From pretty much the first moment I pulled Yamaha's Aventage RX-A770 AV receiver out of its packaging, I immediately started struggling with which categorical box to shove it back into. After all, the AV market is so diverse and expansive that a reviewer has nearly no choice but to categorize, segment, and segregate before a proper evaluation ever begins. To wit: RSL's CG3 5.2 Home Theater Speaker System is a pretty exceptional speaker package. As is a 5.2 system built around GoldenEar Technology's Triton One towers. But at just under $1,500, the former's performance, ergonomics, and value are never, in the course of a review, going to be compared directly to those characteristics of the latter. They fit into different categorical boxes.
So, why the struggle with the RX-A770? Well, on the one hand, it's a $650 seven-channel mass-market AV receiver. On the other hand, it's part of Yamaha's Aventage Series, which promises to deliver a higher level of craftsmanship, engineering, construction, and tonal purity. Those are two fine boxes to choose from--but two very different boxes. The thing is, the RX-A770 doesn't really fit fully into either. So, if I seem to be pulled in several different directions during the course of this review, you'll have to forgive me--because my categorical brain actually is caught up in game of tug-of-war here.
A few examples: while the RX-A770 does benefit from a lot of the things that make Aventage receivers what they are--the fancy tootsies, the fifth foot in the center of the unit for further stability, the rigid construction--it's also missing some of the selling points from the upper end of the line: namely, the better binding posts, fancier capacitors and resistors, and the ESS SABRE DACs. The RX-A770 relies instead on the Burr-Brown digital-to-analog conversion more common to its RX-V and TSR Series receivers. Unlike its bigger brethren, the RX-A770 also lacks multi-point measurement capabilities for its YPAO R.S.C. room correction and speaker setup system.
But let's put the issue of boxes aside for a moment and talk about the RX-A770 on its own terms. The receiver is pretty well equipped, with six HDMI inputs (one on the front panel) and one output--all with support for HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log-Gamma HDR (via firmware update). Three of the inputs are compliant with HDCP 2.2 copy protection. For those of you who still have a legacy video source or two kicking around the house, you'll be happy to hear that the RX-A770 includes one composite and one component video input (quite the rarity these days), both of which are upscaled and output via HDMI.
The receiver features Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding and built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, with support for AirPlay, Spotify Connect, TIDAL, Deezer, Pandora, Napster, and SiriusXM. It also, unsurprisingly, sports Yamaha's own MusicCast wireless multi-room music platform, and it can handle a variety of high-resolution audio file formats, including DSD 2.8 MHz/5.6 MHz, FLAC, WAV, AIFF up to 192-kHz/24-bit, and Apple Lossless up to 96/24.
Power ratings are about what you'd expect for a receiver at this price point, with a "Maximum Effective Output Power" rating of 160 watts. That sounds quite beefy until you realize that's with one channel driven, at 1 kHz, with a staggering 10 percent Total Harmonic Distortion. With a 1-kHz signal and two channels driven, that number drops to 110 watts for an eight-ohm load, with 0.9 percent THD. Two channels driven, full-range, results in a power rating of 95 watts per channel (eight ohms, 0.06 percent THD). As you might imagine, up that to five or seven channels driven and you're looking at relatively low output per channel. To put things in tangible terms for those of you who aren't numbers junkies, the RX-A770 packs enough juice to drive RSL's aforementioned CG3 5.2 Home Theater Speaker System (87-dB sensitivity) to the occasional, very brief 95-dB peak without much noticeable strain in my 13- by 15-foot bedroom home theater system, with me sitting roughly two meters away from the front speakers. That's probably more than sufficient for most home theater shoppers in the market for a sub-$700 receiver. For a more detailed discussion of why that's the case, check out our article How to Pick the Right Amp for Your Speakers (or Vice Versa).
If you've set up a Yamaha receiver recently, there's probably not a lot here that will surprise you. If it has been a few years since you've dug through Yamaha menus, however, the RX-A770's UI may come as something of a shock. It's all very graphical, highly illustrated, colorful, and vibrant--somewhat reminiscent of Savant's mobile UI. It's also laid out a little differently than you might expect, but it doesn't take long to acclimate to Yamaha's way of doing things. This is what I expect all AV receiver UIs to look like five years from now. Admittedly, home theater neophytes may find all the options a little overwhelming, but that's true of many mass-market AV receivers these days.
