I will begin by admitting a bit of bias toward Yamaha audio components. For as long as I can remember, my uncle has had a vintage set of Yamaha speakers powered by a Yamaha receiver, and I have always loved the sound of his setup. I never stuck with piano lessons long enough to be any good, but I will still occasionally fumble my way through a hymn on my father's Yamaha baby grand piano when we go home to visit. And I still have a 5-channel receiver from about 10 years ago that I can't seem to let go. There is something about the look and the sound of Yamaha gear, and the brand's long history with music and instruments that just appeals to me. When I decided to go beyond 7.1 in my home theater, I naturally considered a Yamaha AVR among others, as they are no stranger to 9.1-channel and even 11.1-channel processing. I eventually turned away though, as Yamaha's front and rear presence speaker arrangement is unique to their DSP modes, and doesn't readily support arguably more popular formats from Dolby and DTS. The RX-A3040, which is the flagship model of Yamaha's Aventage line, has the potential to change my mind though, with the addition of Dolby Atmos capability. Judging by the apparent early success of Dolby Atmos in home theater, I think Yamaha had the right idea with front and rear presence speakers placed well above the listener in order to create a 3D soundstage, and Dolby has taken is a step further by completely re-thinking the way surround sound is processed. While Atmos is a hot topic, it is just one of many great features of the RX-A3040 that I plan to discuss in this review. The list is long, so let's get started.
This Yamaha has pretty much all the right bits and pieces to compete with the top models from competing brands. Lots of channels, lots of power, network streaming capability, compatibility with all the current audio and video formats and interfaces, plenty of decoding and upscaling options, network control app, automated room correction and EQ, high quality materials, the list goes on. Some of the features highlighted by Yamaha are: Premium electronic components, anti-resonance design and symmetrical amplifier layout, Dolby Atmos, 4k and HDMI 2.0 support, YPAO R.S.C. and optimization of compressed audio/video content. Yamaha's focus is not only on the performance of the Aventage receivers, but the experience they can provide. They offer enough configuration and sound processing options to suit just about anyone's taste. Setup and configuration is geared toward flexibility and user-friendliness, and different "scenes" can be created for different viewing or listening environments. The A3040 is intended to be a complete home theater solution without requiring a skilled installer to do the setup.
Aesthetics & Quality
As I've already said, I generally like the looks of Yamaha home audio components. The current Aventage line has an elegance to it. The combination of brushed metal and dark glass works nicely (although it's actually constructed from less expensive composite materials). The smooth, black display panel protrudes a bit from the face of the receiver, but a little too much in my opinion. I appreciate the use of geometric and texture changes to separate different elements of the front, but in this case I think the step from the brushed panel to the display clutters the overall look. On either side of the front panel below the display are large knobs, one for volume control and one for input selection. For an AVR with a remote control, the only buttons or dials worth having exposed on the front panel are power/standby, input, and volume. Yamaha got this right. I tend to obsess about symmetry, so I'm slightly bothered by the noticeable difference in diameter of the input and volume knobs. The difference is most likely for ergonomics and functionality over looks, and is not unusual for AV receivers. All other A/V connections and controls on the front of the RX-A3040 are concealed by a door when they are not in use. This helps to maintain a nice clean look while providing quick access to the control panel if needed.
Yamaha clearly takes pride in the build quality of these receivers, and it shows inside and out. The A3040 is a very solid unit with a premium feel. All connectors, buttons, and knobs felt sturdy, and exhibited good smoothness and tactile feedback (when applicable) during operation. The big transformer required to power the nine internal amps adds enough weight to make this receiver a bit of a beast compared to lower end units, but certainly not unmanageable. It fits nicely on the shelf in my rack that I have been using for all of my other AVR reviews up to this point. The texture and finish of the exterior matches the level of build quality. Yamaha has carefully chosen the chassis materials and configuration to maximize structural stability and vibration control. Though I don't have the tools to measure the effectiveness of their anti-resonance technology, the attention to detail is evident.
