Finding a great do-it-all AV receiver is a tough task that, in recent years, has been muddied and complicated by the introduction of Ultra High Definition (UHD), High Dynamic Range (HDR), HDCP 2.2 copy protection, and several new immersive audio codecs. For enthusiasts looking to deploy Dolby Atmos (now) while keeping a watchful eye on future compatibility with UHD and HDR video technologies, the last several product cycles of receivers and pre-amplifiers have been a tough buy, causing many to delay their search for another year. On the other side of the fence, manufacturers have also been feeling the heat, frustrated by a technology landscape that’s been changing faster than development and manufacturing can accommodate.
Several months ago, Yamaha released details about a stable of new receiver offerings including a new flagship model called the AVENTAGE RX-A3050. In doing so, it ended the “need to wait” buying game by becoming one of the first companies to offer a package with HDMI 2.0a (for UHD and HDR video), HDCP 2.2 compatibility, and the ability to support Atmos playback in a full 7.1.4 speaker configuration (7 surround, 1 sub, 4 presence). In addition, the RX-A3050 is also DTS:X ready with the promise of a free future firmware upgrade (as of publication, neither Yamaha or DTS could supply a hard and fast release date, although DTS predicts it will happen this coming winter). Of course, those are just the new tech considerations, as the RX-A3050 is loaded with lots of intriguing enthusiast-grade features. Several other manufacturers have since announced competing products that appear to cover all of the necessary bases, making this an incredibly exciting time in the world of receiver and pre-amp gear.
The King of Yamaha’s Hill
The AVENTAGE series was introduced in 2010 and branded as Yamaha’s crème-de-la-crème of audio gear, touting an overall redesign and departure from traditional company offerings. This year’s model class has six new receivers and one new pre-amplifier, with pricing ranging from the sub $1,000 range to nearly $3,000 (pre-amp). The RX-A3050 has an MSRP tag of $2,199, which places it $500 above the next closest model (RX-A2050). That extra coin buys slightly more power in the amplifier section, a better room correction package, higher-end digital-to-audio conversion components, and the ability to run a full 11-channel Dolby Atmos configuration. For myself, the latter of these differences is a huge selling point, as early testing from the professional labs of THX suggests that Atmos is best heard using seven surround and four in-ceiling channels. This isn’t to say that the impact of a 7.1.2 or 5.1.4 Atmos configuration is substandard, but if you’re looking for the best full-on immersive sound treatment, then set your sights on the 11-channel route.
The front side of the RX-A3050.
The RX-A3050 ships with the ability to power nine speakers, meaning that dipping into 11.1 or 7.1.4 channel sound requires the use of standalone amplification. Before you roll your eyes, please realize this is isn’t a Yamaha specific requirement, as the RX-A3050’s competition requires the same outboard amp crutch. If you have a spare AVR with multichannel inputs, then you can use that as a secondary power source. Otherwise, be aware that your budget will need to accommodate additional costs to power rear (or middle) presence channels. That’s probably the only asterisk you’ll find with the RX-A3050, as the rest of the receiver’s specs are primed for performance.
Solid Build from the Inside Out
On the interior, Yamaha packs the RX-A3050 with custom large block capacitors, an extra-large transformer, and high performance ESS Technology ES9016 (192 kHz/32 bit) and ES9006 (presence channels) DACs. The receiver’s interior design also isolates the left and right channels electrically for cleaner sounding output. An H-shaped support frame, an aluminum –electrical shielding – front panel, and a fifth foot that Yamaha calls the "anti-resonance foot wedge" bolster its performance-tuned design.
On the exterior, the RX-A3050 sports a highly readable (dimmable) display, a convenient front access panel, nicely weighted volume and selector knobs, and convenient connectivity options that I found helpful during set-up and room measurement activities. Owners will find more than enough HDMI ports (8 in / 2 out) along with USB, optical and coaxial digital audio (three each), phono, component audio, and component video connections, and full 11.2 channel pre-outs. Of course, the physical connections ignore the receiver’s easy to use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities (which were a snap to initiate using my iPhone).
The back of the RX-A3050 is filled with connectivity galore.
What you can’t see are a variety of cutting edge technologies packed into the RX-A3050. I’ve already touched on a few of them, including everything necessary to handle 4K and HDR video concerns along with HDCP 2.2 coverage. In addition, the receiver carries Yamaha’s DSP signal processing modes (for music, movie, and television audio), Virtual Cinema DSP (which creates a sound field without surround speakers), Dolby Surround Decoders (such as PLIIx Movie), and a Compressed Music Enhancer. It also ships with MusicCast, a new proprietary way to bring audio and streaming music to all areas of your home using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and MusicCast wireless speakers, soundbars and other associated gear.
