In previous years, Yamaha has preserved its high-end Aventage amps for more high-end prices, saving the very best of its components, fine-tuning and engineering for receivers costing £800 or more.
This year it has decided to show the popular £500 price point some love, and included it in the Aventage line up for the first time.
The aim? To offer superior design and performance without focusing on specification-pleasing. The only question is, why can’t we have a bit of both?
There’s no doubt that the RX-A550 is a solidly built piece of kit that sees a number of upgrades compared with Yamaha’s V Series receivers
Its Anti-Resonance Technology ‘Wedge’ – a fifth foot in the middle of the receiver – helps reduce the build-up of unwanted vibrations, while its aluminium front panel replaces the V Series’ plastic to better shield its circuitry from external noise and electronic radiation, and air rigidity.
Otherwise, it looks fairly similar to its V Series sibling, save for the addition of an input knob and a touch of refinement to the front-facing buttons.
In terms of connectivity, the RX-A550 keeps it simple. This is a 5.1 channel amp offering 80w per channel (6 ohms, 2ch driven), with six HDMI inputs, four composite inputs, two each of component and coaxial inputs and four RCAs.
It’s considerably less well specified than Yamaha’s cheaper 7.1ch RX-V679, and also fails to deliver futureproofing by way of Dolby Atmos at its price, unlike the Denon AVR-X2200W.
It does, however, offer HDCP 2.2 support (albeit only on one input – the Denon has all of its HDMIs covered), and packs built-in wi-fi and Bluetooth, plus Yamaha’s MusicCast multi-room technology.
That means you can stream music between the RX-A550 and other Yamaha kit in your home using the Yamaha MusicCast Controller app.
Of course, the main focus of this amp is performance, and the RX-A550 certainly delivers. There is all the power we’d expect from a Yamaha receiver, with a big, room-filling sound that gives all the desired impact to explosive action scenes.
After using Yamaha’s accurate YPAO calibration system to tune the amp to our room and speaker set up, we settle down to watch the big fight finale of Jurassic World.
As T-Rex charges out of its compound towards the Indominus Rex, the A550 gets behind every thunderous stomp. There’s a deep, gutteral gusto behind every roar, and as blows are exchanged between the two dinosaurs, each thud is beefy and solid.
There’s certainly a touch more refinement here compared with the V679, with a low-end that’s more subtle and nuanced, adding a depth that extends beyond pure muscularity.
That subtlety extends across the frequency range too. Voices are more focused and expressive, and as bricks and tiles tumble from crumbling buildings, the sound of it all crashing to the floor is layered with real detail and texture.
Its treble never suffers with any harshness as windows smash and glass shatters either, remaining crisp and clean but with just enough bite, even at volume.
You really experience this around 360 degrees too, with effective sound placement throughout the room.
As tails smash something to your left, buildings collapse to your right and broken electricity wires fizz and pop all around, the sound moves with real agility from speaker to speaker so you feel wholly immersed in the scene without even thinking about it.
Nothing feels left out, emphasised or unnatural – it’s an effortless performance that is exercised with precision.
This added subtlety helps to make the most of soundtracks too, turning its hand just as well to quiet, brooding music as it does to dramatic orchestral numbers.
Dynamically, it’s agile enough to rise and fall with the peaks and troughs in music, so has no problems injecting a sense of drive and excitement into the big fight scenes.
That said, while this subtlety is a step up on the Yamaha RX-V679, we wouldn’t say it has much over the Award-winning Denon AVR-X2200W, which is not only slightly cheaper, but also has significantly better spec.
More so when it comes to music, we can’t help but want a little more from this Aventage. With such a focus on its audio in its USPs, we want to hear a real uplift in sound quality between this and the V Series, and we don’t quite get it.
Play a CD in stereo, and while the sound is full bodied and lively, there are still some timing issues here compared with the likes of the Denon AVR-X2200W. It just doesn’t have the same level of rhythmic wherewithal that makes music hang together as it should.
We’re happy to hear the added subtlety from its movie performance make its way through to its audio though, with more detail and transparency to offer through the midrange that gives added clarity and expression to vocals.
Ease of use
As we mentioned, wi-fi, AirPlay and Bluetooth are built in to the RX-A550, which opens it up to streaming music either from the internet’s numerous streaming services or tracks from a portable device. DLNA is also on board for streaming from networked drives.
Alongside the usual lossy formats, the amp supports high-resolution playback of FLAC, WAV and AIFF files up to 24 bit/192kHz via USB and network, with support also in place for DSD 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz.
If this is something you’ll be using the amp for, it’s well worth downloading Yamaha’s AV Controller app for Android or iOS.
It makes music streaming to the amp quicker and simpler, as well as giving you a much cleaner interface for controlling things like inputs and EQ settings than the rather cluttered remote.
We’ve always admired Yamaha’s Aventage range for its powerful and immersive sound, and that’s certainly not changed here.
This is a showstopper of an amp that is not only big and weighty, but also adds in a touch of subtlety we were missing from the similarly price RX-V679.
If the RX-A550 serves your needs, then we’d certainly recommend it for your shortlist, but be aware there are amps out there that offer more for less, and either come very close or match it on performance.
The Award-winning Denon AVR-X2200W is one of those, and you’ll get Dolby Atmos to boot.
Spend a touch more in the Aventage range and plump for the RX-A850 and that’s where you’ll start to reap the benefits.
At this price, there’s a lot of excellent competition that strikes a better balance between specs and performance than the RX-A550.
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