Yamaha neoHD YMC-700 Media Controller

Price: $800 At A Glance: Rethinks AVR operation for a more media-rich environment • Simplified interface compared to conventional receiver • Class D amplification

Not Just Another AVR

Is the conventional A/V receiver obsolete? The short answer is no. The long answer is the rest of this review.

One of the AVR’s chief weaknesses is that lots of people who would benefit from it don’t buy it. They may get as far as investigating a prospective purchase, but they are put off by lengthy and obfuscatory spec sheets. Another rap against the AVR is that it doesn’t accommodate the way more and more people listen to music—that is, in the form of audio files as opposed to spinning discs. Even audiophiles listen to audio files if they’re lossless or uncompressed.

That second criticism is fading into history. In fact, many A/V receivers now have Ethernet connections and use them to offer a new bag of tricks: pulling music off a networked PC, Internet radio, various other streaming features, firmware updates, etc. The advent of HDMI 1.4 may eventually accelerate this trend by allowing A/V devices to share Internet connections and exchange data with one another.

It’s one thing to add features to an AVR. Manufacturers have been frenetically doing just that for decades. What’s new about the Yamaha neoHD YMC-700 is that a major power in receivers has radically rethought the product design, right down to the moniker. The YMC-700 isn’t so much an A/V receiver as it is a media controller.

The name suggests that controlling and managing media is more important than simply receiving audio and video signals. This new product design also aims to replace the typically stressful getting-to-know-you process with a less stressful narrative. And once it’s up and running, it’s just plain easier to use.

Living Within Limits
There are two neoHD models, the YMC-700 ($800, reviewed here) and the YMC-500 ($600). The main difference is that the YMC-700 has Wi-Fi connectivity and hard-wired Ethernet. Other features that are exclusive to the YMC-700 include Internet radio, Rhapsody online music service, and compatibility with iTunes AAC files using a free TwonkyMedia server software upgrade. If you want Yamaha to furnish speakers with the receiver, investigate the neoHD System 2.1, model YMC-S21 ($800).

The neoHD is smaller than an average A/V receiver, and it isn’t much larger than a set-top box. Energy-efficient Class D amplification lets it be smaller and run cooler while still powering speakers of reasonable size and sensitivity (think satellites or small monitors). Yamaha doesn’t provide a power output rating—see HT Labs Measures later in this review.

A distinctively concave front panel has two surfaces that are sharply divided in the middle. There’s very little on the front panel: just a large volume knob in the center and a power button at the left. Near the front, the top panel has a navigation ring and a couple of other nav buttons. I never used them; instead, I relied solely on the remote control.

The remote is almost as austere as the unit’s front and top panels. Although it’s smallish, it’s not one of those awful membrane remotes. Of course the navigation ring reappears, along with Power, TV Power, Guide, Menu, Prev, Next, Control, Back, channel up/down, volume up/down, page up/down, and Mute buttons. I found it easy to use, aided by the commonsensical arrangement of the onscreen interface.

It’s on the back of the Yamaha that you begin to see the limitations of making a receiver that’s barely larger than a set-top box. The speaker terminals aren’t the collared binding posts that are standard equipment on most receivers. Instead, they’re spring-loaded wire clips, and the cheapest kind. They’re only compatible with bare wire tips, soldered tips, or pin connectors. Admittedly, though, people who purchase this product aren’t the kind of people who buy fancy cable with spade lugs or banana plugs.

HD-level video connectivity is limited to one HDMI output, three HDMI inputs, and two component video inputs. That will accommodate five HD signal sources, which isn’t an unreasonable number. But forget about feeding more than one HDTV. It also has a single composite video input for a legacy source. Yamaha assumes you’re on a legacy diet, and that might not be a bad idea. A docking input accommodates either an iPod dock or a Bluetooth adapter. Of course, since this is

a Wi-Fi device, a Wi-Fi antenna juts up from the back. Yamaha also supplies infrared flashers, which is an unusual and considerate touch.

The neoHD accommodates a more limited array of surround codecs than an average A/V receiver. While it’s compatible with Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS 5.1, it isn’t compatible with Dolby EX, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, or either type of DTS-HD. Among the numerous implications: If you play DTS-HD software, you’ll get the DTS core signal, although that’s no reason to hang yourself. For faux-surround effects from two speakers, there’s an Air Surround Xtreme enhancement.