What sorts of options? For one thing, the number of potential speaker configurations is plentiful. The RX-A770 lacks preamp outs, so there's nothing in the way of external amp assignments. However, in addition to your typical 7.1, 5.1.2, and 5.1+powered-zone-2 setups (among others), you'll also find presets that allow you to place your surround speakers at the front of the room, alongside or above your front mains, and still enjoy some semblance of room-filling surround sound--thanks to processing similar to (but frankly better than) the surround processing found in many soundbars. I tested this configuration long enough to confirm that it actually didn't suck before settling into a more traditional 5.1.2 setup (relying on the RSL CG3 5.2 Home Theater Speaker System along with a pair of GoldenEar SuperCinema 3s mounted on the ceiling) and later a more stripped-down five-channel system. (The RX-A770 has two subwoofer pre outs but treats them as a single output, so I don't consider it a true 7.2-channel receiver.)
As mentioned above, the RX-A770 lacks the multi-point YPAO room correction and speaker setup system found on all Aventage receivers above this price point in the lineup. I relied on a tripod for my single-position room measurement, which took just a few seconds. The results were, shall we say, a decent starting point at best. In terms of speaker setup, YPAO R.S.C. decided that my center speaker and surrounds should be set to full range (nope!) and insisted upon a 60-Hz crossover point for the speakers it did set to Small. For this system, a crossover point of 100 Hz is much closer to ideal, and there isn't a full-range speaker in the bunch. The delays for my front three speakers also needed some serious tweaking, and the system set the levels of my front right and right surround speakers about four dB too low, and the subwoofers about seven dB too low.
In terms of room correction, though, YPAO R.S.C. actually didn't do a half-bad job with a slight bit of tweaking. As I understand it, YPAO R.S.C. applies impulse response filters to your main speakers and parametric EQ to all speakers, including the sub. The latter can be tinkered with, but the former cannot. Of the various curves provided by Yamaha (Flat, Natural, and Front), I found Front to have the least negative effect on soundstage and the timbre of the system as a whole, and it actually had a positive effect on dialogue intelligibility (as compared with the Pass-through setting), so that was my choice. Natural, by contrast, darkened the timbre of the front soundstage and limited imaging, and Flat introduced a throaty quality to dialogue that didn't sit well with me at all.
So, I cloned the Front settings over to the Manual parametric EQ option (which, as I understand it, also copies over any impulse response filters) and made tweaks from there. Relying simply on YPAO R.S.C, no automatic adjustments were made to the subwoofers below 46 Hz, and only three of the available seven bands of PEQ were used. The Manual setting allowed me to add a few necessary tweaks, which amounted to no more than a two-dB adjustment at 22 Hz (Q=0.5) and a three-dB adjustment at 90 Hz (Q=1). The Manual PEQ allows adjustments down to 15.6 Hz, if necessary. Ultimately, though, I would have been satisfied with YPAO R.S.C.'s handling of bass frequencies in my room without any manual tweaking, if that hadn't been an option.
Those of you who aren't concerned with advanced control systems may not find this particularly interesting, but I found Yamaha's Control4 driver for the RX-A770 to be among the better IP drivers I've installed in quite some time. What sets it apart? For one thing, the driver sort of treats the Zone 1 and Zone 2 outputs as two separate devices, which makes connectivity a little easier to manage if you're running multiple zones. For another, it's an incredibly well-documented driver, covering pretty much every aspect of setup and installation thoroughly and clearly.
The RX-A770 also works with Yamaha's AV Controller App for iOS and Android devices, which does a fantastic job of simplifying the unit's control. It does offer a straight-up digital re-creation of the receiver's physical remote, which is handy if you need to dig into menus and such. For day-to-day operation, though, it's far easier just to stick to the graphical input selection, which provides direct (and illustrated) access to input and DSP selection, along with a handy volume control slider at the bottom of the screen.
For those times when you're using the RX-A770 as part of a whole-home streaming music system, the receiver also works with Yamaha's MusicCast app, in exactly the same way as the other speakers and soundbars (like the recently reviewed YSP-5600) in that ecosystem. Of all the proprietary multi-room digital music systems that I've reviewed to date, MusicCast definitely has a leg up in terms of painless setup and ease of use, although it's still one of the most limited in terms of the streaming services it supports. Adding the RX-A770 to a MusicCast system amounts to little more than poking a button in the app and another on the front of the receiver itself. It takes mere seconds. In the months I've spent testing various MusicCast components, I've yet to have one need any additional tinkering after initial setup. It simply works.
