PRODUCT: 9.2-channel Atmos-ready AVR
POSITION: Flagship AV receiver and part of the Aventage line
PEERS: Onkyo TX-NR3030, Denon AVRX5200W; Pioneer SC-LX88
DOLBY ATMOS IS upon us. After a hiatus of several years where the decoding side of AV receivers has remained effectively static, there is now a creditable sonic reason to look at upgrading your current power pusher. Well, sort of. While the usual suspects have released their hardware, at the time of writing, software remains an unknown quantity.
Demos have been impressive, but we don’t yet know exactly what we’ll get in terms of media. Still, of all the companies that have released Atmos products in the first wave, Yamaha might be the company that minds this media gap the least. Like a gently smug hipster, Yamaha was doing speakers ‘up top’ long before it was cool and this has two implications for how the company goes about Atmos – when the format is added by firmware update.
The first is that the flagship RX-A3040 auditioned here has the standard wealth of DSP options on board that should allow you to get some use out of your newly-rigged speakers (in-ceiling ones, certainly) with ‘normal’ Blu-rays in the absence of Atmos platters. The second is that as Yamaha has been building these additional channels into its amplifiers for years, the RX-A3040 is not a radical departure in terms of layout or design from the preceding RX-A3030. Put a picture of their rear panels next to each other and you’d be hard pressed to tell one from the other.
A chip off the old block
This is in part a reflection that the RX-A3030 did most things you could reasonably expect an AV receiver to do already. As such, with this successor, you get nine channels of grunt (with processing for eleven), twin subwoofer outputs, eight 4K-capable HDMI inputs (supporting 4:4:4 colour sampling but not HDCP 2.2 copy protection) and two outputs.
Then there is the expected overload of legacy connections (including the ubiquitous phono stage for that minute intersection of a Venn diagram where bleeding-edge cinephiles meet retro audiophiles), and support for the regular lossless surround formats (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) that we’ve made use of up until now.
Perhaps the only feature you might expect at this price point that’s missing is an asynchronous USB input, but given that the RX-A3040 can stream lossless and high-res formats via UPnP, this isn’t the end of the world. The RX-A3040 is part of Yamaha’s Aventage line of products, high-end slabs of hardware that focus on audio performance as well as gut-churning fi lm soundtrack reproduction. To this end, the construction shares a number of design points with premium stereo components, including symmetrical layout of the amplification and selection of specialist components for given roles in the receiver.
Furthermore, Yamaha’s devotion to its ‘Total Purity’ concept extends to adding a central fifth foot to minimalise the effect of internal and external vibration. The Aventage spec extends to the AVR’s styling, which is handsome in a slightly brutish sort of way. I can’t be the only person that laments the passing of the orange display that used to denote Yamaha products at a glance [erm, you probably are – Ed] but the RX-A3040 is unlikely to scare the horses in a domestic situation and the fit and finish is up to the standards expected at the £2,000 mark.
This is not to say that the RX-A3040 doesn’t bring anything new to the table. One of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alterations to the back panel is a wireless aerial connection. This liberates the network features of the Yamaha – including Spotify Connect, AirPlay, internet radio and the control app – from any need to be close to a router or Ethernet socket.
“Where the Yamaha excels is that it can convey tremendous energy without breaking sweat”
Having wrestled with adapters and cables in receivers up to this point, the ten-second WPS button sync of the Yamaha to park it on my network was a little moment of joy. Setup as a whole is a pretty fuss-free aff air. Everything from the layout of connections on the rear to the onscreen menus is logical and easy to follow.
Yamaha continues to use its proprietary YPAO automatic calibration system, aided by a microphone and three position ‘boomerang’ stand. This produced some entirely logical and consistent results in my AV room and the settings can be easily tweaked manually afterwards to better suit your preferences.
Input allocation is logical enough, and while the supplied remote handset is fairly crammed and not backlit, it is easy to use and the major functions are sensibly arranged.
The control app is a good option for those who always have a smart device (preferably a tablet) to hand in their viewing room. It’s a very well laid-out, fast and logical piece of software. As well as input selection, volume
adjustment and choosing of preset DSP modes, you can carry out fine adjustment to the settings via an attractive GUI.
The app also allows for access of the UPnP streamer module and internet radio settings. It’s intuitive enough to be the main point of control of the receiver and not just an interesting gimmick.
