Editor's note, Aug. 5, 2021: The Yamaha RX-V6A is one of a number of 8K receivers with a bug preventing them from playing 4K 120Hz material from the Xbox Series X and Nvidia cards. Yamaha has announced it will be replacing the HDMI boards for existing buyers in the fall, around the same time that updated receivers should arrive on shelves. Until then it's best to choose another receiver that can do 4K/120Hz out of the box. The rest of this review is as it was first published on Feb. 13.
The waters around AV receivers drift rather than rage. Compared to TVs and soundbars, change comes slowly to these big black boxes. The Yamaha RX-V6A is a refreshing splash in a pool that has stagnated in recent years. With rounded good looks reminiscent of high-end brands like Classe, paired with a laundry list of futuristic features, this is the most forward-looking receiver I have seen in a long time.
Looks aren't anything without the performance to back it up and the RX-V6A served up great sound quality in my listening test. This midpriced receiver RX-V6A offers Dolby Atmos playback and plenty of music replay options too, making it as comfortable with an episode of The Mandalorian as it is with impromptu dance parties.
It's got some quirks -- the speaker outputs are arranged in an unusual order and that LCD display is harder to read than an LED -- but overall this Yamaha is simply more fun than its competitors. I'm hopeful that the RX-V6A is the spark that ignites a rethink on AV receivers and helps bring the category back into the mainstream.
The RX-V6A is a 7.1-channel receiver with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X playback, and 100 watts per channel. While the receiver has nine amplified channels it can't be used in a 5.1.4 configuration as one pair is a dedicated Zone 2. Nevertheless, the specification sheet isn't the first thing that catches the eye.
The Yamaha RX-V6A's rounded, glass-like fascia is a real departure from the black shoe boxes of Sony, Denon and Onkyo. The edges are curved in a way I've never seen before, but it doesn't look ostentatious. The front houses a centered volume control and high-res LCD display that looks smart but isn't all that bright. It's off-centered so if you're sitting off to the left it's even more difficult to read even at maximum brightness. I prefer the LED readouts found on competitors.
This receiver couldn't be "the future" without a thoroughly up to date spec sheet and the RX-V6A doesn't skimp. It includes seven HDMI inputs, three of which are 8K-compatible HDMI 2.1 ports ports designed to support the full output capabilities of sources like the Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5 and PC graphics cards such as the Nvidia RTX 3090. Yamaha claims this is more 2.1 ports than any other brand, and they offer such goodies as auto low latency mode and quick media switching. The receivers also support longer HDMI cable runs with a bolstered power supply.
Yamaha also made changes around back. Most receivers, including past Yamahas, place the L/R speaker output at the left of the panel, which is followed by the center and then the rears. For whatever reason the RX-V6A places the front pair in the middle instead of the left, which could be confusing -- especially if you're bent over it in a darkened theater setting. It won't take long to remember which output is which, and once you get your speakers connected it's not a big deal.
The RX-V6A may not be as fully loaded when it comes to Wi-Fi streaming support when compared to our current Editors' Choice winner, the Onkyo TX-NR696, but it still offers something for most people. Yamaha's MusicCast multiroom system is one of the best integrated systems, and it also enables the use of Yamaha smart speakers as rears. The receiver offers AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and Bluetooth too, although it lacks Chromecast built-in. IT can be controlled via Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri-enabled devices, but the commands are mostly basic -- mainly volume, input and next/previous track controls.
The receiver comes with a remote control that offers a variety of functions, including a dedicated Bluetooth button. It's bright and cheery plus offers a zone 2 control switch for more flexibility.
Though the aesthetics have been soundly improved, the on-screen display is a small step back. The interface features blocky white and blue icons, whereas competitors such as Sony offer more user-friendly interfaces with bigger icons and better hand-holding for newcomers.
I compared the Yamaha RX-V6A against another new receiver, the Denon AVR-S960, and found myself returning to listen to the Yamaha more often. While the Denon is relaxed-sounding, the Yamaha offers more home theater thrills and pep when listening to your favorite tunes. Simply put, the Yamaha sounds more fun.
I started my testing with an underrated classic -- the Iron and Wine/Calexico collaboration EP, In The Reins. When streaming via Roon to the Oppo UDP-203 and then letting the receivers decode, the Yamaha had a solid, three dimensional sound. Through it Sam Beam's voice was more firmly rooted in space, and the backing vocals a little easier to discern than on the Denon.
Receivers that are tuned for movies are rarely good with music -- they can sound overly harsh and tiring -- but the tambourine-forward sound of Spoon's You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb sounded fuller on the Yamaha than the Denon. The song's chugging bass underpinned the percussion in the hands of the V6A and the entire production sounded less thrashy and more composed. The Denon was a shade subtler but didn't make me sit up in my seat in the same way.
Turning to home theater with Avatar, the Yamaha driving a pair of Bowers and Wilkins 603 S2 speakers sounded bigger and more effortless than any soundbar I've heard. The opening dialog of the Thanator chase scene was more intelligible too, and certainly better than the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass soundbar, for example. It may not have had the same booming effect on the creatures' footfalls, but this was easily tweaked via the Yamaha menu.
After that tweak the Yamaha had bass effects I could actually feel with my feet and, compared to the Denon, I found it sounded more atmospheric, but the bass still wasn't as impactful.
If you're trying to decide between the Yamaha and the Denon, both sound quality and features come into play. The Yamaha offers an extra HDMI port than the Denon and more 8K-compliant 2.1 ports too. The RX-V6A also looks better and sounds more entertaining.
The receiver didn't get everything right -- that LCD display is a misstep -- and I still prefer the Onkyo by a nose because of its superior streaming options and better display. While there are more receivers coming in mid-2021, if you want something that offers a degree of future proofing and high-quality sound right now, the Yamaha is an excellent choice.