Crashing planes and speeding trains whirling around my living room... nothing is more fun. (Well, almost nothing.) And the cost of admission: $549.95. Yamaha released its 2014 RX-V77 Series receiver lineup back in March. The RX-V577, which sits in the middle of this series, is the least expensive of the 7.2-channel models (the two lower models in this series are 5.1-channel receivers). The entry-level AV receiver business is fiercely competitive, with companies trying to outdo one another with every new model. With all the features packed into these units, at this price point, it's a wonder these companies try at all...but lucky for us, they do.
The RX-V577 includes network capability, an AV control app, 4K Ultra HD pass-through, 3D compatibility, Virtual Cinema Front, and a host of streaming features like Spotify, Pandora, AirPlay, and HTC Connect, plus much more. Is it really possible that this much fun can be had at this price point? Let's check it out.
Built into a standard black metal case are seven amplifiers rated at 80 watts per channel at eight ohms, 20 Hz to 20 kHz, and 0.09 percent total harmonic distortion, with two channels driven. The receiver is advertised as a 115-watt receiver, at one channel driven. According to the manufacturer, an emphasis is placed on high sound clarity by utilizing a discrete amplifier configuration - separate power supplies for the analog and digital sections of the receiver and low jitter PLL circuitry.
The top half of the front panel has a black, glass-like, glossy finish. This area encompasses the power button, standby indicator, microphone jack for surround sound setup, remote control sensor, and fluorescent display. Just below that but still on the top half of the front panel are a series of eight buttons that control various functions and adjustments. The bottom half of the front panel is satin-black plastic that has a high-quality appearance. Here, four Scene buttons allow for one-touch source and setting selection, as well as the headphone jack, AUX jack, USB jack, large volume knob, and various keys for additional controls. The overall dimensions are 17.13 inches wide, 6.38 high, and 12.38 deep, and it weighs in at 17.9 pounds.
There are six HDMI inputs and one HDMI output with Audio Return Channel (ARC) functionality. Composite and component video are supported, as well, which can be output in their native format and resolution through the HDMI output. 3D and 4K pass-through are supported, but video upconversion is not. On the audio side are four analog audio inputs and three digital inputs (one optical, two coaxial). Seven-channel analog surround inputs are not provided, nor are there analog preamp outputs to connect an external amplifier. Of course, as a 7.2-channel model, there are two subwoofer outputs. The unit can be connected to the Internet with an Ethernet hard wire or wirelessly by an internal WiFi card (an antenna is included for this purpose).
The remote is simple and straightforward, with all the needed controls, but it is not backlight, nor is it a learning remote. Yamaha does provide an AV controller app for iOS and Android devices.
The unit supports playback of WAV, FLAC, and ALAC file formats (among others) via USB/PC/NAS. Some live and classical albums have no gaps between tracks, and the RX-V577 supports these recordings with Gapless Playback. Yamaha indicates it will play back such recordings by ensuring there are no pauses or interruptions, as that was the intended way for the performance to be heard.
The Eco mode reduces power consumption by 20 percent, according to the manufacturer. It is not entirely clear how the reduction in power is achieved, but I read a footnote in the manual indicating that, if you want to play music loud, you need to turn Eco mode off, so I did.
I connected the RX-V577 in my living room, which is a 5.1-channel setup consisting of Vienna Acoustics speakers from the Schonberg Series. My right and left speakers are the flagship speaker of this line and go by the same name: Schonberg. The center and surrounds are Weberns, which are one model down in this series, while one Dynaudio Sub 250 subwoofer handled frequencies below 80 Hz. An Oppo BDP-105D BD player and a DirecTV HD tuner sent video to a 60-inch Pioneer Kuro display. The Yamaha replaced an Onkyo PR-SC5508 preamp/processor and a Halcro multichannel amplifier.
The RX-V577 is capable of assigning its surround back channels to bi-amp the front speakers or for a second zone. I did not try this capability, as my front mains cannot be used in a bi-amp configuration, nor did I have a second room wired for music nearby.
Yamaha provides a large, two-sided, one-page, quick setup guide to get you going quickly. If all else fails, read the manual, as I ultimately did. Unfortunately it is not printed for you, but included on a CD. I guess CDs are less expensive than paper and ink.
