Yamaha Aventage RX-A2040 AV Receiver Review Page 2

Considering this price level, I usually expect a pretty fancy remote, but the one supplied with the RX-A2040 is actually quite ordinary, lacking even something as basic as backlit buttons. On the other hand, Yamaha does offer their AV Controller App for your iDevice or Android, giving you far more comprehensive control than any remote could. And, of course, the app is backlit for dark room operation.

Music and Movies
As usual, I started my evaluation by treating the RX-A2040 like a simple two-channel audiophile amp. Then I gradually brought in its additional capabilities using multichannel music and movies, but only after I had a handle on its basic sound. To that end, I started by playing “Dona Maria” from jazz bassist Rufus Reid’s Out Front, using the Pure Direct mode with no subwoofer. On this recording, Reid’s instrument has a rich and fat sound, but through the RX-A2040, there was a fine sense of clarity that made it easy to follow the melody of his bass line. Drummer Duduka Da Fonseca kind of goes wild at one point, but I was struck by how easy it was to hear the contrasts in tonal colors between the various cymbals in his kit. Overall, the tonal balance tended to fall very slightly on the warm and full side of neutral, but with a clarity in the upper midrange that allowed the various players to cut through when it was their turn in the spotlight.

415yamarec.rem.jpgTo check out the Yamaha’s abilities with hi-res music, I connected my laptop via the front-panel USB port to play 192-kilohertz/24-bit downloads from HDtracks.com of “Wood and Metal” and “War” from Explorations in Space and Time featuring Jamey Haddad, Lenny White, and Mark Sherman. These three renowned percussionists really let it rip, and the simple two-microphone recording from Chesky truly demonstrates what real dynamics are. The first track features the quiet rustle of a rain stick and wood blocks, but this contrasts dramatically with the massive pounding of huge bass drums and gongs on “War.” The RX-A2040 took these extreme dynamic demands in stride, allowing all of the tonal color and subtlety of each instrument and the recording space itself to shine through clearly.

Even with just two speakers playing, James Newton Howard’s score for After Earth has the type of huge and enveloping sound that makes you wonder why we need surround sound at all. The movie may have been a flop, but this soundtrack is a winner in the epic-science-fiction-thriller model, with huge kettledrums, sweeping strings, and speaker-crushing dynamics. I played the opening track, “The History of Man,” with peak volume levels at my listening seat reaching 104 decibels, and the RX-A2040 never broke a sweat. The dynamics didn’t sound compressed in any way. The recording may have been artificially tweaked and poked in the studio to give it such a huge sound, but there’s no denying the excitement it creates when played through a system with enough power to deliver the dynamic swings required.

Next, I moved on to surround music with the Blu-ray of Peter Gabriel’s Back to Front: Live in London and played “Red Rain.” The sound here puts you right in the O2 Arena, surrounded by Peter and the band. Gabriel’s concerts usually involve a lot of different musicians, which could lead to a sense of dynamic congestion, but through the RX-A2040, even little details like the marimba, the triangle, and the cello player’s bow on the strings cut through the mix clearly. As before, the overall sound was warm and enveloping, yet detailed without being overtly bright.

Home theaters are made for movies, so last but certainly not least, I ran the RX-A2040 through some of my favorite movie test material in surround, starting with the Blu-ray of RED. Near the opening, there’s a scene where a SWAT team goes after Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) in his home, accompanied by a soundtrack that combines pumping, synthesized techno music with a seemingly endless stream of gunshots and explosions. Despite the dramatic dynamic impact of each shot, there was a sense of ease to the way the RX-A2040 presented everything, letting you hear the different timbre of the retorts from each weapon and the wood frame of the house it was firing through, rather than just a confusing cacophony of high-frequency sound. At one point, Moses drops some bullets into a heated frying pan, letting the stove set them off randomly to create a sonic distraction. Through the Yamaha and PSBs, the distraction became real, with the sound of bullets whizzing everywhere around my room.

