Yamaha RX-V663 A/V Receiver

New technologies have a way of becoming less expensive over a shorter period of time with each passing year. Case in point—the RX-V663 A/V receiver from Yamaha, which provides a complete 7.1-channel system (95Wpc) with some of the most advanced features available in an AVR for less than $600.

Perhaps the most important of these features is the ability to decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, the new lossless audio codecs now being used on Blu-ray discs. Can such an inexpensive receiver really deliver the sonic goods? That's what I set out to discover...

The RX-V633 provides two HDMI 1.3a inputs that support Deep Color (up to 36-bit) and x.v.Color (expanded color gamut) with a source that offers them—which, at this point, only includes certain high-def camcorders but no commercial discs or broadcasts. It also supports 1080p/24 transmission that can be sent by most high-definition disc players.

The V663 converts all analog video (component, S-video, and composite) to digital and outputs the signal via HDMI. It also deinterlaces 480i to 480p, but it doesn't do any upscaling—the resolution that comes in is the resolution that goes out. Any upscaling must be done by the video display or an external video processor.

Yamaha calls its auto-setup feature YPAO (Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer). Like other similar systems, it uses a small, supplied microphone to analyze and calibrate multichannel speaker configurations and provide some degree of room EQ. I will go into more depth on this shortly.

The RX-V663 takes a huge step forward for budget-oriented AVRs by including onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Of course, it also decodes all the other Dolby and DTS surround formats you would expect, and it provides Yamaha's proprietary Cinema DSP Digital mode. For late-night listening, Silent Cinema mode lets you hear complete multichannel soundtracks on regular headphones.

The Straight mode (yes, that's what it's called) plays the incoming audio with no processing on the appropriate channels. The Pure Direct mode is intended for SACD and 2-channel sources, and unlike Straight mode, it also turns off other circuitry that could interfere with the audio fidelity, such as video circuits and the onscreen display.

Yamaha has been at the forefront of DSP (digital signal processing) technology since the mid-80s. For this reason, its AVRs tend to have more surround modes than those from other manufacturers. The company has also long promoted the concept of adding an extra pair of speakers in the front. Yamaha calls these Presence speakers, which are placed above and to the outside of the front L/R speakers, providing additional ambient effects. On the V663, the Zone 2 speaker outputs can be used for Presence speakers if desired.

Since these speakers are not part of a standard 5.1/7.1 system, they are not active without engaging one of Yamaha's proprietary DSP modes, though YPAO provides the appropriate calibrations when Presence speakers are part of the system. The Dialog Lift mode sends part of the front- and center-channel sound to the Presence speakers, allowing you to hear dialog more clearly.

There are other DSP presets that optimize music CDs to sound more like a live club performance or for classical music to sound like it is being performed in a hall. Additional settings are intended primarily for movies, with names like Spectacle, Sci-Fi, Drama, and Adventure. It's also possible to modify the parameters of these DSP modes as desired.

With so many ways to acquire and store music other than optical discs, Yamaha has provided several options specifically for them. The YDS-11 Universal Dock connects an iPod to the AVR, allowing you to navigate the player's songs and playlists via the V663's remote control and onscreen display. Depending on the model of iPod, you can also view photos and movies on your video monitor.

The optional YBA-10 Bluetooth Wireless Audio Receiver supports A2DP audio streaming, providing wireless music playback from Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, portable devices, and personal computers. The RX-V663 is also ready for XM and Sirius satellite radio, offering special ports on the rear panel to add both types of digital radio tuners. This is, of course, in addition to the built-in AM/FM tuner with 40 station presets.

The RX-V663 can send analog audio to a second zone, and you can select a different source than the one in the primary zone. The Zone 2/Extra SP speaker terminals can be used to power the Zone 2 speakers, or you can connect the Zone 2 pre-outs to a separate amplifier to power the second zone.

Another nice feature is the ability to reassign the amplifier channels and bi-amp your main front speakers. You can also set the maximum volume level and the initial volume upon power up.