Setup and Calibration/YPAO R.S.C.
As expected, the initial setup was relatively simple and straightforward. The rear panel, though packed with connections, is well laid out and clearly labeled. As usual, I bypassed the prompt for auto-calibration (YPAO in this case) to play around with manual settings first. Adjusting speaker layout, amp assignment, crossover, level, and distance settings was pretty straightforward and intuitive. The menu structure was easy to navigate, and with just a little bit of hunting, I was able to find all of the options I needed. With a tape measure and SPL meter (and a pair of ears) I manually configured and calibrated an 7.2.4 system for Dolby Atmos/Dolby Surround playback. Whether or not you want to decode Atmos content and make use of the Dolby Surround upmixer, you still have the ability to make use of height speakers at the front and rear of your room. Yamaha calls these "presence" speakers. They can be mounted on the front and back wall, or on the ceiling toward the front and rear of the room. The second option results in good placement for a Dolby Atmos setup, and is exactly the configuration I used for the duration of this review.
The A3040 can manage two separate subwoofers configured for either stereo/L+R or front+rear. It can also be set to use one or both, depending on your listening mode and preference. This is one area that had me somewhat stumped a few times. Although your configuration may include two subs, they won't necessarily always be active by default. The trick was to find the "Extra Bass" setting under the "Option" menu found on the remote. It is a separate button than the on-screen menu, which is used to access all of the detailed settings. The Option menu is more for quick adjustments on-the-fly. By playing with the Extra Bass setting and viewing the active speaker display under the "Info" menu, I was able to confirm whether or not both subs were being used for a given listening mode. Enabling Extra Bass generally resulted in... well... extra bass. As a result, I would recommend bringing the individual sub levels down a hair to maintain a balanced sound when using both.
I should note here that the A3040 has a built-in manual EQ which can be adjusted without doing the YPAO setup. I did not spend the time to set up a manual EQ for comparison to the natural frequency response. This was partially due to the fact that I was very pleased with the sound of the Yamaha right out of the box. (more about that later) In hindsight though, I do wish I'd made an effort to explore its capability in that area.
After I had settled in with the A3040 for a bit, I ran the YPAO R.S.C. automated setup program. After realizing I had misread part of the instructions and scrapped my first run, I breezed through my second attempt in a relatively short period of time. On-screen instructions and prompts were easy to follow, and all controlled via the remote. I used an adjustable boom mic stand with an adapter to screw into the YPAO mic for flexibility and consistency during the measurements. YPAO can take measurements and compensate for response at up to 8 locations. I took measurements at 5 locations. In addition to the standard measurements, YPAO can also determine the angle of the front speakers, and height of the overhead speakers. In general, the YPAO process is very simple and will seem familiar to anyone who has used automated room calibration before. It does the grunt work for you, quickly and painlessly.
Enough about setup, you want to see the results. I have made a habit of performing a simple manual calibration followed by an automated setup to compare some of the basic settings like speaker distance and level. Since most room-correction packages provide some level of EQ, a comparison of frequency response is helpful as well.
Speaker Size and Crossover Settings
My manual crossover settings come from a combination of personal preference and frequency response measurements (using REW). I tend to prefer a lower crossover on my mains as I like their sound at full range, however my room introduces a null around 40Hz at the listening position which may require some crossover tweaks to reach a compromise. Since I like to let the subs handle the bottom octave or two, I set most of my crossovers at 40Hz (lowest value allowed for that setting). With a couple of exceptions, the Yamaha favored lower crossover settings than mine, and set most of the speakers to large/full range, with the subs handling mostly just the LFE channel. Running the mains and surrounds full range is ok if you have a higher powered AVR like this one, or if you use external amplification for at least your mains. Crossover can still be manually adjusted after YPAO and I still opted for crossover settings between 40Hz and 80Hz for the mains and surrounds. No fault of the Yamaha, just a matter of preference, and a desire to let my carefully selected subs get in on the action.
