This $149 Yamaha R-S202 stereo receiver wowed the Audiophiliac
Mate this slick Yamaha with Pioneer's equally terrific SP-BS22-LR bookshelf speakers, and you'll be one happy listener.
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Yamaha's handsome 100-watt-per-channel R-S202 stereo receiver has a lot going for it. First, its clean good looks put most similarly priced receivers to shame. Yamaha sells the R-S202 direct on its Web site for $149.95, with free shipping in the US, and Amazon does the same for Prime customers.
Every time I review a stereo receiver I remember how much easier they are to set up than any of today's AV receivers. Just hook up a pair of speakers (I used ELAC Debut B6s), and a source such as a Blu-ray player or games console, and you're good to go. Turn on the R-S202, select the input and enjoy the tunes.
There's a headphone jack on the front panel, and around back you'll find four pairs of RCA inputs, plus Bluetooth, but there are no phono or digital inputs. If you play LPs, no worries, you can add a separate outboard phono preamp, such as the $79 Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box. The R-S202 has two sets of speaker outputs (A & B), and there are bass and treble controls accessible on the remote and the receiver's front panel.
One nitpick, the R-S202's spring clip speaker wire connectors don't provide a secure grip on the wires, so if you ever accidentally tug on the wires they will probably get pulled out. Then again, most budget receivers use spring clips, so the R-S202 is no better or worse than average in that regard.
The ELAC Debut B6 speakers turned out to be a terrific pairing with the R-S202. Together they delivered surprisingly decent sound quality, certainly beyond my expectations for budget-priced gear. Ryan Adams' "Live at Carnegie Hall" album with Adams alone on stage with just his acoustic guitar, along with the ambience of the great hall, all came through loud and clear.
So far, so good, so I next pushed the RS-202 harder with the Battles' dizzyingly complex "Gloss Drop" prog-rock album. There's a lot going on here: abrasive guitars, bouncy keyboards, with blazing drums in the foreground providing rhythmic intensity. The layered mixes remained distinct even as they spread across wall-to-wall soundstages. Bass was full, but never thick or bloated.
Watching movies with the R-S202 fully demonstrated its stereo home theater capabilities. Bass was full enough I never missed not using a subwoofer. The receiver lacks a "sub" output jack, but if you crave more room-shaking muscle, you could easily add any subwoofer with "speaker-level" inputs (most subs are so equipped), and run the sub from the RS-202's "B" speaker outputs. The $119 Dayton Audio Sub 1000 10-inch powered subwoofer would be a synergistic match with the R-S202 and the Debut B6s.
As I write this review the ELAC Debut B6 speakers are currently out of stock, but if you can't wait for the B6s, pick up Pioneer's even more affordable, yet still quite good SP-BS22-LR bookshelf speakers for $116.99 a pair on Amazon (with free shipping for Prime customers). The R-S202 and SP-BS22-LR combo would run just $266.94!