Just taking the Yamaha RX-V667 from its box and sniffing around is enough to make us pleasantly disposed towards it. It's nothing amazing to look at – inoffensive, sure, and nicely finished, but really not special – and the remote is the usual too-many-buttons-on-too-small-a-stick affair.
And it's not the modernity of its specification (3D capable, audio return channel on each of the six HDMI inputs, a stack of other connectivity), either.
It's the sight of the Yamaha's phono input (for use with a record player) that's disproportionately pleasing. The RX-V667 may have been built to hit a price-point – but to Yamaha there are some things that are non-negotiable.
Amazing attention to detail
The mic-assisted speaker set-up isn't too drawn out, isn't too noisy and isn't too bad in terms of accuracy. On-screen menus are crisp and clear, and even the easily fouled remote doesn't spoil the experience too much.
Given the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack to Transporter 3 to decode and amplify, the Yamaha's presentation at first seems the opposite of the Sony STR-DN1010's ‘grab the listener's lapels and bellow' approach, despite the soundtrack's complicity.
Its openness, fanatical attention to detail and unshakeable poise are all immediately impressive, but compared with the Sony (or, to a lesser extent, the Denon AVR-1911) there's an even-handedness on display that can initially seem aloof.
Listen for longer, though, and it's actually the RX-V667's sheer effortlessness and reluctance to overstate low frequencies that's briefly suggestive of reticence.
Where speed, agility and expression are concerned the Yamaha's a match for any rival, and it gives really pleasing texture to voices. It's particularly good at describing atmosphere, offering great variation in scale, and its overall signature is one of loose-limbed subtlety.
It's similarly adept with picture-processing, as an upscaled DVD of Bubba Ho-Tep reveals. Images are crisp and colourful, with low noise; motion is deft and edges are smooth and sharp.
Curiously, the Yamaha throws sang-froid aside when it comes to stereo music. Beastie Boys' Do It is every bit as stomping as it should be; the RX-V667 is happy to deliver the hectoring vocals in all their belligerent glory.
Distinctive sonic presentation
Punchy and rhythmically adept, and with a real facility for integration and focus, the Yamaha's a more-than acceptable compromise if you simply can't accommodate an affordable integrated stereo amp into your system too.
The level of competition in this sector is sky-high – and this receiver's poised and inclusive way with multichannel soundtracks only adds to the overall standard.
Bear in mind, too, that the Yamaha is talented across a range of disciplines while maintaining one of the most distinctive sonic presentations in its class – if your choices weren't already too numerous, here's another machine that demands serious consideration.