Manual level adjustments were made using a handheld Radio Shack SPL meter aimed directly at each speaker with test tone played at reference volume. After this, I will generally tweak the center channel and occasionally the left and right surrounds to taste while playing a few movie clips with which I am familiar. The omni-directional mics used by most auto-EQ programs should generally do a better job of capturing each speaker's interaction with the room, which may provide a more realistic picture of what our ears are processing. After all, that is the whole point of this. I have attempted level calibration with my SPL meter stationary, and facing upward, but was never as pleased with the results. There are certainly lots of factors that collectively account for the differences between the manual and YPAO settings. While both sounded good to my ears, I found that the whole system blended very well using the YPAO-computed values and I did not need to make any tweaks in that area after the auto setup was complete.
Distance From Listening Position
The combination of proper distance and level settings is a major part of the trick to getting the speakers in your system to blend together and disappear, so to speak. The AVR makes sure the timing of each channel is precisely correct in an effort to reduce unnecessary distortion and maintain clarity of individual components within the soundtrack. It may be harder to notice if this one is off, but if it's bad enough it can begin to cause problems that will be audible. There are some discrepancies here too, and this is a tricky comparison. The manual measurements were done with a physical ruler, while the YPAO dimensions were calculated acoustically. The acoustic measurements not only reliably calculate the physical distance of each speaker, but can also compensate for minuscule delays within the signal path.
Speaker Axis Angle and Overhead Distance
A newer YPAO feature is R.S.C (Reflected Sound Control). It is based on some of the same principles that make their Digital Sound Projectors work so impressively well. By calculating more than just the distance of the main speakers from the listening position, it can predict more about how the speaker placement will affect the soundstage perceived by the listener. As you can see by the measured values, my room is essentially symmetrical, with very ideal speaker placement. This was intentional, and thankfully my space affords me the freedom to achieve that. In my case, the benefits of the R.S.C features are likely to be subtle, if even noticeable to all but the most sensitive ears. Most people, however have more challenging speaker placement constraints and will surely find this to be a handy tool.
And now, that one element everyone wants to know about... Frequency response and EQ. There's not hiding the fact that my in-room response is far from flat, however that is by no means a fault of the A3040. If you have read my other reviews, you know my acoustic improvements are a work in progress. To the benefit of the Yamaha, my ears have grown quite accustomed to this wobbly curve, so even subtle enhancements should make a perceivable improvement in performance. While YPAO's EQ filters definitely tamed some peaks in the bass region, they did struggle to flatten the overall curve above the midrange. They did, however, do a very nice job of smoothing the curve, which can be just as critical as making it flat. Again, this smoothing is most noticeable on the graph below 1kHz. While I really liked the overall sound of the Yamaha before and after applying the YPAO EQ, the change was certainly not night and day. The difference between YPAO's "Flat" and "Natural" curves is basically limited to the treble region above 3kHz. I will go into more detail about overall sound quality in the next section.
Operation and General Impressions
I have had a tough time actually drafting this review. In fact, it was scheduled to be published months ago, and I'm way behind. Initially I was very pleased with music performance, but couldn't help but want to know what Atmos was capable of. Since this receiver was my first run with Atmos, I was very careful to make sure I got the setup just right. This certainly contributed to the extended evaluation period, but the effort has been well worth it. After the dust settled and my tinkering subsided, I found myself just genuinely enjoying music and movies. So much so that I almost forgot I'd have to write a review for the receiver. And here I am trying to collect my thoughts.
The "Natural Sound" has always been a big part of Yamaha's pitch, and I really feel like their receivers deliver on that promise. Although, as you can see from the graph above, my in-room frequency response is not flat by any means, the Yamaha managed to produce what I would call a very natural and lifelike sound for music and movie dialog. It was gutsy when it needed to be but not harsh to my ears. I could play loud enough for my taste but maintained a pleasant smoothness, particularly during music playback. Of the receivers I've auditioned, this is one of my favorites for pretty much any type of music. The beefy amplifier section handled nine of the eleven channels seemingly with ease during big action movie sequences, even with relatively low crossover points on the mains (which don't have particularly high sensitivity). Although the A3040 is equipped with preamp outputs for all channels, I could very comfortably live with the performance of it's built-in amps.
