Every manufacturer has a different policy toward versioning. Some manufacturers will wait five or even 10 years before offering the next model, which will offer drastic improvements in quality and/or features. Others will offer a new model every year for marketing purposes, when nearly imperceptible differences between model years make justifying the purchase of a new unit very difficult. It's like when a car manufacturer changes model years. Did they change the engine and drivetrain at all, or did they merely change the shape of the headlights slightly?
Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Yamaha RX-A3040.
Recently, the company sent me the follow-up model, the $2,199.95 Aventage RX-A3050 9.2-channel receiver. So, I now have the opportunity to discover what Yamaha means when they say they've introduced a new model. (Ironically, as I was finishing this review, Yamaha announced an even newer model, the RX-A3060, which carries the same $2,199.95 price tag and may be available by the time you read this. We'll discuss the differences between the 3050 and 3060 at the end.)
I will kill some of the suspense early on by acknowledging that many of the components and features of the RX-A3040 and the RX-A3050 are similar. The sound processing is built on the same ESS SABRE32 Ultra DAC ES9016 and SABRE ES9006A DAC platforms--although careful inspection of the model numbers will note that the RX-A3050 carries the updated version of those chip platforms and, with it, any improvements ESS may have made. Frequency response, power rating, and other specs (including physical dimensions) are virtually unchanged. Rather than rehash the whole laundry list of features, I'm going to highlight the upgrades (and I do mean upgrades, not just changes) that will probably matter the most to readers here.
One of my chief complaints about the RX-A3040 was that the lack of HDCP 2.2 compliance made the unit obsolete in the face of expected future formats at the time, as we knew Ultra HD Blu-ray was just around the corner. The RX-A3050 carries with it two HDCP 2.2-compliant HDMI outputs and seven HDCP 2.2-compliant HDMI inputs on the rear panel, and the receiver supports 4K/60 Ultra HD video with HDR and BT2020 compliance. On the audio side, Yamaha has added DTS:X decoding, on top of the Dolby Atmos that we got with the 3040. That's plenty of upgrades to future-proof the unit.
Yamaha has made wireless audio streaming a central theme for technology development with this model, adding its new MusicCast platform. Competing with similar technologies like Sonos, Denon Heos, and DTS Play-Fi, MusicCast allows you to stream music to a variety of devices over your home network and set up multi-room configurations. The system centers around an app that you can download for your mobile device to stream music through the receiver to MusicCast-enabled speakers in various locations.
Yamaha also brought in Rohm Semiconductors to help redesign the volume control for lower noise, better clarity, and channel separation. The power supply architecture has also been refined for better separation of power for digital and analog audio.
My Playstation 3 gaming console drove most of the physical discs and streaming video that I used for testing. Meanwhile, the receiver's focus on object-based audio meant I needed to add more speakers than my usual complement. PSB graciously provided a full Imagine X system: the Imagine X2T tower speakers served as the front left and right channels, along with the Imagine XC Centre, a pair of Imagine XB bookshelves for surrounds, a Sub 200 subwoofer, and four Imagine XA up-firing Atmos speaker modules (review forthcoming) to round out a full 5.1.4 surround system.
Connections were all from Wireworld, including my trusted Wireworld Silver Eclipse 7 interconnects, Starlight 7 HDMI cables, and Oasis 7/Soltice 7 speaker cables.
Setting up YPAO, Yamaha's automated room correction program, was a breeze using the onscreen menu, just as it was on the previous 3040 model.
I started with some '80s music. Playing through all of Madonna's greats on her Immaculate Collection CD (Sire/Warner) was a treat. Madonna's voice was clear, smooth, and holographic. Background electric guitars sounded sharp and very detailed. The electronic intro, meant to simulate a shimmering star, sounded distinct and, for lack of a better word, shiny. With two-channel music, the RX-A3050's sound quality was just as impeccable as last year's model. On this, and any other music I threw at it, the Yamaha really got out of the way, allowing the PSB speakers to work their magic.
