This review originally appeared in Sound+Image magazine, one of What Hi-Fi?’s Australian sister publications. Click here for more information on Sound+Image, including digital editions and details on how you can subscribe.
It’s been longer than usual in the waiting, delayed by the pandemic, but now it’s ready for launch – Yamaha’s 10th series of Aventage receivers.
First launched in 2010, they were the result of Yamaha rethinking every element of their longstanding receiver designs, a grand reset for a new decade – Aventage is a portmanteau of ‘AV entertainment for a new age’. They gained instant success, followed each year by iterative improvements that have maintained the momentum through the addition of Dolby Atmos height channels, Yamaha’s MusicCast streaming multiroom platform, and the endless other pieces and abilities that go to make the model of a modern receiver. Their success can be gauged by an Aventage receiver having won the top Sound+Image receiver award every year possible.
Now we have a new decade, and here is the first receiver from Aventage Series 10, the relatively humble Aventage RX-A2A (£849, US$799.95, AU$1599). In a great many ways it’s pretty much exactly what we would expect. In others it surprised us, and in one particular way, it reversed an antipathy we’ve held for nearly 30 years.
Build & style
Junior Aventage model the RX-A2A may be, but it’s a substantial receiver at more than 10kg, and with the usual full-width double-height, even though there’s a little empty space on the back these days, thanks to the neatening effect of HDMI connections over multi-cable AV. The unit sits not on four legs but on five, the fifth central support (or A.R.T. Anti Resonance Technology) having long been an Aventage differentiator providing extra rigidity to the construction. Only the top panel with its venting slots presents an obviously plastic surface.
There is a distinct restyling here for Aventage 10. Gone is the wide central display with endless small lights and logos, shortened now and shifted to the right, allowing the main volume knob to go dead centre, larger and more tempting to use, further encouraged by its nicely weighted mild resistance to moving. Gone is the big flap hiding front inputs and controls, largely redundant in this age of app control and on-screen menus. The only front-panel socketry remaining is a full-size headphone socket, a USB-A slot with 5V charging, and a small socket into which the microphone plugs for Yamaha’s YPAO auto-calibration process.
The input selector moves to the right, joined by the valuable addition of four Scene buttons which instantly recall a preferred set-up scenario – perhaps one for movies, one for music, others for experimenting with different processing options. There are in fact eight Scene memories, with the other four directly selectable using the remote control.
Overall the new styling is similar to that introduced earlier this year with Yamaha’s latest RX-V range, but with more angled corners than the RX-V’s soft verticals.
The RX-A2A carries seven channels of power, each rated at 100W into eight ohms when using reasonably hi-fi-level parameters (across 20-20kHz with 0.06% THD, two channels driven). For comparative purposes against less confidently-stated rivals, Yamaha lists 150W when measured at 1kHz with 10% THD allowed, a standard often used for quoting AV-related amplification.
The seven channels of amplification are joined by two non-differentiated subwoofer outputs to allow speaker configurations of 7.1 channels on the floor or, since there is Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding here, of 5.1.2 with two ceiling speakers delivering height signals.
If you are only running 5.1 channels, that leaves two spare amplifier channels which can be used for powering stereo in a second zone. Remote in/out sockets allow infrared extenders to control the unit from the other room, though app control may well be all you need these days. You can play from a different source in the two rooms, such as TV sound in a lounge, and radio in a study.
Indeed even if you’re running all seven channels in your main room you can still wire up speakers in a second zone using the amusingly-named Zone Out preout sockets and a separate amplifier, or by using the spare set of speaker connections on the back, as there are nine pairs, rather than seven. If you wire up Zone 2 using these, then whenever you turn on Zone 2 using the remote control, it turns off two of the speakers in your main room (either rear surround or height, depending on whether you’re in 7.1 or 5.1.2).
Spare amplifier channels can also be used to biamp your main speakers, physically wiring tweeters and woofers separately, so this requires bi-wirable four-input speakers.
There are also separate line-level unbalanced pre-outs for the front channels so that you could use higher quality power for these if you wish, although there’s no way to harness the abandoned channels if you do so. Similarly certain MusicCast wireless speakers can be used as wireless rears for cable-free convenience, though leaving redundant the power you’ve paid for, and restricting the ability to have matching speakers all round.
All the connection labels and the explanations in the manual are somewhat complicated by Yamaha’s continued promotion of using extra front ‘presence’ speakers up high, rather than the far more commonly-used Atmos-style overhead speakers, which seem almost an afterthought in the literature. We’ve never ever seen a front presence system except in Yamaha’s own demos, and it might perhaps be time for the company to start leaving this mythical layout behind, to deconvolute the options presented.
