Yamaha RX-A1080: King of versatility

The Aventage line represents Yamaha’s top-end AV receivers, with special attention lavished on everything from construction to internal components and software. The RX-A1080 might be one of the range’s junior models, but there’s nothing junior about its performance …

 

By Deon Schoeman

Another year, and another generation of AV receivers. No other AV product category undergoes as many regular updates and upgrades – and Yamaha’s home theatre receivers are no exception.

Yamaha produces two main AV receiver lines – the mainstream RX-V range, and the fancier (and more expensive) Aventage RX-A family. Both have recently been updated, with the Aventage range only just having become available locally.

There are four Aventage models, with the RX-A880 being the most affordable, and the RX-A3080 occupying the flagship spot.

The RX-A1080 slots in just above the most junior RX-A880 model, but there’s nothing entry-level about this all-new receiver: it has all the bells and whistles that matter, plus some you didn’t even know you needed.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s compatible with most of the important home theatre technologies, including all the latest surround sound and 3D formats, 4K video, and HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2, Hybrid-Log Gamma and Dolby Vision.

It also offers wired and wireless network connectivity, multiroom operation via Yamaha’s MusicCast ecosystem, while it can connect to leading music streaming services, as well as accessing a large database of on-line radio stations, and streaming music files from NAS devices.

There’s even a selection of digital sound-processed sound fields simulating actual venues, together with a surround sound enhancement system Yamaha calls Surround AI.

To ensure that access to this rich feature set is intuitive, the Yamaha not only comes with a sleek and solid remote control handset with backlighting, but can also be controlled via a smart device app.

Let’s take a closer look – and listen.

AT FACE VALUE

The RX-A1080 is a smartly styled AV receiver that looks deceptively uncomplicated and elegant in aesthetic terms. The smooth, all-black finish has become an Aventage hallmark, while the all-metal casing looks and feels robust. It rests on five vibration-absorbing feet.

A large, clear alphanumeric display dominates the top third of the fascia, with a power on/standby button on the left, and a Pure Direct switch on the right.

The lower part of the fascia is home to a pair of large rotary controllers offering input selection and volume control. They frame a hinged, fold-down flap that conceals a fairly comprehensive switchgear array, as well as a USB Type A input, and a line-level RCA stereo input set.

The rear panel offers the usual dense clutter of inputs and outputs, speaker binding posts, network sockets and more, with HDMI being the dominating interface – there are no less than seven HDMI inputs, and a trio of HDMI outputs.

However, the Aventage also makes provision for composite and component video, while both analogue and digital audio are catered for, too. Interestingly the analogue audio input complement includes an MM phono input – testimony to the resurrection of vinyl.

The remote control handset is worth a special mention. It’s a big step up from the usual plasticky designs, with a reassuringly solid feel.

The recessed buttons are located below a soft-touch, rubber-like surface, but still operate with positive precision. And backlighting is automatic, triggered by the lighting conditions and movement of the handset.

UNDER THE COVERS

Being a member of the Aventage family means the RX-A1080 received special attention with regards to its internal circuitry and circuit components. According to Yamaha, it benefits from a beefy power amp section featuring damping heat sinks, custom power transformers, high-performance DSP chips and premium-grade DACs.

On the subject of the latter, the RX-A1080 uses the ESS Sabre ES9007S audio DAC, which offers both high-res PCM and DSD conversion, features both an extended signal-to-noise ratio and up to 120 dB of dynamic range.

It handles a vast array of lossless and lossy music file formats, including WAV, FLAC and AIFF files at up to 384 kHz, and WMA, MP3 and MP4-AAC at up to 48 kHz and a bitrate of up to 320 kbs. DSD compatibility extends to 2,8, 5,6 and 11,2 MHz.

Also of note is an uprated room measurement and calibration system. Yamaha’s proprietary YPAO-RSC uses a supplied microphone, in conjunction with test tones, to measure room acoustics and speaker characteristic, and then calibrates various audio parameters for optimised performance.

The system can either be used to measure a single point, or up to eight different positions, after which it calculates level and delay settings, while also applying EQ adjustments. RSC (reflected sound control) is meant to correct early reflections for optimum sound.

