-zone audio, and unpowered third-zone audio.
Other features: The Yamaha RX-V473 lacks the ability to upconvert analog video signals over its HDMI output, but that feature isn't nearly as important as it used to be, since analog video devices are pretty rare. It lacks support for Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing, which would allow for "height" channels, but we don't think the minimal sonic benefits are worth the extra effort. The RX-V473 doesn't have any THX certification, but that's not worth factoring into a buying decision, since the Yamaha has solid sound quality.
Setup and calibration
Yamaha has its own automatic speaker calibration technology, dubbed the Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO). Plugging in the (supplied) Optimizer microphone automatically brings up the onscreen menu. Press the Start button and YPAO sends a short series of test tones to all the speakers and the subwoofer. The RX-V473's tones were louder than any in recent memory, and the entire operation takes just a couple of minutes to complete.
YPAO only takes measurements from a single mic position, making it faster and easier to use than Denon's, Marantz's, or Onkyo's Audyssey setup programs, which require the receiver's owner to move the mic to multiple positions in the room. And even with fewer measurements, the results of the RV-V473's calibration were in line with what we get for most receivers.
Sound quality evaluations for 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. 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-V473's clarity was immediately apparent when we brought up an early scene in the "Mission: Impossible III" Blu-ray where Tom Cruise is in a helicopter battling bad guys while flying around a field of wind turbines. The front and surround speakers' sound "jelled" nicely, so the envelopment was excellent, and the flyover sounds of the helicopters were quite effective. The attack missiles fired by the helicopters and their explosions packed a wallop, but the subwoofer's contributions felt a little lightweight throughout the movie. Some receivers' auto setup programs add too much sub, but the RX-V473's sub volume was a little too low, so the overall tonal balance was lean. At that point we hooked up the measurement microphone again and reran the entire YPAO program.
That didn't make much of a difference; the subwoofer volume was still on the low side of normal. Unless something is obviously wrong with the autosetup's sound, we don't alter the sound balance. We played some of the same "Mission: Impossible III" scenes over a Denon AVR-1912 receiver (the 1913 is the most recent model, but we use the 1912 as a reference for sound quality), which had a fuller, more authoritative sound. The subwoofer was slightly louder, and the blend between the speakers and sub was better than what we were getting with the RX-V473. We also compared that receiver with the next model up in the Yamaha RX line, the RX-V573. The receivers share the same power ratings, but the RX-V473 is a 5.1-channel receiver, and the RX-V573 is a 7.1-channel receiver. They also share many of the same features, but the RX-V573 came up with a slightly different speaker calibration setup, and it sounded more like the Denon than the RX-V473 did.
Peter Gabriel's extraordinary "New Blood: Live in London" concert Blu-ray sounded crystal-clear over the RX-V473. The scale of the full orchestra's sound was impressively rendered. The definition of the cellos and basses was clear and distinct. This disc's surround mix sounds realistic, so the sense of being in a concert hall was perfectly conveyed by the RX-V473.
CDs in stereo exhibited the same level of transparency and clarity as the Blu-rays did.
What about Yamaha's other AV receivers?
If you're sold on the Yamaha brand, the company offers several other AV receiver models in its RX-V line. The reality is that Yamaha's line isn't very competitive compared with other manufacturers, even after adding AirPlay this year. I'd say the low-end RX-V373 offers the best value; it only offers basic functionality, but most people don't need extra features, and its $250 street price is relatively attractive.
On its own, the Yamaha RX-V473 is a perfectly serviceable AV receiver, albeit with a crummy remote and an archaic user interface. It's a better value than the Yamaha RX-V573, but competing receivers offer more features, most importantly more HDMI inputs, for less money without any significant drawbacks. Unless you find the RX-V473 at a significant discount, you'll be better served by another receiver.