The Yamaha RX-V659, the company's midrange $550 receiver, delivers a lot of bang for the buck. It's not only XM Satellite Radio ready, the upstart Yamaha boasts built-in compatibility with XM's latest surround-sound stations. It also offers highly accurate autosetup, multiroom capability, and a turntable input for the audiophile set, and it interfaces with Yamaha's optional iPod dock, the YDS-10. Anyone seeking the latest in connectivity options will lament the absence of HDMI ports, but those remain a comparative rarity for receivers in this price range.
The Yamaha RX-V659 is a handsome receiver in a high-tech sort of way. Its nicely organized front panel presents the user with a complete array of controls, and the large, distinctive orange LED display is easier on the eyes at night than more typical blue readouts. The full-size unit measures 17.1 by 6.75 by 16.6 inches, and it weighs 27.1 pounds. Unlike some receivers that seem to double as space heaters, the RX-V659's cool-running amplifiers won't singe your entertainment center.
The Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) autosetup system determines speaker sizes and volume levels, measures the distances from the speakers to the listener, checks the wiring, and uses equalization to balance the frequency response of all the speakers. The system works well and is quite accurate; even neophytes can have a good-sounding home theater up and running with relatively little time and effort.
The receiver's remote has a side-mounted slide switch that toggles between Amp, Source, and TV modes, which makes it easy to control different components. Its layout is fairly intuitive and mostly logical, with the exception of the iPod control, and we quickly learned our way around the button arrangement.
Installation and setup of the Yamaha YDS-10 iPod dock ($100, sold separately) are more involved than with either Onkyo or Denon's equivalent devices. Operating the iPod via the RX-V659's remote proved less instinctive than we would have liked. The Dock will relay your iPod's menu to your TV, but locating songs and playlists is more awkward than with the other brands' systems. On the upside, we appreciated the dock's single-cable hookup--Denon's iDock has five wires hanging off its rear!This seven-times-100-watt receiver not only offers most of the latest surround processing modes--including Dolby Pro Logic IIx and Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, Neo:6, and 96/24--Yamaha's engineers went the extra digital mile and created a vast assortment of user-customizable Cinema DSP surround modes. There's also an adjustable lip-sync delay for use with video displays that lag behind the audio.
Connectivity options are plentiful: five A/V inputs with S-Video (including a front-panel hookup), three of which can accommodate component video. The Yamaha RX-V659 can convert any of the composite or S-Video inputs to the component-video output, so you need only one video output from the receiver. There are no HDMI connections to be found; while that's not unusual for receivers in this price range, HDMI--and compatibility with a greater range of cutting-edge high-def products such as HD-DVD and Blu-ray--is available on a small but growing number of receivers, such as the sub-$500 JVC RX-D401S.