The Aventage’s enclosure features a rigid, reinforced construction, including an H-shaped internal cross member, designed to address enclosure resonance. There’s also a central, fifth foot to further aid stability and combat both internal and external vibration.

SETTING UP

Getting the Yamaha up and running was a relatively quick and painless affair. The rear panel layout makes for clear, unequivocal connections, while the Yamaha also identified and linked up to the listening room network via wired Ethernet without a hitch.

A Wi-Fi Connection was as easily established, but I stuck with Ethernet, which remains inherently more stable, especially when streaming large files.

I’ve always considered the YPAO auto-calibration system one of the more effective and user-friendly systems, and this latest iteration further ups the ante by offering either single or multipoint measurements.

The on-screen directions are easy to follow, and the process is completed with minimum fuss. The results were pretty impressive in terms of accuracy, too and I found little need to tweak any of the crossover or level settings.

The Yamaha graphical user interface has also been further improved, and offers an intuitive gateway to a multitude of settings, including renaming inputs, determining auto-off settings and the like.

Once up and running, the Yamaha recognised the availability of a firmware update, and proceeded to download and install the update – a process which took less than 15 minutes to complete.

All in all, the RX-A1080 was unpacked, connected, set up, updated and ready to rock ’n roll in less than an hour.

IN THE THEATRE

I kicked off the first of several review sessions with the Yamaha by dusting off a Blu-ray copy of <White House Down>, which has a pleasing mix of hard-hitting action, loads of impressive effects, and more than enough atmospherics and dialogue to present any AVR with a decent challenge.

The RX-A1080 certainly rose to the occasion as far as delivering a large, all-embracing and believable surround sound picture was concerned, endowing explosions and gunfire with almost gut-wrenching intensity, and closely tracking the action in directional terms.

At the same time, dialogue was treated with clarity and deference, always ensuring that voices and conversations could be unequivocally understood, even when juxtaposed against an effects-rich backdrop.

One of the highlights of the movie in this regard is the sequence where the Blackhawk attack helicopters are engaged by the terrorists at the White House, while Secret Service agent John Cale (Tatum Channing) and terrorist leader Stenz (Jason Clark) are engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

The action is frenetic, but the soundtrack always remains on point, accurately reflecting the on-screen action, while adding to an overriding sense of realism by resolving fine details with a sense of spatial and directional precision.

Moving on to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the scene where the First Order forces invade the Republican stronghold confirmed the ability of the Yamaha to create a compelling and engaging surround sound experience.

The battle effects were vividly and believably executed, filling the theatre room with sound and creating an impactful and immersive soundspace. Be it the sound of fighters soaring from front to back, canon fire rattling from above or explosions emanating from below and ahead, the Yamaha created a real sense of involvement and believability.

Eric Clapton’s 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival remains a riveting watch, and one is really spoilt for choice. For me, one of the highlights is Vince Gill, Albert Lee and Keith Urban performing the Rolling Stones classic ‘Tumbling Dice’ – and the Yamaha did the DTS-HD MA surround sound track full justice.

It recreated the on-stage action, as well as the ambience of the venue, to thrilling effect: the interplay between the three guitarists was believably rendered, while the AVR always remained mindful of the importance of dimensional accuracy.

The individual instruments of guitar aces were afforded plenty of space and prominence, but the soundtrack also allowed the contributions of the backing musicians to come to the fore, adding to an enjoyable sense of being there.

The RX-A1080 features an AI Surround mode, which is meant to intelligently consider the surround material being decoded, and then enhance key elements – almost like on-the-fly optimisation.

The result was more impressive when compared to straightforward Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA, with broadened dynamics and a stronger tonal flavour. I found the original more realistic during extended auditions, but I’m sure many Aventage owners will prefer the sound, and leave AI Surround engaged by default.

SOUNDS LIKE …

As the Yamaha offers several embedded streaming services and Internet radio, while also accommodating a wide variety of music file formats, it stands to reason that owners will want to use this receiver not only from a multichannel movie surround point of view, but conceivably also as a stereo amp.

Drawing from the music library on our Synology and Lumin L1 music servers, I auditioned the Yamaha in a 2.1 stereo role, using the Atlantic Technology satellites and subs.