After making all the needed cable connections, I connected the receiver to my home network wirelessly. I had a wireless router in place, so the process was painless. I downloaded the AV control app from the iTunes App Store to my iPhone and iPad; setup was fast and easy. My devices found the receiver quickly, and I was controlling the receiver immediately. The control application is convenient to use in the dark and can be used from any location within the local area network (LAN) of your installation.
Using YPAO, Yamaha's proprietary system that stands for Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer, I completed the surround sound configuration. It adjusts volume level depending on speaker distances to one seated position, engages EQ for acoustics, and checks speaker wiring. The system was easy to use with the supplied microphone. Compared with my Onkyo setup tool, YPAO is very fast. However, the Yamaha only measures from one seated position, while the Onkyo utilizes the well-regarded Audyssey MultiEQ XT32, which offers up to eight seated positions of measurement. As with most surround sound configuration systems, YPAO detected that I did not have channels six and seven, and it did so quickly. In comparison, the Onkyo takes quite some time. In the end, the Yamaha set speaker distances accurately. YPAO also alerted me that one of my speaker connections was out of phase (I was in a hurry!).
As with most receivers these days, all needed surround sound formats are supported, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Yamaha also includes many of its own digital signal processing modes, which I did some experimenting with. In the end, I turned them all off but did leave on the equalizing functionality of YPAO.
Connecting to Pandora and Spotify was straightforward but may take some practice for first timers. When using AirPlay, this Yamaha model does not support metadata, so no cover art will be displayed on your monitor. My MacBook Pro found the Yamaha without issue, and the instructions in the manual are accurate. However, the instructions for the iPhone are slightly off; the AirPlay icon is no longer where the manual depicts, but rather in the iPhone control menu that you flick up (the menu that you would use to control the flashlight). iPhone aficionados won't have an issue with this, but it took me several days of messing with it to figure out. iOS devices can also be connected by the front-panel USB port. HTC is similar to AirPlay, but for Android/HTC devices. I did not test this, as I don't have any such devices.
Wireless Direct is a nice feature. It allows wireless functionality without the use of a local area network (LAN), and no connection to the Internet, by directly connecting the Yamaha to your device. On the receiver, in settings, then network, you can choose Wireless Direct. In this setup, the Yamaha becomes the network, and you see it as a choice in your wireless setup menu on your mobile device. I was able to use the AV control application and the streaming services in this mode. This is a great feature for those without a wireless network within their space. However, I preferred the WiFi connection method.
Virtual Cinema Front, which works kind of like a soundbar, is designed to create a surround experience with the speakers in the front of your room. If for some reason you can't run surround channels, this could be a benefit. I tried it, and although it provided some resemblance of surround sound, it was no match for the real thing.
I set up everything using the receiver's guided user interface (GUI), which was intuitive. If this is your first time setting up a receiver, some trial-and-error will likely occur, but generally the GUI is easy to use.
Click over to Page Two for the Performance, Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion . . .
I started with two-channel music streamed from Spotify and Pandora. Both services allow you to set the sound quality to various levels, which you can adjust within the settings menu. I chose the highest sound-quality setting. My initial perception was that I heard a nice sense of clarity through the Yamaha. Over time, I noticed that the midrange bass was thin, and the soundstage width and depth weren't as convincing as they are through my normal system. On the song "Chan Chan" (Buena Vista Social Club, World Circuit Records, 1997), acoustic instruments like percussion and guitars didn't sound as lively and authentic. But it's really not a fair comparison from a price perspective. I was actually surprised how closely the Yamaha performed with, and in some cases outperformed, my reference system in the way of clarity. With the song "Team" (Lorde, Pure Heroin 2013), Lorde's sultry voice came through so clearly.
I moved on to the song "Crash Into Me." (Dave Matthews Band, RCA, 1996). Again, the Yamaha displayed a sense of clarity that my wife, who typically does not share my enthusiasm, noticed. Alternatively, I noticed that the Yamaha did not provide the layering of instruments and clear separation of vocals that I am used to.
Next, I experimented with CD playback using my Oppo player, listening to the same artists and tracks as above. I toggled back and forth between both CD and streaming, so it was easy to notice the heightened realism and presence of CD. The streaming services are just so convenient that you can't rule them out. For casual listening, I found streaming more than acceptable. The Yamaha was able to play loudly, but as I pushed it a bit past its comfort zone with my speakers, I could sense a bit of strain compared with my separates. I suspect that a speaker that requires more than average power could pose an issue for the Yamaha.