Few of you will consider it the most exciting way to break in a new receiver, but the RX-A770 arrived just as my wife and I were at the tail end of another marathon run-through of Downton Abbey (PBS) on Blu-ray. So, my first listening test began with season six, part seven. From the opening notes of the iconic score, my impressions were favorable, to say the very least. Even with rather limited two-channel material (processed in Dolby Surround), I found the RX-A770's delivery to be both smooth in the midrange and detailed in the upper registers, with a rich and even-handed bottom end. Digging back through the notes I made while watching this episode, I find several occurrences of the words "open and airy." That's the impression that sticks out the most in my memory. Perhaps the defining characteristic of the A770's sound is its spaciousness and big, beautiful imaging capabilities.
I've mentioned it before, but a good receiver can make all the difference in my ability to enjoy Downton Abbey, mostly because any significant deviation from transparency (either tonal or temporal) makes it difficult for me to understand certain characters--most notably, the cooks, Daisy, Mrs. Patmore, the Granthams' Irish son-in-law Tom Branson, and (for reasons I can't quite figure out) Henry Talbot (Lady Mary's will-they-or-won't-they beau from season six). That wasn't an issue with the RX-A770. Dialogue from all of the characters remained effortlessly intelligible throughout... with one exception: chapter three, "At Brooklands."
The heart of this sequence is a motor race that is--by 1925 standards--quite thrilling and--by Downton standards--quite dense in its audio mix. In those shots with whizzing cars and howling crowds and swelling orchestration all coming together to form one expansive mélange of audio, I noticed that voices took a slight but noticeable clarity hit that they don't with my reference gear (neither the Emotiva XMC-1 in the home theater nor the Anthem MRX 1120 that normally resides at the heart of my bedroom audio system).
This prompted me to play around a bit with the RX-A770's various Cinema DSP 3D processing modes, the sort of thing that I would normally take about as seriously as your average presidential tweet these days. Yamaha has put its knack for digital signal processing to good use in crafting a receiver that claims to add, for instance, virtual presence speakers or surround back speakers where there are none, as well as make front-positioned surround speakers sound like they're in the back of the room. I tinkered around with the virtual presence speakers and virtual surround back speakers for a bit, and by and large found the former to add a subtle but convincing height element to a system with no height speakers, and the latter to have zero effect on the sound of my system. In either case, I was pleased to find no substantial negative effect on the natural voice of the speakers themselves. Quite frankly, against my better judgment, if the RX-A770 were a permanent resident of my system, I would keep the virtual presence speakers engaged and forgo the installation of ceiling-mounted speakers altogether. Not that it's an equal match, mind you, but it's close enough. And better yet, it isn't interfered with by the ceiling fans that are an outright necessity in Alabama at any hour of the day this time of year.
None of this tinkering had any effect on dialogue clarity, though, which was what I was really after in that small handful of scenes where it was an issue. Turns out, the fix was simple: I merely had to turn down the volume a few decibels below my preferred listening level. The moment I did so, even Branson's brogue cut through the automotive action with unimpeachable clarity. As it turns out, it seems that playing at louder levels was simply introducing enough coloration to trigger my own central auditory processing difficulties.
Again, I go back to the ongoing internal struggle I mentioned in the introduction: do I criticize the RX-A770 for carrying the upscale Aventage brand while struggling a bit at higher volumes, or do I laud it for much-better-than-expected clarity, imaging, and processing (at least at less-than-forceful listening levels) for a receiver at its price point? Truth be told, I don't see it as my place to do either. That's the potential buyer's decision. The long and short of it is that, at what most people would consider comfortable listening levels, the A770 sounds fantastic. Crank it up to where I like to listen (perfect for home theater junkies; frightful for mothers-in-law), and it starts to fall apart a bit if the action is too dense.
Speaking of dense action, I next turned my attention to Fast & Furious 6 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment) on UHD Blu-ray (which, FYI, isn't a significant enough improvement over the 1080p Blu-ray to justify a double-dip, if you're curious). Again, from the opening scene, I found myself impressed by the tangible sense of genuine space delivered by the RX-A770. The film opens with a race between Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in the twisting, turning, cliff-hewn roads of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. There's one shot in particular, just a hair under a minute into the movie, where the duo passes through a short tunnel in a tight turn and the camera backs away to take in all the action. Truthfully, the way in which the soundfield opens up from tight, growling ferocity to open acoustic expanse made enough of an impression on me that I had to back up and listen to the reverberating echoes of sound ripple through my room and transform it into an open canyon all over again.
Of course, what was true of Downton Abbey was true of Furious 6: leave the volume at acceptable settings, and the music simply sounded gorgeous, full, and nuanced, while the overall sense of space made me grin right out loud. Push the knob up to levels where the bass rumbled my naughty bits, though, and dialogue clarity started to take an appreciable hit.
