Yamaha RX-Z7 A/V Receiver Page 3

The Men Who Stare at Goats is also in Dolby TrueHD, although you’d never know it from the package, which incorrectly labels the audio options as Dolby Digital and PCM. When I got into the top menu, Dolby TrueHD was the only option for the movie’s main soundtrack. With George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, and Ewan McGregor (whose voiceover provided the best test of the Yamaha’s considerable adeptness with dialogue), there was no shortage of comic charm on display. The most eventful moments were the musical ones, especially Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” a song whose supernatural potency may not have been widely known until now.

CD Sessions
During the music demos, all of which were CDs, the Yamaha showed an odd quirk. It wouldn’t accept an HDMI audio connection from the OPPO disc player for long periods of time unless the HDMI-connected HDTV was also on. I updated the OPPO’s firmware, but that didn’t resolve the problem. So I installed Yamaha RX-Z7 firmware update number 1.1, dated January 2010. While the update process didn’t appear anywhere in the AVR’s graphic user interface or in its manual, Yamaha’s Website contained the necessary instructions under Downloads. You can perform the update by either network connection or USB, both of which require a slightly intricate series of front-panel button punches. I chose the network option. With its latest update installed, the AVR started eight CDs without any further glitches. The HDMI lock was now lightning fast. It didn’t even fumble the first second of content. Problem solved.

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The Film Music of Bernard Herrmann is a major find for fans of the composer. It boasts some rarities—music from Hangover Square, including the Concerto Macabre for piano and orchestra—in addition to excerpts from the well-loved score for Citizen Kane. I always expect an upfront feeling from Yamaha AVRs, but with this recording, the AVR played against type. The feeling was more like the back row of a good concert hall. It emphasized orchestral blending over separation of instruments. This worked out beautifully with the dissonant blossoms of brass and woodwinds that reminded me of Herrmann’s Vertigo score. In the piano concerto, the piano was at the same depth as the orchestra, neither forward nor behind. However, its width in the soundstage was well defined, and the bass weight felt right. This wellrecorded Chandos CD is about as good as an orchestral recording ever gets without graduating to a higher-resolution medium like SACD or vinyl.

Livingston Taylor—or Professor Taylor, as he’s known at the Berklee College of Music—hovers between hope and hopelessness in Last Alaska Moon. The production is gauzy and slick, with musician credits that read like those of a Steely Dan album. But the lyrics that ride over the slick surface are often surprising in their varied viewpoints and emotional accessibility. I would have liked a crisper top end and a little more air, but the AVR was just being truthful, not hyping the limited high-frequency information.

I was still feeling a residual high from the John Woo film, so I dipped into my Chinese classical music collection for Remembering Life of the Emperor. Music in this category can be hard to find, but the album is imported from Taiwan by Silverlake Records and sold on Amazon as both disc and download. Composer Chung Fu-Chuan leads the Chinese Classical Troupe through traditionally inspired pieces that commemorate the rarefied lives of the emperors and courtiers in the Forbidden City. The strong treble content of many Chinese instruments can be rough on the ears, but the Yamaha’s pristine amp made the best possible case for this better-than-average recording. It balanced the toppy instrumentation with well-focused ambience. Loud passages glittered, and quiet ones shimmered.

The Yamaha RX-Z7 AVR provides an ideal combination of features and performance. It reconciles feature-oriented listeners with performance-oriented listeners. Indeed, it is a fine performer, with a better midrange balance and less of the brightness I’ve heard from lower-priced Yamahas. If I’d been writing this review a year earlier, I’d say the feature set couldn’t be beat.

But even if you don’t care about 3D or upto-the-minute height enhancements, putting users through an intricate firmware update process (to play music without the HDTV on) may lose this AVR a few friends. Rhapsody, Bluetooth, and DLNA are strong pluses, although the Certified for Windows Vista status would make more up-to-the-minute friends if it were Certified for Windows 7. I’d also like to see more AVRs dump their extra-cost iPod dock strategy for direct iPod-via-USB input. I’m being much more critical with this product than I am with most others, but when you’re spending this much for an A/V receiver, you want everything to be perfect.

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