What’s in the Box?
The RX-A3050 comes packaged as one would expect, using high quality shipping materials. Inside the box, the standard fare is present with the exception of a paper manual (Yamaha provides a CD copy and online manual access). The biggest surprise was my first encounter with the remote, which is a tad underwhelming. It lacks button backlighting and has an unsubstantial feel. My concerns about the remote did subside during demo sessions as I began to appreciate its intuitive button layout – there’s also the little matter of Yamaha’s free AV Controller app that morphs a mobile device into a highly functional and easy to navigate remote (this app is a highlight feature and I can’t overstress its convenience and on-the-fly playback usability features).
Screen shots of Yamaha's AV Controller app, slick and very user friendly.
As I pulled the RX-A3050 from its wrapping, I couldn’t help but note that it’s a gorgeous looking receiver, featuring black brushed aluminum on its faceplate, high quality connectors, a beefy weight (40-pounds), and boldly sharp lines. Its dimensions are rather deep (18-5/8 inches) so make sure you measure the accommodating depth of your space before committing to a purchase.
Locked and Loaded
I’ll spare you the gory details about my experience installing in-ceiling presence channels and blindly pulling speaker wires through ceiling joists. I will say, however, that there were moments, as drywall dust dispersed through my dedicated theater room and my fingers protested yet one more attempt to cram fishing wire through a blind hole, in which I began to question my Atmos sanity. To all of you considering this task (and committing yourself to having a clean finished look), take solace in the fact that it is totally worth it – you’re going to absolutely fall in love with immersive sound. I had an inkling of this conclusion based on demo sessions at industry electronics and audio shows, and my in-home experience has been a solid confirmation.
Front panel access connections made set-up and measurements easy.
I decided to install the RX-A3050 without cracking the manual in an attempt to gauge the intuitiveness of the receiver’s set-up requirements. Yamaha’s graphical user interface design team deserves a pat on the back, as the receiver’s menu is easy to navigate and set-up (for the most part) was something that I was able to do without the aide of a manual. The manual isn’t quite as user friendly, but does the trick when needed. One of the RX-A3050’s more important features is Yamaha’s top-of-the-line YPAO room correction suite, which comes with multi-point / speaker angle measurement options and low frequency EQ (down to 31.3 Hz). Running YPAO was a breeze and I found the resulting channel level settings to be fairly accurate as compared to my trusty SPL meter (a few tweaks had to be made here and there). See Image 1 for my pre- and post-YPAO room measurements using Room EQ Wizard (REW). It’s worthy to note that my dedicated room is treated with acoustic panels, rear diffusion, and corner bass traps. I also employ the use of an outboard Behringer DSP-1124P to equalize frequencies below 80 Hz. I disengaged the DSP-1124P for this review, but you can see its integrated impact on low frequencies (post-YPAO) in Image 2.
REW Measurement, 1/3 Smoothing.
REW Measurement, 1/3 Smoothing.
Associated equipment for this review included dual Power Sound Audio XS-30s (subs), Polk Audio RTi A5s (mains), A CSi A6 (center) RTi A3s (rears), FXi A4s (surrounds), 70-RTs (front/middle presence), an OPPO BDP-103 (Blu-ray), an Emotiva XPA-5 (external amp), and Emotiva CMX-6/CMX-2 line conditioners.
Mission Control: Atmos is a Go
Properly set-up and free of any outboard bass management help, the RX-A3050 is an excellent amplifier. It has just enough edginess to stay sharp and handles dynamics like a champ. Despite having a slightly bloated REW measured low-end response, I found the receiver’s bass management worked well enough to keep low frequencies in-check. That being said, its performance doesn’t match the tight and controlled bass produced by using REW in conjunction with a miniDSP or Berhinger external EQ unit. This isn’t a glaring issue by any means and I believe most users will find YPAO’s influence more than acceptable.
In order to assess the RX-A3050’s Blu-ray playback capabilities, I ran a full 7.2.4 configuration with ceiling presence channels mounted over the middle and front positions (outboard amplification powered the middle presence channels). I spent hours upon hours watching movies and listening to music (sans DSP and DSU modes) before settling on specific demonstration pieces to use in this review. Wasting no more time, let’s dive into the RX-A3050’s performance.
Image: Warner Bros.