Reducing the volume to moderate listening levels showcased some of Yamaha's improvements. While I obviously lost the scale of the performance when reducing volume (especially in the spatial cues), I found that, at even very modest volumes, I was able to hear distinct separation of many elements: main vocals, background vocals, instruments, and the like. This was especially useful for nighttime listening situations. It has been awhile since I actually reviewed the 3040 model, and I couldn't do a side-by-side comparison. But I can say that, from a noise perspective, the new 3050 model is definitely very quiet, allowing for inky black backgrounds and very clean processing.
Yamaha also provided me with one of the new WX-030 Wi-Fi speakers to test out the MusicCast capability of the RX-A3050. Downloading the app to my Samsung Note 5 was painless and allowed me the versatility to send streaming services and music files from my phone to the WX-030 speaker in another room. The quality was dependent on my Wi-Fi signal (provided through a notoriously unstable Comcast router) and where within the other room I placed the WX-030 speaker. Sometimes, the sound quality was fine. Other times, I could hear the quality degrade a little and even cut out. The higher the resolution of the file I played, the worse it got. The moral of the story is that MusicCast can be a great way to get music out to multiple zones in a convenient way, but it's only as good as your Wi-Fi signal and equipment.
The one improvement that this 3050 model offered that the audiophile in me thoroughly enjoyed was the ability to play Double DSD (5.6MHz) format files. I pulled up the Allegro movement of Mozart's Violin Concerto Number Four in D Major (2L/TrondheimSolistene). Here, Marianne Thorsen's violin was reproduced in spectacular fashion. I could hear all the little details of texture in the strings. Power was adequate to hear strong dynamics and scale...as good as any receiver I've heard (save for a few with brutish amounts of power, such as maybe the Arcam that Dennis Burger reviewed here.
Still, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the performance of Yamaha Aventage RX-A3050's sound processing and preamplification far exceeded the amplifier section it is paired with in the same box. It's like a more exceptional brother being paired in the same womb with a more average (by comparison) fraternal twin. For instance, when I plugged the RX-A3050 into the Outlaw Model 5000 that I previously reviewed, I noticed a significant difference. Dynamics were stronger and with more immediacy, as the orchestra faded in and out amidst the violin solo. The full orchestral bloom had greater depth and scale on a much grander level.
I've always been a big fan of Yamaha's YPAO auto room correction software, which I feel is second to none and a full head and shoulders above some of the others out there like Audyssey. It's not just the soundstage and placement of sounds in space that YPAO gets right, but its true strength lies in its ability to convey a very simple and natural feel that sets it apart from other algorithms. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Disney/Lucasfilm, Blu-ray), the 3050 did not disappoint. The lightsaber battle in the snow scene toward the end of the film exemplified this in spades, as the receiver presented the sound of the wind and snow in a natural way that was a delight to the senses. The lightsaber sounds never felt out of place, processed, or artificial. The Yamaha articulated the direction and placement of the lightsaber strikes exceptionally well. As the lightsabers clashed and one side became dominant, the Yamaha handled the dynamics beautifully and very naturally. The scene portrayal was seamless and put me right in the middle of all the action.
Finally, I just had to test out how the 3050 would handle DTS:X material. At the time of writing, there weren't many titles available for selection, but Gods of Egypt (Lionsgate, Blu-ray) did nicely for testing purposes. In this movie, some of the characters were Egyptian gods that are over eight feet tall. So, by default, every scene where there was interaction between a god and standard human characters was a test for the Yamaha to showcase its handling of the DTS:X encoding. Spatially and directionally the 3050 took care of business with a very matter-of-fact style. You could always hear that the gods were taller than the humans; and, when they spoke downward to them, you could hear the directionality of a much taller figure speaking down toward a shorter one. In many of the scenes where the buildings were tall and cavernous, the Yamaha really shined at portraying a sense of that space and that echo-like reverb--again, very naturally and stated as it was. The final fight scene involved the gods Horace and Set, who battle atop a tower that is hundreds of feet tall. The scene is complete with flying falcons, explosions, and the final collapse of whole tower itself. This was probably one of most impressive displays of 3D sound formats I've heard to date. As the camera panned multiple angles, you heard the soundstage go from a few feet tall to a few hundred feet tall and instantly move from the sound being parallel to the listener to the sound being above the listener.
