Over the years, Yamaha's engineers have consistently distinguished themselves in the area of surround processing. While most competing brands have off-the-shelf chipsets, Yamaha receivers use proprietary 32-bit Cinema DSP (digital signal processing), which really improves the sound of the RX-V540's 24 synthesized-surround modes. The midpriced $399 receiver also boasts center-channel EQ and neutral sound, but don't expect its 80 watts per channel to fill large spaces.
Though the V540 is perfectly attractive, it's not as classy-looking as the other Yamaha model we tested, the. The V540's knobs are plastic; they have clean lines but feel less substantial than their upmarket counterparts. The preprogrammed remote isn't all that special, but using it was easy enough.
The setup routines weren't as intuitive as we would have liked, and the designers omitted an onscreen display. The user manual wasn't a big help, so we poked our way through the process.
Beyond the front-panel bass and treble controls, the V540 gives you a little something extra: a five-band equalizer for the center-channel speaker. The EQ can help the main and center speakers blend more seamlessly. Each of the six channels has a power rating of 80 watts. The receiver provides the usual surround formats: Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, and DTS Neo:6.
The V540's connectivity complement should be adequate for most buyers, but it's not as complete as that of Pioneer's VSX-D912K. Don't get us wrong; the Yamaha's backside gets most of the basics right. It has component-video switching, a 5.1 SACD/DVD-Audio input, four digital inputs (three optical, one coaxial), one optical output, and A/B speaker connections. It's just that Yamaha was a bit stingy with A/V inputs; the V540 has just three. The ones on the front panel are limited to composite video and stereo audio, forsaking S-Video and digital-audio facilities. On the bright side, the V540 can convert composite video to S-Video, and vice versa, so you don't need to switch inputs on your TV as often.