Gravity’s Diamond Luxe Edition Blu-ray release is frequently referenced as the best in-home Atmos experience to date; its sonic reputation is well deserved. Beginning with the opening crescendo of cacophonous sound, Gravity bleeds into an Atmos showcase of immersive audio swirls that places you smack-dab in the middle of terrifying space action. The resulting dome of audio immersion is nothing short of breath taking and the RX-A3050 was able to perfectly manage the presentation. It delivered crystal clear detail with pinpoint accuracy and smoothly controlled dialog at reference levels. Dynamic peaks in the presentation were solid, helping me to easily keep my lunch down in the zero-G environment generated by the RX-A3050’s audio prowess. In other words, hints of harshness in the face of challenging audio was non-existent, allowing me to sit back and gawk over the amazing immersive experience offered by Dolby’s groundbreaking codec. The film’s bass presentation isn’t overly ambitious (but certainly has its moments), and the RX-A3050 kept what’s there controlled and pleasing to the ears.
In an effort to explore the RX-A3050’s ability to handle a more laid-back immersive track, I reached for the inspirational film Unbroken. While Unbroken has some incredibly intense action scenes (the RX-A3050 nailed the opening bomber scene to delightful levels), it also has long periods of much calmer material. The film’s cinematic score is an emotionally moving piece and the RX-A3050 struck a nice balance between bass and midrange, keeping the score’s smooth flow intact. Once again, dialog was pleasant and intelligible and the more subtle sonic features of the film (the gentle lapping of water on a life raft, the whipping of a Japanese flag in the wind) were excellent. I found a similarly pleasing presentation with Age of Adeline, which also rides an emotionally charged – smooth flowing – score that echoes through surround channels. Again, the RX-A3050 had nary an issue producing a beautiful soundstage.
Leaving Dolby Atmos behind, I challenged the receiver’s multichannel surround functionality by reaching for one of the all-time great surround sound demo films, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. This film’s 7.1 TrueHD track is legendary for good reason. Its surround channels weigh heavily in the presentation and bass is absolutely merciless, all of which are on full display in Chapter 17’s city battle extravaganza. The RX-A3050 replayed the mayhem without a hiccup, and successfully managed a very difficult bass presentation, handling its required job admirably (more than adequately for owners looking for a single bass management solution). On the dynamic surround activity front, the RX-A3050 scored an A-plus with multichannel playback that created a seamless cocoon of three-dimensional sonic action.
Many Yamaha owners are familiar with the company’s various DSP playback modes. There are plenty to choose from (including, as mentioned, Dolby DSU). One of Yamaha’s more intriguing features is the promise of virtual surround sound that mimics true multichannel playback with speakers at the front-end of a room. I decided to call upon another phenomenal 7.1 channel presentation (3:10 to Yuma) in order to evaluate the RX-A3050’s virtual surround capability as produced by a 2.2 configuration (two front channels, two subwoofers). For this particular film, I selected the “Spectacle” DSP mode and let ‘er rip. Using some tricks in audio delay, the RX-A3050 definitely created the illusion of having side surround speakers (not to mention a sense of height). It’s an interesting effect that properly placed some of the film’s highly directional gunfire and action oriented sound effects. The downside was that dialog appeared ever so slightly echoic (at times) and the overall sonic presentation was much brighter in tonal quality than my multichannel demo sessions. These are acceptable nit-picky trade offs, however, and I’d happily ignore them if were looking for a surround presentation from a system that’s limited to two or three-channel playback.
In case you’re wondering, video pass-through on the RX-A3050 (to my JVC RS45 projector) was flawless and devoid of any added noise or artifacts. It was picture perfect and that held true for the duration of my Blu-ray demo sessions.
Shifting gears, I shelved my Blu-ray films in order to assess the RX-A3050’s 2-channel stereo music abilities. For this part of the review I holstered the subs, set the mains to large, and let the RX-A3050 take total control of the power reigns. Yamaha is typically pegged as a warmer sounding brand and this particular receiver played true to form, staying faithful to the brand’s reputation. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the RX-A3050 has a flat sound without dynamic pop and sizzle in the top end...far from it. My RTi A5s are speakers that tend to lean toward the brighter side of the playback spectrum and the RX-A3050 fed them brilliantly, dulling just enough of their razor sharp treble to keep the presentation pleasing and smooth with controlled top-end. This held true from low to high volumes, producing sound that remained clean and pure at reference levels. Needless to say, my demo sessions were a blast.
