Yamaha has been hammering away at the AV anvil for a good while now, and many of its receiver products gleam like Excalibur. One fine example is the RX-V481, a well honed blade with a good balance of must-have features and superb sound quality.
Yamaha's MusicCast multiroom system and Bluetooth in/out highlight a solid feature set. Our only disappointment is that Yamaha cut the number of HDMI ports on this unit from six to four. The consolation is that all are state-of-the-art, with the ability to carry 4K signals with all the latest HDR information still attached.
Performance of the RX-V481 is a little better than the RX-V479 it replaces, but Yamaha's competitors, namely Sony and Pioneer, have also made gains in 2016. For example, the Sony STR-DN1070 offers better features and better sound than the Yamaha, although it is somewhat more expensive. If you want a high-quality weapon in your home theater arsenal but want to stay on a midrange budget, the V481 is a winning choice. It's available now in the US for $399, in the UK for £399 or AU$849 in Australia.
Buttons. Come get your buttons! While some companies opt for austere front panels with two knobs and not much else, Yamaha is on the "airplane cockpit" side of receiver design. As a result the face is more cluttered than most, but at least the RX-481 includes the most oft-used buttons in an easy-to-grasp layout. We award bonus points for the shortcut buttons to the most popular inputs.
The onscreen interface has received a light polish this year. It's now in high definition, unlike the 480p interfaces of old, and is relatively easy to navigate for users familiar with AVRs.
The remote control is friendly and easy-to-use and is virtually identical to the model which the company unveiled with the previous RX-V479.
The old RX-V479 was a beauty: it sounded great and it offered plenty of features, including six HDMI ports. While the '481 is cut from the same cloth, there have been some changes to the pattern. Namely, the number of HDMI ports has been slashed from six to four. While all of these ports are now HDCP 2.2 and HDMI 2.0 compliant, it's fair to say almost no one has four compatible devices right now -- connecting legacy equipment is much more important. Otherwise, connectivity is pretty decent with both Bluetooth in and Bluetooth out (to compatible headphones or a speaker).
Yamaha's proprietary MusicCast system is over a year old now. While it's added a couple more services, it's still not as compelling as competitors -- some of which can offer dozens of streaming providers. In order of least interesting to the most, they include Rhapsody, SiriusXM, Pandora and Spotify. It also comes with the ability to read from users' phones or network devices (up to 24-bit/96kHz) as well as transmit over Apple's AirPlay.
One feature the Yamaha misses is Google Cast. For Android and iOS phones and tablets, Google Cast offers the ability to stream directly from a music app rather than use a proprietary one like MusicCast. Competitors like Sony, Pioneer and Onkyo have Google Cast now, and are in the process of upgrading it for multiroom functionality.