Savouring regular Blu-rays
With no Atmos material available at the time of review, I had to treat the RX-A3040 as a normal AV amp. This might sound a little anticlimactic, but it’s realistically how the Yamaha is likely to be used for some time unless you rejoice in watching the same films over and over again.
Connected firstly to a set of Mordaunt Short Mezzos and latterly a quintet of Neat Motive SX speakers, the Yamaha showed from the outset that it is considerably more than a vast collection of inputs held together by a heavy, black box. With Captain America; The Winter Soldier (Blu-ray), the Yamaha is effortlessly and at times awesomely capable.
The claimed output of 150W per channel almost certainly dips under load but it doesn’t prevent the RXA3040 from handling Helicarriers plummeting from the sky with a rock-solid sense of scale and energy. Where the Yamaha excels is that while it can convey tremendous energy without breaking sweat, it never sounds hard or strained.
The result is an epic demonstration of scale and immersion, bouncing along atop a torrent of fl uid power. In many ways, though, it is when you stop asking it to do explosions and showcase a bit of subtlety that this amp truly shines. The RX-A3040 can take almost any soundtrack you like, however subdued, and find the nuances and details required to make it sound completely believable.
The pared-back sonics of Drive (BD) are turned into a spellbindingly enthralling sphere of sound. At no stage does the Yamaha’s presentation become overblown or exaggerated, and even at late-night listening levels the performance remains convincing.
This all comes with the AVR’s DSP modes untouched. However, while I’ve never been entirely swayed by Yamaha’s DSP adventures (generally, the only thing I want to sound like a concert hall in Munich is a concert hall in Munich) there is little arguing that the RX-A3040’s processing horsepower is used to tremendous effect outside of the fixed modes.
Tweaking these via the app can yield small but worthwhile boosts with material too, although like all these systems it is a little too easy to spend more time fiddling than actually enjoying your big-ticket purchase. Turn everything off and use the Yamaha like a 21st-century music centre, with high-res FLAC streamed directly to it and running in Pure Direct Mode, and its performance is genuinely delightful.
Sure, like most AV receivers, the Yamaha can sound a bit big and obvious, but while I started to listen to the RX-A3040 out of reviewer’s obligation, I continued to listen to it because it sounds continually enjoyable and because the control app makes doing so a breeze.
Perhaps my only concern on this front is that the Spotify Connect function, while reassuringly stable, is mysteriously loud compared to other sources. The receiver’s performance with broadcast TV shows most of the same positive attributes that it does with Blu-ray, albeit with an understandable drop in outright quality from the change in sound formats.
The same marriage of smooth delivery and sumptuous detail that the Yamaha can generate with movies helps decent TV material (think Game of Thrones rather than game shows) to sound equally compelling; the RX-A3040 brings a welcome touch of the cinematic to an evening’s entertainment.
At my pickiest I would be say that this amp tends to send too much information to the center speaker when post-processing a stereo track into Pro-Logic IIx, but this doesn’t generally effect the intelligibility of the soundscape. I also found that my review sample would not be persuaded to auto detect an Audio Return Channel (via HDMI) and it had to be assigned to another input.
These niggles aren’t major, and represent pretty much the only dropped notes in an otherwise pitch-perfect performance.
The consistency of the Yamaha heavyweight makes it a rewarding product, and I have no doubt, given how well it performs with my normal array, that its Atmos performance will be competitive with similarly-priced rivals. However, what may give the Yamaha an edge in the £2,000 AVR fight is just how well thought out the RX-A3040 is.
It is flexible in terms of supported features and, importantly, using them is straightforward. At every point from installation to use of the more esoteric processing functions, the RX-A3040 is logical, well executed and for the most part stunningly capable. Like every AV enthusiast, I want Atmos to be a big deal with plenty of software and hardware.
What you see here is an AVR that is equipped to take advantage of this best-case scenario but good enough to be an excellent purchase even if Atmos isn’t on your radar.
Yamaha RX-A3040 ➜ £2,000 Approx ➜ uk.yamaha.com ➜ Tel: 0844 811 1116
HIGHS: Wonderfully powerful and immersive sound; solid build quality; excellent feature set and control app; 11.2-channel processing
LOWS: No asynchronous USB or backlit remote; some minor function gripes; Bluetooth still an optional extra