I thought I’d write a few lines about my recent experiences with AV amps, first with the Marantz SR5006, and subsequently the Yamaha RX-V771, as there don’t seem to be many reviews of these units on-line. I had shortlisted the Marantz, the Yamaha, and the Onkyo 709 as I wanted plenty of power, good room EQ, and the pre-outs for combining the AV amp with my dedicated stereo amp. I eventually plumped for the Marantz because I felt I’d benefit from the air-play functionality and I’d assumed that in use the three amps would give fairly similar results. The Marantz was a doddle to set up, the cinema sound full and rich, with a bass presence that was seriously impressive, but I soon ran into trouble. The unit was fine until I switched inputs, at which point the sound muted despite the on-screen display saying it was receiving a signal. The only way to bring the sound back on was to re-start the amp but when I switched back to the original source the sound muted again. This to me was an obvious fault but there were other features that were equally as irritating. The volume control on the Marantz remote would also control the Volume on my stereo amp and the preset code for the Marantz remote could not be changed. The Marantz also ran very hot indeed, after 30 minutes there was a serious amount of heat being generated. Put in HDMI passthrough mode and left overnight the unit would still be quite warm the next morning!Navigating my NAS flac music library via the on-screen menu or the ipod touch app was tortuous; scrolling was impossible, a page up/page down option was the only way to browse. There was a search option where the first letter only could be entered and the entries beginning with that number would be found but when faced with lots of artists beginning with the same letter it was still time consuming to find the music I wanted to listen to. For some reason the album or artist search only worked on entries from A to M, all later letters would send me to Z. The airplay worked perfectly for 10 minutes, then the icon disappeared from the my ipod as did the sound and no amount of faffing could bring it back. I tried my PC and Mac laptops and airplay refused to play ball via itunes. Disappointing. Lastly, after the audyssey setup had done its job (and with the test tones sounding perfectly in balance) the sound would be blasting out of the rear and centre speakers with hardly any presence at all from the fronts. This was particularly true from the Dolby Digital Sky broadcasts where despite some heavy level corrections the sound field remained biased to the rears. Most surprisingly perhaps the sound quality of stereo playback was poor. I tried using my front speakers with the Marantz in a full bi-amped setup and it was terrible, like a cloth was over the speakers (I checked the phasing, all was well). I plugged my stereo amp back in and played back some lossless files from my NAS via the Marantz and the presentation was better but remained pretty dull, bass-heavy with poor imaging. Not half as good as my old Yamaha DSP-E800 playing the same files from my ipod touch/digital dock/plugplayer app. Worse still the Marantz could not cope with 24/96 flac. Using a mains Ethernet link running at over 160mbps it stuttered every few seconds.
I’d had enough and took it back to Superfi after 7 days. They couldn’t replicate the source switching fault on their setup so they asked me to take it home and try again. I did so reluctantly and this time found that the muting issue had worsened. I set it up for bluray, switched to sky and despite turning it off and on repeatedly I had no sound at all. I left it playing while I phoned Superfi and half way through my conversation the sound suddenly re-appeared. It was boxed up again, I ordered the Yamaha, and a few days later I was up and running. What a difference. Apart from this unit actually working properly it ran much cooler, after four hours solid use there was hardly any heat at all. The sound was perfectly balanced after the YPAO setup and remained so in use from a variety of sources. The control app works a treat for browsing music libraries; although an A-Z entry system like Apple’s own would have been useful I can still scroll at speed through the library with hardly any lag at all. The four scene presets should be used by every manufacturer as they quickly become indispensable in every-day use. Sound-wise I quickly found that the bass had plenty of power when needed but compared to the Marantz presentation it was used more sparingly, overall it was much more neutral in tone. The virtual 3D DSP modes are interesting to play with but the more material I listened to the more times I eventually turned it off (interestingly the Yamaha can offer full DSP with Dolby TrueHD but when given DTS HD Master Audio it engages its own standard DTS decoder instead, the only way to have the Yamaha decode DTS HDMA from bitstream is to use the “straight” option). I would still say that the DSP modes are great to have on tap. For example watching the interview between JK Rowling and Daniel Radcliff on the bluray of HP7b the “standard” 3d DSP mode made the voices sound fuller and more natural compared to the “straight” option where they sounded slightly thin. However the same “standard” 3D mode used during an action sequence of the film itself took away some of the sound detail, the attack of the bows on the violin strings of the soundtrack disappeared, and the accuracy of the direction effects was lost. The DSP modes are also fun for things like natural history docs, earthflight sounded great with the “adventure” mode on. As for music, much better than the Marantz. There’s still a significant improvement for music by keeping the front channels running through my dedicated stereo amp but the lossless flac files streamed from my NAS sound great. Vocals sound well projected and natural, bass lines are well defined, overall it’s a better balanced presentation than my old Yamaha/Digital dock combo and I’d say the RX-V771 brings out the best in my Cambridge Audio Azur 650, giving me all the detail and punch of the music without the brittle treble and thin-sounding strings and vocals that plagued my old setup. There were no stuttering issues with 24/96 flac using the same mains Ethernet setup as before. Playback was flawless and uninterrupted. The internet radio section of the Yamaha is well thought out and the bookmark system enables your favourite stations to be selected via the ipod app. Niggles? Not many. A direct search for an internet radio station would have been useful. Instead you need to select the country of origin and scroll until you find the one you want. The remote is hard to navigate. All the buttons are a similar size and very small. A quick adjustment tool for the speaker volume levels would have been useful (this was included on the Marantz) and could have been included on the control app as well as the main remote. A dynamic EQ function similar to the one used by the audyssey setup on the Marantz is good to have for low listening levels. That’s all I can think of really. As a user experience there’s no contest, the Yamaha wins hands down.
I hope this was a useful read for anyone considering either of these two units.