Compressed Music Enhancer is a DSP setting that is intended to restore compressed music formats. While I noticed some improvement, I prefer starting with a high-resolution file. Nonetheless, most people have to store compressed files on their mobile devices, so there could be some benefit here, depending on how you like to play your music.
Switching to movies, I started with the X-Men Blu-ray disc (20th Century Fox). I continued to hear the benefit of increased clarity in the dialogue. Often, I have an issue with center-channel dialogue coherency, but it was much less of a concern here. Sound effects, like the tearing of sheet metal as Wolverine's claw scrapped across its surface, sounded crisp and distinctive. Directionality of the surround sound channels was fantastic as the surround information was steered around the room.
I had to try the Star Wars: Episode I Blu-ray disc to test the dialogue intelligibility of Jar Jar Binks, which is typically a struggle through my Onkyo. The Yamaha continued to impress, as I could actually understand his words...for the most part. As I had heard with music, my Onkyo setup did possess more midrange fullness that lends itself to a better sense of realism, especially in the music passages.
Moving on to another Blu-ray disc - Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Paramount Pictures) - I experienced Optimus Prime and Megatron's movements floating around my room as they battled. The improved clarity of all channels created a better understanding and enjoyment of what was happening in the action sequences. At one point, I had to chuckle over how much fun my family was having as they watched this movie.
Lastly, I streamed the film 3 Days to Kill (Relativity Media). As Kevin Costner's character, Ethan Renner, walks up to an exploding building, the sound of breaking glass, bending steel, and incinerating concrete sprayed across my room with excellent precision.
The Yamaha RX-V577 gets a lot right, so it is hard for me to be critical, especially at this price point. However, the benefits of my separate component system were noticeable. With two-channel music listening, the RX-V577 lacks some finesse and realism in instrumentation and vocals. It is not a flaw that jumps out at you, and most people won't complain about it. For me, in regards to music, it lacks that extra level of memorable sound that leaves an impression on your soul. Based on my experience, I suspect it is due in part to the power limitations of the amplifier, which will also be a concern if your speakers are difficult to drive. However, moving up in Yamaha's lineup may solve that concern.
The lack of preamp outputs to connect a separate multichannel amplifier is a concern for me, but for many this will be a non-issue, especially at this price.
With advancements in digital-to-analog conversion, it would be a nice feature to have an asynchronous USB input to play digital files off my MacBook Pro. I had to use the optical digital out on my laptop to the same type of input on the RX-V577, which I tried with mediocre results. (I would think all receivers would have this result when using the optical input from a computer.)
Comparison and Competition
The Denon AVR-X1100W has many of the same features as the Yamaha. Sony's STR-DN1040 also has similar specifications. Pioneer is still in the game for now, and the VSX-1124K looks like a contender. NAD's T-748V2 has a slightly higher price point. I mention NAD because I have been impressed in the past with that company's sound quality, but they follow a different path, focusing on sound quality over features. As a result, you won't find various digital signal processing (DSP) modes, streaming services, or network functionality. But some of these deficiencies can be overcome with the addition of a streaming device like the Roku.
If you move up one model in Yamaha's line to the RX-V677, the extra $100 gets you video upconversion, seven-channel preamp inputs and outputs, and a more sophisticated version of YPAO (YPAO RSC).
The Yamaha RX-V577 impressed me. I was consistently surprised by its sound quality and fun factor for the price. While it could be the center of a dedicated theater, I see it more as an entry-level receiver for a first-time surround sound system, perhaps in a family room. With all of the modern features like streaming, control apps, and various ways to connect wirelessly, I see this receiver working well for those who have embraced the latest in computer and smartphone functionality.
I tend to push the budget envelope when I purchase home theater gear, but Yamaha proves that you don't need to. This receiver is an absolute bargain and eliminates any excuses one might have not to jump into a home theater system of their own. Until now, I believed one would need to spend at least $1,000 on a receiver to get the required performance. I now believe it is possible to obtain many of the benefits of surround sound at this price point, and the Yamaha RX-V577 makes it easy to do so.