Yamaha?s RX-V657 is a near full-featured home theatre receiver, enhanced by the de rigueur 2006 requirement of Apple iPod support. Offering seven amplifier channels, each rated at 100 watts into 8 ohms, it amply fulfils the requirements of home theatre sound.
Even though towards the lower end of the price scale in Yamaha?s range of receivers, several high-end features appear on the RX-V657. For example, signals received via the composite and S-Video inputs can both be converted to the other standard, and to component video. This means, firstly, that you can improve the picture quality from equipment such as VCRs and DVD players and, secondly, that you only need to run one set of cables to your television or projector.
The receiver lacks HDMI and DVI, which is to be expected at this price level.
All current surround sound standards are supported, and the future is provided for by 7.1 channel analog inputs. This means that, should an as-yet-unconceived-of surround format of up to eight separate channels appear, the RX-V657 will connect to equipment that supports it.
Yamaha includes its own ?Silent Cinema? circuit, which provides a surround effect on headphones, plus several of its DSP modes which are designed to provide an effect modelled on various real-world performance venues. The surround back channels (which are positioned in the centre of the rear wall, rather than to the sides of the room as conventional surround speakers are) can be switched to operate a pair of ?Front Presence? loudspeakers which Yamaha claims provide better support for the DSP modes.
Alternatively, they can be switched to amplify a pair of Zone 2 speakers. Set these up in a room other than the main viewing room, and the RXZ-V657 is able to deliver sound from two different audio sources to both areas simultaneously. You could, for example, listen to AM radio in the kitchen while the kids enjoy surround from DVD in the living room.
It is the iPod connectivity that is really new. A square multi-pin socket on the rear accepts the connecting cable from the optional Yamaha YDS-10S iPod Dock. This has a cradle upon which the iPod sits. As with most of these iPod bridges, the audio connection is actually analog.
Yamaha prices this receiver competitively with the opposition, and as I write it is one of the few relatively inexpensive receivers with iPod support. Yamaha?s exclusive DSP modes always add value to its receivers and the provision of 7.1 channel outputs means that you can always upgrade the performance with external high-powered amplifiers.
Even though the iPod Dock is a nearly $150 option, it is worth it for the convenience it offers. Rather than just flopping on the end of a cable, the iPod can take it?s rightful place, properly supported in an upright posture.
Even though the audio is analog, a digital control connection is established allowing the receiver?s onscreen display facility to show you the iPod?s menus, which you can navigate using the receiver?s remote control. The usual navigation problems with this facility exist, primarily the lack of a scroll wheel makes selecting songs or albums towards the end of a long list a lengthy process, but the scrolling did seem to work a little faster than some other brands.
Yamaha has developed ?Compressed Music Enhancer? processing which is automatically invoked when you use an iPod. Precisely what this does is unclear from the manual, although it does talk about recovering some of the information removed by lossy compression. Since this couldn?t be switched off, it wasn?t obvious from listening what it did. Nevertheless, the quality was excellent, limited only by the performance of your original MP3 (or whatever) compressor.
Likewise, the general audio performance was up to Yamaha?s usual high standards, with the RXZ-V657 providing excellent control over the high end, low impedance loudspeaker system I use for reference. No complaints about the power output either, with ample volume levels available.