Yamaha RX-V657 Digital Surround Receiver

Starved for new music? For talk (left, right, or center)? Sports? Comedy? Weather and traffic? Satellite radio delivers all these and more by the dozen. Yamaha is among the first A/V receiver makers to bring satellite radio home, via a new XM-ready line that includes the RX-V657 model here.

What We Think
A solid performer that seamlessly blends XM Satellite radio with Yamaha's excellent surround performance and adaptability.

The RX-V657 packs all the usual A/V receiver goods, including seven-channel power, plus one subtle but critical addition: a tiny port on its back accepts an antenna/tuner called XM Connect & Play. So far the only one available is the $50 Audiovox CMP1000, but others may join the party later, and XM-ready devices like boomboxes and clock radios can also employ them. Plug one of these pocket-size pods into the new Yamaha and you get 150-plus digital channels - all nicely integrated into the receiver's display, tuning, and preset-memory functions. Such leading-edge stuff usually reaches me first in a big-buck flagship receiver. Refreshingly, the RX-V657 is a $550 list price model that's comparatively compact and simple (for an A/V receiver!) - all pluses in my book.

SETUP Setting up the Connect & Play option couldn't be much simpler. The antenna/tuner (see photo at right) is a clamshell arrangement about the size of a moderate quahog, or roughly 3 inches square. I set this atop the receiver and plugged its captive, 30-foot cord into the tiny XM jack, aiming the up-slanted antenna through a window more or less toward XM's satellite in the southwest sky.

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To my surprise, XM came right up even though signal strength on the Yamaha's onscreen meter was only 32%. Fine-aiming raised this to 45% to 50% with no dropouts, so I'd bet most users will have little trouble acquiring an adequate XM signal. Of course, you'll also have to activate your XM subscription by dialing a toll-free number or visiting XM's Web site with your credit card and the registration number from your Connect & Play unit. The service costs $12.95 a month, less if you buy by the year or add multiple receivers.

Apart from adding XM, hookup involved the usual audio and video connections. There are only two component-video inputs, though, and no DVI or HDMI connectors.

The Yamaha also boasts an automatic setup routine, which uses a small microphone to determine speaker "size" and distance from the listening position, and to set the bass crossover frequency and speaker levels. It worked well enough: checked with my handheld meter, speaker levels were within ±1 dB of the ideal setting.

MUSIC PERFORMANCE Yamaha has been perfecting its music-surround technology longer than any other major brand, and the RX-V657 shows off this heritage. There are several proprietary modes and variants for music and movies, with hardly a dud among the lot. Of course, you also get Dolby Pro Logic II/IIx (often my choice for making surround sound from stereo material) as well as the full DTS palette. You're likely to find something that will believably, or at least entertainingly, enhance any sort of music or movie soundtrack.

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