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.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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