I paced quite a few tracks through the receiver’s various DSP music modes. They definitely injected a sense of spaciousness to the music and did a great job of mimicking different kinds of concert locations (large club, concert hall, etc). My favorite became the “Cellar Club” which presents a soundstage that lacks depth (forward reaching sound) and creates an intimately flat appearance, almost as if the singers voice is hitting a wall directly behind the speakers. While DSP mode intervention isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, Yamaha’s sound modes provide plenty of options for enthusiasts looking to spice things up.
Image: Blue Note
One of my favorite demo albums is Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me, which is loaded with rich bass, delicate raspy vocals, and tons of finer nuances and soft sounds. The RX-A3050 showed a tremendous amount of sophistication and rich power while handling Jones’ artistry. One of the more notable tracks, Feelin’ the Same Way, has punchy bass that likes to linger and ranging vocals that meander from low to high. The RX-A3050 stayed in control, never wavering or showing signs of cracking under pressure, and kept the track smooth as butter. This particular song was perfect for comparing YPAO’s influence on the music’s overall sound as compared to a pure listening mode. I was curious to see if applying the receiver’s room correction suite would adversely affect overall tonal balance and imaging. What I found was a fairly pronounced improvement when allowing YPAO to be a part of the equation; imaging sharpened, bass was in better control, and the overall sound was tighter. Those qualities are an appreciated checkmark in YPAO’s approval box.
Next, I dug deep into my music listening past and pulled out Death in Vegas’ Dead Elvis album, a wickedly cool alternative effort from the early 1990s that’s best described as a techno-jazz-reggae fusion project loaded with dynamic pop, layered bass, and a very busy soundstage. One particular track, 68 Balcony, has a fantastic mixture of snappy highs and hopping bass that inhabits an extremely wide canvas. I found great detail, composure, and depth paired with accurate imaging. The A3050 delivered the justice I was looking for, keeping the bass soft and controlled without a hint of choking or tripping-up.
Moving on, I ditched pure 2-channel playback for Pink Floyd’s legendary multichannel SACD Dark Side of the Moon. Right away, the intro track Speak To Me displayed tight and taut bass and perfect clarity as it spewed cacophony during a bleed into Breathe and the gloriously laid-back guitars that glow during that song. All five channels (still minus the subs) played perfectly in concert, wrapping me in a smoothly layered sonic dome of sound. Then, the frenetic On the Run allowed the RX-A3050 to showoff its dynamic range capabilities, as did the crisp Money. I comfortably played this album at reference levels without a hint of harshness or distortion.
For my final act, I decided to flip the script and jump from multichannel SACD to a few tracks played via Apple AirPlay using an iPhone. Yup, putting lossy streaming to the test. As I searched for ACDC’s Thunderstruck, I prepared myself to be paralyzed by a serious decline in sonic robustness. What I found was a perfectly acceptable balance of sound that was easily enhanced by adding more bass – and a tad more warmth – using the Yamaha AV Controller app. The app allowed me to quickly add “Extra Bass” but also has bass and treble controls that allow users to express a finer level of tweaking. The next track I auditioned (Alexi Murdoch’s Blue Mind) didn’t require a bass boost and the app allowed for simple and quick changes. By the way, Murdoch’s track sounded absolutely splendid, showing-off the power of Yamaha’s proprietary Compressed Music Enhancer technology. While I was unable to test MusicCast, my Bluetooth streaming experiences indicate that users of MusicCast will probably find it to have a pleasing audio presentation.
Yamaha receivers have traditionally been strong performers and have a dedicated following of owners. Without question, the RX-A3050 continues this tradition and does so with the added benefit of user friendliness. I’ve read a few complaints in AV forums that the RX-A3050 lacks key audiophile features such as multichannel inputs, but this doesn’t dissuade my appreciation for the receiver’s home theater and 2-channel performance capabilities. Those who are looking for added connectivity (XLR outputs, multichannel inputs) can look to the company’s CX-A5100 preamp. What the RX-A3050 offers is stellar amplification, compatibility with important UHD video technologies, and top-of-the-line Dolby Atmos performance. If you’re looking for a class leading immersive sound machine, this receiver should be near the top of your short list. Congratulations to Yamaha for delivering a class-leading product at a competitive price point.
Power (2-channel): 150 Watts
Powered Zones: Main plus Zone 2
Atmos: Yes, 5.1.4 or 7.1.4 with external amp
DTS:X: Yes, firmware forthcoming
Auro 3D: No
Integrated Wireless: Yes, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
YPAO: Yes, with R.S.C, 3D, and Angle measurements
DAC: Yes, ESS Technology ES9016S SABRE32 Ultra and ES9006A SABRE DACs
Image Credits: Yamaha Corporation, Warner Bros, Blue Note, Todd Anderson/Home Theater Shack