The RX-A1080 offers a Pure Direct mode, but as this bypasses all processing, it also cuts out the subwoofer. That’s fine if your front left and right speakers are full-range designs, but not with limited-bandwidth satellites.

Still, running in 2.1 stereo mode, the immaculately recorded <Hell Freezes Over> by The Eagles sounded crisp and vital, with unequivocal imaging and generous staging. The subwoofer’s contribution was seamlessly incorporated in a satisfyingly linear tonal range, and the overall performance was delivered with polish confidence.

Arabella Steinbacher’s rendition of Mozart’s <Violin Concert No.3>, together with the Festival Strings Lucerne has a lightness of touch and an inherent agility that makes for delightful listening. The Yamaha accurately reflected those characteristics, dutifully spotlighting Steinbacher’s violin, but also doing full justice to the accompanying orchestra.

Dialling into the excellent Swiss Radio Jazz from the Yamaha’s exhaustive catalogue of Internet radio stations further underlined the receiver’s liquid, accessible musicality. It approached the station’s primarily mainstream programming with incisive assurance, effortlessly creating an engaging stage, and paying close and careful attention to finer details and nuances.

Elbow’s ‘K2’ on high-res Radio Paradise sounded even better: loads of energy, a broad tonal spread with powerful bass treatment and clear, layered imaging. The soundstage seemed unencumbered by the position of the speakers, allowing the Yamaha to paint a mesmerising soundscape.

Out of interest, I swapped 2.1 stereo mode for DTS Neo6: Music, and liked the results: the sound image remained front-focussed, but steering some of the music to the surrounds created a more immersive effect. Purists may find it too contrived, but the overall result was musically enjoyable enough.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The RX-A1080 deserves its premium billing, living up to expectations with a sound that’s clean and polished, together with a penchant for accuracy and detail. Surround steering is a specific highlight, as is the ability of the AV receiver to mould the various cinema effects and elements into a cohesive and involving whole.

While movie soundtracks remain its strongest suit, the Yamaha’s appeal also lies in its versatility. It deftly fulfils a stereo music role (including the ability to accommodate a turntable) while offering easy access to leading streaming services.

It certainly stands its ground in music reproduction terms, further aided by being able to render a wide range of lossless and lossy music files.

And then there’s the multiroom angle: for those with several MusicCast devices on a central network, the Yamaha really becomes a hub for content that can be seamlessly spread around the house.

Add niceties such as Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2 (itself now multiroom-capable) and voice control compatibility via Google’s Alexa, and the Yamaha RX-A1080 vindicates its acquisition with an extensive list of talents that ensures good value, too.

 

VITAL STATS

Channels: 7.2
Power output: 110 watts/channel (8 ohms, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 0,06% THD)
Surround sound formats: Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and below
3D surround sound formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Audio DAC: ESS Sabre 9007S
Frequency response: 10 Hz – 100 kHz (+0, -3 dB)
Signal-to-noise ratio: >110 dB
HDMI inputs/outputs: 7/3
Analogue video inputs: 2x component, 3x composite
AV inputs: 4
Audio inputs: 1x RCA MM phono, 3x RCA line-level stereo
Audio outputs: 1x 7.2 pre-out. 1x stereo RCA Zone 2 out, 1x stereo Aux (front panel) 1x stereo headphone jack (front panel)
Digital inputs: 3x RCA coaxial, 3x Toslink optical, 1x USB Type A (front panel)
Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay2, MusicCast
Dimensions (WxDxH): 435 x 439 x 259 mm
Weight: 14.9 kg
PRICE
R30 880
SUPPLIED BY
Balanced Audio

ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Marantz SR-6011 AV receiver
Oppo BDP-95EU universal player
Atlantic Technologies 7.1 surround speaker system
Optoma HD80 DLP projector
Synology DS-214se NAS

SOFTWARE
White House Down (Blu-ray)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Blu-ray)
Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013 (Rhino Blu-Ray)
The Eagles – Hell Freezes Over (Universal WAV)
Mozart – <Violin Concert No.3>- Arabella Steinbacher/Festival Strings Lucerne (Pentatone DSD)