We listened in 5.1.2, bare-wiring our centre, rear and height speakers into the medium-quality binding posts provided for all speaker connections, their spacing tight enough to make this a frightening fiddly process after which you will deserve a good cup of tea. To insert the banana-terminated cables for our front pair we had to prise out the plastic centres in the binding posts (inserted, we presume, to comply with Euro regs). Finally our Krix Seismix 3 subwoofer got a line-level link from one of the subwoofer outputs.
As for inputs, well, nothing matches a good receiver for versatility of inputs. The RX-A2A has seven HDMI inputs and one output with eARC, all supporting passthrough of up to 4K/60 for 10 or 12-bit signals.
For audio there are three line-level analogue audio inputs and a phono input for turntable, and in the only area you might feel under-equipped, one optical and one coaxial input.
To the HDMI inputs we connected a 4K Panasonic Blu-ray source and AppleTV 4K. Our turntable and computer audio, the latter via a DAC, plugged into the analogue inputs, and with the HDMI output running initially into a 4K TV, also for a while into a BenQ projector (reviewed in the same #340 of Sound+Image magazine).
Remarkably, given the profusion of cables, everything worked first time. One nice touch on the speaker connections is that if your bare-wire cables have frayed and accidentally shorted between the binding posts, you’ll get a front-panel warning to ‘Check SP wires’, rather than anything blowing up or simply not working.
Power: 7 x 100 watts (8 ohms, 20-20,000Hz, 0.06% THD, two channels driven)
Inputs: 7 x HDMI, 1 x HDMI eARC, 3 x analogue line-level, 1 x phono, 1 x optical digital, 1 x coaxial digital, 1 x USB, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (SBc, AAC), DAB+/FM antenna, AirPlay 2, MusicCast
Outputs: 1 x HDMI, L/R pre-out, 2 x subwoofer out, 9 pairs speaker binding posts (7 channels), 1 x 6.5mm headphone, Bluetooth (SBC)
Audio formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD high Resolution, DTS Express, DTS, DSD to 11.2MHz, PCM to 32-bit/384kHz
Zone: 1 additional, assignable amplifiers
Other: YPAO in, Remote in, remote out, trigger out
Dimensions (whd): 435 x 171 x 372
Yamaha offers YPAO (Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer) to automatically adjust speaker distances, volumes and other acoustic parameters. We set up manually first, which is easy enough to do through the on-screen menus, selecting the correct speaker layout, setting their distances, then using the built-in test tones to check each speaker’s level.
Then we invoked YPAO to see what it did differently, and after plugging in the little microphone so the system could make its series of whoops and blasts (either for one position or several) it proved very effective, other than returning a warning – not an error – that something was out of phase. According to Yamaha’s FAQs, reinforced by forum chat, YPAO can give this phase warning even when nothing is out of phase, thereby leading you into a long unnecessary cable check. But we did indeed find one height channel reversed, which would have been hard to hear otherwise. So good work YPAO!
We used our ears to check the balance of YPAO’s levels with an Atmos test Blu-ray, and also pulled out Peter Gabriel’s Play compilation DVD, which has a remarkable set of DTS 5.1 mixes in 24-bit/96kHz by Daniel Lanois, where the bass and Gabriel’s vocals have been mixed to emerge from all speakers equally and simultaneously, so that they centre at the listening position.
Such positioning is highly unusual in general surround mixing since it requires a single critical listening position; the opening voiceover of Mad Max: Fury Road is similarly positioned, though more as a ‘voice of God’ narration, whereas the more musical Gabriel vocals should focus precisely; they thereby reveal immediately both any skewed levels and also any tonal differences between your speakers, including phase issues. With everything adjusted to put Mr Peter perfectly within our noggin, we proceeded to more conventional listening.
We began with multichannel music, something often neglected but perhaps about to get a boost from Apple’s new Atmos Music service. It’s certainly absolutely thrilling with a good surround system. A great many 5.1 music mixes under-utilise the genre, especially live recordings, which are often little more than stereo or front three channels plus live ambience from the rears. But find something more thoughtful, and the party begins.
Queen was an early pioneer here, its Greatest Hits DVDs having marvellously imaginative 24-bit/96kHz DTS 5.1 mixes, and we soon had the Yamaha delivering a whole bonus dimension in musical entertainment with the layered vocals of Bicycle Race popping out from different speakers, bicycle bells ringing all around in the middle eight, and the guitar solo entry heralded by a sustained guitar note from each speaker in turn. There was some minor brashness on that track, but not others – Spread Your Wings emerged more on the soft side – so that was just the Yamaha being true to the source material.
