Yamaha RX-V661 A/V Receiver

Used to be even the most basic receiver came with two accessories: a cheap wire dipole FM antenna and a plastic-loop AM job (which most often seemed to degrade reception). You still get the antennae, even if nobody except dental-office denizens listens to much terrestrial radio anymore. But you get a lot more with your receiver today. Universal remote controls are, um, universal, and automatic speaker setup/EQ (with a supplied calibration mike) is fast becoming so. Meanwhile, extra-cost options, including satellite-radio tuners and iPod docks, are becoming increasingly common.

Yamaha's latest mid-level A/V receiver, the RX-V661, is an excellent example. Even at an inviting $550 suggested retail price (probably around $450 street), it comes with the full-system remote and the calibration mike (plus the two antennae, of course) and offers both XM Satellite Radio and iPod expandability.

The Yamaha RX-V661 A/V receiver incorporates another feature that was strictly high-end-receiver fare last week, however, or so it seems: a pair of 1080p-capable HDMI inputs and one output. Two HDMI inputs are the barest of minimums in this Blu-ray Disc/HD DVD/PS3 age - but, of course, that's why God made multi-model receiver lines, along with those little green apples. The RX-V661 also offers Yamaha's usual broad range of DSP (digital signal processing) surround options and the kind of power buyers expect from even affordable receivers: 90 watts x 7 channels.

SETUP Installing the Yamaha was the usual matter of shifting the maze of spaghetti from behind my everyday preamp/processor and power amp to the RX-V661 and then running the latter's "YPAO" (Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer) auto-setup routine with the supplied mini-UFO-shaped calibration mike placed at the listening position. I also jacked in the Audiovox XM radio mini-tuner, the iPod dock, and the antenna accessories that Yamaha helpfully sent along; on the open market, these will collectively set you back an additional $100 or so, along with the monthly or annual subscription fees for the satellite service. (Yamaha's YDS-10 iPod dock, priced at $99, is widely available for around $75.)

After the auto-cal whoooops at wooshes concluded, I checked the results shown by the receiver's onscreen display, using my handheld SPL meter. The Yamaha claimed that my center and left-surround speakers were connected out of phase (trust me, they weren't), and it selected a crossover of 200 Hz even though all of my speakers are quite accurate to well below 60 Hz. This kind of thing is not too unusual; any little null at the mike position can fool a room-response analyzer. Nor is Yamaha's the first system to have claimed that my left surround was misconnected (it's a few feet more distant than the right surround, which I guess fools the phase detector). But the center-channel result was a mystery. I tried a different speaker - a two-way instead of my usual three-way center - and slightly different mike positions, but I got the same result. Hmm.

The RX-V661 got the levels spot-on up front, however, and just 1 to 2 dB low at the surrounds. I guess the moral here is that while auto setup is a useful tool - and vastly better than no calibration at all (which I'm dismally certain is the fate of more than a few first home theaters) - it behooves the setter-upper to check the results against known standards.

The RX-V661 also derives individual equalization for each speaker as part of its auto routine. I found these results generally sensible, given what I know of my speakers' and room's response curves - but I still preferred the sound of my system with the EQ bypassed. Other rooms and speakers will, of course, always differ.