The Yamaha RX-V661 is a solid, budget AV receiver with HD switching, but it's a tough sell when competing models with next-generation HDMI 1.3 features are available for just a few dollars more.
Technological changes arrive in waves of increasingly shorter duration, turning yesterday's state of the art into today's also-ran. Take the Yamaha RX-V661 AV receiver. Last year--or even three-to-six months ago--the mere presence of such niceties as HDMI switching and auto-speaker calibration in a $500 box would've been cause for celebration. But the rules of the game are rapidly changing, thanks to the availability of next-generation receivers with advanced HDMI 1.3 features (namely, built-in decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio), analog-to-digital video conversion, and XM and Sirius Satellite Radio compatibility built-in. All of those features are available in the Onkyo TX-SR605, which retails for just $100 more than the Yamaha reviewed here. And that, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem with the Yamaha RX-V661. In and of itself, it's a fine--if not great--midrange receiver. It's just that given the competing options now available, it's not delivering the same bang for the buck as it would've just a few months ago.
The Yamaha RX-V661 is pretty average looking for a midrange AV receiver. It's available only in black; there's no silver option, as found on some receivers. In the center toward the top is the LCD display, which is a tad smaller than we'd like to see. Below the display are several small buttons which allow you to access some infrequently used features. Beneath the small buttons are four Scene buttons, which can be used to jump to a specific viewing configuration (more on this later). There are three knobs on the front panel: a very large volume knob to the far right and two smaller knobs, one for selecting inputs and the other for selecting various digital sound processing (DSP) modes. Also on the front panel is a headphone jack, along with an AV input. Like we said, the design is pretty average, but design-conscious buyers may prefer a more uncluttered look or the slim look of JVC's digital receivers.
One design misstep we noticed was the way the inputs were aligned on the back panel. The slight annoyance we ran into was that the standard-definition video inputs and their accompanying stereo analog jacks aren't located in the same area. While this won't be a problem for those using the digital-audio connections, it's annoying when you have a standard AV cable with the video and audio cables bunched together, and you have to separate it in order to reach the appropriate inputs. It's a nitpick, but we've seen other receivers that are more logically laid out.
The remote is pretty easy to use. Like all AV receiver remotes, its multitude of buttons will be intimidating to less-savvy users, but overall it's well thought-out. It also functions as a universal remote, and along the right side is a slider that lets you select whether you are controlling the receiver, your sources, or the TV. It certainly doesn't compare to the top universal remotes we've seen, but it's good for a freebie. When you press a button, the source that you have selected lights up, but other than that there is no additional backlighting.
One of the drawbacks to the RX-V661 is that it cannot display its onscreen display over the HDMI output. This can occasionally be frustrating if you're watching an HDMI source and would like to change a setting on the receiver, as you have to switch to an analog input--on both the receiver and the TV--to bring up the onscreen display. Of course, you can still navigate the menu via the receiver's LCD display, but you'll need pretty sharp eyes to see it from across a home theater room.
The RX-V661 offers automated speaker calibration in the form of the Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) system. It uses a microphone to determine the sizes of your speakers and their distance from the listening position and to balance the volume levels of all speakers and the subwoofer. Plugging in the mic was easy enough, but the next step may be a little confusing. The onscreen display asks you to select an "Extra SP Assign" from the following choices: Front B, Zone 2, Presence, or None. We went with the last choice since we didn't have anything connected to those speaker terminals. We found the owner's manual auto-setup instructions somewhat vague, and we had to make a couple of attempts before we could run the auto-setup routine. Once started, everything went smoothly; the speakers and subwoofer produced a series of tones and whooshes for a few minutes, and we later confirmed the resulting settings to be fairly accurate.
Key features at a glance
|Connectivity||Audio soundtrack capabilities|
|HDMI inputs||2||Passes Dolby Digital and DTS via HDMI||Yes|
|Component video inputs||3||Passes LPCM via HDMI||Yes|
|AV inputs with S-Video||5 (4 rear, 1 front)||Decodes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master||No|
|Optical inputs||4 (3 rear, 1 front)||Video capabilities|
|Coaxial inputs||2 (all rear)||HDMI version||1.2a|
|Selectable HD sources||5||1080p via HDMI||Yes|
|Satellite radio||XM-ready||1080p via component||Yes|
|Network audio||No||Upconverts analog sources||No|
|Phono input||Yes||Deinterlaces 480i via HDMI||No|
|Analog multichannel inputs||7.1||Selectable output resolution||No|
The RX-V661 is a 7.1-channel receiver that, according to Yamaha, can deliver 90 watts to each channel. It offers the usual assortment of surround-sound processing modes, such as Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, and DTS 96/24. Note that it does not have onboard decoding for any of the new soundtrack formats available on HD DVD or Blu-ray--such as Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master--so you'll need to have a player with onboard decoding to take advantage of the superior sound quality offered by these new formats. Alternately, you can set your player to send uncompressed PCM audio, which the RX-V661 can handle (see below).