My general impressions of the sound are mostly based on either the stereo mode for music or Dolby Surround/Dolby Atmos for movies. That being said, the Yamaha lineup features an extensive selection of custom DSP modes to simulate different listening environments. Although they do effectively produce convincing effects such as concert hall reverb, I'll admit they don't quite line up with my taste and I didn't spent much time trying them out. But for those that enjoy the ability to add and customize those effects, there are plenty of options. They can easily be accessed from the on-screen menu when selecting from the different playback modes.
Speaking of the on-screen menu, Yamaha has put a good deal of work into the layout and appearance of the GUI for the Avenge receivers. A tap of the menu button on the remote pulls up a sidebar displaying the main sections of the menu structure. I was able to easily locate and adjust all of the commonly used functions, without having to "hunt and peck" or consult the manual for help. The A3040 includes enough options to appeal to just about anyone, almost to the point I would say there are too many.
Since I'm on the topic of abundant choices, I won't overlook the fact that Yamaha has packed its flagship AV receiver with a long list of features. At this price point, one would expect see a plethora of inputs, HDMI zone switching, assignable amplifier channels for multiple configurations, plenty of network/web and USB media streaming options, Airplay, network control, Dolby Atmos/Dolby Surround, Advanced surround/3D DSP modes, customizeable "scenes", Advanced room correction, 4k UHD support and HDMI 2.0 support.
Ah yes, Dolby Atmos - let's not forget about that. I must admit I've been converted somewhat from a 2-channel purist to a surround sound fanatic. When the first round of Atmos receivers were announced I jumped at the chance to install more speakers. Call me crazy. My wife does all the time. Sure, I took some risk by installing in-ceiling speakers based on Dobly's Atmos installation guidelines in the midst of a new surround format war, but that's another story. The fact is the Yamaha RX-A3040 has been my first exposure to Atmos in the home. It took some patience and tweaking, but the results have been great. The Yamaha took advantage of a surround structure that has been a part of their flagship AVRs for a while now and adapted it for use with Atmos. The front and rear presence speakers in an 11.1 setup can now receive Atmos height content at the front and rear of the room. Setup was no more complicated than any other surround system, and the A3040 guided me through the process with on-screen diagrams of the speaker arrangement and amp assignment (including which speakers would be connected to the external amp for channels 10 and 11). You're wondering, of course, how it actually performed. Well, quite simply, I love it. It's not a mind-blowing improvement over my previous Dolby PLIIz setup with front heights but I can confidently say it's the most satisfying surround experience I've had to date. Since this isn't an Atmos review, I won't dive too far into the details, but you can check out a more thorough discussion about my upgrade and initial thoughts in this build thread.
Snarky Puppy - Shofukan (We Like It Here, DVD)
I'm not what you would call a Jazz fan, but I recently discovered a few tracks from this recoding and was instantly hooked. The band is really sharp, and the album offers such a great variety of style and is just very well recorded. I found myself cranking this one quite a bit louder than I normally do, even when no one else is around, and the Yamaha just plowed through every minute of it without the slightest complaint. Every element of the (very large) band came through with clarity, with each instrument making it's own distinct contribution to a sound that blended very well overall. This was one of those moments where I really wasn't paying any attention to the receiver or speakers because I was just enjoying the music so much.
Genesis - The Lady Lies (...And Then There Were Three..., Vinyl)
It had been a while since I dusted off the turntable so I decided to spin some vinyl one evening before bed. My collection is relatively slim, but mostly made up of records with which I am very familiar. I don't see Genesis discussed much among audiophiles, but they are one of my all-time favorites, and aside from a couple of the earlier albums, I find their recordings to be of very good quality. This one was produced at a time when vinyl was still the medium of choice for consumers, and it has that warm, natural, dynamic sound you would expect. The Yamaha passes the analog input directly through to the amps with no digital processing when using the "straight" listening mode. Vocals and drums were clear, but with an almost tangible presence in the room. Bass was really deep and smooth. Again, it was nice to just sit down and crank up the volume. As I said before, I have a tendency to be a two-channel purist when it comes to music, but good quality AVRs with guts like this one are gradually convincing me that I probably don't need an extremely high dollar 2-channel power amp to get amazingly good sound.
