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.
The Yamaha supplies six digital audio inputs (two coaxial and four optical, including one on the front panel) and one optical output. Audiophile goodies include turntable and 7.1-channel SACD, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray, and HD-DVD analog inputs. The receiver also has 7.1-channel preamp connections to hook up a separate power amplifier. The speaker connections, meanwhile, extend beyond the norm; there's a pair of left and right outputs for front Presence speakers that serve to augment the sound from main left and right speakers and to produce a wider front soundstage. For simpler than multiroom hookup, Yamaha provides a set of B stereo speaker outputs, or go ahead and use the RX-V659's IR, 12-volt, or RCA audio outputs for two-zone operation.
This RX-V659 is not only XM Satellite Radio ready, it's capable of receiving XM's two new HD Surround-formatted channels. All you need is a XM Passport or XM Connect-and-Play Home Kit and a $12.95-per-month XM subscription. As of April 2006, HD surround is just coming to market; the more expensive but slightly older Yamaha RX-V2600 ($1,399) we tested a while back didn't offer it, for instance, but the RX-V659's step-down models, the $400 RX-V559 and $300 RX-V459, do.
CD sound on the Yamaha RX-V659 was crisp and clear, though lacking the sense of depth and richness we get from higher-end receivers. That said, Yamaha's bass was unusually well defined and muscular; when we played Holly Cole's steamy Temptation CD, David Piltch's stand-up bass took on a remarkably realistic presence in our room. The drums on Mat Kearney's Nothing Left to Lose CD delivered a gutsy punch.
Turning to movies, the Master and Commander DVD proved the RX-V659's top-notch home-theater skills. The 100 watts per channel came in handy on the battle scenes where the surround was completely enveloping. We detected no strain when the movie's cannonballs blasted across the bow of our home theater.
The RX-V659, like all Yamaha receivers built over the last number of years, has Silent Cinema, a proprietary surround processor for headphones. Switching between stereo and Silent Cinema over our Grado RS-1 headphones, the differences were dramatic. The stereo was fine, but Silent Cinema unfurled a much larger sound field, delivering a more speakerlike sound.
We were looking forward to hearing XM's new HD Surround channels, but as implemented on the RX-V659, they had no better separation than the stereo channels bumped up to surround with Dolby Pro-Logic IIx or DTS Neo:6 processing. As of April 2006, XM has only two 24-hour HD Surround music channels: a free-form, pop/world/jazz/classical channel and a classical pops music channel. XM says it will also broadcast special shows and live music performances originating from its studios in surround. Funny thing is we've heard other HD Surround-capable receivers--notably, the Pioneer VSX-816 and the Onkyo TX-SR504. Both utilized the same Neural Surround processing, and their HD Surround processing produced better separation, so we don't have a clue as to where Yamaha blew it. That said, the RX-V659's overall XM sound quality was almost the equal of our reference XM radio, a Polk Audio XRt12 ($299).