Connectivity on the RX-V661 is average for a receiver in this price range. For video, there are two HDMI inputs which are compatible with 1080p video signals. There are also analog video connections, including three component video inputs (also 1080p compatible) and five standard AV inputs with S-Video (one of which is on the front panel). On the audio side, the HDMI inputs can handle as many as eight channels of uncompressed linear PCM signals, and they can carry encoded standard Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. There are six digital audio inputs--four optical, one of which is on the front panel, and two coaxial--plus an optical output. There's also a multichannel analog input (it works with 5.1- and 7.1-channel sources), a phono jack, and two stereo analog inputs. For those looking to use an external preamplifier, the RX-V661 is equipped with 7.1 preouts.
Also note that the RX-V661's HDMI inputs are version 1.2a, and they're SimplayHD certified, which should guarantee the best possible compatibility with other HDMI devices. The HDMI version number explains exactly which features the RX-V661's HDMI port supports. For example, HDMI 1.2a is capable of handling audio from compatible DVD-Audio and SACD players using the HDMI connection. It does not have some of the more-advanced functionality of HDMI 1.3, which includes the ability to receive Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD-Master soundtracks via HDMI (from Blu-ray and HD DVD players). That said, the Yamaha will pass uncompressed PCM audio from those players, and the 5.1 analog inputs also can be used if the players offer internal decoding and analog audio outputs (such as the Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player).
There's some additional connectivity, such as an iPod dock port, which allows you to connect to Yamaha's YDS-10 iPod dock. The RX-V661 also comes with an XM port, so you only need an XM Mini-Tuner and Home Dock to get reception, with a subscription, of course. There's onboard XM Neural processing, so it can decode XM's surround sound channels.
The RX-V661 has support for multiple rooms, as it can power a second zone or send a second, unpowered signal. The second zone can be playing a different output than the main zone is playing, but note that the second zone cannot handle digital audio; it can only send audio from analog inputs.
One little detail that product literature often glosses over is the issue of selectable AV sources. The issue is that even though a receiver may have well over 10 inputs total, you can't necessarily use them all at the same time, because there are a limited number of device names. The RX-V661 actually handles this pretty well, as there are five total HD inputs (two HDMI inputs and three component video inputs), and those inputs can only be assigned to five device names (DVD, DTV/CBL, V-Aux, DVR, and VCR). In other words, you can switch among a total of five video sources, each of which can be an HD or a standard-definition source.
Unlike some AV receivers in the $500-and-up range, the RX-V661 is unable to convert analog signals to the HDMI output. The benefit of receivers with analog-to-digital conversion is that they allow for a simple, single cable connection to your TV; connect all your gear to the receiver's inputs, and then connect a single cable from the HDMI output to the TV. The Yamaha does, however, convert composite and S-Video inputs to component video output. That means you'll need at least two connections to your TV--HDMI and component--if you have both digital (HDMI) and analog (anything else) video sources.
Yamaha is also drawing attention to its new Scene function, which is available on the RX-V661. The concept behind the Scene function is similar to macros on universal remotes; by pressing a Scene button, the receiver automatically configures itself for a specific scenario, such as DVD viewing. The customization is somewhat limited though. The only parameters that can be set for each Scene are which input should be selected, which DSP mode should be used, and whether a Night mode (which is designed to improve audio at low volume levels) should be used. We would have liked the ability to configure a default volume level for each Scene type.
If not for the aforementioned Onkyo TX-SR605, the RX-V661 would stack up nicely to other receivers in this price range. But as more manufacturers begin to release more HDMI 1.3-equipped receivers similar to the Onkyo, the RX-V661 will quickly begin to fade by comparison.
As big fans of Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers, we were eager to see his latest film, Curse of the Golden Flower. It's nowhere as visually magnificent as Daggers, but the soundtrack has it highpoints, such as the scene with thousands of warriors in gold armor battling black-armored adversaries. The surround mix of metallic fury and human carnage enveloped our home theater. The DVD wasn't as detailed as Daggers, so we were concerned the RX-V611 was a little soft on sonic resolution, but it was the DVD, not the hardware. Once we put Daggers on, the sound cleared right up and the RX-V661 handled both epic soundtracks with ease. Still, the sound balance seems richer than we've heard from Yamaha receivers of a few years ago.
Searing blues rock from The Black Keys' Magic Potion CD had plenty of bite. The Keys are a guitar and drum duo who record in what sounds like a garage. The music is highly reverberant and sounds like it's live, so it works best cranked up loud. The RX-V661 obliged and maintained its composure even when playing raw blues workouts.
Yamaha claims the RX-V661 will accept SACD and multichannel PCM signals over the HDMI connections, but we couldn't get it to work (the HDMI did pass CD and stereo Dolby signals from DVDs). Instead, we opted for the receiver's multichannel analog inputs to listen to a brand new Ralph Vaughan Williams SACD with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The RX-V661 conjured the sort of robust string sound we rarely get from midpriced receivers; the SACD's surround mix was spacious and wonderfully deep, effectively placing the orchestra slightly behind the plane of the front three speakers. The RX-V661's power was never an issue, and the orchestra's wide dynamic swings sounded utterly natural.
In terms of video performance, the RX-V661 was fine. The RX-V661 doesn't do any upconversion, so we really only looked to make sure it was passing video signals untouched. HDMI signals from our Toshiba HD-XA2 looked just as good as they would directly connected to our displays. Using Silicon Optix's HD HQV test suite, we saw no difference between when the receiver was in the signal chain and when it wasn't. The same goes for analog sources, where did not see any distortions introduced by the receiver.