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For some subtler movie effects, I put on the opening scene of Source Code, where Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is on a train, trying to figure out who he is. The clarity of the Yamaha’s presentation revealed the care put into the sound mix, making small details easy to discern, such as the way the sound of the wheels clattering on the tracks under the train changes as Stevens moves from the main passenger car to the bathroom. Dialogue clarity was always exceptional, even when the strings in the score swell up to envelope the soundstage. Of course, all hell breaks loose when the train explodes, but even then the resulting sound was powerful and authoritative, rather than just loud.

Conclusion
The Yamaha RX-A2040 gives you pretty much everything you would expect from a big, near-flagship receiver. It can handle music and movies from just about any type of format or source you can throw at it—and reproduce it all with a fine combination of warmth, clarity, and timbral transparency. The supplied remote is nothing to write home about, but I found it was easy to simply control the receiver with an iPad running Yamaha’s iOS app.

The big elephant in the room, however, is that just like most other recent AV receivers, the RX-A2040 can’t handle the HDCP 2.2–protected Ultra HD signals that are slated to be coming down the pike soon. If UHD (4K) video isn’t important to you, then this won’t be a problem—but if it is, you eventually may need to find a way to route UHD video sources around the Yamaha while running a separate link for the audio. This caveat aside, the RX-A2040 needs no excuses, and it can kick butt in any top-notch setup.

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COMMENTS
hk2000's picture

I'm in the market for a new receiver or pre-pro, and this receiver seems to have a lot of the things I need, but the lack of HDCP2.2 makes it already obsolete! I don't want to turn this into a brand comp., but Onkyo has been including HDCP2.2 on many of their receivers since last year. I don't know about you, but if I'm buying a receiver, the last thing I need is to be already looking for a solution to a very-near-future issue. S&V would do a great service to the readers if you were to provide a comparison chart of the top -or near top- receivers from the various major brands.

Thanks.

dommyluc's picture

Yeah, I have to agree with hk2000. Yamaha releasing this unit without HDCP2.2 is really dumb, and inexcusable since Onkyo and other companies have been including it for a while now. I am sure that consumers may be able to find units with HDCP2.2 and nearly all the other major features of this Yamaha unit - Atmos, streaming, 4K video, etc. - at a much lower price. And I thought that a magazine like S&V would consider non-inclusion of HDCP2.2 to be a deal-breaker for a receiver that promised 4K video compatibility. And does S&V even KNOW if the upcoming UHD disc players and satellite and cable boxes are even going to include multiple HDMI outputs so one can run a cable to both the display for video AND the receiver for audio? The electronics companies didn't exactly do a stellar job of including multi-channel analog outputs on Blu-ray players so that people could get the hi-def codecs on equipment without HDMI inputs, so why should we expect them to do any better in this regard?

Warrior24_7's picture

My original post was deleted and the the article seems to have been edited. When the article first appeared, Dobly Atmos and HDMI 2.0 were not mentioned as features. I questioned that in my response, then my response disappeared and the article now has been edited to mention these two features! Lol!!

Rob Sabin's picture
Hmm. This review originally appeared in our May magazine issue and has been published in print as it's seen here, with comments on its Atmos capabilities and HDMI 2.0 and HDCP status, since April 3rd. Not sure what happened here...
javanp's picture

This receiver was released fairly early last year and was one of the first, if not the first, receivers to be compatible with Atmos (although that compatibility came after its release via firmware update). They'll be releasing another receiver this year presumably that has the HDCP2.2 functionality, along with DTS UHD. If they had waited for both of those things, along with every around-the-corner technology, they'd never be releasing anything. And I don't see how it's a deal breaker. For the first few years, there are going to be loads of people that need a HDCP2.2 workaround. As such, there will be plenty of source devices that will have multiple HDMI outs, just like with 3D blu-ray. I got, and still have actually, a 3D blu-ray player with 2 HDMI outputs since my receiver wasn't compatible.

For me this was a great buy because my receiver died and I wanted something with Atmos

lttrader2's picture

Are the power ratings shown for 5 channel and 7 channel actually this low? It seem like a huge drop-off from the 2 channel ratings. Lesser powered receivers from Sony, Onkyo, and Anthem retain much higher wattage than these results would indicate.