We moved to the Void DVD by The Flaming Lips, which we suspect was mixed ‘under the influence’, given the track Fight Club has the drums constantly circulating around the full set of speakers, as if someone were grinding a mixing joystick round and round while howling with laughter.
It’s an impressive test of steerage, if disorientating on the receiving end, but the Yamaha had no trouble serving this, and the channel-hopping delight of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots also, even at something close to top volume. But despite our relatively large rear speakers, the system couldn’t quite resolve the still harder challenge of Do You Realise, where it’s the bass guitar’s turn to get the joystick treatment. Since we were using a single subwoofer (and Yamaha’s sub outputs can’t anyway be differentiated to front/rear or left/right), this just sounded a bit odd.
Our music surround listening continued for many sessions – Genesis’s The Video Show gave the opportunity to compare 5.1 Dolby and DTS mixes. Dolby won for level, but DTS for quality, the superior separation revealing previously unheard details like locationally-separated doubletracking on Abacab. The Yamaha made the surround mix of the 1999 re-recording of The Carpet Crawlers meltingly immersive.
Note that if you have height speakers attached, the Aventage defaults to spreading a 5.1 soundtrack into them, often highly effective with movie soundtracks, but with music we found the sound much tighter and more impactful by hitting the ‘Straight’ button on the remote, so that what comes in is precisely what goes out. ‘Pure Direct’ did even better.
Then we moved up to true Atmos for Roger Waters’ 2015 concert film of The Wall, where the height is used primarily for atmosphere, the Yamahas delivering both full immersion and such a thunderous level of distortion-free performance that we ended up watching the whole movie. A warning, though – good surround music through a competent delivery like this can make stereo seem rather dull afterwards!
We moved to movies, and the Atmos soundtrack of the 4K remastered Hobbit movies. The soundtrack during the early scenes of Erebor under the Lonely Mountain was a wonder of tiny detail, the tapping picks of dwarves tinkling around and above as the camera swings through the canyons of gold, the Yamaha effectively steering the sound, thrumming or slamming the bass as required, and the arrival of Smaug giving the movie’s first full workout for a system. The Yamaha seemed unphased by the mayhem, and kept Ian Holm’s narration crisp and clear through the centre channel.
There was extraordinary depth to that opening voiceover in Mad Max Fury Road, playing in Atmos off the 4K Blu-ray. It’s a wild soundtrack that rarely lets up, and one to test not only the resolving power of your system but also the sound isolation of your movie room! Despite having heard this on far larger systems in larger rooms, we’ve never heard such a tight combination of clarity and power as on the smaller set-up we were using with the RX-A2A, especially with the Krix Seismix sub living up to its name.
Of course surround is not just for thrills. There is much subtle use of musical surround in 2001: A Space Odyssey, so that while the ape-men in the Dawn of Man sequence may not visually be up to the modern FX realism of Andy Serkis et al, the goosebumps rose nevertheless as the strange and ethereal choir voices crescendoed through five genuine Yamaha channels and two ‘upscaled’ ones. (Here there was no dialogue to encourage us back to the tightness of Pure Direct.) So the Yamaha proved itself with subtlety as well as grunt.
Between major sessions, we had also been using the Yamaha in stereo – for music from our turntable and from our computer, and from a stick of test files inserted into the front USB-A socket. The RX-A2A is compatible with lossless files in WAV and AIFF up to 32-bit/384kHz, FLAC to 24-bit/384kHz, ALAC to 24-bit/96kHz, and DSD to 11.2MHz (quad-DSD), as well as lossy MP3, AAC and WMA.
We had no issues with the performance of the phono stage with our turntable, though were immediately aware that overall the straight stereo performance of music had taken a hit over what we normally enjoy from our lower-power but rather more commanding (and priced roughly the same as the whole receiver) Class-AB power amps; nor did it have quite the warmth, flow and ‘Natural Sound’ we’ve enjoyed from Yamaha’s own hi-fi amplifiers in the past.
But things were again notably improved for stereo music by invoking the ‘Straight’ button, which ensures no playful extras are being added to the processing (such as all-channel stereo, or the frightening Compressed Music Enhancer). Better still, yet again, is ‘Pure Direct’, which defeats all such processing and also other things that might affect sound, including even the front-panel display. But our preferred final solution was to use the available versatility of the socketry, wiring Yamaha’s left-right pre-out sockets into our power amps so we could continue to use them for those crucial left and right channels.
Do not underestimate the inclusion of the MusicCast platform here. It enables direct app-based control of the receiver inputs, volume, processing and access to the many worlds of streaming music – Spotify Connect (paid or free), Tidal (but not MQA high-res), Deezer, Amazon Music and also internet radio (with a useful prestocked folder of high quality stations).