A quick note about movies and surround performance. I did test the Atmos setup with some Atmos-encoded content (Dolby's own demonstration Blu-ray, and Transformers 4 on Blu-ray). After I had the system configured and calibrated to my satisfaction, I was very impressed with the Yamaha's presentation of the Atmos content on the Dolby demo disc. However, since it is not something most people will see or hear, I have opted not to discuss it in detail here. Check out the link at the end of the General Impressions section for more info though. Regarding Transformers 4, the soundtrack did not appear to make much use of the height channels as many were expecting, and I'm just not convinced I even liked it that much. I'm not out to dog the movie or it's production team here either, so I've decided to leave it out as well. Having said that, I have been thoroughly impressed by Dolby's new surround upmixer (simply called "Dolby Surround") and its ability to enhance non-atoms soundtracks.
Jack Reacher (Blu-Ray)
I know, I know, Jack Reacher again... What can I say? I like it. There is a scene toward the end where Reacher confronts the mobsters in large quarry at night and, well, let's just say some shots are fired. What I like about the scene is some of the subtle ambient noise between gunshots. In fact, the whole scene is actually very quite aside from that. What makes it great for me is the reverb of gun blasts and bullets strikes that help give the space a sense of scale. The Yamaha handled those delicate nuances very nicely, but didn't hold anything back when two or three rifles were being fired at the same time.
I didn't think I would like Gravity when I saw previews, but it turned out to be one of my favorite movies of 2014. It was beautifully done in every way. The audio is spectacular from the deep bass that will shake the walls to the carefully engineered sounds that would be perceived by astronauts in space. The way the radio communication between the astronauts and the ground brought the boundaries of the room down to the size of a space suit helmet. Again, the minute details were not lost, but A3040 showed its muscle during the most intense moments of the movie. Dolby surround really shined here as well, turning a 5.1-channel soundtrack into a completely encapsulating experience. There was a cool little moment at the very end of the movie that caught me off guard, but will potentially spoil the ending for those who have not seen it or do not know the story. If you're in that category, don't peek!
I have a tendency to think that people willing to spend anything near $2000 on a single piece of audio/video equipment are not likely to be as concerned about value as they are about performance and quality. Whether that is actually the case or not, value is still an important aspect of any purchase in my opinion, so I will try to do it some justice here. Yamaha's asking price for the RX-A3040 lines up pretty well with other high end receivers offering 9 or 11 channels, all manner of network and web streaming options, auto room-correction, compatibility with the latest media formats and connectivity standards, and a high powered amp section. At this point, with the high channel count it starts to come down to preference in terms of surround configuration and multi-zone options. With Atmos now in the picture, each brand is implementing the adoption of height channels in a slightly different manner, some are also offering DTS Neo:X, or other proprietary DSP modes. While the price seems steep, this model can easily serve as an all-in-one for many people who want lots of options, lots of power, great sound, and flexibility.
Conclusion & Recommendation
I like the RX-A3040. In fact, the only slight frustration that comes to mind is the somewhat confusing dual subwoofer setup that I never seemed to completely figure out. It may very well have been a fault of mine, and not what I'd call a deal-breaker by any means. YPAO R.S.C. setup was relatively quick and painless, and seemed to do a nice job, though the rough response in my room proved to be quite a challenge for its auto EQ filters. At the end of the day, the great music performance really won me over. Maybe that's because I was expecting it to, but my ears tell me this is one of the best-sounding AV receivers I've heard. Sure, it's pricey, but I can confidently recommend it to anyone who demands 11-channel surround processing, excellent sound quality, and a hearty power amp section.
Review Discussion Thread