Without directly comparing the 3040 and 3050 using the same film, I can't make the definitive statement that the 3050 is significantly better. But I will say this much: I came into this review remembering that the 3040's version of YPAO made quite an impression on me with regards to how it handled Dolby Atmos material, and the 3050 still managed to surprise me at how good it was.
The only real downside, as I mentioned previously, is that the amplifier section is nowhere near as strong as the preamplification and processing. That isn't to say that there isn't sufficient power. The Yamaha had more than enough juice to power the PSB speakers for almost any music or movie material I threw at it, but it wasn't until I used the preouts to connect outboard amplification that I really got the speakers to shine. This was especially apparent with more demanding scenes in Atmos and DTS:X material, when I needed to get all eleven speakers firing simultaneously. Again, this isn't necessarily a knock against the Yamaha on power--just that this receiver excels far more as a controller and preamp than as an amplifier.
Comparison & Competition
Yamaha's most natural competitive set happens to be from other manufacturers that all also hail from Japan. The Denon AVR-X6200W and Marantz SR-7010 both retail for the same $2,199 price as the Yamaha. The Denon and Marantz models offer Auro 3D compatibility (as an upgrade for added cost); and, given those companies' reputation, you may get more powerful amplification. But Denon/Marantz's continued use of the older Audyssey room correction software is a disadvantage compared with the Yamaha's YPAO, especially if Atmos and DTS:X are important to you.
The Onkyo TX-NR3030, like the Yamaha, is also an eleven-channel receiver, but it has four subwoofer preouts instead of two. In addition, it is a true eleven-channel receiver in the sense that the amplifier section provides power for all eleven channels, whereas the Yamaha only provides for nine channels. If you want a full eleven-channel setup using the Yamaha, you will need to find outboard amplification for those two extra channels. But at $2,500 retail, the Onkyo does cost a little more. My encounter with Onkyo's first iteration of AccuEQ, which among its many faults did make adjustments to the subwoofer or the front left and right channels, had me less than impressed. However, per Dennis Burger's recent review, the latest iteration has greatly improved. I leave it up to you, the reader, to audition for yourself whether the improvement is enough to be a match for Yamaha's YPAO. (https://hometheaterreview.com/onkyo-tx-rz900-72-channel-av-receiver-reviewed/)
Finally, at a step up to $3,499, you have the Anthem MRX-1120. The Anthem is a full eleven-channel receiver and its renowned Anthem Room Correction rivals any room correction software in existence. And the Anthem's video processing and amplification will be sure to satisfy.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the new Yamaha RX-A3060 should be available by the time you read this. How is it different from the 3050? According to Yamaha, here are the primary differences: The 3060 has a new power amp assign that allows for 5.1.2 and bi-amping; an extra bass zone for zones two and three; a zone volume; precision EQ with 64-bit and 3D processing; a new HD GUI interface; USB iPod/Apple support has been removed; the subwoofer EQ range has been extended from 15.6 Hz to 250 Hz (the RX-A3050 offers 31.3 Hz to 250 Hz); and there's a new DSP program overlay for Dolby Atmos and DTS-X. The RX-A3060 has the same $2,199.95 MSRP as the RX-A3050.
Just like last year's 3040, the Yamaha Aventage RX-A3050 delivers a feature-laden, high-performance receiver with best-in-class sound processing and auto room correction that is a remarkable value for the money. This model improves on the last with far better future-proofing compatibility in both formats and connections. Those of you who have speakers that pose a difficult load to drive or who have the highest expectations in sound may need to consider separates instead or at least add your own amplification. (Yamaha does offer the CX-A5100 preamp and MX-A5000 amplifier combo for those needs) If you are in the market for a new receiver and the price is right, you owe it to yourself to take the Yamaha for a test spin.
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