Unlike some rival platforms MusicCast is properly regionalised, so it doesn’t show services not available here; it hasn’t yet been updated to include recent Australian arrival Qobuz [Postscript: this was updated for the RX-A2A in mid-June after our review, MusicCast now able to stream Qobuz’s native FLAC up to 24-bit/192kHz]. There’s also network streaming from shared folders using the ‘Server’ function.
Anything else you can stream via AirPlay 2 from a Mac or iOS device, or via Bluetooth from Android, though there is no aptX codec included here, only SBC and AAC. There is also Bluetooth out, so you could send the receiver’s sound to a pair of headphones or even a nearby Bluetooth speaker, noting however that the only codec for this is the base-level SBC.
And in addition to the sources provided by MusicCast, you have DAB+ and FM tuners, with string antennas supplied – though for FM we’d recommend using an external aerial for best results, depending on your local strength of reception.
MusicCast also provides multi-room operation, linking ‘Rooms’ together. We streamed vinyl from the Music Room to a pair of Yamaha MusicCast speakers in the bedroom, and rather more easily than the wiring and speaker disabling of
Zone 2 operation would require.
If you so wish, you can experiment with what is possible via voice control – Alexa, Google Assistant or, through AirPlay operation, Siri. This kept failing for us at the ‘register device information’ stage, perhaps because our review unit came to us before official release.
With the new fascia design, Yamaha’s Scenes have moved even further to the forefront of operation, with four instant-access buttons on the fascia, and eight on the remote control. These go far beyond simple presets (which are also available), able to store the input, the preferred sound and surround processing, the speaker set-up, and more. They even turn the receiver on if it’s off, so that we soon found ourselves starting sessions by simply pressing either Scene 1, which we configured for movie viewing with our full surround set-up in play, or Scene 3, set up for stereo music listening.
Except… here we come to the conversion in our age-old listening prejudices. Yamaha has been offering ‘sound fields’ on its receivers since at least 1985, when the DSP-1 offered the ability to expand stereo signals into surround sound, or to process existing surround through a variety of acoustic environments such as ‘concert hall’, ‘stadium’ and so on.
These were often based on meticulous real-world acoustic measurements, but we have spent the last 30 years pooh-poohing the entire concept as destructive and unnecessary – why put music already recorded within one acoustic environment through a second acoustic?
Decades on, Yamaha is still featuring its sound fields prominently here – indeed on the remote control the ‘program’ buttons that shuttle through the many sound fields sit right alongside the main volume buttons.
And we found ourselves rather enjoying them, for music at least. They are highly material-dependent – one track would sound great expanded by the ‘Hall in Vienna’ settings, while for another this would create tizzy delay in the rear speakers and a disorientating effect overall.
We found the ‘Standard’ setting, purportedly for surround signals, to work nicely with a lot of music, and certainly less destructive to vocals than the ‘Neo.6 Music’ surround field available under the ‘Sur. Decode’ button. We ended up allocating a Scene setting to a couple of different fields, so we could experiment more easily.
So we must reverse previous instructions to avoid sound fields, and suggest instead that you play with them. Note also that the ‘all-channel stereo’ is likely to start up without being invoked, and you should be ready with that ‘Pure Direct’ button if you don’t like the result. By the end of our month-long review period, we were using the Pure Direct button for all surround music and movies. It always clarified, and at times it made the whole sound pop into focus.
A quick mention of the remote control, since it softens still further the design from last year’s Aventage, which itself looked so very much less frightening than the overwhelming button-laden Yamaha wands of yore. While the blackness of design necessitates some pretty small legends to read around the minor buttons, it’s far more intuitive now, led clearly by the main volume controls and quick Scene access (and those sound-field programs), so that even a visitor to your home might have a chance of working out how to hear the TV. Plus you’ve always got the MusicCast app available, which offers a lot of options, especially via a spacious tablet screen.
This first taste of the new Aventage range proved a great success. The new fascia design and remote control soften its physical presence; the codec support for both music and movie soundtracks is comprehensive up to Atmos and DTS:X, short only of esoterica like Auro-3D (available on the top two new Aventage models) or the inexplicable IMAX Enhanced. It provides its own sources via DAB+ and FM tuners, plus all the streaming abilities of MusicCast.
Best of all the Aventage RX-A2A proved remarkably easy to set up and calibrate once the fiddly cable-attaching session is complete, then delivering enjoyable and upgradeable sound for music, and that immersive soundfield for seven-channel movie listening with enough power to satisfyingly drive speakers of mid to high sensitivity in all but the largest of cinema rooms.
And if you do need more, then there are three higher Aventage 10 models on the way, which will shortly be waiting to serve.