Bob Ankosko's picture
Yes, the numbers are correct. Mark Peterson, who conducts “Sound & Vision’s lab testing, offers the explanation below. Please also see “How We Test Audio” for more insights. We have also added Mark’s full lab notes, which were previously missing due to a posting error. Our regrets and apologies for that oversight.

I believe nomenclature that has different meanings in different situations is causing confusion. In the context of our amplifier power output measurements, "continuous" refers to a repetitive 1 kHz sine wave of at least one second in duration. We apply this signal to the specified number of channels, all in phase with one another. This is opposed to "burst" tests which generally demand full output power for only a tiny fraction of a second at a time, then have a much longer period of inactivity before the next short burst comes along.

As an example, using a 1 kHz sine wave, there are by definition 1,000 cycles every second. In our continuous power tests, every one of these cycles is sent to the amplifier in a "continuous" fashion. This is a brutal test as it doesn't give the power supply section even a fraction of a second of inactivity to recharge and regain composure, but it does give insight into the ultimate capabilities of the critically important internal power supply.

In a common version of a burst test, only the first 10 cycles or so are sent to the amplifier, leaving the amplifier idling for the time it would have taken to amplify the next 90 cycles, and allowing the power supply to recover. Even though it's only a fraction of a second until the next 10-cycle burst comes along, this makes the test vastly less stringent and much larger output power numbers generally result. This is especially apparent when multiple channels are driven simultaneously. While it may be argued that burst tests can made to more closely mimic the demands of actual program material, the downside is that there is little consistency in our industry as to how long these bursts should be and how often they repeat, so it's virtually impossible to compare power output numbers derived via burst signals from different sources.

During our continuous sine output test, the Audio Precision test system ramps up the level step-by-step until 1% distortion is exceeded. The total sweep takes 10-15 seconds and maximum power is output for a second or two. This is not to say that the amplifier can output this level of "continuous" power indefinitely. Consumer products built to withstand full continuous power output for more than a matter of seconds are rare, as actual program content is highly unlikely to put such demands on them. Professional and laboratory gear is another matter and are designed for different applications with different size and price expectations.

Protection schemes have gotten vastly more complex over the last few years as more and more digital processing power has become available. If it's mentioned in the Measurement Box that protection engaged while performing our power output tests, then signal flow was interrupted by the protection scheme. In other words, the unit under test cried "uncle" and at the very least stopped amplifying the test signal, and may have powered-down completely. At one time this was the main method of protection and its action is readily apparent by the lack of sound coming from your speakers.

In the current era, however, DSP chips can be programmed to respond to less-than-dire conditions that the designer deemed as unusual, but that don't require complete shut-down for protection. This might be to meet various international thermal/safety/energy conservation requirements as well as the usual goal of self-preservation. The unit's reaction to these conditions can now be substantially less obvious. In a nod to what the auto industry labels "limphome mode", some modern AVRs will drastically reduce power output instead of shutting-down completely. This allows the consumer to finish watching their movie, albeit with drastically reduced performance, even when the AVR deems something to be amiss. Some manufacturers appear to define "amiss" as the admittedly unusual condition of having continuous in-phase sine waves applied to all channels simultaneously, such as with our power tests.

When this is the case, power output is radically reduced without any outward indication that the unit has deemed it prudent to modify its performance. This would not necessarily be perceived by the consumer as being in classic shut-down/protection mode except that the maximum volume level that could be attained would be markedly decreased. As this type of protection behavior is not consistent from model-to-model or brand-to-brand, and as there is no clear front-panel indication when it has been engaged, we can't in all fairness call-out when it might be happening so we simply publish the resulting numbers and let them speak for themselves.

MusicViking's picture

The numbers might be correct, but I suspect that the tests were performed with Eco Mode on.
I have just bought one 2nd hand and though it is less powerful than the NAD I had before it seems more powerful than the figures unless Eco Mode is on. When that is on power output is almost a joke.

Warrior24_7's picture

The VSX-90 blows this thing away and it's only $700.

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