After a few more films (including a few Atmos selections) and an increasing sense of confidence that these general impressions weren't changing, I moved to my music collection, starting for no particular reason with the recent SACD release of Loggins & Messina's Sittin' In (Audio Fidelity).
Starting with "Danny's Song," in Stereo Direct mode (that is, with zero additional processing), my first impression was that reducing the channel count from five to two certainly relieved some strain from the RX-A770's power supply. I found that I could push the receiver further without introducing an edge to the vocals.
What struck me more was just how deep, wide, and nuanced the soundstage was without the aid or an ounce of DSP or surround processing. As the instrumentation built up from verse to verse, the depth of the soundfield simply continued to extend further out into the room. Perhaps it's own my experience in picking six strings, but the acoustic guitars stood out as particularly lifelike in not only their timbre but also their harmonic overtones. Would I have liked to push the volume knob a little further to the right? You bet. But even at an admirable 70-dB average (with the occasional 85-dB peak) in my 13- by 15-foot room, delivery of this gorgeous track remained clean, clear, and transparent.
The same could be said of any number of classic recordings I threw at the receiver in a variety of formats. A switch to more rockin', more egregiously punchy music--namely the title track from Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend (Zoo Entertainment)--did have me scrambling for the volume knob at first. Once I'd dialed it down a few notches, I found just as much to love here. The receiver did a wonderful job with Sweet's densely layered riffs, backwards-masked licks, and especially with the "ahhhhhohhhhhahhhhhohhh" backing vocals during the chorus, whose delivery verged on the holographic.
Aside from the concerns listed in the performance section, I really don't have any reservations about the RX-A770 in either performance or operation. To recap the caveats from above, the receiver probably isn't for listeners with mid- to large-sized listening rooms who long for reference-level home theater performance. It's not so much a lack of power that holds the receiver back as it is a lack of clean power at higher listening levels. When pushed hard, the A770 steadily but predictably introduces a level of coloration that can impair dialogue clarity and vocal smoothness.
Comparison and Competition
If the Yamaha RX-A770 is on your short list of receivers to audition, it's likely that you're also taking a long, hard look at its step-up sibling, the RX-A870. The latter costs $150 more, but it benefits from additional connectivity, including more HDMI inputs and a zone 2 HDMI output, as well as preamp outs so that you can bring your own amplification to the table down the road, should you need more (and depending on the size of your room, you probably do). Perhaps more importantly, the A870's YPAO R.S.C room correction supports multipoint measurements, which should go a long way toward making its distance and level measurements more accurate and should help with auto EQing the unit.
A more comparably priced competitor is the Onkyo TX-NR777, which features just a weensy bit more power (110 watts per channel into eight ohms, measured 20 Hz to 20 kHz with 0.08 percent THD, two channels driven). It also boasts the same up-to-date HDMI connectivity as the A770, but of course it lacks MusicCast multi-room audio capabilities. It does offer built-in Wi-Fi and support for AirPlay and Chromecast (along with built-in TIDAL and Spotify).
Denon's AVR-X1400H is another option to consider if you're looking to save even more money. At $599, it's roughly comparable in most respects, although of course it relies on Audyssey MultEQ XT for room correction and HEOS for multi-room wireless music ecosystem support. It's even lighter on rated power, though, at 80 watts per channel (eight ohms, measured 20 Hz to 20 kHz with 0.08 percent THD).
The central story that has developed in my time spent with Yamaha's RX-A770 AV receiver is one of expectations. As I hinted throughout, it may not quite meet the expectations set by its Aventage name. On the other hand, it exceeds virtually every expectation set by its $649 price point. Those readers who've been writing in lately to ask for more blood? I'm sure you'd rather that I leaned hard on the former; but, as I sit here digging through my notes, reflecting one last time on my observations and listening impressions, I keep gravitating closer and closer to the latter.
The fact of the matter is that no $650 receiver is going to blow your hair back at reference listening levels unless you're running a quintet of hybrid powered speakers like GoldenEar's Triton One towers. In the end, though, when I learned to live with the more moderate output with which the A770 was comfortable, I found myself smitten by a gorgeous-sounding little unit that delivers a level of depth, detail, and nuance that any audiophile could love. Is it the last word in dynamics? No. Does it more than make up for that with stunning imaging, a fantastic UI, admirable ease of use, and compatibility with one of the least frustrating proprietary wireless music ecosystems?
In my book, it absolutely does.
• Visit the Yamaha USA website for more product information.
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